Testing Solutions' 30 Day Guide to MCAT CARS Success How to Use this Guide: For most students, the CARS section will be the most difficult section they'll face on test day. As pre-meds, most of us know how to study. We know how to memorize details and facts, and how to apply what we know under new conditions. We are not; however, particularly good at the soft skills the MCAT CARS section tests. To make matters worse, most students do not know how to study for the CARS section. They don't know what to practice, how to review, how many passages to do or even when to do them. They do some passages here and there, try this strategy then that, but they never get to the point that they feel comfortable or adequately prepared to do their best on the CARS section. This guide will answer all your questions and even some you didn't know you had. It's meant to be exhaustive and provide you with everything you need to know to achieve an ultra-high CARS score. It is your step by step guide to getting you from the couch to MCAT CARS success. Just a little bit about me to let you know my qualifications. I'm going to be an M1 at Stanford Medical School this fall (2016). I’m also the lead test writer for Testing Solutions, LLC. I’ve spent well over 1,700+ hours writing practice passages and questions sets and analyzing the AAMC’s released verbal and CARS practice materials in order to identify the patterns the AAMC uses when they construct their tests, as well as the most commonly seen answer traps they set for you. I’ve written 80+ passage and question sets from the ground up. I scored in the 99% percentile on the MCAT and have taught courses and was a private tutor for the country’s largest MCAT prep company. I got tired of their sub-par materials and highway robbery approach to preying on premeds fears to make a buck (As well as their preying on me. One of my tutoring students paid $175 an hour to work with me, and I was paid $30), so I left to start Testing Solutions, LLC. This is the only guide you'll need to get the score you want on the CARS section. I've read most of the other guides out there and the major forum threads on MCAT Verbal/ CARS. I've gathered all of the best ideas so you don't have to. I've weeded through the junk and have solidified the lessons, tips and tricks that have worked for my students over the years. In truth, the most important factor in determining your CARS score is the number of passages you do. I did over 400 passages when I was studying for the MCAT myself. There is no way around it. You have to do a ton of passages in order to strength the skills the CARS section tests. With that said, if you read this book one day at a time, master everything we discuss, AND do way more practice passages than you think a sane person would ever you, you are going to do well on the CARS section. The key is to give yourself a ton of time and to do a ton of practice. If you're able to do this for yourself, you have everything you need to do well on the CARS. One final note, if you have a question about this guide or the CARS section in general, we look at this thread often so please feel free to leave any questions you may have or use it just to check in. We'll usually respond within a day. ..::.. Table of Contents | Schedule to MCAT CARS Success: While our study guide is 30 days long, most MCATers will need roughly 90 days to get to an MCAT CARS score they'll be happy with. I've outlined the schedule I recommend to my students below, as well as the materials that you'll need to complete the schedule. Here Are the Materials I Recommend: Testing Solutions 30 Day Guide to MCAT CARS Success Handouts - Download all the handouts you'll need to go through this guide for free here. Get either Exam Krackers 101 Passage in MCAT Verbal Reasoning (EK101) or The Princeton Review's Hyperlearning Verbal Workbook (TPR) Testing Solutions CARS Practice Tests T1-T10 Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT Practice Tests 1 – 5 AAMC Official MCAT Sample Test AAMC Official MCAT Practice Exam (Scored) 1, 2, & 3 AAMC Question Packs 1 & 2 Need some extra help? Check out our partner MCAT Self Prep's Free MCAT Prep Course and Elite Private Tutoring Here's our Review of All CARS Materials Available on the Market! Phase I - For the first 30 days, while you cover the major strategy points in this guide, I recommend you use passages from either EK 101 or TPR. In this phase of your preparation, you'll do a total of 69 passages. I'll explain how and when to do these passages in the guide. Phase II - In the next 30 days, you'll take 14 CARS Full-Length Practice Tests. I recommend using Testing Solutions' Practice Tests (T1-T12) as well as your remaining passages from EK101 and TPR. You'll also use the AAMC Question Packs. In this phase, you'll do 126 passages. Phase III - In the final 30 days, your CARS prep will largely be integrated with your taking of full-length MCAT practice tests. I have you taking all three of EK's full-lengths, four of Next Steps' full-lengths, and the two available AAMC practice tests. There are break days built in so. One some break days, you'll do one passage, just to keep you sharp, while on other break days, you'll just rest. In this final phase of your preparation, you'll do 85 passages. Thus, if you follow this schedule to the “T,” you'll do 361 CARS practice passages. If you do that many practice passages, and follow the techniques I outline in this guide, you'll come as close to a guarantee of scoring 129+ on the CARS section as is possible. I have never had a student that has actually followed this schedule and not be happy with their score. This schedule was