CARS misconceptions


The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section (CARS) is both the best and the worst section of the MCAT. The reason you must love it is that you aren’t required to store an inordinate number of CARS-related facts and figures in your head as you walk through those doors on test day. The downside of this fact is that you don’t get any free answers for memorizing the yield of ATP from the oxidation of one molecule of glucose. 

Pre-med students are smart, and this can be their downfall in CARS. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses about why students will de-prioritize CARS in their test preparation.

  • “I can read…”
  • “There’s no way to get better.”
  • “I’ll make up for it in the other sections.” 

Let’s look at CARS misconceptions one at a time: 

“I can read…”

Yes, I believe you. My guess is that you are excellent at reading, memorizing, and comprehending deeply complex material. That does not mean you understand how to analyze language to interpret tone, intent, and relevant assumptions. PLEASE do not fall into the ego trap of thinking you are too smart to improve upon your reasoning skills. Success in sciences does not equal success in literary analysis.  

“There’s no way to get better.”

This is a common misconception. I often hear that somehow CARS is simply a test of innate ability and preparing for it will lead to marginal improvements at best. This is simply false. The CARS section is highly game-able, although there is no catch-all approach and strategies must be tailored to the student. I have seen students dramatically increase their CARS scores by simply using trial-and-error to find what suits them.

“I’ll make up for it in the other sections.”

This one also comes in the form of people’s natural desire to lean into their strengths. I get it, if you’re scoring a 128 in C/P and a 122 in CARS, it’s obvious which section is going to be more frustrating of those two. With that being said: LEAN INTO THE SECTIONS YOU SCORE LOW ON. Please do this, even if you take nothing else from this post. Medical schools want people that are mentally flexible and can think on their feet, for better or worse this is largely tested in CARS. 

Takeaways & Tips:

  • CARS requires a set of skills that can be developed with practice and strategy. It is not simply language comprehension but often complex reasoning that asks the reader to develop multiple mental models of perspective, intuit the intent of language choice, and make assumptions. You can and should improve your CARS score by working on this section throughout your study plan. 
  • Practice every day (or at least most days), even 30 minutes of CARS passages a day will make a huge difference come test day. 
  • CHANGE how you approach a passage. Don’t like highlighting? Try it. Feel weird to read questions before the passage? Try it. Scratch paper notes too distracting? Try it. The point here is not that all or any of these strategies is best, it’s that any new approach will feel weird, but that should not deter you from mixing it up as you find what works. 
  • Last thing, (and congratulations if you’ve made it this far) just do some reading. This will help with CARS, but also with your quality of life. Read fiction or something you actually enjoy, and be sure to set aside a little time, maybe at the end of every day to do that. If you’re as nerdy as I am, you might start with The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but go read something you love. 

David is a med student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where works in a lab studying cancer metabolism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Biology at James Madison Unversity.


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions writing LSAT strategy GMAT GRE physics chemistry math biology graduate admissions ACT academic advice interview prep law school admissions test anxiety language learning MBA admissions premed career advice personal statements homework help AP exams creative writing MD study schedules Common Application test prep summer activities computer science history philosophy organic chemistry secondary applications economics mathematics supplements PSAT admissions coaching grammar research 1L law statistics & probability psychology ESL legal studies CARS SSAT covid-19 dental admissions logic games reading comprehension engineering USMLE Spanish calculus mentorship parents Latin case coaching verbal reasoning DAT PhD admissions excel political science AMCAS English literature French Linguistics MBA coursework Tutoring Approaches academic integrity chinese medical school Anki DO STEM Social Advocacy admissions advice algebra astrophysics biochemistry business classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics letters of recommendation mechanical engineering mental health presentations quantitative reasoning skills study abroad technical interviews time management work and activities 2L IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs adjusting to college algorithms art history artificial intelligence athletics business skills careers cold emails data science first generation student functions gap year international students internships linear algebra logic poetry resume revising science social sciences software engineering tech industry trigonometry 3L AAMC Academic Interest DMD EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python Sentence Correction Shakespeare Step 2 TMDSAS Taylor Series Truss Analysis Zoom acids and bases amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing art art and design schools art portfolios bibliographies biomedicine brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem centrifugal force chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum dementia demonstrated interest dental school dimensional analysis distance learning econometrics electric engineering electricity and magnetism enrichment escape velocity european history evolution executive function finance freewriting fun facts genomics graphing harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law induction infinite information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intermolecular forces intern investing investment banking lab reports linear maps mandarin chinese matrices mba medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis music music theory networking neurology neuroscience object-oriented programming office hours operating systems organization outlining pedagogy