Approaching CARS


Read for Structure

Our main goal when reading CARS passages is to synthesize a big picture understanding of the author’s ideas. This seems easy enough, but the complex vocabulary and intricate sentence structure can “trap” us. As a result, we can spend a ton of time getting hung up on the details of the passage. In addition to messing up our timing, it doesn’t help us understand the overall idea. As we get into the next lesson we will learn a set of different techniques and tools that will help us improve our reading comprehension. For now, let’s talk about our approach to reading more generally.

Read Slowly

Since we are focused on getting the big picture idea out of the passage it is important that we read slowly and carefully. This doesn’t mean we will be analyzing every sentence in detail, but we should read every sentence in the passage and avoid skimming. If an example or passage detail doesn’t make sense keep reading. Oftentimes authors will repeat themselves so keep moving on and see if you can determine what was going on based on the next couple of sentences.

Tackle Passages In Order

Many students also wonder if they should focus on skipping “hard” passages so they have enough time to “kill” the easy ones. Most people myself included are notoriously bad at predicting which passages are actually tricky. Sometimes the passage is really challenging but the questions are fairly straightforward. So we will focus on reading every passage in order. If you think a passage is going to be a tough read be vigilant of your timing and try not to re-read. Do your best to answer the questions and move on. If you have extra time you can always come back and take a second look at the passage. This gives you a better chance of picking up the easy questions and still leaves you with enough time to excel on the easy passages. Additionally, you don’t waste time skipping around trying to navigate back to the skipped passages versus the normal flagged questions.


When approaching CARS questions we will focus on taking a tiered approach. While the steps for each question will look a bit different the overall foundational approach is the same. As we go we will start by eliminating any obviously wrong answers pick a preliminary answer. If you know where to go back to the passage then go ahead and take a peek to try and confirm or disprove your answer choice. If you don’t know where to go flag the question and move on we will come back around again if time permits.

Ultimately we will do our very best to answer as many questions without looking at the passage and the practice problems in this course are structured to help you do this. The first series of questions will be presented without access to the passage then the questions will be repeated with the passage present. In essence this forces you to rely on what you remember and will help you recognize the questions that you can answer without going back and the ones that you will need to go back for.


Timing is super, super important on CARS and if you can’t finish the section it is going to be very difficult for you to do well on the section. Most people tell me that they are slow readers and that it takes them too long to get through the passages. From my experience reading speed isn’t usually the problem. Instead, timing issues tend to fall into three major categories: getting hung up on the passage, extensive note-taking, or getting hung up on a question.


When students talk about taking too long to get through the passage they usually mean that they have to slow down or stop and re-read sentences in order to understand the material. While we don’t want to read so quickly that we sacrifice our comprehension re-reading doesn’t usually improve our understanding. To start we are going to focus on moving on even if a sentence didn’t make sense. In review, we will strengthen our comprehension skills so our ability to understand complex sentences progressively improves. By the end of the course, you should be well on your way to understanding passages on the first read-through.

Note Taking

Note taking is another super common time wrecker. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take notes but quite frankly trying to write a paragraph summary and passage summary takes way too long. Even if it is only an extra 1-1.5 minute per passage that is up to a total 13.5 minute loss over the 9 passages. That is a lot of time I would really like to get back. How I am supposed to get a sense of what the passage is about if I don’t take notes? Highlighting the passage after the fact. It sounds backward but it allows us to trace the argument the author was making and landmark the passage. Since highlighting is faster than handwriting it also saves time.

I am so close…

Lastly, it is really easy to get caught up and spend a couple of minutes on a single question. It’s easy to feel like we are so close to the right answer we just need a little more time to think about the questions it will click soon. Right? Maybe then again maybe not. If you find yourself re-reading the prompt and the answer choices three or four times it is probably time to move on. The same goes if you are starting your second scan of the entire passage looking for that one detail you need. We will focus on using the flagging function frequently and do our very best to answer all of the questions we can without referencing the passage.