designed to fit into whatever general schedule/ approach you're employing for the other three sections. Most days, you'll spend around an hour and a half on CARS, but sometimes more will be required. The key to mastering the CARS is to do a little bit each day. You cannot cram for the CARS. This section must be respected. Just like how you eat an elephant, remember that it's just one bite at a time, one day at a time. WARNING: Do not get behind on this schedule. If you're worried about that, build in some extra break days at the end of the schedule (Which is to say, start this schedule 100 days out from your test instead of 90, however, the compressed and rigorous nature of this schedule does build your stamina and prepares you for the rigors of test day, so don't let too much time lapse between practice tests.) It is not possible to do two days in one to catch up. .... TIP: For those of you who will be going through this guide on a daily basis, it can be time-consuming to find the correct day's post due to all the questions. We've created a "Table of Contents" PDF which has links to each post. You can use the PDF to jump directly to the post you're on. Download your "Table of Contents" here! If you don't want to bother with reading this guide on SDN, our Practice Test Bundle includes a high-quality PDF version of this guide as an added bonus. Check it out here! ... Week I: In Week I, you'll do one passage per day. Day 1 – The Plan/ Getting Your Materials Day 2 – Breaking Down the MCAT CARS Section Day 3 – Reviewing/ Timing Day 4 – MCAT CARS Myths: The “Don'ts” Day 5 – How to Approach the MCAT CARS Section – The Passage Day 6 – Passage Types: Argumentative Day 7 – Argumentation: Modality Week II: In Week II, you'll do two passage per day, timed individually. Day 8 – Passage Types: Descriptive Day 9 – How to Use Keywords Day 10 – Health, Wellness, and Stress Management – The Second Key Day 11 – CARS Question Types: The Main Idea Day 12 – CARS Question Types: Passage Detail Day 13 – CARS Question Types: Implication Day 14 – CARS Question Types: Inference *Break -Don't do any passages today. Week III: In Week III, you'll do three passage per day, timed individually. Day 15 – CARS Question Types: Application Day 16 – CARS Question Types: Integration of New Information Day 17 – CARS Question Types: Attitude Day 18 – CARS Question Types: Meaning of a Term Day 19 – CARS Question Types: Author Technique Day 20 – CARS Question Format: Negation Questions Day 21 – CARS Question Format: Roman Numerals *Break -Don't do any passages today. Week IV: In Week IV, you'll do four passage per day until the 25th and then do five passages per day. Do the passages consecutively, timed together. Day 22 – CARS Answer Pathologies – Part I Day 23 – CARS Answer Pathologies – Part II Day 24 – CARS Answer Pathologies – Part III Day 25 – How to Take a CARS Full-Length Practice Test Day 26 – How to Review a CARS Passage Day 27 – How to Review CARS Questions Day 28 – How to Review CARS Answers *Break - Don't do any passages today. Week V: You'll do six passages on Day 29 and Day 30. Do the passages consecutively, timed together. Day 29 – Putting it All Together: How to Review an Entire CARS Practice Test Day 30 – Advanced Study Techniques Day 31 – 9 Passages from EK101 or TPR (90 Minutes) Day 32 – Review 9 Passages Day 33 – 9 Passages from EK101 or TPR (90 Minutes) Day 34 – Review 9 Passages Day 35 – *Break - Don't do any passages today. Week VI: Day 36 – 9 Passages from EK101 or TPR (90 Minutes) Day 37 – Review 9 Passages Day 38 – T1 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T1 Day 39 – Review T1 Day 40 – T2 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T2 Day 41 – Review T2 Day 42 – *Break - Don't do any passages today. Week VII: Day 43 – T3 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T3 Day 44 – Review T3 Day 45 – T4 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T4 Day 46 – Review T4 Day 47 – T5 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T5 Day 48 – Review T5 Day 49 –*Break - Don't do any passages today. Week VIII: Day 50 – T6 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T6 Day 51 – Review T6 Day 52 – T7 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T7 Day 53 – Review T7 Day 54 – T8 – Testing Solutions CARS Full-Length Practice Test T8 Day 55 – Review T8 Day 56 – *Break - Don't do any passages today. Week IX: Day 57 – (9) Passages from AAMC CARS Question Pack (90 Minutes) Day 58 – Review CARS Practice Test Question Pack Day 59 – (9) Passages from AAMC CARS Question Pack (90 Minutes) Day 60 – Review CARS Practice Test Question Pack Day 61 – (9) Passages from AAMC CARS Question Pack (90 Minutes) Day 62 – Review CARS Practice Test Question Pack Day 63 – *Break - Don't do any passages today. Week X: Day 64 – (9) Passages from AAMC CARS Question Pack (90 Minutes) Day 65 – Review CARS Practice Test Question Pack Day 66 – Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 1 Day 67 – Review Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 1 Day 68 – Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 2 Day 69 – Review Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 2 Day 70 – *Break - Do (2) Passage from AAMC CARS Question Pack Week XI: Day 71 – AAMC Official MCAT Sample Test Day 72 – Review AAMC Official MCAT Sample Test Day 73 – *Break – Don't do any passages today. Day 74 – Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 3 Day 75 – Review Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 3 Day 76 – *Break - Do (2) Passage from AAMC CARS Question Pack Day 77 – AAMC Official MCAT Practice Exam (Scored) 1 Week XII: Day 78 – AAMC Official