Making CARS Passages Make Sense-Picking Out key Sentences Part II

Making CARS Passages Make Sense--Picking Out key Sentences Part II

Making CARS Passages Make Sense--Picking Out key Sentences Part II

I’m going to take a guess about where you are right now if you’ve been really using these blog posts. I think that the knot you have in your stomach over the CARS Exam is starting to loosen up a little. It may not be gone yet, but if you’ve been meditating every day, that limbic response is beginning to calm down. Moreover, the passages you’re working on are starting to make more sense, and after today’s installment they’ll start to make even more sense. That is, if you’re doing the work. Working on these lessons, really knowing the material, makes all the difference in analyzing a passage and getting the right answer. I don’t want to sound like your mom, but we want you to win. Do your homework! Getting the kind of MCAT scores that you need to get into medical school depends on it.

So now let’s take a look now at our last set of Rhetorical Cues: the types of words and word combinations that tell you that a sentence is a key idea sentence.

Words convey ideas, obviously. But words also convey which ideas are more important than others. Let me give you an example. Suppose you were working your way through school selling refrigerators at Sears on the weekends on commission. Working on commission means: no sales, no money. Now suppose you have the following exchange with a customer.

You: Good afternoon, Sir. Are you interested in this refrigerator?
Customer: Wow! It’s a real beauty. I’ve been looking for one for weeks. I love the capacity. It’s huge. It even has has a huge pull out freezer. You know I like to buy frozen foods in bulk and this would be perfect. I could store a month’s worth of food in there. And I love the way you can adjust temperature settings for different zones. That’s terrific!
You: Would you like to buy it?
Customer: I’d like to but I won’t. My father in-law makes these things and I can get it at his cost.

Now if you’re working on commission, in that whole exchange that goes on and on, there is only one key sentence that is relevant to you:

“I’d like to but I won’t.” Nothing else matters. The same is true in CARS passages. 80% of the questions have to do with key ideas and their relationships. But don’t worry, more help is on the way. You already know how punctuation points out Key Sentences. Let’s take a look now at different words and groups of words that tell us we’re reading a key idea sentence. 

Let’s go again to Examkrackers. This time we’re at page 4 Test II in the front of the book, the ‘Warm Up’ section, at the fourth paragraph.

Currently, the “power look” is the British business suit, with its limited range of dark colors and simple patterns. Simply put, executives are expected to wear a power suit, and the mere wearing of such suits signals subconsciously to viewers that the wearer must be a wealthy and powerful businessman. The power look gravitated toward the heavy British woolen suit because of a historical accident; Englishmen were driven by a combination of jingoism, greed and gunpowder to become the dominant colonial power and thus exported to economically and culturally subjugated nations their dismal fashion sense. Note that English fashion is not badly suited to life on the British Isles. The cold, sodden climate of England and Ireland are well served by heavy woolen suits and hats and heavy brogue shoes. However, these items are not suited for export to the sweltering dry heat of Africa and the antebellum South, or humid summers of New York’s Wall Street. And yet these ancient uniforms persist throughout all of Britain’s former colonies despite their obvious impracticality.

Let’s do an analysis of this paragraph using what we’ve learned so far. We know from the structure of the passage and from punctuation that the first sentence and last sentence are important. We also see a sentence with a semicolon. So let’s put them together and see what we get. I’m going to shorten and paraphrase these sentences (You’ll learn how to do that after we get into grammar).

The power look is the British business suit. It gravitated toward the heavy woollen Suit because of a historical accident. These uniforms persist throughout the Colonies despite their impracticality.

This makes a lot of sense. We know what the power suit is, and that it was just by chance that it came to dominate the former colonies even though it may be impractical in some places. But we’ve missed a lot. Knowing the types of words in the other category of Rhetorical Cues will help us pick out the rest of the Key Ideas.

The first of these is any word or expression that shows Emphasis, just like italics does in punctuation (Don’t worry, there will be a list of these at the end of this Email). There’s an emphasis expression in the second sentence “Simply put”. It’s like the author saying, “Let me make this point simple for you so you understand”. Later on in the paragraph, you’ll see that the author starts a sentence with “Note that”. What’s he’s telling you is, “Note this, pay attention to this point”. So Emphasis Words and Groups of Words are our first set of Rhetorical Cues in the word as opposed to the punctuation category.

