Daily, physicians face challenges to apply, analyze, and communicate scientific and medical information. The ability to communicate and analyze is a softer skill that is difficult to develop compared to the effort it takes to memorize something like the Krebs’s cycle. This vital skill set has become emphasized by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) through the production of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section (CARS) on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). CARS is the section that most premedical students struggle with and requires the most time to build skills. Identifying question types on your exam will allow you to establish patterns of performance and test trends. Below we will discuss the six most common types of questions you will encounter on the CARS section and how to best approach them.
- Given Information or Retrieval Questions
Given information questions are questions that draw information directly from the passage. These questions are typically straightforward and are easy points to earn for the CARS section. Often these questions can be answered from memory. However, most students tend to reference the passage to ensure the information is correct. The key to these questions is to balance confidence in your reading comprehension against the need to double-check facts. Since CARS is a section that most students struggle to finish, it is important that you minimize the time it takes to find the correct answer to a question. Be sure to spend time practicing these question types and see how your passage retrieval skills compare when answering from memory or referencing the passage.
- Inference Questions
Inference questions are by far the most common question on the CARS section, as well as the most commonly missed question type. Inference questions require the reader to take passage information and infer or interpret tone or underlying meanings. These questions tend to be difficult for students the answer is not explicitly stated and requires deductive skills. Correct answer choices for these question types will often be consistent with the main idea of the passage. The key to these questions is to avoid strong or extreme answer choices, as well as answer choices with information that was not present in the passage.
- New Information Questions
New information questions are typically the lengthy questions that students hate to see. These questions present additional information outside of the passage and ask the test-taker to make inferences on how to apply that information. This variant of the inference question, while less difficult, can use similar strategies as discussed above. The key to these questions is to not get bogged down in reading the information presented since timing is key on CARS.
- Author’s Opinion or Main Idea Questions
Questions about the author’s opinion tend to hint at the tone or main idea of the passage. The key to these questions is to establish who the author is and who their audience is. Is the author an unbiased writer or do they feel strongly on the topic they are writing about? What is the author’s purpose in writing this piece? Are they aiming to persuade readers or simply inform them of the facts? These are all questions that should aid you in establishing what the author’s opinion is and more importantly identifying the correct answer.
- Except, Least, or Not Questions
Except, least, or not are modifiers that have been used to trick test takers since the invention of standardized testing. The MCAT is no different in that it poses a lengthy question and answer set in hopes that the student will forget the modifier by the end of the question. The best way to combat this mistake is to write the modifier in large, bold letters on your scratch paper. This will serve as a reminder as you work through the question.
- Roman Numeral questions
This question type is ubiquitous throughout the other sections of the MCAT. Roman Numeral questions are difficult because they increase the number of answer choices available. A common approach to this question type is to look for the roman numerals that are most and least common throughout the alphabetical answer choices (A-D). If either of these roman numerals can be eliminated, it should give you a better indication of what the correct answer is. The key to these questions is to focus on the grouped alphabetical answer choices rather than the validity of the individual roman numeral answers. Another strategy to these questions is to look for answers that directly contradict each other. If two roman numeral answers are in direct opposition, they cannot both be correct and should give you at least 1-2 answers to eliminate.