The CARS section of the MCAT can be a nightmare. For students who’ve been focusing hard on STEM-based prereqs, there’s very little exposure to the type of verbal reasoning CARS questions present. So…
What is the best way to study for CARS MCAT?
The best way to study CARS for MCAT is to start early and focus on timing. Then, the more CARS questions you work through, the better technique you’ll develop. But you can also use resource books and courses to help guide you.
I’ll go into the finer details in this article. Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- The best MCAT CARS strategies
- Useful MCAT CARS resources
- Where you can get free MCAT CARS practice
- If you should do a CARS prep course
As a med student myself – and one who certainly struggled with CARS – I know how problematic this section can be on top of an already stressful study plan.
But you can get on top of it!
Ready to learn more? Let’s go.
MCAT CARS Strategies
Here are some of the top tips I recommend when it comes to CARS strategy:
Use Old AAMC Exams
You can find old AAMC exams online with a simple Google search (try “AAMC pdf”). From there, pick out the relevant CARS questions, make an archive of them and make it a routine practice to do several per day.
Don’t sweat on getting them right at first. Instead, focus your energy on consistently attempting them. That’ll help you become familiar with the format and style.
Later, you can use other resources and strategies to work on your technique and reasoning.
Time spent reading high-quality newspapers and picking out well-written articles (that you wouldn’t usually read) can build your reading comprehension nicely for CARS.
Take a look at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Telegraph (UK), or even the Financial Times. Spend around 30 mins per day taking in a breadth of writing on various different topics.
Focus On Incorrect Answers (Just As Much As Correct Ones)
Although most of the resources recommended below will give you detailed reasoning for both correct and incorrect answers, not all do.
In terms of CARS study practice though, it’s hugely important you focus on incorrect answer feedback.
Seeing why particular answers don’t work is critical in helping you hone your technique.
Don’t Let Your Score Dictate Your Confidence
It’s important to not let bad scores crush your spirit.
Effective CARS study is massively dependent on grit, determination, and exposure.
Humbling yourself with wrong answers is the only way to make improvements. Don’t let your scores using these resources plague your thinking.
You need to do a ton of CARS questions to stand a chance of doing well on the actual day of the MCAT.
And that’s equally true if you’re consistently scoring highly too.
Pick out the most reliable and recommended resources, buy a couple of them (second hand – doesn’t need to be brand new), and set aside an hour a day of your MCAT study plan having a go at passages and sample questions.
The earlier you start exposing yourself to CARS, the more comfortable you’ll feel with them in the long run.
Focus on figuring out the main point first, not the intrinsic details.
Don’t let other aspects of the MCAT; biology, chemistry, etc., take total precedence over your study plan!
Work On Timing First, Analysis Later
Probably the biggest tip when it comes to CARS is to focus the first part of your study on timed answers.
Work to an actual timer and be ruthless. Aim for an average of 10 minutes per passage.
Doing this, will force you to skim over texts, review questions quickly, and see what to prioritize answering first.
Neglect timing and you won’t even see the question, let alone think about logical strategies to go about answering it!
For that reason, it’s probably better to leave the AAMC’s official resource until later in your study plan.
Having your timing in place first means you can set aside a day later to go through and analyze the types of questions you’re getting wrong and the clues in the question stems.
Don’t Rely On Flashcards
The CARS section is one of the few areas you can’t rely on rote memorization of facts for on the MCAT.
Unlike the biology, chemistry, and physics sections – where a solid foundation of facts and principles can help guide your reasoning – you can’t use flashcards to help you prepare for CARS.
Related: Best MCAT Anki Decks (Free & Fast!)
What to do if you’re still struggling with CARS MCAT problems
There really is no other answer than more practice! There’s no shortcut to getting good at CARS, other than pouring through as many example passages as you can and letting the feedback guide you.
You have to learn to love the grind.
Besides that, however, there is a whole heap of techniques you could experiment with.
Check out this article; How To Get Better At CARS For The MCAT (Reddit’s 23 Best Tips) for more inspiration!
MCAT CARS Resources
AAMC’s resource is not only official (and therefore probably the most reliable) but also the best resource for practicing CARS. Their two-volume 120-question packs focus exclusively on CARS passages, while the MCAT Official Prep CARS Diagnostic Tool helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your technique.
The reason why it’s the best is that it breaks down exactly what question type it is (comprehension, reasoning, etc) and effectively tells you where you went wrong or right.
Knowing that the answers and formatting come directly from the company responsible for creating the MCAT itself, also helps fill you with confidence as to the utility of practice using this resource.
But you shouldn’t use it first!
Using this later – after working with some of the other resources on this list (e.g. Examkrackers and The Princeton Review) – will help you dial in both your timing and logical reasoning first.
As mentioned before, Google around for the old AAMC exam papers, pick out the CARS section, and have a go.
How best to use this resource?
