How to Prepare for CARS MCAT : Complete Guide

February 20, 2024

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Everyone knows that the MCAT is challenging. However, of all the components of this difficult exam, the MCAT CARS part is often the most challenging for medical students. To succeed, it necessitates an entirely different method of studying that involves constant practice and skill development.

You must develop and perfect the skills that will be tested to prepare, which requires a lot of practice. 

You are in luck if you're trying to figure out how to prepare for the MCAT CARS. That is exactly what this article is for. Please continue reading.


What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is undoubtedly one of the most crucial exams for medical school admissions. 

Most of the medical institutions in the United States and Canada need admission through this computer-based multiple-choice exam, which is standardized.

The Association of American Medical Colleges oversees the MCAT and provides medical schools with criteria for assessing and comparing an applicant's credentials and readiness for medical school. 

Based on your MCAT score and GPA, admissions committees assess the strength of your academic background.

What is MCAT CARS?

Reading, analyzing, and answering questions about passages are all part of the MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section. Although it seems like a standard reading comprehension test, it is much more complex than you might imagine. 

The texts themselves can be challenging to read and grasp. The questions are centered on critical reasoning abilities that need a higher level of analysis and insight than most examinations you have likely taken in the past.

The MCAT CARS attempts to:

  • measure your reading comprehension, information analysis, and reasoning skills;
  • ask you to evaluate the material in passages critically;
  • offer you all the information you need to react to the questions from the passages;

The MCAT CARS section contains a total of nine passages. 

There are five to seven closely related questions for each one. 

Within the allowed 90 minutes, you have to respond to a total of 53 questions. 

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.

Here is the MCAT CARS section content breakdown:

  • Foundations of Comprehension                 —                  30%

This entails comprehending the text's fundamental elements and interpreting rhetorical methods, word choices, and text structure to determine the text's meaning.

  • Reasoning Within the Text                            —                  30%

This entails combining several textual elements to improve comprehension.

  • Reasoning Beyond the Text                          —                  40%

This entails adapting or extrapolating the passage's ideas to new situations and evaluating the effects of incorporating fresh elements, data, or circumstances into the passage's ideas.

The MCAT's CARS section is scored on a curve, just like the other parts, and you will obtain a score between 118 and 132. Since each program evaluates your MCAT score differently, a "good" score will vary from school to school. 

However, you will typically fall into the 90th percentile with a score of 128.

Topics to Study for the MCAT CARS

The MCAT CARS section is the only section on the MCAT that does not focus primarily on the sciences. Instead, the passages revolve around social sciences and humanities. 

Here are the different disciplines covered in the MCAT CARS:

  • Architecture
  • Art
  • Dance
  • Ethics
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Popular Culture
  • Religion
  • Theater
  • Studies of Diverse Cultures
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Geography
  • History
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science
  • Population Health

Tips and Strategies to Prepare for the MCAT CARS

MCAT CARS can be challenging but getting a 130+ in this section is not impossible. The key is to employ the best and most effective tips and strategies as you prepare and study for this section. 

We are here to guide you to ace the MCAT CARS, so we have listed below the proven tips and strategies you can use while studying for the MCAT CARS. 

Practice Active Reading 

Active reading involves actively participating in the material you are reading. We do it when we scan news articles or occasionally when we read for pleasure. Active reading entails reading intently, attentively, and slowly. 

It entails analyzing the text's arguments rather than just accepting them, reviewing any first perplexing passages, and deciphering the text's deeper connotations. It honed our thoughts to actively consider the ideas the author is attempting to express and how they are being presented.

Improve Comprehension and Reading Speed

On the MCAT, reading quickly without compromising understanding is a significant advantage. Because the test is timed, you only have a limited amount of time to read a lengthy piece, analyze it, and correctly respond to questions about it. 

The quicker you read and remember the passage, the more time you'll have to respond to the questions. You will get better the more you read. It takes constant effort to read quickly, including setting aside time to work on your reading speed.

Emphasize and Highlight Important Information

It takes less time to reread information that has been underlined, which helps with the MCAT CARS section time management. 

You may quickly comprehend the essential concepts or themes by highlighting key terms, phrases, and details. However, being selective with your highlighting is vital because doing so may result in failing to highlight anything.

Build a Reading Routine and Read Frequently

Begin reading regularly as soon as you can. Reading outside of your allocated texts is necessary. Find out what you enjoy reading: the Harvard Business Review, realistic fiction, or fanciful fantasy tales. 

