How to Make Sense of a MCAT CARS Passage

In previous posts, we dealt with such topics as rhetoric and grammar, which are the building blocks for improving your verbal reasoning skills. The next step is to learn about reflective intelligence and the relationship of ideas.

What is reflective intelligence? And how does it apply to the relationship of ideas? How does all of this fit into the bigger picture? What we’ve learned about rhetoric is that it allows us to see the structure of an essay. It allows us to pick out the main idea, and it also allows us to pick out those sentences that have the supporting ideas that advance the argument in the essay.

Once we pick out the key sentences that have the main ideas, we can then use grammar to really reduce those sentences, even if they’re seventy to eighty words, to a very clear, succinct idea that we can really understand. Now, once rhetoric gives us the ability to pick out the key sentences, and grammar gives us the ability to really understand what those sentences say, it’s the relationship of ideas and reflective intelligence that allow us to see the relationship between those, how the argument develops, and what the author is really telling us that may not be explicitly stated in the essay.

Why is this important? In any essay, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Of course you can understand where the key ideas are, and you can understand what those key ideas say clearly, but there’s always something that the essay suggests. There’s always something that they’re asking you to infer or conclude. There’s always something that is implied.

Think of it like a number series. You may have a series: 2, 4, 6, 8, __. Obviously 10 isn’t written there, but the sequence of numbers leads you to the conclusion that there should be a 10 there. You can understand the relationship of the numerical symbols and what they necessarily imply.

The same thing holds true in critical analysis & reasoning. You may have an essay where the author is making a very strong case on a particular issue, but he doesn’t explicitly state a main point that he wants to make. He wants you to conclude it, to draw the inference from what he has told you so far. This is where reflective intelligence comes in, seeing the relationship of the parts to the whole and what that relationship suggests or implies, what you can infer or conclude.

Why is this important. It’s important because that’s what you’re going to be doing every day as a doctor. You’ll be seeing a patient’s symptoms, counter indications, and other factors and your job will be to conclude what those things suggest or imply, what you can infer or conclude. That’s the art of diagnosis and that’s probably the main thing they are testing in verbal reasoning, your ability to draw conclusions from the relation of ideas just as you will be drawing conclusions from what your patients will be telling you.

Now that we’ve given you an overview of reflective intelligence and the relationship of ideas, the next step is to apply this to a passage in combination with grammar and rhetoric, which we’ll be doing in a future post. But first we’ll be combining grammar and rhetoric together to analyze a passage before throwing reflective intelligence and the relationship of ideas into the mix. Stay tuned.