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MCAT Verbal Reasoning (CARS): The Importance of Reading Comprehension

MCAT Verbal Reasoning, now known as the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section, may be one of the hardest MCAT topics to have a complete grasp on. While it may be possible to feel like you have an understanding of the Ideal Gas Law or memorized all the amino acids, understanding reading passages and dissecting the nuance that might be asked in any CARS reading passage can feel daunting no matter how much you’ve studied. This post will go over the importance of reading comprehension and some MCAT verbal reasoning study tips to help you feel more confident in the MCAT CARS section.

MCAT Verbal Reasoning - reading

Are You Struggling with MCAT Verbal?

You’re not alone! The CARS section can be extremely difficult even for native English speakers. The difficulty comes from having to read a long, complex passage and then needing to absorb that information in a short amount of time, under pressure. There are lots of ways to try to improve your MCAT verbal score. As a general rule, the more you read, the more comfortable you will get in understanding complex passages. Try to read news articles and academic books or papers of all sorts (not just science) to improve your exposure to this type of writing style. Take note of vocabulary words you don’t know. This is great to do, but probably isn’t that helpful if you are planning to take the MCAT soon! One trick for the CARS section is to read the questions for the passage first. That way, you will know what to look for when you read the passage, and the questions will prime you on material that you will need to pay attention to.

Why MCAT Reading Comprehension is Important

The reason the MCAT requires strong reading comprehension is because medical school requires you to process a lot of reading and information, and to be able to apply scientific principles to that information. Much of the clinical guidelines and research are described in medical journal articles, which are akin to a very long MCAT passage. Medical schools want to know if you can handle the reading rigors of scientific writing and the MCAT helps assess your verbal reasoning with the CARS sections.

MCAT Verbal Study Tips

As we’ve mentioned in Recommended Reading to Boost your MCAT CARS Score reading is the best way to improve your MCAT score. There is a revised saying that practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect.  Something similar can be said of reading—critical reading will improve your MCAT verbal skills. When reading passages either for school or for pleasure, make sure you are understanding the main points and even jotting down notes if you have trouble with these areas.
 

  • When doing practice questions for the verbal section, treat it the same way as you would any of the science sections. When you get something wrong, explore why you got it wrong, why you chose what you chose, and come up with a strategy of how to approach that type of question.
  • Take notes on what you are reading. Read it through once quickly to get the main idea, and then write one sentence to summarize the passage as a whole. Then you can read it once more to get the details that you need, writing down notes as you read to keep your concentration.
  • Look for patterns—not only in the text to help you understand, but also in your answers. Do you miss a lot of “main idea” type questions? Or do details trip you up?
  • Read the questions first. By reading the questions first, you have an idea of what the passage is targeting. It’ll cue you into what kind of things to look for, remember, and take notes on when you read the passage. Don’t take too much time doing this, especially if time is a problem for you, but it may be worth the investment to do a quick skim.

 
Look for more ways to practice. In my opinion, LSAT reading passages were great practice for improving your MCAT CARS performance. I also believe they are harder than what you will see on the MCAT. A helpful trick might be to try going through some LSAT reading comprehension passages (with explanations for the answers). LSAT reading passages can be very difficult and can prepare you for MCAT verbal. If you need a more immediate solution, it might be good to come up with a purely test-strategy approach to the passages that will help get you through the exam. Chris’s post on GRE Reading Comprehension offers some great strategies and approaches.

Reading comprehension is a critical step to doing well on the MCAT and also in becoming a physician. While it can be scary, reading comprehension can certainly be learned and improved upon.

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About Burton

Burton is an MCAT blogger. He was an undergraduate at Harvard, where he majored in History before switching gears to pursue a career in medicine. He did a post-baccalaureate and is currently a fourth-year medical student at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He is applying for a combined residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Outside of things medical, he's a huge sports fan and loves football, basketball, and baseball.


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