Jump-Start 2 – Learning What to Pay Attention To!

Welcome back! Today, we’re going to round out our knowledge of the basic CARS passage ingredients. In a lot of ways, today is one of the most important lessons you can learn about how to do well on the CARS. So, be sure you are fully committed and pay close attention today. Before we dive in though, if you’re in need of a smile, here’s a little science joke you’ll wish you weren’t dorky enough to laugh at. (I laughed more than I should have at this, so you’re in good dork company 🙂 Let’s get back to eating the CARS for breakfast, Testing Solutions’ unofficial motto!

The Most Common Ingredients the CARS – Details:

 

While the meat and potatoes of doing well on the CARS is fully understanding the claims the author makes in the passage, and the support given for them, the most common ingredient in a CARS passage is what I call “details.” In a word, details are just “extra.” It’s the background or context the author provides to make the passage interesting. It’s the history of how something came to be the way it is. It’s the special verbiage or insights that don’t really connect with any particular claim but nonetheless are still there.

Details may flesh out a claim or idea and provide deeper insight as to what the author is saying. Details are the mortar that fill in the spaces between the bricks of the passage (i.e., claims). They make the passage interesting, make it read nicely, and may even provide context for the claims the author makes, but they rarely are critical to understanding the author’s claims or the central thesis of the passage.

I said today may be the most important day of the course, because the single biggest mistake students make on the CARS is paying too much attention to details at the expense of focusing on the author’s arguments (claims + support). It’s very much the old saying of missing the forest for the trees. If you pay so much attention to the trees (details in this case), you can easily lose track of the fact that you’re in a forest (the main idea of the passage). Details often waste time and distract from what is actually important, so being able to give them the appropriate amount of attention (not too little but also equally important, not too much) is a critical skill for doing well on the CARS.

The CARS asks predictable types of questions, and one thing it rarely does is ask you to hunt and find a detail in the passage that magically answers the question in front of you. I call this the “word search” approach to CARS; the false belief that every answer to the CARS is in the passage text if you just search hard enough! The CARS exists because the AAMC wants to test your ability to reason and think about unfamiliar topics. Questions that only require you to reread and hunt through the passage for a particular detail do not test these skills. The truth about the CARS is that in most cases a correct answer cannot be directly found in the passage. Correct answers often require much more synthesis and require you to think critically about what you’re reading. Take the following paragraph:


Finished in 2018 by Joseph Gillard, The Gates of Purgatory, a new sculpture that is a play on Rodin’s famous work, radically transforms the entrance of the MET to such an extent that almost all other works of art go completely unnoticed by visitors. It is critical that the artistic character of the museum not be overrun by the sensational and provocative works of an unproven artist.

 

Now, there are several claims in these few sentences including: 1) The new sculpture transforms the entrance of the MET. 2) Visitors are being distracted by the sculpture. 3) The museum’s artistic character is being overrun by the sensational and provocative. Notice that there is little to no support given for these claims, so it’s hard for us to know if the things the author is claiming are true. But either way, it’s good for us to keep track of the author’s different claims. When it comes to answering questions about this paragraph, these three claims will prove to be indispensable.

What is not essential for you to know, in the context of this paragraph, however, are three details: when the sculpture was finished, who sculpted it, and that the sculpture is a play on Rodin’s famous work. I realize this might feel like heresy! Don’t focus on every single word in a CARS passage?! Well…my answer is yes and no. It’s not that details don’t have value or use. Details are fine, and it’s good to pay attention to them. The reality on the CARS, however, is that only a maximum of a couple of questions per test will rely on knowing a passage detail. If you’ve ever taken an AAMC CARS passage, you know that most of the time, the CARS does not ask questions like, “In what year was Joseph Gillard’s statue finished?” Such passage details are far more often non-critical filler that rounds out the passage and makes it aesthetically pleasing and interesting but is not essential information for correctly answering the questions.

It is a good idea to have the rough structure of the passage in your mind so you can come back to such details if you need them to answer a question, but your default position when reading detail elements like the above should be “Okay, that’s there if I need it but let’s keep moving!”

