Communities like r/mcat and r/premed have some of the best recommendations when it comes to med school prep.
Although I have my own preferred strategies, it can be great to review and curate some of their best answers when it comes to improving on the CARS section of the MCAT.
So that’s what I’ve done here, picking out 23 tips I think might prove useful to those of you struggling.
Having already made it into med school, I wish I’d seen some of these pointers back in the day!
Ready to go? Let’s get started…
Before we dive in; if you’re looking for a quick dip into strategy and a recommendation of CARS resources (many of which are mentioned in this article), then check out: The Best Way To Practice CARS For The MCAT (Strategy & Resources) first!
How to Master CARS MCAT
Here are the questions (and answers) that are probably worth reading over first on your step to mastery!
How many CARS practice questions should I do per day?
I usually would do one every day, and then one day a week I would do 3-5 in a row to work on endurance. I did however do this for a good period of time (consistently for a little over two months) so if you are studying for less time I’d do two a day. It’s really all about getting consistent exposure to the point where reading a passage and answering 6 questions on it is second nature.– u/ThanosDrivesAPrius
I like this idea of building endurance. Starting early and getting consistent exposure is something I also recommend.
There’s probably no real definitive answer in reality though.
It will depend on when you started your studies and how long you have until test day!
Yes, you can improve CARS (but you’ll need discipline)
I went from a 125 to 128 in 3 months of studying, so I definitely think you can improve. But it is going to take a flip in perception or tactic in the way you approach the CARS. Start doing your research and find what works for you. I think the most important thing is once you have found what works for you is to be discipline and practice it everyday till it is just beat into your head.– u/FlyingHindu312
There are lots of anecdotes on Reddit of students improving their CARS scores within relatively small time windows.
You maybe can’t expect miracles in a matter of weeks, but a slow grind over months will surely add up.
Another reason to start as early as you can.
How to get Better at CARS for the MCAT: quick tips
1. Read the questions first. Do NOT read the answers.
2. Avoid superlatives/extreme answers. If you’re between two answers, always go with the more general of the two.
3. Answer like you’re 5.
4. Attack the passage. Literally read aggressively. Also, pretend to be interested in the passage.
5. Go passage by passage, don’t jump around in order or rate “easy” and “hard” passages
6. Get your timing down so you finish with a few minutes left; it isn’t worth having a lot of time left over and going back
7. Do the Jack Westin practice passage every day– u/ThanosDrivesAPrius
I strongly recommend reading the entirety of this Reddit poster’s CARS tips. They flesh out each point in more detail and do it from the perspective of someone grounded in STEM rather than the liberal arts.
I’ve already recommended Jack Westin’s free practice passages numerous times on this site!
Related: Is Jack Westin CARS Course Worth It? (Plus Beginner Tips!)
MCAT Passage Strategy: Reddit’s Tips
Practice under timed conditions (with these constraints)…
Do all your practice passages under timed conditions, and look ahead to how many questions are in each passage that you are doing. Then follow these time constraints.
5Q passage = 9min
6Q passage = 10.5min
7Q passage = 12min
These are generous time constraints and by the end of your studying you should be trying to nail the easier passages well under these constraints.– u/FlyingHindu312
In fact, FlyingHindu312’s dossier; CARS Rules of Discipline, has many, many excellent points.
Including (but not limited to); categorizing your paragraphs, leaving all prior knowledge at the door, and never switching your answer (unless 100% sure you’ve found a supporting passage).
Definitely review that if you have the time.
Categorizing my errors and making an Excel sheet to keep tally of the most common types of errors I’m making – and reviewing them often really helped me.– u/lilmulla1
A nice tip for the analytical types. Possibly labor-intensive but useful if you’re performance tracking outside of integrated programs like UWorld etc.
Highlight, or be wary of any contradictory words, such as except, not, but, etc. Be extremely active when reading these sentences.– u/harshdaddy
Highlighting is controversial when it comes to CARS technique. Many say it’s a waste of time, others get a lot of utility out of it.
