CARS Without Scars

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) test is designed to test comprehension, analytical skill, and reasoning power by comprehension and critical analysis of a given passage. Today, it forms an important part of most competitive entrance examinations for important universities the world over.  To develop this skill, the only mantra is to read more – that too from all disciplines across the board. Some you may question how and why reading is connected to CARS? After all the answers to the questions are all there in the given passage! Now the explanation is pretty simple. The more you read, the more is your ability to quickly comprehend. The more you read, greater is your vocabulary and greater is the speed of comprehension and less the chances of your not comprehending something in the passage. The more you read more will be the chances of your familiarity with the subject matter and with greater familiarity comes greater ease of analysis. So reading is fundamental to development of the mental faculty …no escape!

CARS is a skill that needs to be initiated in a child as early as possible.  Parents and primary school teachers play a very important role in developing this skill in children.  Some of the tips for teaching critical thinking to children, as recommended by American Philosophical Association (APA), are as listed below: –

  • Start as Early as Possible. Children can be encouraged to give reasons for their decisions or conclusions rather than teaching them ‘formal’ logic.

  • Avoid Pushing. Whenever we tell our children to do things. it would be pertinent to give them reasons for the same. Some, they may understand; others, they may not.
  • Encourage Kids to Ask Questions. That is the only way to instill and encourage curiosity in children. They should never feel any pressure in asking questions to their parents or teachers.  Many a times, children are hesitant to ask a question due to this pressure from their peers or siblings.
  • Get Kids to Clarify Meaning. Rather than the rote system, encourage children to explain things in their own words.
  • Encourage Children to Consider Alternative Explanations and Solutions. Allow children to experiment or consider multiple solutions rather than always looking for the bookish right answer. This will surely enhance flexible thinking.
  • Talk About Biases. Children can understand how emotions, motives, cravings, religious leanings, culture, upbringing, etc can influence our judgments.
  • Don’t Confine Critical Thinking to Purely Factual or Academic Matters. Encourage kids to reason about ethical, moral, and public policy issues.
  • Get Kids to Write. Writing helps students clarify their explanations and sharpen their ideas. Only kids who read and analyse develop good writing skills.

When faced with preparing for a CARS test, you are what you are. In  case you have a few months or at best a year before you take the test, can you actually prepare for and improve upon your CARS score? Surely Yes. Let us see some of the aspects of preparation for CARS.

Reading Speed
Speed of reading is very important for any CARS test.  Generally, there are five to six passages and 60 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Thus you have less than 15 minutes to read each passage, the set of associated questions and answer them.   The only way to increase your speed of is by reading and more reading. There are of course many speed reading techniques that one may try but eventually you must settle down to a particular reading technique.

Most of the modern-day CARS tests are computer based, the examinee needs to develop speed of reading onscreen.  Reading onscreen in a test environment calls for better training of your eyes and mind as it is 20% slower than reading it on paper.  If the test you are taking is onscreen, you must practice more onscreen.


Some tips to speed up your onscreen reading are: –

  • Do not Move Your Head – either up/down or left/right – to see an entire page on most computer screens. Practice shifting your focus between words and lines without moving your head.
  • Avoid ‘Sub Vocalization’ – also known as auditory reassurance. It is a common habit where readers say words in their head while reading, thus slowing down.  Your mind is capable of perceiving and analyzing text much faster than you think – at least double that of your speaking speed.
  • Never Stop in Between and Go Back and Forth. In case you do not fully understand a part of the passage or you lack clarity about what the inputs are, first read the complete passage and then look for what you need to clarify.
  • Practice Reading Phrases or Small Sentences Rather Than Reading Each Word. Remember that you are looking for the overall meaning and not referring to a dictionary. Reading word by word slows you down as you tend to pause between words.

Selective Reading
As part of your reading in preparation for CARS you need to read for pleasure and entertainment as well as concentrate on some dense and difficult prose. In both categories your reading should be only non- fiction and generally related to social sciences and humanities. The CARS passages are hardly ever science based. In the light reading category, a few national and international current affairs magazines would suffice such as Time, Newsweek, India Today, Frontline and so on. It is also important to read the editorials of daily newspapers and a few articles that appear on the editorial page. As for difficult prose try for example Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Reading such as this is essential so that you develop the ability to read and assimilate difficult prose.

Practice
While wide multidisciplinary reading is the best solution in the long run, if your preparation time is limited to a year or less, then the solution lies in relentless practice. Even if you do nothing else by way of preparation, just practice alone may well see you through. Repetitive practice will in the long run build up your stamina and help improve your reading speed and your analytical skills and above all your scores.   Roughly one mock test a day or five to six per week should suffice. After a month or so, if you are on the right track there should be improvement in your scores. If not there is something seriously wrong in your approach and you may need professional help to identify your weakness.

Vocabulary Improvement
A good vocabulary is a basic requirement for proficiency in the CARS test. If you have been a reader of storybooks since your childhood, generally your vocabulary ought to be good. However, if you have been a poor reader, your vocabulary will need to be supplemented in the short term. Some of the books or Audio-visual materials specifically meant for this purpose are readily available in the market. Some research on effectiveness must be done before you home in on what you need.