MCAT Practice Exam (Scored) 1 Day 79 – *Break - Do (2) Passage from AAMC CARS Question Pack Day 80 – Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 4 Day 81 – Review Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 4 Day 82 – *Break - Do (2) Passage from AAMC CARS Question Pack Day 83 – AAMC Official MCAT Practice Exam (Scored) 2 Day 84 – AAMC Official MCAT Practice Exam (Scored) 2 Week XIII: Day 85 –*Break – Don't do any passages today. Day 86 – Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 5 Day 87 – Review Exam Krackers Full-Length MCAT 5 Day 88 – (5) CARS Passages from AAMC Study Guide Day 89 – *Break – Don't do any passages today. Day 90 – Test Day ..::.. Oh NO!! My test is in XX Number of Days: Despite our best laid plans, sometimes things don't turn out the way we intend. I often get emails from students telling me that their test is in a week or in a month asking what they should do. The following is my best advice if you find yourself in such a situation. Emergency #1 – My Test is in a Week: So your test is in a week and your score still isn't where you'd like it to be. What do you do? If you aren't close to your target score, my first recommendation would be to push your date back. I know this costs money and time, and it is not what you hoped for nor expected, as it may well throw off your plans/ schedule for applying to med school. But the MCAT is the single most important factor in your application. It is not the only factor, but it is hands down the most important factor. The rest of your application may be great, but a poor MCAT score will hurt even the strongest of applications and at some schools, if you don't make their “cut” score, your application might not even be reviewed. It is unfortunate that one day's test scores can undo years of research, volunteering, and all the hard work that goes into a strong GPA, but the truth is that your MCAT score very much can. It is not something to play with. This is the single biggest mistake most premeds make when it comes to their medical school application, and it costs many of them a shot at their dream career. If your test is in a week and you haven't scored within a scaled point of the lowest score you'd be pleased with on the CARS, my recommendation would be to delay the test for at least six weeks. Even if it means having to take a year off. Once you have a poor MCAT score attached to your name, every score after that score, no matter how high, will have your low score sitting right above it casting a shadow on all future attempts or hard work. Don't do that to yourself, unless you absolutely have to take the risk. The only situation in which I could possibly recommend you taking such a risk would be when 1) You absolutely have to take the MCAT at this particular time, 2) You'd be happy/ overjoyed with attending a lower mid to lower tier school, 3) Your other three sections are strong (127+) and you can reasonably trust that your other sections will be able to carry some of the weight if your CARS score doesn't, and 4) you would be ok with a 125 on the CARS. As for your school selections, if you do have to retake because of a bad score, your initial low score will not have as major of an impact on your application if you're applying to a lower mid to lower tier school. If you have your heart set on Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago or some other top tier school, or even many mid-tier schools, you simply cannot take the risk of having a low MCAT score on your application. Top 15 schools simply have too many good applicants to choose from. If you're ok with a 125 on the CARS, your situation isn't too gloomy, as most test takers already possess the reasoning capacity to score a 125 on the CARS if given enough time. The issue for most test takers is timing. You can improve your timing in a short period of time, so for most MCATers, it is possible to get from say a 121 to a 125 in a week or so if one works hard. I've seen it done, but with that said, don't expect to raise your score more than 4 or 5 scaled points in less than a month, especially if we're talking about picking up those points in the 123 to 125 range. Ok, with all of the warnings out of the way, what do I recommend you do when your test date is a week out? 1) Every day for the next five days, find 9 of the hardest passages you can and do each passage timed individually with the appropriate time interval per number of questions per passage (9 minutes for a 5 question passage, 10.5 minutes for a 6 question passage, and 12 minutes for a 7 question passage). Do each of the 9 passages individually setting the timer for the respective time for just that passage, but do all 9 passages consecutively, one right after the other, resetting the time after each passage. This will build your stamina but will also require you to do each passage at the correct CARS pace. Your timing will improve if you do this. When the timer goes off for the passage, do not finish the remaining questions. Move on to the next passage, and reset the timer. The pain of having to see those empty question bubbles one or two times will motivate you to get your timing under control, and to speed up. 2) Read through the passage once, shooting for a total time of 3 minutes, but be sure to take no longer than 4 minutes. Once you've finished reading the passage, do not go back to reread the passage under any circumstances until you've answered every question on the test. You cannot allow yourself to go back to look for details. Mark the question, guess, and keep moving. 