CARS Lesson 2 — Reader response
Every CARS passage was written by a living, breathing person. The author didn't set out to make a puzzle. They are trying to communicate. Suppose the passage was written for you. Imagine the passage has arrived like a message in a bottle. Naturally, you are going to give the reading full focus and attention, and you will hear the author's voice in the writing.
Too many people read CARS passages as if they were deciphering a code, like watching strangers interact through a periscope, and they miss the author's voice. Try to picture the writer. Maybe she is new to the university faculty, wearing glasses and sensible shoes. Maybe it's a kind, old bookish man with a bow tie. Imagine they are your friend and have asked for constructive criticism. Listen to what they are saying, not only the plain meaning, but also the expressive dimension. Why did they write the essay? What appeals are they making? What do they think?
Communication is the essence. How you respond is important. It's the other half of the equation. You close the circle. What do you think? Find the real person in the writing and you will naturally comprehend and respond to it. You are hard-wired for communication. When you hear the author's voice, the subtleties become intuitive. Dimensions of meaning become more accessible if you approach reading on a human level rather than trying to decode passages as if they were puzzles.
No matter who it is, never put the author on Mount Olympus. They are a person. Imagine the author is right there with you, trying to communicate. If you get confused about something in a passage, ask them, 'What are you trying to say here?' Maybe you stumbled in the reading. Maybe they stumbled in the writing. Imagine how they respond to your question and often it will come clear.
It's beneficial to have a space in this process to build your skill in focused, engaged immersion in reading without the distractors of the CARS format itself, just you and the work. Skill in reading depends on an array of cognitive abilities, and these abilities get stronger with practice. The components of attention influence every dimension of reading. You can make your focused attention stronger. You can build a meta-awareness that allows distribution of attention between trains of thought. Reading closely is a process of regulating thoughts and responses in an effortful goal-directed mode. Practice! You will catch up with the English majors.
It helps to have supplemental reading material that is intrinsically very interesting, so we have curated a collection of essays for you to enjoy. These were chosen because their style, subject, and range of difficulty are similar to what you may encounter in the exam. Many of these essays are famous. This reading list is not a collection of assignments. It's not definitive in any way. This collection of essays gives you a change of pace in MCAT review, a way to take a break which is still productive.
Tallying the incorrects
In the previous module, we performed the first five passages (35 questions) from the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Question Pack, Vol. 1 at AAMC - the remainder of this particular question pack is assigned in lessons 3 and 4. In addition to your regular review, let's perform a simple check. Make two columns for the questions you missed. In one column, write down the letter of the answer you chose. In the second column, write down the letter for the correct answer. For some of these, the answer you chose will be a letter before the correct answer in answer choices. For the rest, the answer you chose will follow the correct answer. For example, you might have chosen 'B' for a particular question, but the correct answer turns out to be 'D', so the answer you chose is prior to the correct answer. Count up how many you answered with the wrong answer prior to the correct answer and vice versa.
Suppose you missed 12 questions in the exercise. Maybe you found that for 8 or 9 of those, the correct answer followed the answer you chose in the list of answer choices. Sometimes it's 50:50, but in our experience, especially at the start of preparation, the strong tendency is to have a greater number of incorrect answers where the wrong answer chosen is before the correct answer than vice versa. We have only seen the reverse a couple of times in all of our experience.
This pattern reflects the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered when making decisions. Psychologists call this 'anchoring'. It happens with the most subtle questions in all sections of the exam, but especially in CARS. This is the CARS test-writer's power of suggestion. No matter how tempting the first decent answer sounds, practice withholding judgment and process all the answer choices before you commit. Give them all equal weight at first. Often it will be clear, and you quickly get to the answer and move on. However, with a subtle, difficult question, be satisfied to get down to the two best at first. Don't make the first decent sounding answer the 'king of the hill'. This may put the correct one in the position of having to fight an uphill battle. Get down to two answers, and then attack them both. One will have a weakness in its armor that you can find. Choose the least worst of the two. That's the one to choose.
MCAT Official Prep CARS Diagnostic Tool
An assignment this lesson is to complete Step 1 of the MCAT Official Prep CARS Diagnostic Tool. Step 1 is comprised of two passages (10 questions) as well as a set of introductory and educational resources for CARS. The entire Diagnostic Tool includes approximately three CARS sections worth of passages (172 questions). We will hold the remaining practice passages in the Diagnostic Tool in reserve until later lessons during the lead up to full length practice. For passage practice during our earlier lessons, we will continue to make use of CARS Question Pack Volumes 1 & 2.