MCAT CARS : Everything You Need to Know

February 20, 2024

minute read

The MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) is arguably the most challenging section of the MCAT exam. A lot of pre-med students leave the testing room not feeling confident about how they did in CARS. 

Because this section of the MCAT requires more than just your medical and science background –  you must devote a significant amount of time preparing for CARS to ensure you get the score you aimed for. 

You are on the right page if you want to know how to ace CARS on the MCAT. Here is a complete guide to the CARS section on the MCAT.


MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) Section Overview 

The MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, also known as MCAT CARS, is intended to gauge how well you can read, analyze, and respond to questions concerning passages. 

Despite the fact that it appears to be a typical reading comprehension test, it is far more complicated than you might anticipate. 

The questions are focused on critical reasoning abilities that need a greater degree of analysis and insight than most tests you've undoubtedly taken previously, and the texts themselves can be difficult to read and comprehend. 

The CARS section does not require any additional training or specialized knowledge, but you as the test taker may need to read the texts and questions differently from how you would in most pre-health classes or on exams like the SAT Critical Reading exam

You must evaluate the passages' content for the questions, but you also need to take into account the authors' objectives, tones, and choice of words to convey their points of view.

The MCAT CARS aims to:

  • Ask you to critically evaluate the content in passages to test your reading comprehension, information analysis, and reasoning abilities
  • Include material from a variety of social science and humanities fields, such as ethics, philosophy, population health, studies of many cultures
  • Give you all the details you require to respond to the questions from the passages

MCAT CARS: Exam Structure

There are nine paragraphs in total in the MCAT CARS section. 

Each one has five to seven questions that are closely related to it. You need to answer 53 questions in total within the allotted 90 minutes. 

Based on the amount of thinking and level of complexity required for each category, the questions on the MCAT CARS portion can be divided into three main groups.

Here is the MCAT CARS section content breakdown:

  • Foundations of Comprehension - 30%
  • Reasoning Within the Text - 30%
  • Reasoning Beyond the Text - 40%

Passage Content:

  • Humanities - 50%
  • Social Sciences - 50%

The subsections for CARS are typically 500 to 600 words long, but they are complex, frequently thought-provoking works of literature with solid vocabulary and, occasionally, intricate writing styles. The texts and the questions themselves contain all the information you need to know in order to answer test questions. 

Similar to the other sections of the MCAT, the CARS portion is graded on a curve, and you will receive a score between 118 and 132. 

A "good" score will fluctuate from school to school because each program will evaluate your MCAT score differently. However, a score of 128 will typically place you in the 90th percentile.

Skills Needed for the MCAT CARS Section:

Skill 1: Foundations of Comprehension – 30%

Your understanding of the fundamental ideas in the passage are assessed by the questions in this section. What does the author intend to convey without making it clear? 

Examine how the author's word choice, tone, and rhetorical strategies deduce the passage's meaning by reading between the lines.

Skill 2: Reasoning Within the Text – 30%

It is vital to remember that the questions in this section of the MCAT ask you to assess how compelling the author's arguments are, so your responses should not be based on personal opinion. 

Mention the exact pieces of evidence that the author utilized to support or refute their main point in the paragraph. Is the author's conclusion reasonable from an objective standpoint, or is it prejudicial and based on assumptions?

Skill 3: Reasoning Beyond the Text – 40%

The CARS section asks you to apply the knowledge and concepts you deduced from the passage to other contexts and circumstances. They may also provide you with fresh information that casts the author's arguments in a new light. How does the author's intended point change or be challenged by this new information?

CARS Topics to Study for the MCAT

The MCAT CARS section contains readings that are rooted in the humanities and social sciences. The difficulty of reading and comprehending the material should be prioritized over the specific subject matter it addresses. 

The reading passages on the MCAT CARS focus on a variety of topics, including the following:

  • Literature
  • Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Theology
  • Economics
  • History
  • Political Science

10 Tips and Tricks to Ace the MCAT CARS

One of the many myths surrounding the MCAT CARS section is that your score is based solely on chance. All goes well if you happen to obtain "excellent" passages, but if not, things might get tricky. 

Fortunately, this is not true. Your ability to ace the MCAT CARS section depends more on practice than good fortune. You need to read the passages and approach the questions differently in order to perform well in CARS.

Here are some of the best strategies and techniques that have helped the MCAT top scorers perform well in the MCAT CARS section

Have active reading exercises.

The opposite of passive reading is active reading, which includes skimming articles on our phones or pausing between paragraphs while we are reading for enjoyment. 

Passively reading prevents us from engaging with the book on a personal level or questioning any of the arguments made. 

Taking our time and reading deeply needs us to actively engage with the text. Reread it if there is anything you do not understand. Continue to think about difficult phrases or arguments until you understand them completely.

Read challenging texts for practice.

Since readers tend to perform well in the MCAT CARS section, you should focus on developing your reading comprehension as your main objective. The truth is that comprehension and analysis are skills that are learned by an extended and comprehensive reading of complex and challenging information. 

Every day, set aside at least 30 minutes to read scholarly articles, books, journals, and other works of literature.

Visualize as you read. 

In essence, your visualization changes depending on what word comes next. This is beneficial for the MCAT CARS and the sciences as well because there are many experimental passages provided. 

You must picture the pathways. And developing that way of thinking is crucial and necessary for your MCAT success.

