First Step in Improving Your MCAT CARS score: Grammar

In a previous post we introduced you to the basics of how to master Critical Analysis & Reasoning for the MCAT. Critical Analysis & Reasoning is basically a fancy way of referring to your verbal reasoning skills. Now we’re going to go more in depth about how to do that. We’re going to start by discussing grammar. Now why is grammar so critical for verbal reasoning?

Grammar is the language of verbal reasoning, just like math is the language of physics. Most of you have taken physics and realize that if you’re going to take physics at a higher level, you really need to know math. Math is the language in which physical concepts are contained, understood and communicated to others. It’s crucial in understanding how physics works.

Similarly, grammar is the language of verbal reasoning. It’s the way we understand ideas and key sentences in MCAT CARS passages, particularly those long sentences that go on for 5 or 6 lines and may contain 50 or 60 words. Grammar allows you to take that large wall of words and reduce it to 5 or 6 keywords. It gives you the concept of what the author is saying.

Grammar is made up of 2 parts: parts of speech and parts of a sentence. Parts of speech are the definitions and functions of individual words. It’s the jobs that words do and their nature.

Parts of a sentence deal with groups of words and how words relate to each other. So, let’s take a look at some examples. Then, in our next post, we’re going to take a look at an MCAT CARS passage to show you how important these concepts are and how they can quickly improve your performance.

Now for our first part of speech, we’re going to be looking at nouns. And what is a noun? A noun is the “name of a person, place, thing or idea.”

Here’s some examples:

        “Mary” = the name of a person.

        “home” = the name of a place.

        “car” = the name of a thing

        “history” = the name of an idea.

So again, nouns are the names of persons, places, things or ideas.

Another category of words is verbs. Verbs are either action words or description words. For example look at the sentence: “Mary walks to school.” “Walks” tells us the action that Mary takes.

Here’s another example: “Mary seems happy.” “Seems” describes what Mary is.

So that gives you an idea of what parts of speech are: figuring out what an individual word is and what type of word it is. And to do this, you just have to memorize some definitions.

Now, parts of the sentence are a little bit different. These involve seeing how words are grouped together. Let’s take a look at 2 different groups of words: a sentence and a dependent clause.

A sentence is a group of words with a noun and a verb that can stand by itself as an independent idea. You already know what a noun and a verb are so this should be pretty easy.

Take the sentence: “Mary went home.” We have a noun (“Mary”) and a verb (“went”). Those words can stand by themselves as an independent idea and that’s what a sentence is.

Now let’s take a look at what a clause is. A clause is a group of words with a noun and a verb that is part of a sentence. It doesn’t stand-alone by itself. For example: “After Mary went home, she went to bed.”

Now, in this sentence, we have 2 clauses: “After Mary went home” and “Mary went to bed.” Each has a subject and a verb but they’re very different. Notice that “Mary went to bed” here is not a sentence because it’s not standing by itself. It’s part of a sentence, but if you took it out of the sentence, it could stand-alone. We call this an independent clause.

But compare that to “After Mary went home.” It couldn’t stand by itself. If you just said, “After Mary went home,” you’d be waiting for someone to say something else. Okay, what happened after she went home?

We call these independent and dependent clauses. One is independent and can stand by itself if you take it out of the sentence (ex. “Mary went home.”) The other depends on the independent clause to make any sense (ex. “After Mary went home.”) Knowing these kinds of distinctions is very important for the MCAT test, especially the verbal section

Now we’ve only gone into a couple examples of parts of speech and parts of a sentence. Mastering verbal reasoning requires you to be familiar with all of them but we’re going to go ahead and analyze an MCAT CARS Passage using grammar in our next post.