Mastering Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills is Like Learning to Play a Sport

Probably the best analogy you can make to mastering the skills needed for the MCAT CARS section is in athletics. Think about if you wanted to learn how to play tennis, and let’s just take one part of that.

If you’re going to play tennis, the first thing you have to do is learn how to serve the ball, and serving the ball is made up of a lot of discrete movemements.

The first thing you have to learn is putting your left foot in front of your right foot (in the event that you’re right-handed). You’re then going to have to look up and throw the ball up into the air and as you do so, take the racket back behind you and then swing it over your head in an upward arc. And as you do that, watch the ball and then watch where it goes while, at the same time, rotating your hips and putting all of your body power into that movement. You’re then going to have to move your foot back and get ready to move to wherever on the court the opposition has served the ball back to you.

Now, those are a lot of steps, but after a period of time, after you practice them, after you remember them, and after you master them, they become a reflex. You do them automatically. When you go out and serve the ball, you’re not thinking, “Well I’m going to put my left foot forward and I’m going to throw the ball in the air, then I’m going to overhand…” - no. These are all habits that you develop, in sports they call it muscle memory, but it really is neurological memory when these things become ingrained and become more automatic responses.

The same holds true in grammar and in verbal reasoning (which is really just the simpler term for "Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills"). What will happen is, in the beginning, you’re going to memorize a lot of definitions. After you’ve memorized them, what you’re going to do is apply them to the text and as you apply them more and more, they will become natural to you. They’ll become like a reflex action and you’ll be able to do them quickly and efficiently. You’ll even get to the point where you won’t have to think about them, where you can look at a very long sentence (like the ones we looked at in our last post), and just automatically go to the main concept.

Think of it this way: what we’re actually doing is installing a new operating system in your frontal cortex. We’re putting in a new set of algorithms for the way you analyze language, and what happens after a while is that, instead of just having to worry about writing the algorithms and understanding them, they work by default. The same thing happens in verbal reasoning.