CARS Overview

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT is a more challenging version of other standardized verbal reasoning tests. The passages included in the section cover a wide range of topics from an explanation of anteater mating behavior to a lively discussion on Nietzsche’s “eternal return” you never know what you will get. Often the writing style and vocabulary of the passages will be fairly complex and unless you were humanities major this might be one of the first times you are exposed to articles like this.

Overall the section contains a total of 53 questions spread over 9 passages. Each passage is between 500 to 600 words in length and you have a total of 90 minutes to complete the section. The passages themselves cover a wide range of topics that fall into two major categories: the humanities and the social sciences. Most of the passages will argue for a specific idea or point of view however a couple of passages neutrally describe a situation, event, etc.

Generally speaking, the humanities passages will have a stronger argumentative tone while the social science passages will be more neutral and scientific. In order to succeed in this section, we will need to develop strong reading comprehension skills and the ability to consistently approach a wide variety of different. On top of that we need to both read and answer questions quickly in order to fit within the section’s time constraints.

To develop these skills this course will start by teaching you how to improve your comprehension. Since the argumentative passages are the most common and usually the most challenging we will begin by learning how to detect and trace an author’s argument. As we go through the different comprehension skills relevant question-answering skills will also be discussed. For example, the first lesson covers how to synthesize an author’s argument and then focuses on how to address main idea questions.

At times the course will focus on time-consuming strategies that aren’t designed to be used on the actual exam. These skills-building exercises will be pointed out and exist to help you develop an intuitive awareness of different elements of CARS passages and ultimately help improve your overall comprehension. For example, we will discuss argument words and one of the assignments will have you highlight all of the argument words that pop up in a passage and determine their function in that passage. This will take you way more time than you actually have, but it will get you in the habit of automatically recognizing these important words and their meaning.

Lastly, we will begin to perfect timing as we master each of the different skills. That way you can answer every question on the exam and ensure you get the highest score possible in this section. I liken the whole process to learning to ride a bike. When we first start we are slow and have to really think about pedaling, balancing, shifting, braking, etc. As we get better and better we don’t have to think about pedaling we just pedal. This means we will start off by ignoring timing until after we have had a chance to practice each skill. From there timing constraints will be added in bit by bit until you are able to finish without worrying about constantly watching the clock!