Practicing for the MCAT CARS section can be a challenge. Students typically do not know where to start. Which MCAT CARS passages should you do first? Are there any MCAT CARS material that stand out from the rest? Is it necessary to do a lot of MCAT CARS practice passages to get a good score? Do you need to practice for the MCAT CARS section?
You definitely have to prepare for the MCAT CARS section. You can’t “wing” it and hope for the best. You probably know a couple of people who have indeed done this and succeeded. But I can assure you that after many years of teaching students the CARS section, that an overwhelming majority of students cannot do this.
MCAT CARS practice actually starts with research. Most students become overwhelmed by the amount of resources they have gathered up. This causes frustration and instead of doing all of it, they end up doing none! Ironically, gathering up too many resources hurts your chances of improving. I recommend starting off slow. Get one, good MCAT CARS practice resource and once you’re done with that resource, purchase the next. Don’t purchase and hoard all of the resources at once. You’ll cringe at the stockpile of MCAT CARS practice books you have and it’ll frustrate you.
To practice for the MCAT CARS section, start with the AAMC Question Packs Volume 1 and 2 for the CARS. They can be purchased for a total of $30 and it is by far the best passages to do in order to get a feel for what the actual MCAT CARS section will be like. The AAMC are the actual MCAT creators. In effect, this MCAT CARS practice material is the only, true material that resembles the MCAT. This is because the passages from the question packs were once administered to students on previous versions of the exam! That means the MCAT exam your very own physician took probably had those exact passages on his or her exam!
Some students suggest that since this CARS resource was administered on previous versions of the MCAT, it may not be indicative of the current CARS section. If you didn’t know, the MCAT CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills) was previously named, MCAT Verbal Reasoning. Besides the name change, not much else has really changed. The only major change is that the CARS section is a longer exam (more passages, more questions). The format is nearly identical.
Besides doing these passages several times, try to study the pattern of their questions. Review your right and wrong answers. Determine what went wrong in your thinking the first time you did the passage and what led you to make an error in judgment.
You have to find the right material. But you also have to set aside a schedule to practice all of that material. Try to do about 2 passages a day, everyday for four months. Don’t neglect this portion of the exam. Start doing this from day one of MCAT preparation.
Whenever you practice for the MCAT CARS section, make sure you time yourself. Students do not realize how much of a factor timing has on their performance. Being timed is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different. If you don’t prepare yourself for the timing, you will definitely mess up. That’s why I always recommend having a timer or your iPhone alarm near you. Give yourself a certain amount of time to finish the passage.
A lot of students also argue that the AAMC question packs do not contain enough practice passages. There are roughly 40 passages in total in both packs. I believe it is definitely enough to get a sense for how the MCAT CARS section works but there are other practice techniques necessary to get to the 127 or above score range.
You shouldn’t just focus on practicing MCAT CARS passages. You should also be reading argumentative style articles. The new MCAT is a longer exam which could cause fatigue if a student does not prepare well. When a student is exhausted from reading so much, their mind shuts down. To prevent this from happening to you during the exam, I recommend reading for extended periods of time everyday. But what and how you read is important. Try focusing on reading articles that are biased towards a topic. For instance, if the topic is on abortion, try to find an article that either argues for abortion or one that argues against. This is an argument. Each side has their points of view. An author who wants to present his or her side will present one or both sides. But he or she will eventually pick a side. The MCAT CARS section is very big on this style of passage. To read such articles, I recommend ALDaily.com, specifically the “Essays and Opinions” section which can be found here: aldaily
You could also subscribe to my CARS Passage a day mailing list: Free Online MCAT CARS Practice where I post an article each day for students read for MCAT CARS practice.
MCAT CARS practice tests are also very important in your preparation. Try to do one a week but make sure you review it well. Don’t just do a practice CARS exam and then look at the right answers. Which specific MCAT CARS exams you do also matters. Focus on doing passages from known companies first. This is not because their material is better. But because their material is less likely to have errors or typos. With each new edition of the resource, errors are taken out.
You should spend just as much time on CARS practice as you are on the other sections of the exam. In fact, you should spend more time on this portion since the entire exam is passage-based. Learn how to approach the MCAT CARS section and you’ll efficiently read passages from the other sections.