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Critical analysis and reasoning skills (CARS) practice questions

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hi, in this video I'm going to tell you about foundations of comprehension questions. These are one of three types of questions on the critical analysis and reasoning skills section of the MCAT. These questions are designed to test your basic understanding of the passage. These questions can take many forms, but many of these will be familiar to you from other tests. Some common questions will ask you about the main idea or theme of the passage, about the intended meaning of specific words or phrases, or why the author organized or wrote a passage in a specific way. Let's start with a quick example of a main idea question. Which of the following best captures the main goal of the passage? First of all, where it says, "the main goal," we could replace that phrase with the "key idea," "core theme," "central purpose." All of these are asking about the main idea of the passage. I could also replace "passage" with "final paragraph," or "third paragraph," and it's still the same type of question. All I want you to notice here is that the question wants you to be able to recognize a good summary or paraphrase in the main idea that the author is saying. Another similar type of question could ask you to identify an author's main claim or position. The author will often state this for you in a passage using a thesis statement that might start with words like, "I believe," or "It is clear that," or "My main point is." This usually comes in an early section. For example, take a look at this statement: "Every student deserves one year off to explore the world." This statement is important because it tells you what the author believes. It serves as the author's thesis statement and foreshadows what they are going to argue. By saying "deserves," the author is suggesting that every student who wants to take a year off to explore the world should be able to do so. This can also be seen as a claim that the author is making. A claim is a statement that gives you the author's position, point of view, or perspective on a topic. You could also be asked what conclusion the author is trying to draw. This is yet another way of asking you about the main point that the author is trying to make. When answering these questions, one great place to look is at the end of the passage to see if the author attempts to offer a clear conclusion as part of the closing section. Examples of these kinds of questions include, "Which of the following phrases most accurately "captures the author's theme?" "Based on the passage, the author most likely "believes that." "Which of the following sentences best represents "the author's conclusion?" Some questions will ask you to infer the author's attitude or perspective on a topic by considering their particular words or phrases. For example, if an author writes, "How many people died in the Vietnam War? "A novice might count up the bodies on the battlefield. "However, expert analysis shows us that deaths off "the battlefield far outnumber deaths on the battlefield." A question about this example might ask, "Which approach to assessing the death toll "in Vietnam does the author favor?" The author uses the word "novice," and "expert," to suggest that the expert way is better. Sometimes the words themselves come loaded with meaning. We call that connotative language. The author can reveal their perspective or attitude toward information by using loaded adjectives or adverbs, like "evil," "valuable," "unfortunately," or "rightly." Some questions may require that you use the absence or presence or such words to infer whether the author seems to be neutrally and objectively conveying factual information versus stating their opinion, or revealing a bias about the issue. Some questions will ask you to determine the intended meaning of specific words or phrases. Sometimes the author will use unfamiliar words or terms, and you'll need to figure out their meaning from the rest of the passage. Other times, the author will use familiar terms, and you'll need to decide the precise way they are being used. An example of this question would be, "What does the author "mean by the phrase "medical interventions"?" If in the passage, the author introduces the idea of medical interventions, and then gives you examples of helmets, seat belts, vaccines, talk therapy, massages, home remedies, yoga, medications, and surgeries, then you get the sense that the author's definition of medical intervention is really pretty broad. Instead, if the author talks about medical interventions and then just discusses different types of antibiotics, then that would be a more narrow definition of the term. For other foundation questions, you'll need to pay attention to the author's use of signal words, and to consider the passage structure. One example that you might use signal words or text structure to answer is, "What is the primary purpose of paragraph 3?" The author can include many kinds of signal words that you could use to help answer this question. These can include words and phrases like "importantly," "the only thing that matters is," or "for example." This can help you identify basic information like thesis statements, main ideas, and examples. Phrases like "by the way," or "in a few cases," can help signal a minor point, departure, or digression from the main theme. Phrases like "in addition to," "therefore," and "consequently," can help you follow an author's argument. Considering the structure of the passage can also help you in similar ways. For example, two common text structures, point counterpoint, and compare and contrast, can also help you to identify distinctions being made by the author. A point counterpoint text is almost like a discussion between two people. The author goes back and forth laying out points from two different sides. A compare and contrast text will generally first discuss the commonalities between two things, and then highlight the differences. Noticing when passages have these structures will help you know where to look to see how positions or concepts might differ. Phrases like, "on the other hand," "in contrast to," "but," or "however," are likely to appear in these kinds of texts, and they can help you to identify distinctions that the author's trying to make. An example of a question that you might use these ideas to answer is, "According to the author, what are "two perspectives on this issue?" Other common structures include listing of ideas, or a chronological structure, where the author walks you through events in the order they happened. In these cases, it's often helpful to look for words like, first, second, or third, that might help you to identify how many different points are being made; or words like "next," and "and then," that might help you follow the chain of events. Another common text structure is the cause effect structure, where the author first lays out a set of conditions or factors, and then discusses how effects or consequences result from them. In these passages, you should look for causal words like "because," or "due to." An example of a question that you might use these ideas to answer is, "What is the primary cause of the problem "as implied by the passage?" If there's a specific phrase that you are asked about, then it can be helpful to consider how the passage is organized, where that phrase appears, and that can give you a clue of what its purpose might be. Another final type of example is that you may be asked to interpret rhetorical devices. These are devices that the author uses as a way to convey their message. Rhetorical devices include the signal words discussed above like "however," and "on the other hand," but they also use things like repetition or parallelism. Repetition and parallelism are when words or sentence structures are repeated. These are examples of literary devices that may be used by the author to draw attention to particular phrases. The author may also use other literary devices such as metaphor, sarcasm, allegory, or symbolism. Metaphor is when the author compares one thing to another. "Jobs are prisons." Sarcasm is when the opposite of what is stated is meant. "Dental work is a joy." Allegory is when the author relates a narrative or story that's really meant to be understood as being about something else, with the characters being meant to personify abstract ideas. In all of these cases, the author is not expecting their words to be taken literally, and questions may ask you how the author is intending their words to be interpreted. An example of a question asking you about the author's use of a literary device is, "The author makes use of sarcasm in this passage for what purpose?" A closely related idea is that of symbolism. Symbolism is when the author uses an object or concept to represent something else. An author may describe an episode in which a character sees a beautiful flower that's fighting to grow through the cracks of a grimy city sidewalk. In this case, the author may mean that the character actually sees the flower, but may also be using the image to convey a message of beauty in unexpected places, which may be a theme for the work. An example of a question about the author's use of this device would be, "Which of the following is implied "by the use of imagery about the flower?" Similar to word choice, literary devices and figures of speech like metaphors can also reveal an author's position or attitude on a topic. They can color the author's message by using more or less pleasing examples. For example, comparing a political candidate to Robin Hood is likely to suggest a more positive view of the candidate than comparing the candidate to Hitler. An example of a question that asks you about this idea is, "It can be inferred from the author's tone that they believe "which of the following?" I hope this video has given you a good idea of what many questions in the foundations of comprehension category will ask you about. To better understand these types of questions, be sure to try some practice items, and check out the other videos in this section.