How Sophia improved from 124 to 128 on CARS

by Gabe

This is a Q&A with a student, Sophia, who I worked with one-on-one for a few months before her MCAT. On her previous two attempts she had been stuck at a 124 on CARS, but after we finished tutoring she took the exam and improved to a 128.

I was especially impressed with how well Sophia learned the mental game of CARS, and that really shows in her answers on this Q&A. She does a great job of describing the importance of: learning to work with test anxiety, not overthinking CARS passages, and trusting your gut instincts on the questions.

I think this will be a really helpful read if you’re struggling with CARS.

1. Can you walk through how you would have approached a CARS passage in the past?

In the past, my anxiety clouded a large part of my judgement when approaching questions. I was focused too much on each and every word of the reading that I would either forget what I just read, or not understand the bigger picture. Then, when it came to answering the questions, I either had to always look back because I wasn’t confident in my comprehension or I overanalyzed the questions themselves. I was probably too reliant on referring back to the passage all the time, which definitely hurt my time management with this test.

2. How did you study for your previous exam attempts? How were you scoring?

I was using Kaplan and ExamKrackers in general for my previous MCAT exam attempts. The last MCAT I took, I got a 500, with a 124 in CARS. CARS has always been my biggest fear and lowest score. Even throughout my academic career, critical reading standardized test sections were never my strong suit. It made me even more anxious, frustrated, and hopeless when approaching CARS for the MCAT. My improved MCAT left me with a 128 in CARS, which was 90th percentile! I was over the moon.

3. What were your biggest struggles with CARS?

Not overanalyzing the passage, but surprisingly more importantly (than I once thought was my issue), not overanalyzing the QUESTIONS! I would put myself in a rabbit hole thinking about all the potential ways in the whole world one could interpret or “argue” meaning to an answer choice, scrutinizing the meaning way beyond what it was given at face value. This made me debate every answer choice, not to mention lose focus on what the original question was even asking me.

4. What did you change about the way you approached passages?

I will never forget the pivotal point with my time with Gabe, where there was a week that I felt like my upward trend and confidence came to a plateau, which was still not at a place I wanted to be at for my score. He went through the passage with me, sentence by sentence, asking for my interpretation of the overall main idea. He also went through each question and “forced” me to react without thinking too much, just based on how my gut felt about answer choices A, B, C, D… Based on just my gut feeling, really stopping me from thinking too much further or even going back to the passage, more often than not, the gut feeling I went with was actually the right answer. It kind of woke me up and gave me evidence that I was truly my own hindrance in this process, but I was capable of doing well. I stopped thinking that each question AAMC wrote was “out to get me” or to “trick me” and just do it, ALWAYS keeping in mind of the MAIN IDEA of the passage. That will get you so so so far.

5. Were there any resources or ways of practicing that you found especially helpful?

Ways of practicing: see above. Resources: Gabe. AAMC resources exclusively and not wasting energy or time on other party resources, because they are formatted so differently in terms of their writing and asking style, which only makes you lose confidence when approaching the real thing.

6. Was there anything you did leading up to the exam (or on the day of the exam) that helped you?

Gabe also suggested me to practice meditation and breathing exercises with apps like Headspace! I practiced this almost every other day and I truly believe it grounded me so that I could think with less anxiety during passage practices. The morning of the exam, I set 10 minutes to do some meditation and breathe even before I got out of bed. I did a few breathing exercises in the waiting room of the exam and during a stressful section of my MCAT. Reseted me!

7. Do you have any advice that you think would be helpful for other students?

Meditation. Always thinking about the author’s main idea in his/her passage. Don’t overthink the questions and accept the MCAT is hard, but not THAT hard. Seek help with tutoring if you know you’re struggling, because I tried so hard to work and improve on my own for the longest time without seeing any different results. It’s not that you’re not capable yourself, but sometimes the way you do things clouds your judgement and perspective to successfully complete what you know you can do. A second person’s opinion and guidance makes a world of a difference, particularly with Gabe.

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