An Overview of the MCAT CARS Section by Onkar Sandhu

The Critical Analysis and Reasoning (CARS) section of the MCAT exam is composed of 53 questions broken down into 9 passages. The questions in the CARS section are evenly split into the disciplines of humanities and social sciences. Regarding the skills tested in the CARS section, 43% of the questions fall into the category of foundations of comprehension, 30% of the questions fall into the category of reasoning within the text, and 40% of the questions fall into the category of reasoning beyond the text. Throughout this 90-minute test section, students will face questions that are constituted of the aforementioned categories, but regardless of the question type, four key strategies can help students avoid the wrong answer. According to the CARS preparation book prepared by Kaplan, the four wrong answer pathologies commonly seen on the MCAT are: faulty use of detail, out of scope, opposite, and distortion.

The wrong answer pathology of faulty use of detail involves a statement that may be accurate but fails to answer the question at hand. To help identify an answer choice incorporating faulty use of detail, it is important to recognize that details in the question may not come from the part of the passage being referred to in the question. The wrong answer pathology of out of scope involves an answer choice incorrectly mentioning external information (information not mentioned in the passage). This may take the form of the answer choice making comparisons that the passage’s author did not elaborate upon. The wrong answer pathology of opposite involves a statement that is diverges from the content of the passage. A clue this pathology may be in use is when an answer choice claims a statement is true, but the author is unclear on the claim’s validity. The wrong answer pathology of distortion involves a statement that disfigures the passage’s ideas to an extreme that the author did not intend on. This can be seen when an answer choice uses strong language that implies an idea is always or never true.

In review, while the CARS section may not test conventional science knowledge, it is important to recognize that the section is equally important as the other three sections of the MCAT exam. In this regard, it may be advisable to spend just as much time preparing for the CARS section as the science sections in order to score a top score on the MCAT.


Macnow, A. S. (2019).MCAT critical analysis and reasoning skills review 2020-2021. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing.

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