MCAT Question of the Day: How do I answer Weaken or Challenge questions?

One of the biggest challenges that students have in the MCAT CARS Exam is answering questions. Getting a high MCAT Score in CARS, and getting high MCAT Scores in general are among the biggest challenges in medical school admissions.

In our last blog post we talked about how to approach questions in general and how to analyze “Support Questions”.  Let’s now take a look at “Weaken or Contradict” questions.

Let’s begin by reviewing the basic rules that apply to all questions:

Rule #1: 90% of getting the right answer is understanding the question fully. Again, that might seem kind of obvious, but one of the biggest causes of not getting the right answer is missing a single word in a question that can completely change it’s meaning. In order to make sure that you really understand every part of the question and what it’s asking you to do, you can follow these steps:

A. First read the question through to just get familiarity with the language.

B. Break it up into pieces. Remember we called these the “Constituent Elements” of the question--the key pieces of information in the question.

C. Stop and reflect on what each piece of the question means. Don’t skip any words.

D. Ask yourself, “What’s the “Strategy of the Question?” What precisely is the question asking you to do? It’s not enough to know that it’s a weaken question if you don’t know the exact steps of analysis that you have take.

The strategy for analyzing a weaken question is very precise. It’s the opposite of a Support Question. Remember, with Support Questions the strategy was: One or more constituent elements (or pieces of language) of the correct answer has positive evidence for one or more constituent elements (or pieces of language) in the question or key idea referred to.

With a Weaken Question, the Strategy is the opposite: One or more constituent elements in the correct answer has negative evidence or contradicts one or more of the constituent elements in the question or the key idea referred to.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Which of the following scientific advances would most seriously challenge the hypothesis involving the “space-time continuum”?

A. Association of time and space characteristics

B. Proof of Einstein’s theory or relativity

C. Further correlation of the consistency of light speed

D. Confirmation of characteristics distinguishing time from space

So let’s first read the question just to get familiar with the language:

Which of the following scientific advances would most seriously challenge the hypothesis involving the “space-time continuum”?

But you don’t want to just read the question quickly. Remember, most errors come from missing a key word in the question or misunderstanding what the question is asking you to do. So what we want to do is break it up into pieces, into constituent elements, to make sure we really understand what the question says and what it’s asking us to do. So let’s do that together.

Which of the following scientific advances = One of the answers below

Would most seriously contradict = Would provide negative evidence

Hypothesis involving “space-time continuum” = Key idea on “space-time continuum”

So now that we really understand each piece of language in the question, let’s ask ourselves what the strategy of the question is, what precisely its asking us to do.

Strategy: One or more constituent elements in the correct answer has negative evidence or contradicts one or more of the constituent elements in the question or the key idea referred to.

Here, the question is referring to a key idea on the “space-time continuum”. Let’s look at that key idea from the passage and break it down into its constituent elements:

Einstein’s theory of relativity tells us that time and space are part of the same entity called the space-time continuum.

Let’s take a look at what the constituent elements in this statement tell us:

Space and time = same entity = space-time continuum

Now let’s look at the question and answers again:

Which of the following scientific advances would most seriously challenge the hypothesis involving the “space-time continuum”?

  1. Association of time and space characteristics
  2. Proof of Einstein’s theory or relativity
  3. Further correlation of the consistency of light speed
  4. Confirmation of characteristics distinguishing time from space

Let’s take a look at the Constituent Elements of the correct answer:

Confirmation of characteristics = Proof of the elements

Distinguishing time from space = time and space are not part of the same entity.

Notice how “time and space not being part of the same entity contradicts the constituent elements in the key idea that space and time are part of the same entity known as the “space-time continuum”.

Notice how clear the answer is when you take this step by step analysis. Remember, verbal reasoning is a very precise science. Learn the rules and you’ll get consistent results: correct answers.

Again, remember the steps for analyzing any question and Weaken or Challenge Questions in particular.

A. First read the question through to just get familiarity with the language.

B. Break the language up into pieces. Remember we called these the “Constituent Elements” of the question--the key pieces of information in the question.

C. Stop and reflect on what each piece of the question means. Don’t skip any words.

D. Ask yourself, “What’s the “Strategy of the Question?” What precisely is the question asking you to do? It’s not enough to know that it’s a weaken question if you don’t know the exact steps of analysis that you have take.

Again, remember that the strategy for this kind of question is One or more constituent elements in the correct answer has negative evidence or contradicts one or more of the constituent elements in the question or the key idea referred to.

This seems like a lengthy process, but once your brain is trained to do this, it will operate like a reflex and you’ll be able to do it very quickly.

We offer free classes on Tuesday nights on questions and answers and other CARS issues. Join us as we go into real depth on a number of CARS issues and there’s always plenty of time to answer questions on any part of the CARS Exam that you may be having difficulty with. Just click the link below to register.

Video on finding key ideas: