MCAT Question of the Day: How to increase speed on MCAT Practice Passages, and in the MCAT Exam, especially in CARS?

One of the most frequently asked questions that we get from students is “How do I increase my speed on MCAT Practice Tests and in the Exam, especially in CARS?”.

Since most students have the greatest problems with speed in the CARS section, let’s address that first.

To increase your speed in CARS you have to do two things: the first is to increase your Verbal Reasoning Skills, your knowledge of how to analyze passages and questions.

The second is to increase your overall brain functionality, so you can you can go through the CARS section and the other sections faster and with greater accuracy.

So how do you first increase your Verbal Reasoning Skills?

One of the factors that most students fail to take into account is that the CARS Exam involves developing a whole new set of reading skills. Just because you can read a science text or newspaper and understand it, that doesn’t mean that you can analyze a CARS passage accurately and get the right answers to the questions. Just like you learned in your science subjects, You have to have a clear method of analysis. When you’re dealing with language, you have to know the basic elements of language analysis: Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. There are no shortcuts or ‘tips’ or ‘tricks’ or ‘ test taking techniques’. Just like learning physics, You have to master the basic analytical tools.

In CARS, learning Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic provides you with the tools of analysis you need to really understand passages and get the right answers.

Think of it like this. Right now, if you’re not getting at least a 127 in your CARS practice tests it’s because you don’t have a good set of analytical tools. Since you want to go to medical school, let’s look at this problem like scientists.

As you probably know, your understanding of written language takes place in your prefrontal cortex. There you have an entire network of neural patterns that organize information input to make it comprehensible. Think of it like a set of algorithms in a computer program. Now in studying science, what you focused on was detail and memorization. Those are the interpretive neural patterns that work very well in science. Details really matter. Change a small detail of a chemical formula and you have a very different result.

Not so in CARS. CARS requires an entirely different type of programing or algorithms. In dealing with written language, you could say that the opposite is true. Rather than focusing on details, your job is to Separate what is significant from what is incidental. This involves finding the main idea and key ideas. Once you find the main idea and key ideas, your job is to see what the relationship is between them, and then see what that suggests or implies. This requires a whole different set of neural patterns that don’t focus on details but instead act like a straining network separating what is significant from what is incidental and then seeing what the relationship is between these key ideas and the main idea. In effect you’re rewiring the brain.

This is what Rhetoric does, among other things. It shows you where the main idea and key ideas are in different kinds of passages, often in different places. It also shows you relationships and what these sentences suggest or imply. It also allows you to understand humanities passages which are really challenging for science students. In humanities passages, language often means not what it says, but what it suggests, and rhetoric allows you to interpret the different types of suggestive language and really understand what it means.

Another fundamental of language, Grammar, allows you to really understand and analyze questions and answers accurately. It gives you the tools to match the information in questions to the information in the key ideas and in the answers. It shows you how to solve that dilemma of when you’re really stuck on two answers and can’t tell which one is right. Grammar also gives you the ability to really understand any sentence in a passage, especially those long sentences that go on for a whole paragraph. Grammar gives you the ability to Reduce a sentence of 70 or 80 words down to 7 or 8 key words and really understand what the author is saying.

Now once you learn the principles of Grammar and Rhetoric and some logic rules really well, and use them over and over again, the neural patterns become so strong that there is a shift in comprehension and they begin to operate automatically without you even thinking about it. This is what neuroscientists call a shift from System II, where you have to think about what you’re doing, to System I where your brain acts reflexively. The research shows, and our experience in our courses shows, that once this occurs you’ll be able to go through a passage competently in about 4 minutes and answer the questions in an equal amount of time averaging one error every other passage, an accuracy rate of about 13 out of 14 questions. What’s even more interesting is that our research has shown that once you master CARS your other section scores will improve an average of 1.5 points per section simply because you’re reading more rapidly and analytically, and you understand the questions at a deeper level than you did before.

There’s no magic to this. It’s all science. It’s not about just doing passages over and over again and making the same mistakes. It’s about creating those neural connections that filter and analyze language quickly and accurately. And if you’re smart enough to succeed in a premed program, you’re certainly smart enough to learn how to do this. This is something that any junior or senior in the humanities has mastered, and you’re certainly as smart as they are.

Remember, it’s about mastering the fundamentals of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic, using them over and over in passages until they become automatic so that you can see what the main and key ideas are, see the relationship between them, and really understand questions and answers.

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve speed and other CARS topics, come to one of our free classes where you’ll learn more about Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic, and be able to ask any questions you might have. Just click this link and sign up to get an invitation to our next class.

Thanks for stopping by at the Cambridge Learning Center and best wishes as you prepare for the MCAT Exam.