Which old AAMC passages are still worth doing?

by Gabe Ladd

As you may know, the AAMC changed the format of the MCAT back in 2015, and some of the old practice tests that were put out before then are still available. (You can’t buy them but your friends or classmates may have them). The test has changed in a lot of ways, but the old practice tests can still be really useful. In particular, CARS (formerly known as Verbal Reasoning) didn’t change much, so the old practice tests are still very representative. Given how little good CARS material is available you’ll probably want to make use of these passages if you can get your hands on them.

The problem is that a lot of these same passages were re-used on the current AAMC Question Packs and Practice Tests. So if you go through all the old AAMC passages then you’ll “spoil” the newer resources because you will have already seen some of the passages! This is particularly a problem for the Practice Tests because it will throw off your score.

So, to make things a little easier, I’ve gone through all the old AAMC tests and compiled a list of all the CARS (aka Verbal Reasoning) passages that don’t show up on any of the new AAMC material. I’ve listed them out below with the number of the practice test and then either the name of the passage’s source or a short description of the subject.

If you're going to do the old AAMC passages, you should ONLY do the passages that are on this list.

However, there a few main differences between the old AAMC material and the current material:

  • Some of the old AAMC passages have more questions. For example, some of the old passages have 10 questions!
  • These old AAMC passages are significantly more difficult than the current material. It's totally normal to struggle on them. They're great practice but you shouldn't take your scores as a realistic predictor.
  • Some of the old passages focus on the natural sciences. For example, one of the earlier passages is about the earth's magnetic fields. The current MCAT does not have CARS passages that are based on the hard sciences like this. You should still do these old passages for practice, but take them with a grain of salt. To make it easier, I've labeled all of the natural science passages on this list.

3R Passage 1 - “The Case for Legalization”
3R Passage 2 - “Of Wolves and Men”
3R Passage 4 - “Scorched Earth: How Heat from the Core Triggers Surface Upheaval” (Natural science)

4R Passage 4 - “In the Age of Mankind: A Smithsonian Book of Human Evolution”
4R Passage 5 - “The Pollination of Flowers” (Natural science)
4R Passage 6 - “Can an ape tell a joke?”
4R Passage 8 - “Democracy and Democratization: Processes and Prospects in a Changing World”

5R Passage 4 - Extinction at the K-T boundary  (Natural science)
5R Passage 7 - Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah
5R Passage 8 - “The Diversity of Life” (Natural science)

6R Passage 3 - “The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History”
6R Passage 4 - “The monster and the imaginary mother: A Lacanian
reading of Frankenstein
6R Passage 6 - “A History of the English-Speaking
Peoples”
6R Passage 7 - “The tragedy of the commons”
6R Passage 9 - “Exonerating an ice sheet” (Natural science)

7R Passage 1 - “The case for human beings”
7R Passage 4 - “Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schöenberg, Berg, and Webern”
7R Passage 9 - “And now for the news: The disturbing freshness of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall”

8R Passage 3 - “Are we alone?”
8R Passage 4 - “Red tides” (Natural science)

9R Passage 2 - What makes clouds turn into rain (Natural science)
9R Passage 4 - Mayan writing system
9R Passage 9 - Scientific/technological progress and planning for the future

10R Passage 1 - “The hole in Nebraska” (Natural science)
10R Passage 2 - “A Few Good Voices in My Head: Occasional Pieces on Writing, Editing, and Reading My Contemporaries”
10R Passage 3 - “Tortoises get some unusual help from the military's spy satellites”