CARS: Dos and Don’ts for Studying Success

MCAT medical school admissions
By Quinn

MCAT CARS section-1Some students can feel adrift when setting out to study for CARS. These helpful Dos and Don’ts you help you get started!

DO: Approach with confidence

CARS is a special MCAT section because everything you need is right there! You don’t need to know anything else beyond what is in the passage. You don’t need to memorize biochemical pathways or physics equations or psychology terms. You just need to let yourself think clearly and strategically.

DON’T: Fall into a fixed mindset

Too many students make the mistake of approaching CARS as something they are good or bad at. This fixed mindset of seeing CARS skill as a permanent trait, as opposed to the growth mindset of realizing that you can improve immensely through personal effort, can limit you unfairly. Anybody can be amazing at CARS. If you are not comfortable with this section starting out, with a focus on strategy and lots of directed practice, you could end up with CARS as your new favorite section!

DO: Put in the time

You spent whole semesters of coursework learning biology, physics, and chemistry. Those subjects have a head start and so you may need to put in more time for CARS than for other sections. While you’ve been reading for decades now, thinking about these passages in the way the test-makers want you to think about them takes practice and practice requires time.

DON’T: Forget timing

It is so easy to run into trouble with timing on this section. You can get distracted or lost in circular thinking on just one difficult question. However, that one question is worth just as many points as an easier one in the next passage. If your timing is off, you may not even get to all the questions and that leaves valuable points on the table. When you do CARS practice passages, ALWAYS time yourself.

DO: Get creative to stay engaged in the material

Some passages are more interesting than others. If you’re having trouble staying focused, try following along each line with your mouse cursor so you don’t skip over anything important—you can even bounce along like karaoke if that makes it more fun. If you find the subject matter distasteful or you disagree with the writer, lean into that feeling. Imagine you are going to debate the author and you need to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of their argument so you can explain just why they are wrong. This can actually turn an unpleasant passage into a fun exercise.

DON’T: Expect linear progress

Because there is so much variability in the passages and the way information is presented, it is difficult to see a trend showing improvement right away. There are simply too many confounding factors in each passage: your familiarity with the topic, your interest in the topic, and how well the logic of the questions meshes with your unique way of thinking. Furthermore, because each passage takes a long time to go through, in an hour of studying you may be practicing fewer questions doing CARS than other sections. It takes time to see the progress you’re making in CARS, but eventually it all clicks and you’ll see a large jump in your score and it will all be worth it.

DO: Keep at it!

CARS can challenging, but the right approach can make studying a much more rewarding and even enjoyable process.

The road to medical school is long, and the MCAT is one of its most formidable challenges. You will be relieved to know that what you learned in your premedical courses is actually on the test. But studying for the MCAT is more about taking that knowledge stored way back there in the nooks and crannies of your mind, bringing it to the fore, and then learning to twist and stretch it in the ways the MCAT tests. In reality, studying for the MCAT is no more (or less) difficult than spending late hours on a physics problem set or an entire weekend on an organic chemistry lab report. Just like these other tasks, the MCAT requires endurance and follow-through, but it becomes significantly more manageable when you work with a Cambridge Coaching MCAT tutor to apply a structured, systematic, and strategic approach to your studying.

Anyone can study hard - but the real key to MCAT success is learning to study smart. So, while all forms of MCAT preparation require you to crunch a lot of material, we focus on helping you to make strategic choices about your areas of focus at every step of the game. Each Cambridge Coaching tutor is a highly-skilled manager of your personal study process. He or she will do more than just target your weaknesses - your tutor’s goal is to identify the sections where you have the greatest potential for improvement, and teach you to wring every last point from them by creating the roadmap for your studying, and helping you stick to it. Right from the start, your tutor will create a customized syllabus for you, and will then modify that syllabus as needed.

Learn more about MCAT tutoring

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