Three suggestions for improving your Critical Analysis and Reasoning score on the 2015 MCAT

A buddy of mine asked me this weekend about what I recommend for improving his score on the Critical Analysis and Reasoning section. (You may already know that the CAR is the only one of four sections of the MCAT that does not correspond to a natural or social science–instead it challenges your ability to quickly pull novel information from a random passage, analyze it, and answer multiple-choice questions based on your conclusions.)

What I what I told my buddy:

1. Quickly read the question and answers before diving into the paragraph. Get an idea of the information you are looking before. (My friend told me that several people had told him to do the exact opposite, but I don’t understand why. If you do, let me know down in the comments.) You may be worried that reading the question and answers available will narrow your focus too much and you will miss other important pieces of information when you read the passage. However, remember how long these passages are–think about how much easier it would be to look for relevant info if you already had an idea of what you were looking for! Of course, don’t waste time analyzing anything before you go through the passage. A quick but complete read-through of the question and answers should be enough.

2. Practice, practice, practice! As you begin your intensive study period, practice without time constraints and work your way up to practicing within realistic time constraints (how quickly you would like to move through questions on the real exam). If this is the area that you struggle with the most, prioritize it by practicing every day.

3. Review your mistakes. After you have gone through a section of question banks or practice exams, check your answers to look for errors. Read the explanations provided by the question writers, and make notes of thought processes that you don’t follow well. Look for patterns in what you are not gathering from your own reading. Ask a resource (e.g. study buddy, writing tutor, professor, etc.) about explanations you don’t understand. Think about tracking your progress using an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet–boring, I know, but also thorough.

My experience: I was lucky in that CAR was my strength from the start of studying. Most of what I learned about how to improve outcomes for this section came when working with another friend, who had a tougher time with CAR.

If you have thoughts on these suggestions or would like to share your own, comment below! Good luck studying!

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