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Almost every professional or academic program has its most feared admissions component. Those who look for help from college admissions consulting often cite college essays and college admissions interview questions as their biggest obstacle. Those working with law school admissions consulting most commonly ask for help with the statement of purpose, law school personal statement, and law school interview questions. MBA admissions consulting regularly provides tips for organizing an MBA resume and MBA personal statement, as well as strategies for MBA interview questions. And for those applying to medical school, the second section of the infamous MCAT exam, MCAT CARS, is one of the most challenging hurdles in the entire admissions process.
MCAT CARS is notoriously difficult to prepare for. The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section tests more than your knowledge – it is aimed to assess aptitudes that are not easily developed during the 3- to 6-month MCAT study schedule you create for yourself. No wonder most students dread preparing for CARS – there is no recipe for quickly developing skills like comprehension and analysis. Of course, the other alternative is to apply to the rare medical schools that don’t require the MCAT, but this will significantly diminish your choices.
While the other three MCAT sections can be tackled by practicing with physics equations, biology questions, or chemistry questions, you cannot prepare for CARS by simply going over MCAT CARS practice passages. While it is a good tool to help you get accustomed to the test’s format and the habit of analyzing passages, those practice questions will not be enough to prepare you for this challenging evaluation.
There are of course those who are naturally gifted. They require no MCAT tutors or prep courses as they tackle CARS passages without a problem from the first time they face them. Whether it is due to their life experience or the wiring of their brain, some people are simply prone to logic and deduction. However, this is an exception rather than the rule. Most of us find CARS passages and questions difficult, often non-sensical, and extraneous.
But then why is this section of the MCAT so revered by most medical schools in Canada and medical schools in the United States? Why do some schools, such as the McMaster medical school or the Cumming School of Medicine, only care for your CARS score, disregarding the rest of the MCAT score? Because it is believed that CARS demonstrates your ability for sound judgment and problem-solving, which are essential for a practicing physician. Whether that’s the case or not is another story. The true value of CARS and MCAT as a whole is still being assessed, and some studies have suggested that it may cause bias against certain applicants. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny that, currently for admissions committees, CARS is a very valued indicator of your abilities.
Does this mean that everybody who struggles with CARS should be banned from seeking a career in medicine? Certainly not. As I already mentioned, while it’s difficult to build these skills from the ground up in the few months you dedicate to MCAT prep, they can certainly be habituated and developed over time. This is why the liberal arts should become your friend if you plan on taking the MCAT.
Why this discipline? Simply put, those who do well in CARS read a lot. The kind of skills required to ace this section are cultivated and encouraged when reading philosophy, literature, music and art theory, political thought, and so on. Reading such content forces you to delve deeply into the text, ask questions about what you encountered, draw parallels with other texts, debate arguments, analyze strengths and weaknesses of the author’s points, reason beyond the text to ask what the author may think about current events, and so on.
And if you think that people like Aristotle, Avicenna, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Mary Shelley, are long dead and irrelevant – think again. Not only did their writings contribute to the development of human civilization, but their questions and convictions are relevant in our world to this day. Have we not all wondered what is happiness? Do we not all seek freedom? Is justice not the question on everyone’s mind today? Though many of them lived centuries ago, they were concerned with the human condition just as we are today.
But even if we want to focus on the practical side of taking humanities courses, it’s easy to show how reading some of the authors I mentioned can enhance your MCAT CARS strategy. For example, Aristotle often used the method of elimination in his writing. Through deduction, reasoning, and exclusion, he came to conclusions about important questions such as what friendship is, what the best political regime is, why the world is a rotating sphere, and so on. As many of you may know, eliminating incorrect answers is a huge part of learning how to review MCAT CARS and one of the keys to figuring out the correct answer. Taking some cues from this ancient Athenian thinker may help you practice how to build this important skill.
Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is not only a classic of literature, but is also one of the best commentaries on the possible side effects of technological and scientific progress. When reading this timeless book, consider how the world of 19th century England compares with ours. Ponder the ethical dilemmas presented by the author and reason within and beyond the text on questions of humanity, kindness, isolation, and empathy. After all, you might have thought about these issues yourself when you were deciding why you want to become a doctor.
Some of you might panic – does this mean that you have to become a humanities major in college to develop these skills? I assure you, you do not. If you want to cultivate analytical and reasoning skills, and to increase your MCAT reading comprehension, you simply need to habituate yourself to reading. Many of you will be surprised to learn that you might like the challenging language of William Faulkner or the controversial opinions of Thomas Hobbes.
If you do not like reading philosophy or literary theory, read newspapers and magazines. Analyze what you read and question the author’s intent, the strength of the arguments, or general delivery. This is the key to preparing yourself for CARS.
Being a science major on track to applying to medical school does not mean that you cannot dabble in the humanities. You can always try taking liberal arts electives or joining a book club on campus. You can simply read the literature of the genre you personally enjoy and continue asking those important questions that will broaden your comprehension and reasoning skills. Or you can religiously read the newspaper on the bus every morning on your way to school, work, or the gym, and dissect every thesis, argument, and question you encounter in your reading.
While the humanities may not be your forte, they are incessant in our world and they are a sure way to help you improve your MCAT CARS score. But the skills you will learn by engaging with the liberal arts will serve you beyond your MCAT. The humanities will not only help you develop your analytical and reasoning skills, but they will also help you broaden your understanding of the human condition – the condition of your future patients. Becoming a doctor is about more than acing the CARS section. It’s about deepening your connection with humanity and seeking virtue in the face of eventual human deterioration and mortality. While the sciences and social sciences will prepare your mind and body to tackle these eventualities, the humanities will habituate empathy and comprehension of these inevitabilities.
If you want to learn more about CARS or how to ace CARS, check out BeMo’s MCAT Prep programs and take advantage of our experts’ guidance. And that’s not all – BeMo’s MCAT Prep comes with some bold guarantees, including the 90-Day 520 Challenge™, No B.S. Free Repeat™, and more. Visit our website to learn more.
BeMo Academic Consulting is one of the most sought-after academic consulting firms for helping applicants with admissions to highly competitive programs and its staunch advocacy for fair admissions.
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