So you’ve finished taking your first practice MCAT exam, and you’re excited to sit down and review it. You cover the science sections first, carefully writing down the concepts you need to revisit and the traps you fell for. Now, all that’s left to do is review CARS. But here, you stop: how exactly should you review CARS? What’s most efficient? After all, it doesn’t require outside knowledge of any concepts, and the questions you miss might not seem to have anything in common.
Many students respond to this dilemma the wrong way: they spend less time reviewing CARS or neglect to review it at all, passing it off as a waste of time. Instead, they devote themselves to more practice – but often find that even dozens of passages or several FL exams do nothing to raise their CARS score. There’s another way!
Here’s our advice on how to get the most out of your CARS review:
Keep a notebook or “Lessons Learned Journal” devoted to CARS alone
This is the most important part. At Next Step, we typically advise students to keep a log of their notes during full-length review, a device we term the Lessons Learned Journal (LLJ). But the lessons you take from CARS review will be different from those you gather from, say, review of a biochemistry passage, so you’ll want to keep your CARS notes clearly separated.
But what should you actually write in your CARS LLJ? For the passage as a whole, just jot down your thoughts. Did you feel like you understood the author’s points, or were you lost? And if you used highlighting or note-taking, were the parts of the passage you singled out actually tested in the questions?
Next, for every missed question, write down:
1) The question number
This way you can return to it later if necessary.
2) What kind of question it is
Different companies (and the AAMC) have different names for the types of CARS questions, but what you call each question type really doesn’t matter. Question types include “main idea” questions, questions about how the author structures his argument, questions that simply require retrieval of a detail from the passage, and questions that require application of passage information to new situations.
3) Any thoughts you had while taking the exam
Were you rushed? Did you feel extremely confident in your answer, or were you basically guessing?
4) Why you believe you missed the question
Was there something about the way it was worded? Were you confused about what it was asking? Why do you think you didn’t answer it correctly?
5) any notable characteristics of the answer you chose
Too often, students focus on the right answer alone, without devoting any thought to why their wrong choices were tempting. Since test-takers tend to make the same mistakes over and over, figuring out “what kind of wrong answers” you tend to choose can give you a huge boost in CARS. Was your wrong answer more extreme than the correct choice? Did it “go too far,” or apply the author’s points to something not within the scope of the passage? Was it simply taken from the wrong paragraph?
Now, you’re not done!
After you take multiple exams or finish a chunk of passages, go back over your LLJ. This is where patterns can truly start to emerge, and you can use these patterns to shape your future practice. If you typically miss the most questions in philosophy passages, work through practice on that topic using any resources you may have. If you often choose extreme answers when you’re short on time, keep that in mind and consciously scan the options for signs of overly strong statements. Guiding your review in this manner will help you reach your full potential in CARS – and maybe even learn a little about yourself as you do it!
If you’re still struggling with the CARS section, you may want to try some new strategies. If you’d like to see how the common strategies can work on actual practice passages, we have several pre-med webinars discussing the subject. You can see past webinar recordings here or check out a schedule of our upcoming webinars here.