Adopt A Simple Strategy
During our Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC), the objective tests often contained a section where examinees are required to tick true/false on a series of statements. The questions had negative marking and often bamboozled a lot of us trainees. Eventually some someone came out with a strategy that proved to be effective for at least some of us: –

  • Those questions that you CLEARLY KNOW to be true/false should be first attempted.
  • Then, those that you FEEL are true should be ticked false and vice a versa.

Similarly, there are many strategies in attempting the CARS test. The simplest and the best strategy is to read the entire passage first and then answer questions in the given order. Some may advocate obviously stupid strategies such as reading the first and the last paragraphs and then answer the questions or even reading the questions first (not the answer choices) before you read the passage so that apparently you know where to focus when you read. These stupid options must be shunned. Some other strategies such as devoting a disproportionately longer time for reading and assimilation of the passage and then answering the questions may be useful to some. Yet another strategy may be to devote meaningful time only to say five out of six, or seven out of nine passages and apply pure guesswork on the remaining passage(s) without reading. First skimming through the passages with a view to and identify and attempt the easier passages first may also be another strategy. Early in your preparation time you need to firm in on your strategy and then practice relentlessly on the chosen strategy. If there is no noticeable improvement in scores after a period of time, you may need to think of changing your strategy.

How to Read the CARS Passage
Remember that the CARS test is basically aimed at testing whether you can see the big picture, not the minor detail. By the time you finished reading the passage and applying a few minutes of thought, a central theme should emerge, shouting from roof tops so to say. How do we reach that stage? Central to all prose writing is the point that a paragraph contains a central idea. When we complete each paragraph of the passage, we should ask ourselves what this central idea is and preferably jot this down on a scratch paper in just four or five words. We may call this a paragraph review. We may also jot down as part of the paragraph review, inferences and conclusions that we can draw, comparisons if any and the purpose of anything that is unique Once you have completed this process for all the paragraphs of the passage, look at your scratch paper and go through the ideas jotted down. Try and link these together and form a central theme, which should also be jotted down on the scratch paper. Now give a thought on the authors tone. Is he light hearted, serious or matter of fact? Is he trying to sell a new idea? Is he emotional about the central idea? A clear understanding of the central idea and the author’s tone are essential to answer the following questions. Once this process is done you may answer the questions and there will rarely be a need to re-read any portion of the passage. If there is any question which cannot be answered now, it is better to guess rather than go back to reading the passage as this will only waste time and rarely find the answer.

Instead of using a scratch paper some may be more comfortable with highlighting a few words/sentence in the passage itself to bring out its central idea. To my mind his is an inferior technique but by all means use it if you are more comfortable with it.

Some Sample Questions

Question 1:  ‘Meter’ is a unit of measure derived from one millionth of the radius of the planet Earth. Based on this which of the following is true:

  1. A) The radius of the planet is the perpendicular bisector of all the auxiliary latitudes
  2. B) The first geodetic survey of the Meter was(?) done by Willebrord Snell.
  3. C) The Nautical Mile is equal to Imperial Mile in meters.
  4. D) It is impossible to derive the Meter using land based geodesy techniques and materials as was available in the 18th
  5. E) None of the above.

The answer is E as all of the other statements are red-herrings.  Do not get caught up looking for the red-herrings.  It may be prudent to skip such a question and revisit at the end time permitting.

Question 2
A) Some days are longer than others during the calendar year

  1. B) A few of Da Vinci’s paintings were lost over time.
  2. C) It is possible that there were no protests in Washington D.C. in 1946
  3. D) All students writing the MCAT do well on the CARS section
  4. E) None of the above.

Here there is neither a passage nor a question.  If you analyse, other than for statement D, all other statements are ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘is possible’.  Statement D is the only specific sentence with ‘all’.  By elimination, the answer got to be D.  Can you now guess the question?

Question 3:  Gautier was indeed a poet and a strongly impressive one- a French poet with limitations as interesting as his gifts. Completeness on his own scale is to our mind the idea he most instantly suggests. Such as his finished task presents him, he is almost the sole of his kind. He has imitators who could not mimic his spontaneity and his temper. Alfred de Musset once remarked about him “at the table of poets his glass was not large, but at least it was his own glass”.

Why does the author quote de Musset in this passage?

  1. A) To show that all of Gautier’s contemporaries were his fans.
  2. B) To prove that Gautier’s poetry was objectively the best.
  3. C) To show how different Gautier and his poetry were.
  4. D) To show the weaknesses of the French style of poetry.
  5. E) None of the above.

The answer is C.  The quote by Musset ending with ‘it was his own glass’ points to the answer.

CARS is not at all be the nightmare that it is made out to be. In fact, if your vocabulary and ability to see the big picture are okay, then half the battle is won. All that remains is to polish the skills by relentless practice, backed up by record keeping of your scores.

 

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