3) Be sure not to spend more than two minutes on any given question. If you are stuck, mark the question, guess, and move on. You can come back to it later if you have time. The most likely reason you're struggling with the CARS section is because of your timing. Letting go of hard questions and limiting yourself to only two minutes per question is the easiest way to quickly improve your timing and thus CARS score. Almost anyone can score a 125 if given enough time. If you were to get your timing under control, right now as you read these words, you're very likely able to score in the 125 range on the CARS without any other improvements. Timing is key! 4) If you're still unable to get your timing under control after five days of 9 passages a day, the final option you have is what I call the “big gamble.” I am hesitant to recommend it except to those who are in the most extreme of cases and who are ok with an average or slightly below average score on the CARS section. This strategy would only be advisable for those who aren't able to get their scores above the 122 mark and have to take the MCAT within the next few days. Here's what you do. With the first 5 question passage you come to, you mark “C” for every question and then simply keep going. You don't read the passage, you don't read the questions. You basically take the hit and turn the 9 passage CARS test into an 8 passage CARS test. Let me explaining the reasoning behind this so you can decide if this option would ever be a wise move for you and your particular goals. This is not a good idea for anyone looking to score higher than a 125 on the CARS, so keep this in mind. Simply because of the odds of it, you will likely get 1 out of the 5 questions correct you guessed on. You may even get lucky and get 2 correct, but lets be conservative and say you just get one question correct. Thus, you start the CARS test with a possible score of 49 out of 53 (you've already missed 4 questions from your first skipped passage.) Now let's assume that with the extra 9 minutes you gain by skipping the 5 question passage, you're able to score a percentage correct of the remaining 49 questions at around 75%. This would have you getting roughly 36 or 37 questions correct, which leaves you solidly in the 125 range, plus or minus 1 question. If you get lucky or able to score higher than 75% correct with the extra time, you could reasonably be looking at the 126 range. This may be a good option for you if you're currently scoring in the 121 to 123 and your other sections are strong. For example, assume that you score 127, 128 and 128 on the other three sections. With a 125 on the CARS you end up with a 508 which isn't that bad of a score for many lower tier and mid to low tier schools. Instead of having to take the test again because of a 121 on the CARS, you'll end up with a reasonably strong composite score. If the rest of your application is strong, you'll be competitive at lower/mid tier medical schools. Like I said, I would only think about this strategy if you meet all four of the earlier qualifications I mentioned above. If you decide to go this route, take at least one practice test before your test day using this strategy to make sure that the extra time pops you up into the 75% correct range. If it doesn't, push your test day back. I'll just say this one more time. USER BEWARE on this one! Emergency #2 – My Test is in a Month: This is a much better situation to be in than the “My Test is in a Week” person. I've seen people go from the 122 range up into the 127 and 128 range in a month quite regularly. It is very possible. Here are the keys. Don't waste your time reviewing your practice tests until you get into the 127 to 128 range consistently. Use the time you would have been reviewing passages to do more passages. The truth is that reviewing the rational behind correct answers benefits you very little if your time is still off, which it almost always is for anyone scoring under a 127. Once you are no longer losing easy points to the clock, then you can start to review. As is almost always the case on the CARS, low scores are most commonly a result of poor timing. My prescription for your first two weeks is to do 5 to 6 passages each day. Set the timer for one passage and finish the passage and question set. When the time is up, reset the timer for the next passage, and move on, even if you haven't completed the questions for the previous passage. Be sure to finish reading the passage in 3 to 4 minutes, and don't go back to reread the passage for anything while answering the questions. After doing two weeks of the above, for the next five days, take a practice CARS test each day. Take one break day, and then repeat the five days, taking a practice CARS test each day. Don't waste your time reviewing your practice tests until you're in the golden 127 to 128 range. This will put you 3 days out from the test. Take another break day, and then take one final practice test two days before your test day. I'd recommend not even grading this one, as an aberrant low score might shoot your confidence. If you've done the above, you'll be in good shape come test day. If you find yourself no longer struggling to finish the test in time, then you can begin to review the passages even if you haven't reached the 127 range, but don't start reviewing passages and questions beyond taking a peek at the ones you got wrong until your timing is rock solid. I know this is uncomfortable for some of you, but trust me on this one Timing is the foundation of every ultra high score on the CARS. If you don't have timing, you have nothing. ..::.. In our next post, we'll review all available CARS materials so you can make the decision that's best for you.