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Critical analysis and reasoning skills (CARS) practice questions

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] The purpose of this video is to help you understand the reasoning with the text questions. These are one of three categories of questions on the critical analysis and reasoning skills section of the MCAT. The key feature of these questions is that they ask you to examine the arguments being made by the author. These questions will direct your attention to arguments, claims, conclusions, or pieces of evidence that are presented in the passage. They will ask you analyze and evaluate the author's argument in some way. There are two major types of these questions. The first type includes structural questions that require you to identify how the author is trying to relate various ideas in the passage. These questions ask you to recognize which claim a particular example or piece of evidence is intended to support. The second type include evaluative questions that require you to be critical, and consider flaws or weaknesses in the author's argument or evidence. Anytime you're being asked how the author provides support or evidence for their position or claim, it's a good clue that it's a reasoning within the text question. Here's an example of the first type of question that asks you to identify the relation between claims and evidence in a passage. "Which of the following quotes is presented as evidence for the author's position?" To answer this question, there are two main things you need to do. The first is that you need to identify the author's position. Then, the second thing you need to do is find each of the quotes in the response options within the passage, and determine which of them is being used to support the author's position. Finding the correct answer to this question requires identifying how the author uses each piece of information as part of an argument. In this example question, the response options could include four quotes that actually appear in the text, and you will need to decide between them. However, it's important to note that this is not true of all reasoning within the text questions. Sometimes you'll need to eliminate answer options that don't accurately represent statements or ideas from the passage. Here's another example of this type of question. "Which of the following passage assertions is presented as evidence that computers are affecting people's conception of the mind?" To answer this question, you would first need to eliminate any answer options that do not accurately summarize statements actually made in the passage. Then, for ideas that do appear in the passage, you'd need to determine how the author presents each of them in relation to the specific claim that computers are affecting people's conception of the mind. Here's a third example of this kind of question. "Which conclusion does the author use this example to support?" Instead of presenting you with a specific claim as part of the question, and asking you to identify the evidence that the author provides for it, this question does the reverse. It presents you with a piece of evidence, and asks you to choose which claim the author uses it to support. The second major type of reading within the text question requires you to evaluate, be critical, and consider flaws or weaknesses with the author's argument. For example, as you are reading, you may notice that an author includes statements that seem to be inconsistent with each other. Other times you may notice that an author is making conclusions that seem unjustified. Sometimes connections that seem fine when you first read them, won't seem as strong when you examine them closely. Suppose you read a passage about Nepal that includes these sentences. "Nepal is an underdeveloped country that is one of the most disaster-prone in the world. In Nepal, poverty drives people to live in high-risk areas which makes them vulnerable to disasters. Disasters in Nepal affect a large number of people by destroying their houses, productive lands, other personal assets, and livelihoods. Hence poverty is both a cause and a consequence of disasters in underdeveloped countries." A possible question asking you to evaluate the author's reasoning would be, "What is a weakness in the argument the author makes to support their conclusion about the relation of poverty to disasters?" Option A, "The author fails to explain how people are affected by disasters." Option B, "The author assumes that the situation in Nepal will generalize to all underdeveloped countries." Option C, "The author fails to consider the role of poverty in causing disasters." And option D, "The author fails to consider the role that disasters play in causing poverty." If you read back through the excerpt, you can see that the author does consider issues A, C, and D. Answering this question requires noticing that although all prior sentences are concerned only with Nepal, in the final conclusion, the author makes a general statement about the causal relation between poverty and disasters for underdeveloped countries. The author is assuming whatever is true of Nepal would generalize to other underdeveloped countries. Thus, option B correctly identifies a weakness in the reasoning within the text. Sometimes a question will ask you to identify an unstated assumption that the author is making, such as, "What assumption does the author make about gun violence?" For example, if a passage claimed, "Raising the price of bullets will lower gun violence," a key assumption implied by that statement is that people who commit gun violence aren't willing to buy bullets at a higher price. Whether the assumption seems like a reasonable one or not is irrelevant to answering this kind of question. Assumptions can be facts that few would question, or can be highly controversial and unsupported ideas. What's important for answering this kind of question is that there's something the author did not explicitly say, but that needs to be true in order for the author's conclusion to make sense. Sometimes an author will provide irrelevant, subjective, or biased information to try to support their ideas. It's important to consider whether the evidence is actually relevant for the point that the author is trying to make. An example of a question about this is, "Which of these examples is irrelevant for the claim that sugar is unhealthy?" It's also important to consider the kinds of information and sources that the author cites to support their point of view. Does the evidence seem to be subjective? Is it based in fact? Is it possible to objectively verify? An example of a question about this, is "Which of the following statements is an opinion and not a fact?" Finally, it's especially important to remember that the reasoning within the text questions want you to evaluate the strength of an author's argument or reasoning in terms of the information presented in the passage. You'll need to be careful not to introduce your own personal opinion on the topic. You might not agree with the position that the author takes, or you might know of some critical information that contradicts statements in the passage, but neither of these are important. The key is to just base your responses on the information as provided in the passage, and analyze it on that basis alone. To better understand these types of questions, be sure to try some practice items, and check out the other videos in this section.