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Alternative CARS Strategies?
Posted: Sun Aug 04, 2019 5:32 pm
I've just recently started studying with the online course and content books, and I'm planning to take the MCAT at some point in the late winter/early spring of 2020. With regards to the CARS section, I've been practicing both the highlighting and note-taking techniques on timed passages. However, I feel like with both methods I'm missing the overarching arguments/themes of the passage, and am especially struggling with skills 2 & 3 questions. I sometimes feel like the highlighting and/or note-taking after reading each paragraph is taking my attention away from themes, arguments, tone, etc. throughout the passage. Any tips on how to improve? I'm not a particularly fast reader, so I'm trying to lock down a strategy that is effective, but doesn't require too much extra time. Thanks!
Re: Alternative CARS Strategies?
Posted: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:02 pm
There are two sort of hard-to-quantify components that go into CARS, outside of the formal strategic section:
1. General reading skill
2. Humanities background
For #1, you probably read all the time, but there is some adjustment to reading at the CARS level regularly and with minimal anxiety. The only real strategy for that is to practice reading, preferably with a sort of eye on whether you are engaging with the material. It can be helpful to consider reading a passage end-to-end first before highlighting anything, worrying about a question or in any other way taking it apart. Not everyone likes this, and I'm not saying you have to, but consider it as an option - one that can save you a lot of headaches by giving you exactly that general overview of a passage and its themes.
For #2, you'll never be asked to know any names, dates or really concrete pieces of information at all about artists, philosophers or historians. But a familiarity with different types of arguments, common ways that authors try to make a point or try to mislead, or what different discursive styles and pieces look like, can all help you more quickly make sense of a passage. Simply put: It takes longer to grok a totally novel argument, one you've never heard made, than it does to recognize a new set of verbal clothes put on an idea you're familiar with. The best way to get a head-start on this is also to just read a whole lot, and ideally find someone to talk the ideas you're presented over with - find ways to agree and disagree (you'll quickly find that other people have probably had the exact same thoughts about the material as you - and you quickly become familiar with the discourse surrounding it, and this makes you much better at jumping into a totally new argument!).
On top of that, whatever strategic approach or material you use is very much up to you - don't be afraid to just pick what fits the way you prefer to read. But ultimately, CARS does test some skills that can be studied in a way, it is just more obvious with CARS that you want to build generalizable skills than memorize any single piece of rote information or even learn any "tricks". I'd even expand on that a little: Virtually all CARS "tricks" should only be a fallback mechanism in case the main approach, that is engaging with the passage and understanding it holistically, doesn't pan out.
Nota bene: These are all reading fundamentals and strategies. Question answering itself does benefit a lot from a relatively strategic approach and being careful and a little rote in how you dissect arguments. But absorbing the main content of a passage really is in large part a matter of familiarity.
Re: Alternative CARS Strategies?
Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2019 6:22 pm
Thanks for the thorough reply, very helpful!