The second group of verbal Rhetorical Cues are Contrast Words. Remember our refrigerator example. “I’d like to buy it but I won’t.” Whenever you have a contrast word that means the sentence has a Key Idea. You’ll see that toward the end of the paragraph, one of the sentences begins with a contrast word, “However”.

Now let’s add these sentences and compare the difference in meaning in our analyses of this paragraph.

The power look is the British business suit. It gravitated toward the heavy woollen Suit because of a historical accident. These uniforms persist throughout the Colonies despite their impracticality.

Compared to

The power look is the English business suit. Executives are expected to wear it and it conveys wealth and power. It gravitated toward the heavy woollen suit because of a historical accident. These suits are not suitable for export to hot regions. These uniforms persist throughout the Colonies despite their impracticality.

There’s a big difference, isn’t there. We’ve picked up two more really important key ideas that we can’t afford to miss: Executives are expected to wear them because they convey wealth and power, and they’re not suitable for export to hot regions.

Another group of words that show you have a Key idea sentence is Conclusion Words and Phrases. Whenever you see this kind of language in a sentence, there’s an important idea there. Why? Because the author is telling you that this is the relevance of the last few sentences just like a Conclusion Sentence at the end of a paragraph is telling you what the relevance of a paragraph is. Let’s take a look at another paragraph from Test 2 Passage III at Page 38.

Since they drew their legitimacy from fiat--their lack of reasoning or evidentiary Support--ancient laws tended to be simple and absolute. They were also correct By definition. A quintessential example of ancient law is the single minded rule of The ancient Furies: “every mortal soul whose pride transgressed/ the law of Reverence due to parent, god or guest/ shall pay sin’s just, inexorable toll.” Thus Under ancient law, the innocent are entirely vindicated... while the guilty are usually killed outright. Because theirs is a tradition of focusing on absolutes, the Furies are poor at differentiating between degrees of guilt and equally poor at Articulating the reasoning for their justice.

Again, I’m going to be using the grammar you’ll learn later to simplify the complex language in the passage when I analyze it. Let’s compare the difference when we include a key idea sentence with a contrast word. In the first example, we’ve got a Topic Sentence at the beginning, an emphasis word in the third sentence (“Quintessential” means the most significant example) and a Conclusion Sentence.

Ancient laws tended to be simple and absolute. A good example is the Furies. The furies are poor at differentiating degrees of guilt and innocence.

Compared to

Ancient laws tended to be simple and absolute. A good example is the Furies. You were either totally innocent or killed. The Furies are poor at differentiating degrees of guilt and innocence.

There’s a really big difference between these two, even though there is only one additional sentence. The first example makes the Furies justice just a theoretical concept. It’s fuzzy. In the second example it is very clear how stark the consequences of not being able to differentiate degrees of innocence and guilt are. This is a perfect sentence for an application question.

Let’s take a look at another type of language, Enumerations. Enumeration Language appears whenever an author wants to give you a set of criteria. This can be a very long list. It doesn’t help you to sweat and strain to try to remember all of the criteria in most cases for two reasons. First, you’re not going to have the time to memorize a lot of facts. You’re going to have to move quickly in the CARS Exam; and second, trying to remember a bunch of facts is only going to detract from your ability to focus on the key ideas and the relationship between them. Note that there are criteria listed. Read them, understand them, and keep on moving. Let me give you an example. This is at Test 11, Passage III, Page 182.

Recently, Bill Gates gave a speech at a high school in which he came pretty Close to the truth. It was about 11 rules the graduating students had not been Taught in school. He talked about how feel good politically correct teachings Have created a generation of kids who have no concept of reality and how this Lack of a concept sets them up for failure in the real world. Here is what he said:

Rule 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it.

Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will not make 40 thousand dollars right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.

The passage then goes on to enumerate the rest of the rules followed by a discussion. There is no way to remember all of these. What’s important to note, again are the key idea sentences and the fact that there is an enumeration. Read the enumerated items, understand what they are, and keep moving. So what we have here is a Topic Sentence, a Conclusion Sentence, and a Key Idea indicator or Rhetorical Cue that there is an enumeration. Your summary would look like this:

Bill Gates gave a speech at a high school. Here’s what he said. He laid out 12 criteria.

That’s all you need to do. Remember, you’re focusing on the key ideas and the relationship between them.

