Video 11: The MCAT – What is it really (Part 4)

Of course talking about the science sections on the MCAT is important, but the CARS section is just as critical. In this video we’ll talk about:

  • An overview of CARS
  • Some insights that are key for approaching this section

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Click here to watch the next video: Video 12 – MCAT Scoring Part 1

Video Transcription:

Hey guys! It’s Radhika here again. Today, we’re going to continue our discussion of what the MCAT is, specifically about CARS. CARS is the second section that you’ll see on the MCAT. In this video, what I want to do is talk to you about two things. The first is to give you an overview of this section. The second would be to leave you with insights. As a test prep company, Prep101, and myself as an instructor who has been teaching for a while, have found that a lot of people can’t fathom what this section is like. Before we move any further, we want to make sure that we give you a very clear idea of what CARS is going to test you on. Let’s get started!

CARS is abbreviated for Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Everyone in MCAT world just calls it CARS. It’s comprised of 53 questions which will be tested over a duration of 90 minutes. The best thing about CARS is you don’t need any prior knowledge to do well on these questions. That means all that memorizing, all the mnemonics that you created for the previous science sections, you won’t need to do well on this section, which is great. But it’s not so easy.

CARS is a series of passages, nine, that you’ll be presented from either the humanities or social sciences. 50 percent will be humanities passages and the other 50 percent will be social sciences passages. Let’s give you an overview of the section a little more. This is kind of the format. You’re going to have nine passages that are approximately 600 words long. They will be followed by four to six questions each. We’ve lately is that instead of four to six questions, most passages are followed by five to seven questions. Just be aware of that when doing practice tests. You want to see how many questions typically follow a passage. I’ve rarely seen passages followed by four questions anymore. 53 passage questions, no independent questions. Here is where this section differs from the science sections we discussed previously. No independent questions mean that all 53 questions will be derived from the passage itself. The reason for this is because they’ve asked or told you that there is no knowledge required for you to do well on this section. They can’t ask you independent questions because for independent questions to be possible you’d have to have previous knowledge.

This section is basically them throwing tons of information at you from the humanities and social sciences, followed by a series of questions based on those passages. It tests three things: reading comprehension, critical thinking, and time management. The reading comprehension, not so much. Yes, there are a few questions that will be testing your comprehension. For example, they’ll ask, “What did the author mean when they used this word?” Or perhaps they’ll tell you, “Which year did this occurrence happen in?” That’s reading comprehension. However, the majority of this section is a critical thinking skills test. The main thing it will test you on is time management because there are severe time constraints.

I’m starting to delve into talking about some of the insights a little more. Let’s get further into it. Here are the CARS insights we have to offer you as a company that has collected some data. First and foremost, and I’ve mentioned this already, CARS tests critical thinking. It does not really test your reading comprehension. The reason for this is because as a physician when you’re looking at novel information, or you have new patients and charts, what they really want to see is if you can actually understand this information. Not just comprehend, but apply knowledge to it. Can you make decisions and diagnoses, prescribe actions and treatments? That’s why it’s a critical thinking test. The reason we call the MCAT a thinking skills test more than a science test is mostly because of CARS. It’s going to test your ability to evaluate and apply ideas in prose form while you’re maintaining concentration and focus to this mounting frustration.

Again, it tests critical thinking. Secondly, it’s the most difficult section for science students. This cannot be said enough. Study after study has said that science students find this section the most difficult. You want to know why? It’s because science students are trained to think in a detail-oriented manner. When you read journal articles that are very technical pieces of writing you’re absorbing ever bit of information such that you can almost recreate a study. If you’re reading in that same manner for CARS, you won’t do well on this section. The reason being is because to do well, mastering this section is more of an art form. Everything is strange. It’s unfamiliar. There are going to be topics that you haven’t even thought about or know were topics. They’re going to be presented to you in this wonderful prose form. They’re then going to say, “Hey! You have 90 minutes to read nine passages and answer these questions.”


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