These strategies helped me a lot, and might help you too. Try them, and if they don’t work for you then don’t use them – different things work for different people!
(1) Highlight all names and numbers as you go through.
- I found this to be really helpful because it gives you an anchor to quickly go back to and find names and dates/time periods (especially if it’s some random painter or philospher that you’ve never heard of).
(2) Write out the following timing guide on your scrap paper in the break before CARS:
60 minutes remaining: 3 passages done
30 minutes remaining: 6 passages done
0 minutes remaining: all 9 passages done
- Until about a week before my exam, I was going with ’10 minutes per passage’, and I was getting so freaked out if I was already like 2 minutes behind on the first passage. Then, getting freaked out, I would rush the rest and do poorly. With the timing schedule I’ve suggested above, it takes into consideration that the first couple of passages may be hard/unfamiliar, but that later passages may be easier/more familiar, so the timing will even out. If you get to 60 minutes remaining and you’re a couple minutes behind, don’t panic, but think “hey I need to speed up just a little”. Same at 30 minutes. Use these points as a gauge of your pace.
(3) Practice a bunch, review your mistakes, and have a good and realistic mindset
- I know it’s been said before, but having a good mindset is critical! Instead of thinking ‘I would have got that on exam day!’, think ‘How can I change my approach to make sure that I don’t make the same mistake in the future? How can I learn from this?’.
- For practice, I started with the KA passages (great resource), then moved to EK 101 passages (often hard and sometimes dodgy reasoning, but still helpful in my opinion), and finished with all the AAMC CARS material (most representative, but note that CARS Q PACK 1 is super difficult – seriously, don’t lose sleep over it)
(4) Read the passage out loud (whispering or wording with your mouth).
- I found this helped me stay focused and prevented my mind from drifting.
(5) Do your best not to be intimidated by hard passages.
- Everyone is experiencing the same thing; just grind through, do your best, and don’t let it mess up your performance on later passages! Those later passages are the passages that you’re going to make your points back on!
(6) AFTERWARDS, MAKE AN “ERROR LOG” and CATEGORIZE YOUR MISTAKES
- By categorizing your mistakes into broad categories (e.g. “Missed a detail in the passage” or “Missed the key theme of the passage”), you can go back and review your Error Log every few days and see what common mistakes you’re making. If the majority of your mistakes are coming from one category, e.g. the “missed detail” category, then you know that the best way to improve from here is to refine my technique by slowing down a little on the passages and paying more attention to detail. It can be hard to pick up on trends when you look at your mistakes per passage, but by reviewing a handful of mistakes from a larger number of passages you’ll be able to pick out key and common mistakes you’re making so that you can actively fix them.
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