Having patients with CARS

Posted in: MCAT

by Luke

MCAT CARS sound like ambulances for people having trouble taking a test to get into medical school. Which would be useful! There are a lot of people in that situation! And the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section is often the reason why. It’s the section of the test most people find particularly challenging. Not necessarily because it’s harder than the other sections, but because it’s different to the other sections. It’s different from most of the tests people have taken before. School simply trains us to memorise lists of facts to regurgitate, or to calculate numbers from clear equations. Quickly understanding and extrapolating from text was never a high priority. But now it is.

This kind of question can be particularly frustrating because it can’t be exactly studied in advance. The whole point of the CARS is giving you new material and asking you to understand it in a stressful situation. Which is exactly why they ask it. The MCAT includes CARS because doctors have to actually understand information before they use it on living humans. And they have to talk to those humans too! It turns out most patients don’t present you with a clear list of symptoms. They don’t highlight or bold the key points of their situation. They talk and talk and talk and it’s your job to extract the useful information.

The CARS is created to help you with that. Understanding that the CARS isn’t an inconvenient test but training to permanently upgrade your abilities can make it much easier to put in the work. No-one likes to waste time on a weird test. But everyone applying for medical school wants to work to make themselves better at medicine.

Actual doctors have to dig through complex or scattered information every day. Every patient talks differently, with different priorities, sometimes even their own secret motivations. They won’t walk into your surgery with a list of numbers and a question floating above their head saying “Identify the symptoms using Equation 7.33”. You need to comprehend what they’re saying and extrapolate how to proceed.

Short form: the first and most important diagnostic tool in human history is listening. Truly listening. Understanding. Focusing on the key elements and dismissing the distractions. A well-placed question about travel history can save you several tests and days of delay in treating your patient. So start seeing the passages as your patients right now. You CAN’T get angry with them, even when they’re being awkward or difficult, because it’s your job to understand their problems and solve them.

CARS aren’t complicated questions, they’re extra medical training

Everyone doing the MCAT has to complete the CARS. But not everyone understands or extracts the full advantage of this extra training. Make sure you get the best benefit. Learn patience with your patients, and with yourself, by enjoying the CARS questions as extra training.