Consider separating one 120-question volume in half (60 questions) and then separating it again into 5 passage blocks.
Go through them in two 50 minute sessions. Resist seeing instant solutions.
Come back later after several hours and review.
The freshness will help you cast a more critical eye over your technique and will avoid the distraction immediate feedback (joy at getting it right, despair at getting it wrong, etc.) provides.
UWorld is thought by some to be the next best practice for CARS outside of AAMC material.
But the feelings are mixed, and some pre-meds argue that the questions are a lot different from what’s expected and probably not worth your time.
I didn’t use the resource myself, as I wasn’t even aware UWorld offered CARS practice at the time, but they’re usually pretty reputable when it comes to quality, accuracy, and real-time performance tracking.
It’s probably worth a free trial but, due to price, might be best saved until you’ve run out of all other passages.
Is UWorld CARS harder than AAMC?
Some students argue that UWorld’s CARS questions borrow heavily from AAMC’s stems. You’ll probably find they’re of comparable difficulty.
3. The Princeton Review MCAT CARS Workbook
Princeton Review (PR) suffers from the stigma of having some of the more boring or annoying CARS passages out of the resources listed.
But they’re also said to be very close to what you can expect to see on the MCAT itself!
What PR does well is length. Passages are very close to AAMC’s level of detail, making them perfect for hammering down on your pace and timing.
The other feature; “Question Difficulty” ratings, also help you better understand which questions to prioritize answering first.
Although analog, there’s also a chart that allows you to track your performance over time.
Buy this used as the original price is pretty steep!
Next Step CARS is pretty variable when it comes to the quality of their passages and solutions. Still, the 108 passages are still a good buy for extra practice.
Next Step’s topic choice is what separates it out from other resources. It’s diverse in covering world history, the arts, politics, and social sciences. That helps make the passages a little more interesting compared to other resources.
Again, this serves up detailed explanations for both correct and incorrect answers.
Try NS108 CARS, helped me a lot with timing and understanding. It’s more difficult than AAMC so when you get to AAMC you feel more comfortable.– u/gakupovi
Examkrackers comes pretty highly recommended with past and present MCAT’ers.
Combined with Khan Academy and AAMC, it was also my first port of call when it came to CARS exam practice.
There are two versions of the resource; the post-2015 Examkrackers MCAT 101 Passages: CARS (more up-to-date and accurate) and the Examkrackers 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning (super cheap at 442 pages).
Both have fantastic explanations for both correct and incorrect answers that can really help guide your reasoning.
Just don’t rely on them as a solid indicator of your score. And understand that their answer keys have a couple of inaccuracies.
How best to use this resource?
Consider starting out with this study resource first. The level of difficulty can be off-putting but don’t let that deter you. The solutions and detailed explanations here are very useful in helping you understand the importance of CARS (and how much practice could be required).
What about CARS prep courses? Are they worth it?
Repeat readers of this blog will know I’m a big proponent of self-study and not a huge fan of prep courses (basically the same conclusion I come to here – Are MCAT Prep Courses Actually Worth It? (Major Pros & Cons)).
And it’s much the same for these courses when it comes to CARS prep.
For the most part, I think it’s possible to prepare well without.
Jack Westin CARS
One particularly interesting course focused on CARS prep and technique is that offered by Jack Westin.
Jack’s course gets mixed reports but has obvious benefits. For those really stuck or continuing to struggle, I do think it can be a good fit.
It’ll help you get to the very basics of reading comprehension, build your confidence and bring a community of other students together that you could gather strength from.
But it is expensive! And that’s a drawback that could deter many.
You can read more broadly about my opinion on it here…
Free CARS MCAT practice
As previously stated, you don’t need to spend money preparing for CARS (although I’d argue a small investment in some of these resources is definitely worth it).
Either way, you should definitely consider practicing from the following excellent resources…
Probably the best free CARS resource out there, definitely make sure you set some study time apart to run through this entire section.
There’s enough here (passages and answer guides) to keep you busy for days.
Another benefit is the feedback for each passage given by real users. Diving through those can help give you further ideas on how best to study for CARS and how to approach questions in terms of strategy.
My Testing Solution, which used to have a free CARS passages book floating around (you still might be able to find it), has a free trial passage (and trial lesson) you might want to check out.
Jack Westin Question of the Day
Jack Westin’s free daily CARS practice questions are another resource 100% worth signing up for. You’ll get these, along with explanations and solutions, directly in your inbox.
This is also one of my top recommendations in this article; 8 Best MCAT Question Of The Day Services (Free & Paid!)
It’s only an excerpt but Kaplan has a quick free introduction into CARS-style questions and the type of logic involved in mastering passages.
Shemassian Consulting has 3 free passages (each with 4 questions) worth working through. The passages are full-length but only give feedback on the correct answers (not the incorrect ones – like some of the resources above!)
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.