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MCAT CARS preparation strategy for ESL student


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Hello everyone,


I am new to this community, so please, bear with me. I would like to kindly ask you to share your experience and tell me how you overcame some of the challenges to achieve a good score on MCAT CARS? I have taken MCAT twice in the summer of 2017 and summer 2018. I read Kaplan CARS textbook and did a lot of practices. However, both of times my CARS score stayed at 122. 

Would somebody kindly be able to help me identify my core problem and offer some advice in building a good strategy to prepare for my next MCAT?


On my retrospective thinking, I have an impression that my main problem is I do not understand what I am reading. Even when I read some of the passages (like from drama, literature, archeology, history) very slowly I still do not understand all the details (or enough to answer the questions). My background is in general sciences, so I had very limited exposure to arts and humanities. 


Regarding hiring a tutor, I have been thinking about it a lot. First of all, they are very expensive and way out of my student budget. Second, I am thinking that since I was able to progressively succeed at university (from 2.0 to 4.0), and was able to improve on my other MCAT sections, I have some tools and skills to be an independent learner. Please, do not receive it as if I am bragging. I am just trying to think rationally and reason out if such a big investment is appropriate in my specific situation. 


I would sincerely appreciate each feedback and it would mean a lot to me.

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I don't know how much of a help I will be but I can offer you at least some advice from my own experiences. 

So I took the MCAT in the summer of 2018 and within a span of 4 weeks was able to improve my CARS score from a 124 to a 128 by changing simple things. I realized that because of the time crunch, I found myself skimming rather than reading the passages. I also realized that because passages can be so long at times, that by the time I finished the passage I couldn't remember what I had just read. I changed two fundamental things when I practiced that helped me improve a lot. 

a) Instead of reading the information on my head, I started to mouth the words or slightly read them under my breath - this not only made me focus more on what I was reading, but it also increased my capacity for understanding the information that I had just read. 

b) I highlighted information only if it felt absolutely important to the passage or else I felt I would go overboard and important information would get lost. 

When you are practicing, are you reading the solutions they are giving you? I found for me personally, the solutions didn't really help. For practice I leaned heavily on the AAMC practice material and the khan academy practice the most. I don't think a tutor will help you because with CARS a lot of the questions stem from you being able to understand the passages, and the only way you can understand is if you read a lot. Not only CARS practice reading but also reading for fun. 

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Hi Sarypishik,

I agree on every point that kwrgvnq mentioned and would like to add my own suggestions, too.

Personally, I struggled a lot with CARS.  It was a great challenge to overcome and I totally understand how you feel.  But let me tell you that it is definitely NOT impossible for you to get a fantastic score.  Also, you do not have to have luck on your side to succeed; if anything, luck plays a minimal role on the MCAT.  It is all about you and how you decide to prepare.  If you prepare correctly and work consistently, you'll be unstoppable.

If you are struggling with CARS, it may be that you need more time to bring yourself up to a high-scorer level.  Have you been spending a month, two months, six months, a year to prepare for CARS?  Some people require less, some require more.  In my opinion, the more time you spend practicing CARS, the more you've done yourself a favour.  Think of CARS as getting in shape/bodybuilding.  It is something that needs time and consistency.  You can't go from an average Joe to the Hulk in a month or two, haha.  Or if you're musically-oriented, you can also think of CARS as preparing to perform at a musical concert.  It is very difficult to cram all your practices in the last few weeks before the concert.  Even if you spend 10+ hours every single day, you have not experienced practicing over a longer duration of time.  Such a strategy may work for the science sections of the MCAT, but certainly not for CARS.

The best advice I can give you is to practice a little EVERY single day (consistency factor) over a long period (time factor).  And the practice can be very little, perhaps 2 passages per day.  But practicing needs to be done correctly.  When you practice a passage, start by using a timer and count up (basically a stopwatch), and see how long it is generally taking you to complete a passage (and when you are doing the passage, don't think about the time component at all, just focus and try to go for accuracy).  After every passage, evaluate yourself and think about how and why you scored questions correctly and/or incorrectly.  After you are consistently scoring well on a passage (say 100% or maybe 1 question incorrect in a passage), then start to focus on perfecting your time; start counting down.

Let me now tell you a little about my methods of practicing.  I basically used 3 ways of preparing for the CARS:

1)  Reading novels – generally to get my eyes used to reading.

2)  Online articles – the Economist is PERFECT for this!!  (I'll explain more below.)

3)  CARS passages – this is an obvious component of practicing.

I read novels solely to get my eyes used to reading.  I didn't really read to critically analyze things.  It was fun and also made me comfortable with reading text all the time (for reference, I read 1 novel per week).

For the online articles, the Economist is perfect because the majority of their articles are similar in length to CARS passages; also, all the topics are there!  See the image I've uploaded.  These are all the topics the AAMC claims the CARS section may test.  I basically pulled out these topics, went on Google and searched "online articles economics the economist", for example, and clicked the link that went to their page (in the example:  https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/).  There, I found so many awesome articles to read.  I used this component of practice for the purpose of critically thinking about what I read.  I also timed myself and treated it exactly like a CARS passage, with highlighting and everything (I just copied the text from their site and pasted it in Word to use the highlighting feature).  For this sort of practice, I strongly recommend that you do this on the computer (reading and highlighting if you're doing that) and not on a piece of paper, since the MCAT is a computer-based exam.

Lastly, I completed CARS passages, which is obviously important.  For this, I definitely recommend you get The Princeton Review CARS Workbook for one of your practicing sources (Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/MCAT-CARS-Workbook-Princeton-Review/dp/B01MT6IHHN ; you can also probably find it on craigslist, too).  Another GREAT source of CARS passages for practice, in my opinion, is NextStep (Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/MCAT-Critical-Analysis-Reasoning-Skills/dp/1502801159).

Last thing I want to mention is my opinion on prep courses.  Frankly, prep courses are unnecessary.  However, they are great sources of getting passages and practicing material to work with (for both science sections and CARS).  The Princeton Review is excellent, and I used their passages.  Unfortunately, you need to sign-up for their prep course to get their online practicing material, so it's not sold separately.  So I have to admit, I did take their prep course!  If you do sign-up for their prep course, I'd only recommend it for their practicing material.  There are other prep courses, like The Gold Standard, that offer the material separately, but their passages are meh and not really AAMC-style.  But just like kwrgvnq said, definitely, definitely practice everything the AAMC provides.  It is, really, the best source of practice material.

I apologize for this loooong reply, but I really hope you get at least one useful thing out of it.

I certainly wish you the best in overcoming CARS.  Again, I can totally relate to you, but know that you'll be successful at the end should you correctly and consistently prepare.

MCAT Topics.jpg

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