The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section of the MCAT, commonly referred to as MCAT CARS, is designed to test your ability to read a passage, interpret the information, and answer questions about the passage. Although this sounds similar to a standard reading comprehension test, it is much more complex than you might expect. The passages themselves can be challenging to read and understand, and the questions are based on critical reasoning skills that require a higher level of analysis and insight than most tests you’ve probably encountered before. As the official MCAT® prep of the American Medical Student Association, here are Kaplan’s recommendations for what to know for the CARS section of the MCAT.
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Passages on the MCAT CARS Section
The passages that you’ll encounter in the MCAT CARS section are based on humanities and social sciences. The passages cover fields such as literature, the arts, philosophy, religion, economics, history, political science, and more. However, it’s more important for you to consider how difficult the passage is to read and understand, rather than the exact topic that is covered. You will not need prior knowledge of the topic. Difficulty level is determined by the author’s language and writing style, and whether the passage is highly abstract or more concrete in terms of the ideas being presented. The author may present an argument, or may present someone else’s argument and discuss it.
Questions on the MCAT CARS Section
There are a total of nine passages, each with five to seven questions directly associated with them. You’ll have 90 minutes to answer a total of 53 questions. The questions on the MCAT CARS section fall into three broad categories based on the level of reasoning required, and the level of difficulty that is required for each category. The AAMC has defined these skills as:
1) Foundations of Comprehension (30% of questions)
2) Reasoning Within the Text (30% of questions)
3) Reasoning Beyond the Text (40% of questions)
Each of these question types requires you to use the passage to find the answers.
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MCAT Foundations of Comprehension Questions
Foundations of Comprehension Questions determine whether you’ve understood the basic components of the text in the passage. These questions tend to focus on a single fact or idea, either on a broad scale or with a very narrow focus. You might be asked about the main idea of the passage, whether or not a specific detail was mentioned, why the author included certain elements in the passage, or the meaning of words or phrases in the context of the passage. These questions are closest to the traditional reading comprehension questions that you may be familiar with. However, the MCAT has ways of making them more difficult, such as asking which of the answer choices is NOT mentioned in the text, or the meaning of a phrase that is very different in the passage from everyday usage.
MCAT Reasoning Within the Text Questions
Reasoning Within the Text questions require a generally higher level of critical analysis of the MCAT CARS passage. These question types ask you to infer something from the passage, or to bring together two disparate pieces of information and recognize the relationship between them. Reasoning Within the Text questions often focus on an argument made in the passage, and ask about unstated assumptions or conclusions. They also ask you to identify evidence from the passage that is used to support or weaken an argument, or conversely, to correctly identify the argument that a piece of evidence strengthens or undermines.
Reasoning Beyond the Text questions are often considered the most challenging of the MCAT CARS questions. This type of question will introduce new information, and ask you to determine how it relates to the passage. You might be asked to extrapolate an inference from new evidence, or to apply what the passage states in a new context. Alternatively, you might be required to understand how new facts might challenge or support an argument that was discussed by the author.
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