Nov 6, 2019
  1. Pre-Medical
So, I am looking for CARS tips when reading a passage for getting all of the main ideas with each paragraph. I have reviewed a number of CARS strategies on SDN, but still have trouble with reflecting on all the main ideas after reading a paragraph (especially since there is so much to remember by the end of the passage). I'll often remember 2/3 of the main points, but then will get a question regarding that last main point. What has helped people remember each of the main points of each paragraph, especially after completing a very long, dense, abstract passage? How do you extract the main idea from paragraphs where there will be a sentence (i.e. philosophy) that seems like a huge run-on and makes no sense? For example, I tried mapping, but summarizing paragraphs into two to three words, actually makes me overgeneralize a paragraph and not factor in some of the main points. Lastly, could someone comment on timing, since it can take time to reflect on each paragraph (as well as with other strategies, such as highlighting and mapping)?


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Many times, the author will introduce their argument in the first paragraph. This is usually a good way to determine what the passage will be about, but in cases where the first paragraph is something like an anecdote, or is only tangentially related to the rest of the passage, it gets tricky. If you're having trouble with determining the main point of the passage after reading it, making an outline might be helpful. When you outline, you don't need to remember each individual argument, you just need to remember what the paragraph was talking about. If you're reading a passage about Gothic architecture, and a paragraph is about arches, your summary of that paragraph might simply be "arches were a key part of Gothic architecture." You don't need to memorize every part of a paragraph. But with this kind of outline, if you see a question about arches, you know where to go back to in the passage without skimming through the whole thing again.

If there is a sentence that you think makes no sense, don't get hung up on it. Your reading ability will get better only through doing practice, and that is also the only way to improve in CARS. When I was studying for the MCAT, CARS was my weak point, and I probably spent 1/3 of my total study time just doing CARS practice (~100 hours). As you do more practice, you'll be able to implicitly recognize the purpose of each paragraph, and notice less obvious intricacies (tone, purpose, etc) of the passage to help you realize what the main point of the passage is.

As for timing, it's really hard to say. My first instinct is that you should be spending no more than a few seconds reflecting on each paragraph, if any. If you feel like making an outline is helpful, then you should only spend ~10 seconds on each paragraph. Even this adds about a minute per passage, and when you only have 10 minutes per passage, that is a lot. As you do more practice, you will get a better feel for timing and what works for you.

Kevin W, MCAT Tutor
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