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Why Is My CARS Score Low? Five Fatal Mistakes with CARS

CARS – four letters that almost every pre-med student despises with a passion. The Critical Analysis and Reading Section of the Medical College Admission Test, also known as the MCAT, is notorious for its passages with complex arguments and vocabulary built on top of unforgiving time limits. The MCAT CARS section is completely unlike the other sections of the MCAT, and most pre-med students with their science-heavy courses are unused to reading passages from diverse topics such as philosophy, art, and history. 

The Good News – You Can Grow Your CARS Skills

You might think the information in the CARS, or the Critical Analysis and Reasoning, section are the skills that you’re born with. However, the truth is that CARS is built on reasoning skills you can develop. 

After learning that CARS is not a memorization or knowledge-based section, many students let their guard down, avoid practicing this section until the last month or two, and are surprised by their low CARS score in the MCAT. To compound the problem, students panic seeing their low CARS score, respond to the issue by avoiding reviewing their full-length CARS section, and simply push themselves through a sheer number of passages. 

MCAT students often make a few fatal flaws that drag down their CARS performance. Some of these are simply not being exposed to enough literature, not distributing CARS studying consistently, not developing an attack strategy for CARS, focusing excessively on time management initially, avoiding the dreaded full-length review session, and more. 

Blueprint MCAT students develop their personal CARS strategies through practice and while working with Blue, the FIRST and ONLY AI MCAT Tutor for CARS. Blue will jump in to help when you get stuck on a CARS question to help you walk through the question and identify a strategy for tackling future CARS questions on your own.


Studying for the MCAT CARS section is actually more strategic than you might initially think and can even help boost your average MCAT score, so we’ve given some of the most common mistakes in CARS, even on MCAT prep, to ensure that you don’t fall into these traps!

Avoid These Five CARS Mistakes

1. Not Reading Enough

Many students simply lack the exposure to advanced literature or reading comprehension skills fundamental for the MCAT exam. Although it may seem simple, mundane, or even pointless, the truth is that the way to improve reading skills is by reading more! 

Reading current events articles, research papers, and other sources of high-level immersive information are great to read, even a year before your MCAT exam to prime your mindset. CARS employs a diverse array of passages from countless subjects such as economics, philosophy, history, and music. 

I know it seems like everything your mind is telling yourself to avoid, but the key is to force yourself toward those passages that are least interesting, most confusing, or the ones where you just miss a lot of questions. By reading more frequently and ensuring that you understand the main idea, arguments, and opinions, you can hopefully apply those reasoning skills to the MCAT. 

Even though the same passages won’t be used on the actual MCAT, the vocabulary and themes often recur. Soon, you’ll be able to read passages rapidly and gather the key information efficiently for any question AAMC throws your way! 

2. Pacing and Setting Strict Time Limits

Secondly, most students when beginning CARS for the first time immediately become preoccupied with pacing and setting themselves with strict time limits. However, especially at the beginning of your studying, this may result in poor accuracy and can even develop into improper CARS habits. 

For a skill-based assessment such as CARS, building strong habits and techniques early is fundamental. It is important to initially focus on practicing untimed to make sure you thoroughly understand each passage and are able to identify the main idea, arguments, and opinions of each paragraph to avoid becoming lost. 

Solidifying this process before developing speed will ensure that you can become the Lightning McQueen of CARS before you take the actual exam. 

3. Overlooking the Broader Trend

Many students overlook the broader trend of why they are missing questions and simply focus on understanding the logic of a particular question, eager to move on. This will lead to ineffective reviewing and cause you to make the same mistakes repeatedly. 

When you review missed questions, consider whether this is a particular question type that you tend to miss often and think of potential solutions to counter this mistake tendency. It is key to understand that you’ll see each question and each passage only once–however, the overall question types, reading strategies, and identification of question traps are overarching themes for all passages. Don’t just ask yourself “Why is this the right answer?”– ask yourself “Do I make similar mistakes frequently? How can I ensure that this doesn’t happen again?”

Along this line of thought, many students simply see the correct explanation of a missed question, convince themselves that it is right, and proceed. A more effective approach is to develop your own explanation for the right answer to ensure a thorough understanding of the question. 

4. Approaching the Passage Blindly

Like any strategic task, a formulated plan is fundamental. You need a battle plan, an attack strategy, to triumph over AAMC! Although I won’t go into all the details of how exactly to approach CARS passages here (because that itself would be several more articles), the key is to not make a fundamental mistake that many students do–simply approaching the passage blindly from beginning to end without any method. Being able to effectively highlight and identify question types and extract arguments are just a few of the basic techniques that will allow you to apply your reading skills to a new horizon of success. 

5. Thinking that CARS is Unimportant

One of the most deadly errors for many MCAT students is passing off CARS full-length revisions as unimportant. As described in the Blueprint article, “CARS Questions and Passages: How to Review,” to maximize your experience taking a CARS full-length and to ensure consistent improvement, develop a journal to gather data about each question you miss – whether this may be a question number, question type, thoughts during the exam, or why you missed the question, and match them to characteristics of the wrong answer you chose. By tracking this information over multiple full-lengths, you can start to see patterns in your mistakes. 

Finally, not making these mistakes isn’t all. Consistent and focused practice is crucial for CARS. And at Blueprint Prep, we’re here to help you along the way, and we know you can do it. Start with our free practice test. 

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