Based on our analysis of the AAMC’s released CARS materials, more than 70% of what you read in a passage will never be tested, so trying to master these details is a large waste of time. And besides that, the far majority of CARS questions boil down to understanding the claims the author is making and the support the author gives for those claims. So, mastering the details can not only waste a lot of time, but it doesn’t actually help you answer the questions that get you points! Another major bonus of being able to quickly recognize and pass over passage details is that it allows you to more easily identify passage claims which translates into CARS gold when it comes to answering the questions.

Daily Drill #1:

For each of the following drills, write down what you think are the claims, support, and details!

1) Since the golden age of advertising in the 1950s, product placement in movies and television shows has been a regular if not at times comical occurrence. Such subtle subliminal messaging continues to pop up from time to time in more traditional forms of media even to this day, but now, in the age of social media and personal blogs, product placements have infiltrated the online version of our daily lives.

2) Most school-age children abhor the idea of year-round school, loving their three months of summer vacation each year. And the entrenched traditions of what constitutes a school year, and how parents organize their lives around those traditions prevent true momentum for change to build. But what few realize is that the traditional school year, with long summer breaks, actually originated in the farming season, due to families needing their children at home during the summer months to help with the harvest. There is no good reason why we shouldn’t change our academic calendar years!

3) While it was originally believed that there was only one large migration across the Bering Strait during the first ice age, genetic evidence of indigenous populations in the Americas has shown that there were at least three large-scale migrations into the North American continent from Asia, likely occurring due to the migratory animals they were hunting. Each migration occurred hundreds if not thousands of years apart. Thus, the old narrative of a small band of wanders giving rise to all the civilizations and peoples of the Americas is patently false.


Answers – Daily Drill #1:

Remember: Claims are bold, support is underlined, and details are italicized.

1) Since the golden age of advertising in the 1950s, product placement in movies and television shows has been a regular if not at times comical occurrence. Such subtle subliminal messaging continues to pop up from time to time in more traditional forms of media even to this day, but now, in the age of social media and personal blogs, product placements have infiltrated the online version of our daily lives.

Interestingly, this little paragraph includes a claim and some interesting details but no support for the claim! The author provides us with no evidence or examples of how product placement has infiltrated our daily lives. You could imagine someone talking about how clothing companies have reached out to popular social media users to place their products in their personal photos, or something like that, but notice there is nothing like that in this paragraph. The rest of the text is just interesting details. They set up the punchline of the author’s claim but don’t actually support that claim in any appreciable way.

 

2) Most school-age children abhor the idea of year-round school, loving their three months of summer vacation each year. And the entrenched traditions of what constitutes a school year, and how parents organize their lives around those traditions prevent true momentum for change to build. But what few realize is that the traditional school year, with long summer breaks, actually originated in the farming season, due to families needing their children at home during the summer months to help with the harvest. There is no good reason why we shouldn’t change our academic calendar years!

The claim of this passage is that there’s no good reason why the academic year shouldn’t change. The author provides three pillars of support for this claim: 1) entrenched traditions, 2) parents organizing their lives around traditions, and 3) the historical legacy of the needs of farming. All three of these points seem to be obsolete or silly reasons to not change an academic year, which supports the author’s primary claim (no reason not to change the calendar). Notice that the details regarding how long summer vacation is, that kids love their summer vacation and don’t like the idea of year-round school don’t really factor into the claim. These details are not cast as support for or against the academic calendar. They’re just kind of thrown in there as a lead into the larger argument being made. The details are kind of like the appetizer before a big dinner.

 

3) While it was originally believed that there was only one large migration across the Bering Strait during the first ice age, genetic evidence of indigenous populations in the Americas has shown that there were at least three large-scale migrations into the North American continent from Asia, likely occurring due to the migratory animals they were hunting. Each migration occurred hundreds if not thousands of years apart. Thus, the old narrative of a small band of wanders giving rise to all the civilizations and peoples of the Americas is patently false.

The claim is that the old narrative regarding migration into the Americas is false. The primary support given to back up this claim is the genetic evidence of indigenous populations in the Americas which shows three large-scale migrations, not one. Why the people migrated across the Bering Strait when they did offers nothing substantial or new to the argument (claim + support) and just represents passage details. These details are interesting and add color to the passage, but they don’t help the author make his larger claim more convincing.

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