The following paragraph and related questions can give you an idea of what the MCAT CARS section of the test is like. Keep in mind that this is only an excerpt; an actual passage would be much longer, and would have from five to seven questions associated with it. (The answers are at the end so that you can try this out on your own.)
MCAT Practice Questions: CARS
1. Based on the passage, which of the following statements must be true?
A) If morality is extremely demanding, then one always ought to act so as to produce the best possible circumstances.
B) If moral standards do not preclude the personal projects humans find most fulfilling, then they are not that extreme.
C) Some people always act in ways that produce the best possible circumstances.
D) Morality precludes the personal projects that humans find most fulfilling.
2. Which of the following claims provides the most support in the passage for the “simple principle?”
A) Ethical projects should be completely without constraints.
B) Objections to the simple principle are difficult to imagine.
C) Moral theories are not less valid if they require great sacrifices.
D) Nobody always acts to produce the best possible circumstances.
Are You Prepared for CARS on the MCAT?
The answers to the questions are Question 1: B and Question 2: C. Bear in mind that these are very challenging questions that require critical analysis skills, and they are based on a very demanding passage. However, this is typical of what the MCAT is likely to present, and the name of the section says clearly what you need to have: Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
Question #1 Explained
Question 1: The correct answer is B. The sentence in the passage is an “if X then Y” construction. For any “if X then Y” statement, the contrapositive will always be true: “if not Y, then not X.” This corresponds to answer choice B. Answer choice A is the inverse, which is not necessarily true; “if X then Y” does not necessarily mean that “if Y then X.” Answer choice C is something that might be true, but the question asks what must be true, which is not the same. Answer choice D is too extreme, as the author did not state that this was always true.
Question #2 Explained
Question 2: The correct answer is C. The benefits of the “simple principle” are discussed in the second paragraph, and the answer is stated almost word for word in the second sentence. Answer choice A is too extreme; although the author said constraints are difficult to imagine, he did not say that they should not exist. Answer choice B is exactly the opposite of the passage; several objections are laid out in the first paragraph. Answer choice D is also opposite, because it is used to argue against the “simple principle” rather than to support it.
The skills you need to do well on the CARS section of the MCAT are different from those on the rest of the test: there is no set content that you can learn. However, CARS requires certain strategies and skills, and these can be learned: reading efficiently by finding the most important information without getting caught up in details; understanding inferences, assumptions and arguments within passages; and practicing questions that are similar to those found on the MCAT CARS section.
You can learn more about the CARS section of the test in the larger context of the entire MCAT here.
MCAT CARS: What the AAMC says
The AAMC defined the three types of questions that we’ve discussed, as well as the types of passages that you’re likely to encounter on the MCAT CARS section. You can visit the AAMC site to learn more about the MCAT Blueprint.
MCAT Critical Thinking > Question Structure
The next important skill to learn to master the MCAT verbal reasoning section is to understand the structure of how questions will be asked. You have to learn these skills like a formula that will just be applied to each passage. By being able to understand the "formula" you will be able to answer any question based on any subject material. This works much better than trying to predict the subject matter that you think may be on the test since the AAMC can pull from virtually anywhere.
Understanding the formula will allow you to read the passage much faster which then allows you to focus more on the questions themselves. You get no points for the passage itself, and you also do not get penalized for not answering a question. In this case the faster you can read the passage the more you could make an educated guess on the unknown rather than just blindly firing in the dark.
Types of Questions
The main thing to understand is the theme or the thread that ties the passage together. Most of these questions will be based on the theme and purpose of the passage. Being able to spot the thesis is probably the most important thing you can do. These types of questions will require you to perhaps repeat the stated purpose or theme.
- The purpose of this passage is...
- The main thesis of this passage is...
- What best describes this passage...
Subject Matter Questions
These types of questions will be based on the subject matter of the passage itself. The answers for these questions often rely upon being able to successful comprehend the material and will be found within the passage itself.
- According to the passage...
- As stated...
- Based on the content of the passage...
- What phrase best describes this passage?
Critical Thinking Questions
Being able to critically think is the skill that most medical schools and the AAMC are looking for with the MCAT exam. Being able to critically think is a successful skill in the medical profession and these types of questions are the most commonly asked on the MCAT exam. Critically thinking can be divided into two kinds of evidence and reasoning, induction and deduction.
Induction based questions require you to evidence the passage by building upon examples. Induction is the process of reasoning from the bottom to the top, or taking a group of examples and reasoning a theory from that. For example,
Deduction based questions require you to answer questions by reasoning from the top down, or creating a theory and then applying it to examples. There is a subtle difference between deduction and induction, however the questions are nonetheless in different formats.
Deduction questions ask you to identify conclusions based on your understanding of the theme and purpose of the passage. These types of questions have the evidence for the question typically right in the passage itself. You just need to be able to critically think and draw the conclusion necessary.
Important Keywords and Phrases
- It can be inferred from...
- It can be concluded...
- It can be interpreted that...
Remember, do not over think these questions, these are STRAIGHT FORWARD questions. Over thinking will cause you to waste valuable time when you could be answer higher yield questions and getting more points on the MCAT exam.
Purpose Based Questions
Purpose based questions require you to understand the subject matter of the passage and apply it in a practical manner to answer the question. These questions require solid skills of application which involves defining a purpose from a concept.
Important Keywords and Phrases
- What would be a good example of?
- How would you respond to this situation
Remember not to spend too much time on any one question. It is much easier to make an educated guess on the question later and skip to questions you actually have a chance of getting points on. Running out of time and not answering questions you could get right and also not getting harder questions right is a double loss. Do not make this mistake. If you cannot answer a question come back to it later when you have free time.
Make sure to learn the strategies discussed in the verbal reasoning section of this website as you will be able to not only pick out more information from the passage itself, but be able to answer questions much more quickly as well. Like anything else, with practice you will hone these skills and constantly decrease the amount of time spent per problem. Looking at it quantitatively, the best asset you have on the test is time.
If you can score a larger number of points in a shorter amount of time, you will have more time to spend on the harder questions and thus increase your overall score. This will help increase your overall score because the verbal reasoning skills apply to the biological and physical sciences as well. You will be able to gain an edge on the test because you will understand the fundamentals behind the questions and how best to answer them. Getting a good score on the MCAT is just as much a science as the science that is tested.
By understanding all of the different types of questions on that MCAT, along with being able to pick out keywords and phrases and having competent reading comprehension skills you will be able to successfully master the verbal reasoning section. Getting a good score on this section of the MCAT is essential in getting an overall high score and thus getting into a good medical school.
Click here to learn about common mistakes on the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT and how to avoid them.