Explain what you have read to someone else. 

It is much preferable to condense a section and highlight only the most crucial details when explaining it to someone with less academic training than you or to a kid. 

What is the key message of the passage? Which specifics must be communicated in order for the reader to fully understand what the author is attempting to say? What is the quickest and simplest way you can explain the paragraph without leaving any crucial details out?

Summarize each paragraph.

Make an effort to summarize each paragraph in a single statement. You should have a list of succinct statements that summarize the entire passage by the time it is over. 

Remember that you are not making a thorough plan that you can use as a guide in the future. You swiftly determine each paragraph's main topic in order to improve your reading comprehension.

Highlight and emphasize significant information.

When something is highlighted, it takes less time to reread it, which saves time on the MCAT CARS section. 

You will also rapidly understand the main points or ideas by pulling out important words, phrases, and facts. It is crucial to be judicious about what you highlight since failing to highlight anything at all if you highlight a lot of information.

Focus on answering the questions correctly, regardless of the time…at first. 

You should not concentrate on MCAT scheduling throughout the early stages of your CARS preparation. Prior to working on your speed, you should concentrate on correctly answering the questions. 

Recognizing the various types of queries should come first on your list when you begin your MCAT CARS preparation, then you should gradually work on providing the correct answers. 

Once you are regularly answering the questions correctly, only then should you begin to concentrate on your speed. Start off with a longer time when you start pacing yourself, and then progressively cut it down to 10 minutes.

By the way, one of our students, Samantha Main, really struggled with CARS. It was one of the main reasons why she had to retake her MCAT. However, she ended up increasing her score to a 511 by test day (in less than 30 days) and today she's in med school. You should definitely check out her full story here.

Practice in less time. 

You will become accustomed to finishing practice passages and questions within a constrained time frame by practicing with less time (1-2 minutes shorter than the typical 10 minutes). 

You may see how you do under pressure by training with less time, and if you return to the full 10 minutes, the time limit will seem like a breeze.

Predict what the next paragraph will be. 

Another approach you might find useful is to read each paragraph and infer with reasonable certainty what the paragraph that follows will cover. This will urge you to focus on each paragraph's core point and make it easier for you to follow the passage's logical progression. 

It is more crucial to comprehend the preceding paragraph thoroughly enough to anticipate potential future ideas than it is to predict the outcome accurately.

Utilize practice tests. 

Practice tests are one of the best ways to prepare for the MCAT CARS section. Your brain simply gets acclimated to reading over time since you have to perform so many practice passages and timed passages. Reading the texts alters your study habits and test-taking strategy just by doing it.

More Articles On How To Study For CARS!

Test Days Tips for MCAT CARS

The time and effort you have exerted preparing for the MCAT are useless if you will not apply the MCAT CARS test-day tips. 

Below are some of the tips and pieces of advice you can apply to ace the MCAT CARS section. 

Read the questions first.

You can read the material more quickly and efficiently if you are aware of the themes that are covered in the questions. 

Read the question stems from first to last (not the answer choices) before working the section, looking for and underlining any words or phrases that point to significant passage content.

Eliminate, translate, and paraphrase. 

Translate the questions in your own words. What are you supposed to do with or to the passage in the question? Find, read, and paraphrase the pertinent information by returning to the passage. 

Then, with the question clearly in mind, consider what the right response will need. Use the elimination method as you browse the options. Remember to finish the other, simpler questions first if you encounter a particularly challenging question.

Do not read a sentence a second time. 

Reading a sentence over when you do not grasp it is a mistake. That is a time-waster. There are only five to seven questions in each passage that need to be answered. Therefore, you are not required to comprehend every clause in the passage.

Keep track of time. 

Timing is important when writing the MCAT. The MCAT CARS section is challenging and may seem to go on forever. It goes without saying that it is challenging to concentrate on a piece that you find uninteresting. But it is crucial not to focus too much on the content. After reading the passage and responding to the questions, go on.

Check the review screen.

Double-check to make sure you have not left any questions unanswered at or before the 5-minute mark (preferably, before you start your final passage). 

Don't go back and re-answer questions you've already answered. Simply making sure that you have chosen an answer for each question is your main objective in this step.

Additional FAQs – MCAT CARS

Is MCAT CARS Difficult?

The MCAT CARS is considered one of the most challenging sections of the MCAT. However, with enough practice and effective techniques, acing the MCAT CARS will not be too difficult. 

The key is to read a lot before the MCAT and make sure you increase your reading comprehension skills. Remember that it is a test of critical thinking and reasoning.

What is a Good Score for the MCAT CARS?

Each program evaluates your MCAT score differently. That means an "excellent" score will vary from one school to another. 

However, a score of 128 (out of 132) will normally position you in the 90th percentile.

How Does CARS Compare to the Other MCAT Sections?

The MCAT CARS is different from the other three sections of the MCAT. 

While the other components of the MCAT rely on your medical and scientific knowledge and skills, the MCAT CARS is a test of your reasoning and critical thinking skills. 

Furthermore, the content of the MCAT CARS is based on humanities and social sciences.

How Long is the MCAT CARS Section? 

The MCAT CARS section lasts 90 minutes. There are 53 questions and a total of nine paragraphs. There are five to seven closely related questions for each one. 

The questions on the MCAT CARS part can be broken down into three broad groups based on the amount of thinking and level of complexity necessary for each category.

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