How Long Should it Take to Read & Comprehend a MCAT Passage?

Students often ask us how long it should take them to read and comprehend any given MCAT passage. What we tell them is not to think in terms of passages but instead to think in terms of questions.

The MCAT CARS section contains 53 questions and you are given 90 minutes to finish this section. That averages out to a little over 101 seconds per question. To stay on the safe side, let’s assume you have 100 seconds per question. But then you have to include in that the time it takes for you to read the passage.

So for each passage, Just take the number of questions, multiply it by 100 and that’s the number of seconds you have to read the passage and complete the questions. For example, say you have a passage with 6 questions. That means you have 600 seconds, or approximately 10 minutes, to read the passages and answer all 6 questions. Performing this quick calculation will help you pace yourself throughout the MCAT CARS section.

Now some passages are going to be harder than others and therefore might take a little more time to read and comprehend. What we teach our students to do in our Intensive MCAT CARS Course (link to course) is to pick out which passages are the easier passages. Then we work with them to get them to average about 75 seconds per questions. This allows them to save 25 seconds per question and devote that time to the harder passages. That way students have plenty of time to analyze the harder passages and really do a good job. Since most questions students miss are from the harder passages, this gives our students the ability to really distinguish themselves and score higher than average on the MCAT CARS section. On these sections, an additional 2 correct answers can sometimes mean a full point jump in your score.

Some students struggle with timing because they feel they are slow readers or because English isn’t their first language. If you fall into one of those categories, don’t worry. You can do just as well as others that don’t. Check out these articles for our advice on what you should do: "Improving Timing on the MCAT" & "How ESL Students Should Approach MCAT CARS"