Day 4 – MCAT CARS Myths: The “Don’ts”

Today, is the dispelling the “crappy, cheap ideas mega prep companies try to sell you” edition of our 30 days to MCAT CARS success guide. I’m going to go through some of the myths and do my best to prove to you how wrong they are.

The Myths:

“Read the New York Times, Economist, and humanities journals to bone up on your critical reading skills. One or two articles a day for three months.”

MYTH: If your goal is to become a well-informed, engaged citizen, then by all means go for it, but if you think this will help you one iota on the MCAT CARS section, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. The MCAT CARS section is an incredibly artificial environment. They give you 9 passages that could range from Sociology to Ancient Greek Philosophy. You have a very short amount of time to read the passage and answer the questions. This is not a leisurely stroll through the park on a Sunday afternoon. The only way you are going to get better at the MCAT CARS is by doing MCAT CARS passages. There are no secrets, that’s the truth. The students I’ve taught who have done the very best on the CARS are the ones who have done between 20 and 30 CARS practice tests. They are using the best materials out there and are investing a great deal of time in taking a ton of passages. They are reading and doing every passage available to them because this is the only way to get better. Reading a publication like the above mentioned just isn’t going to help.

“I’m a humanities major. I don’t need to practice for the CARS.”

MYTH: Good luck with that. I majored in philosophy in undergrad, had three humanities minors and am currently finishing up a master’s degree at Harvard University in dealing with philosophy of religion. I know how to read, and I’m just about as familiar with the humanities as one could get (at least for a pre-med!). But my first scores on the CARS were just above average (of the average test taker, not matriculate!). Having familiarity with the humanities might be a psychological comfort, but it does not translate into better scores on the CARS. You have to practice the CARS to do well on the CARS. How did I get my score up to the highest tier? Honestly, I took around 50 verbal practice tests in the months leading up to my test. I did every passage I could get my hands on. Now, I wanted to score at a particular level, so I’m not saying that every person needs to do that many passages. What I am saying is that no one is born a CARS expert. It only comes about by doing a ton of passages. There is a reason that hardly anyone starts out near the CARS score they want.

“Skip the hard passages and come back to them later.”

MYTH: This is absolutely the worst advice out there. I believe it would be very hard to score 127+ with this strategy. I have never heard of it being done. To score a 127+, you will have to do every passage and get the majority of the questions right. Skipping around and avoiding the so-called “hard” passages won’t get you there. Furthermore, even if it did, I’ve never met anyone who could in 15 seconds tell me if a passage was going to be “hard” or not. On top of that, how often have you struggled through a passage just to find that the questions were easy? You just can’t tell on the CARS. So if you want to do well on the CARS, do every passage in order. Don’t waste your time or mental energy trying to figure out if you should do the passage now or later. Do every passage and do them in order.

“I’m struggling with time; I need to learn to speed read.”

MYTH: No you don’t. Your problem doesn’t have to do with your reading speed; it has to do with the way you’re approaching answering the questions, and the amount of time you’re spending going back to the passage looking for answers. We’ll cover how true this is in more detail tomorrow on Day 5. Your problem isn’t your reading speed. It’s your pacing. Once you get that under control, your time problems will disappear. Speed reading isn’t your solution.

“Write out a passage map, take notes, or highlight extensively while reading the passages.”

MYTH: Besides highlighting the name of a person or school of thought in order to locate it easily later, there is absolutely no need to be taking notes, writing out a passage map, or highlighting when you’re reading the passages. These are a waste of time…a major waste of time. They slow down your pace, and they take your focus off engaging critically with the material. You should be asking yourself, why is the author saying this? Where is she going? How could the MCAT ask a question about this? You should not be trying to summarize the entire paragraph in 5 words. It’s a waste of time. Don’t do it. Later in our series, once you’ve got the keyword review down we show you on day 9, I’ll teach you a summarizing technique to use when reviewing to train yourself to do this instinctively. We’ll get there, don’t worry, but as to taking notes. Don’t do it!

“Read the questions before reading the passage.”

MYTH: Awful, awful advice. The human mind can only keep 7 things in its short term memory at once. I have yet to meet anyone, and I mean anyone, in all my years of MCAT teaching and tutoring, who was able to tell me anything about the 5 or 6 questions she had just finished reading three sentences into the passage. Sometimes, students are resistant to me on this point, because they’ve read that someone somewhere said this trick worked for them and that because of it, their score jumped 8 points. If you don’t believe me, just give it a try. Read the five questions first, then read the first paragraph of the passage, and then try and write down what you can remember about the questions. I’ll bet you the cost of this guide that you remember next to nothing. If there’s one thing I would like to convince you of with this guide, it is that you shouldn’t waste your time on gimmicks.

“I need to read through this or that prep book on the CARS section.”

MYTH: No you don’t. I didn’t read a single CARS prep book. I did take an unbelievable number of practice tests under timed conditions. Since I started Testing Solutions, I’ve read through pretty much every book out there on the CARS section, and I’m stunned by the sheer waste of time and stupidity out there. You don’t need to read this crap. I’ve got the glossy cover of one of the mega test prep companies in front of me right now. Some entries in the Table of Contents include: Rhetorical Analysis, Domains of Discourse, The Logic of Conditionals, Analogical Reasoning…and the list goes on. The CARS section is not a hard test. You don’t need a Ph.D. in logic to do well on it. The reason most students struggle is because their timing is off and they’re not used to thinking in the ways the CARS section requires. The quickest, most efficient way to get your timing down and to start thinking in the way that will get you points on test day is to do a ton of practice passages. Use the tips in this guide, and leave the CARS prep books at the bookstores.

“I need to take an expensive prep course to do well on the CARS section. Without those special strategies, I’m not going to make it.”

MYTH: I cannot stand the predatory pricing of the mega prep companies’ materials. First of all, much of it is junk, but because there is so much riding on doing well on the CARS and the MCAT in general, they ask you “Is there a price too high for achieving your dream?” I can promise you that you can do well on the MCAT if you work hard and are determined. I did not use a prep course and I scored in the 99 percentile. I am not that smart; I just worked incredibly hard. You can too if you employ all of the tips and strategies I outline in this guide AND if you do more practice passages than three or four normal MCATers put together. If you do, you will do well on the CARS. You just have to do the work. Giving someone a lot of money just isn’t going to get the job done. For better or worse, work is the only way.

Keep going! Before you know it, your pacing will become second nature. See you tomorrow!

Today’s Assignment: Do One CARS Passage Under Timed Conditions

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan

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