As long as you read frequently, it doesn't really matter what you choose to read. However, finding something you like will make reading more enjoyable.

The secret is incorporating it into your schedule to become a habit.

Look for Difficult Reading Materials

You can advance your skills quickly by looking for hard reading material focusing on comprehension. You will be forced to focus on the words and their meanings as you read challenging passages. Start with literary periodicals, in-depth magazines, or classic literature.

Make sure you comprehend every sentence you read. You will better understand what you read entirely the more you practice.

Always Complete Practice Passages 

Reading CARS passages and responding to practice questions regularly is the most crucial aspect of preparation. Learn about the format of CARS questions as soon as you can. 

Create a regular routine and study regimen centered on reading practice passages. Use a timer to apply some pressure on yourself while you practice. Give yourself more time initially, then gradually reduce it until you can correctly respond to all of the questions.

Know the Types of Questions on the MCAT CARS

Students frequently struggle to recognize the kinds of questions they are being presented with. Therefore, instead of relying on the AAMC to inform you what the question category is, it is essential to be able to recognize it on your own. 

If you cannot correctly identify the question type, your responses will likely be hit or miss. 

Remember that you should master the foundations of comprehension questions first because it would be challenging to reason within or outside of the text if you did not understand it well.

Paraphrase, Translate, and Eliminate

Write your own response to the assignment's question. Then, return to the passage, locate, read, and paraphrase the essential information. 

Next, think about what the appropriate response will require while keeping the question in mind. Then, as you look over the choices, use the elimination procedure. 

By identifying reasons to strike the other three out, choose the one that is the "least incorrect" of the four. 

If you encounter an extremely challenging question, keep in mind to finish the other, simpler questions first.

How Much Time Should You Give Yourself to Study for the MCAT CARS Section?

It is more difficult to answer the question of how much time is ideal because that number can change significantly depending on other commitments. However, ideal planning spans at least three months (two and a half is doable but challenging). 

You may need to make plans for some time closer to four or five months if you cannot fit in 4-6 hours most days of the week. This frequently happens to students juggling a full course load, a full-time job, or both. 

Within these 4 - 6 hours a day (rest day excluded), you also need to fit in the other three MCAT sections. 

However, remember that the ideal MCAT study plan requires you to study for 2-3 MCAT sections daily. 

That means that approximately 2 hours should be spent on the MCAT CARS alone. Depending on how busy (or not) you are, you just have to plan accordingly. 

The MCAT has 53 CARS questions and is one of the most challenging sections of the exam. Do not take this section lightly. At the same time, do not compromise your physical and mental health. 

You will get fatigued, and your studying will be less efficient once you have studied for more than what is advised. You also risk the chance of not acquiring the necessary skills and practice that will get you a strong MCAT CARS score.

MCAT CARS Preparation Resources

Aside from the tips and strategies we have listed above, utilizing effective and reliable MCAT CARS resources is also key to acing this section of the MCAT. Therefore, consider the preparation resources you use while studying for MCAT CARS.

Here are some of the MCAT CARS prep resources we suggest you check out:

Additional FAQs – Preparing for the MCAT CARS

What is the Best Way to Study for the MCAT CARS?

Reading MCAT CARS passages and responding to practice questions regularly is the most crucial aspect of preparation. As soon as you can, get acquainted with the structure of CARS questions. 

Create a regular routine and study regimen centered on reading practice passages. Work on improving your reading and comprehension skills.

Is 126 a Good MCAT CARS Score?

Based on this year’s AAMC percentile ranking, a 126 will put you in the 72nd percentile, meaning you can outsmart 28% of the test-takers. However, this may not be enough because, for most schools, you need to be in the 90th (or higher) percentile to be granted admission. 

However, this will also depend on your scores in the other sections. Getting a higher percentile in the other sections will make up for your 126 MCAT CARS score.

Is CARS the Hardest Section of the MCAT?

Many MCAT test-takers claim that the MCAT CARS is the most challenging section of the MCAT. It will really test your reading, critical thinking, and analytical skills. That is why before taking the MCAT, we advise you to improve these skills. 

Reading complex passages that require your critical and analytical skills will be of great help.

How Many Hours are the MCAT CARS?

The MCAT CARS takes about 90 minutes to finish. 

There are about nine passages ranging from 600-800 words to read and 53 questions to answer. Ensure you do not exceed 10 minutes per passage when answering the questions.

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