Highlighting only the contradictory words could be a happy medium between the two.
Especially as the supporting sentences/passages commonly follow after.
Find proof in the passage
I started noticing improvement when I made myself find proof in the passage for every answer I chose. So I’d read the passage fully, highlight key parts of each paragraph, and then read a question, think of what answer I thought it was, but still looked in the text and chose my final answer based on that…Find a strategy that you like (but should incorporate referring back to the text), then practice it a ton.– u/mgato522
I agree that you should always be looking for a supporting statement (or proof). The more CARS practice you do, the easier this will become.
How to Improve CARS speed on the MCAT
Speed is your best friend when it comes to CARS. Here are some techniques you can use to get better at that…
Skim first, closely read second
I find that if I quickly skim over the passage instead of closely read the first time, I have a similar level of understanding but way more time to look back for passage evidence with specific questions.– u/mcat_MURDERER_yall
Another technique worth trying but perhaps not suitable for all.
Non-native speakers of English may probably benefit from a deeper first read.
And there’s also the technique of…
Read so thoroughly the first time you don’t have to go back
The best tip I received is to read the passage thoroughly the first pass so that you don’t have to go back when answering the questions. I just read in my head in a loud voice which helped me retain the passage. I rarely went back to it during the questions. It’s not an exact science but i developed a feel for how to answer the questions!– u/act10njacks0n
This contrasts the last point but could be worth trying if you find yourself struggling with having to go back to the text repeatedly.
Breathe and don’t get hung up for too long
For me, the MOST important things I’ve learned are to read EVERY sentence carefully and take a 2 second breather between paragraphs to mentally understand what the paragraph was about. Additionally, don’t get hung up on a question for too long! I always used to spend way too much time trying to re-read and re-read a paragraph to understand and this really cut into my time. If you can narrow it down to 2 answer choices, just pick one and move on. It isn’t worth it when there could be more easier passages later on that you can do well on.– u/redherringfish
Getting good at CARS is like fighting a war of attrition. You need to be kind to yourself and employ mental pauses to process everything going on.
An attempted question is always better than a missed one.
Getting hung up? Go with your gut instinct
What works for me is I try to choose answers as quickly as possible. If I find myself agonizing over a question, I’ll go for my gut instinct, flag it, and I move on. This way, I can usually get through the section with 30 minutes to spare, so I take the rest of the time to go back and thoroughly read through the questions that stumped me on my first pass-through.– u/cdnpmed
This is exactly what I recommend on medical school exams (that are particularly MCQ-heavy) too.
Practicing a lot of CARS-like questions can sometimes have the downside of making us possibly too overly analytical.
Keep that gut response in mind. Especially if time is pressing on.
I hate CARS MCAT
And if you hate CARS, these tips might help…
While reading the passage pretend as if you’re explaining it someone else, that helps me understand it better and read it more quickly.– u/NigroqueSimillima
This is a strong active recall technique that will serve you for years in med school (and beyond). It may be useful for some, but definitely be conscious of the time it can take too.
Use a friend
One thing that helped me was doing passages with my friends who were also studying because that forced me to find evidence in the passage and explain my answer!– u/imactuallyacake123
This borrows on nicely from the last point. Bringing a social element to study can help motivate you to get through a ton of otherwise boring passages.
You can still do well (despite hating it)!
Something to ease your nerves is that you can still miss a good number of questions on CARS and score well – i.e. if you can just get like 60% of the questions right on really hard passages and nail the rest of the ones you find easier, you’ll set yourself up for 127-128.– u/Jgell23
Finally, I thought I’d end on this high point; that you could still do horribly on CARS but still perform well on the MCAT.
Hopefully, that’s a little pick-me-up for those feeling downtrodden in the trenches.
Time is on your side. Play with some of these strategies. Keep practicing!
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in 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.