The next types of Rhetorical Cues using words are Questions and Addition Language. Whenever you see a question, wherever it appears in a paragraph, it’s there for a reason: the author wants you to find the answer. She’s posing a problem in the question that needs to be solved. So both the problem, the Question, and the Solution are Key Idea Sentences. With regard to Addition Language, whenever you have a Key Idea Sentence followed by Addition Language, that second sentence with the Addition Language attaches itself to the previous Key Idea Sentence, so you have to take note of it. Let’s take a look at a paragraph from Test 9, Passage II, Page 148, the third paragraph. It deals with whether physician assisted suicide should be legal. I’ve underlined the Question and Answer, and the Addition Language for you. Notice that “Moreover” is the equivalent of “in addition to” which is clearly edition language.

People who are healthy have a strong tendency to extrapolate understanding from the suffering of others in ways that those who are in fact suffering would not allow. For example, many of us look at a crippled, blind or otherwise handicapped person and say that we would rather be dead than in that position:

Would they? One of the most misleading images is that of the lucid, communicative patient, lying in intensive care, wracked with pain, being kept alive against his will by use of respirators, dialysis, machines, artificial nutrition, or other medical means. The patient who is being kept alive artificially always had the legal option of refusing life-supporting technology. They do not need physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Moreover, the image is also inaccurate because of the perceived association between pain and the wish to die. Empirical studies of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands (where the practices have been long accepted), the United States, and elsewhere indicate that pain plays a minor role in motivating requests for the procedures. No study has ever shown that pain plays a major role in motivating patient requests for physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.

So let’s do another comparative analysis using grammar to simplify the sentences (Don’t worry, there will be grammar emails).

Healthy people think about the suffering of others unlike suffering people. No study has shown pain to be a motivator for requesting assisted suicide Or euthanasia.

Compared To

Healthy people think about the suffering of others unlike suffering people. Would people in pain rather be dead? (No) They do not need physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. There’s only a perceived connection between association between pain and the wish to die.No study has shown pain to be a motivator for requesting assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Again, notice how big the difference is. The question is important and it's answered--NO--They don’t need it: there’s no studies showing pain as a motivator. So again, we see how the Question, the Answer, and Addition Language after a Key Idea Sentence tell you that these are Key Idea Sentences.

So you can see how important these verbal Rhetorical Cues are. To help you study, here’s a list with some examples. The examples are not exhaustive, but they will give you enough so that you’ll be able to build up a real sense of any others once you start using them on passages.

Verbal Rhetorical Cu

  • Questions: whenever an author poses a question, he’s raising an important problem. So is the Answer to the Question: It’s usually found in the same paragraph. Look for it.

  • Contrast Words indicate that a sentence is important because a particular point is being made by contrasting it to something else. Examples of these are: but, however, yet, though, nevertheless, despite, in spite of.

  • Emphasis Words: Emphasis words are used because an author wants you to pay special attention to the point he is making. Examples include: simply put, primarily, above all, essentially, naturally, especially, most of all, indeed, generally.

  • Conclusion Words tell you that an author thinks this sentence is especially relevant to his argument. Examples include: consequently, thus, so, hence, therefore, in conclusion.

  • Enumeration Sentences: Always note them. They signal important criteria. Read the criteria for understanding, but keep moving, noting that there are criteria listed.

Whew! We’ve done a lot of work so far. Remember, just keep practicing. Trust the system. This form of linguistic analysis works if you work it over and over again. If there are any areas that you get stuck on or don’t understand, come to one of our free classes. We go into all the parts of the CARS Exam and there’s plenty of time for you to ask any questions you might have and get the answers that you need. And don’t forget to send me any comments you might have. I read all of your emails.

Remember, it’s all about the fundamentals of language and understanding how they work. Use what you’re learning in these blog posts as you do your CARS practice passages. Make them the foundation of your MCAT CARS strategy. As you use them over and over again, you’ll see how your comprehension and speed improve. I’ve taught this material for many years and was even lucky enough to teach at one of America’s great universities. There are no “tips or tricks”. Mastering the fundamentals always works. Mastering the fundamentals of CARS is a big step in getting the MCAT score that you need to get into medical school. You don’t need to have average MCAT scores. You’re better than that. You’ve worked hard and succeeded at some of the toughest science courses. You can do this, and we’re here to help you in any way we can, so don’t be shy about contacting us with any questions you might have.

Until next time,

PS You’ll love the next installment. I’ll be demystifying that elusive topic of the “Relationship of Ideas”. Watch for it.