Many premed students struggle with the post-2015 MCAT psychology and sociology section. Sure as premed students we take a psychology class in college, but that’s about it. Unless you are double majoring or minoring in psychology/sociology, you probably won’t touch another psych book.
A lot of the psych/soc section involves pure recollection of different theories, people, conditions, functions of the brain, and experiments. You will need to devote time to learning and memorizing the high yield material.
As always, practice is key when it comes to the MCAT. So you will want to invest in the right material in order to practice high-quality psych/soc passages and discrete questions.
Below is a step by step guide on how to obtain a competitive psych/soc (P/S) score with little to no background in psychology.
Step 1: Review The Best Psych/Soc Content
When improving your score for the psychology/sociology section of the MCAT, you want to make sure you are studying the best content possible. You want something that is thorough but also tailored to the MCAT.
Also, when you start to do practice questions and tests, you will want a solid resource to refer to when you miss questions due to not knowing the material.
There are 2 resources I recommend having as your foundation to content review.
Like most of their MCAT prep books, Kaplan tends to hit the sweet spot of detailed review without superfluous information with their Behavioral Science Review book.
If you have purchased Kaplan’s self-study book set, this book will be included in that. However, you can purchase this book separately if needed.
Kaplan’s Behavioral Science Review has all the information you will need for the Psych/Soc section on the MCAT. You also get discrete problems at the end of each chapter and more questions online that you get access to if you own the book.
#2 Khan Academy
Everybody loves Khan Academy’s psychology and sociology videos. And I can see why. They are very useful, especially for psych/soc.
Khan Academy is comprised of primarily videos. Their psychology and sociology instructors are very knowledgeable and do a great job of explaining the material without being boring.
The videos are carefully organized into different categories making it the ideal choice for referring back to when you struggle with a topic.
Here is how you want to use these 2 psych/soc content sources:
If you have very little knowledge of psychology and sociology:
Before you go all-in on tackling practice passages/problems, you may want to spend some time going through all the material that can be tested on the MCAT.
My recommendation is to use a combination of the Kaplan book and Khan Academy.
Read through the Kaplan book from beginning to end. After each chapter, make sure you do the review questions. Then take the topics from each chapter in Kaplan and watch the Khan Academy videos on those topics. Do the corresponding questions in Khan Academy as well.
This double approach will really help reinforce the material. Plus, Kaplan and Khan Academy are going to explain things differently. It is a good idea to get multiple perspectives!
Note: Don’t overdo the content review. It’s good to be thorough but the reality is you don’t have an endless amount of time. Don’t worry if you don’t retain everything the first time through. In the next step, you will be doing lots and lots of practice problems. Trust me, you will be going back to your book and Khan Academy a lot.
If you have a strong background in psychology and sociology but need a refresher:
You probably don’t need to read through all the content again. Most likely you are struggling because you need more practice doing MCAT style questions. Virtually everyone is able to improve their MCAT score by simply doing more practice problems.
The psychology/sociology section of the MCAT involves a lot of research studies. It is important that you practice plenty of MCAT psychology and sociology passages to make sure you are fluent in interpreting these.
Flashcards are highly recommended for studying the psychology and sociology section of the MCAT.
The reason being is that this section involves a lot of straight-up recall. I recommend Kaplans Flash Cards.
You should implement flashcard studying for the MCAT as a whole but especially the psych/soc section.
You should also create your own flashcards using a software like ANKI or index cards. Step 3 goes into more detail regarding when and how you should be making your cards.
Step 2: Practice Problems
Like I said earlier, practice is key. The MCAT loves to take common concepts from psychology/sociology and apply them to unique situations.
For instance, they may have a passage regarding a study on elementary schools and have you connect the conditioned stimulus from Pavlov’s dogs with something completely different in the school study.
This requires not simply recalling raw information from Pavlov’s dog study, but rather understanding how it works and the theories arising from it so that you can apply it to unrelated studies. Doing lots of practice problems will help you develop this understanding.
You also want to make sure you are only practicing good quality questions.
When doing practice problems, try to mimic the actual MCAT as much as possible. In the psychology and sociology section there are 59 questions. This section is broken down into 10 passages followed by questions with the remaining questions being discrete problems (not associated with a passage). You are given 95 minutes to complete this section.
Make sure you sit down for 95 minutes without a break and do 59 questions.
Best Resources For MCAT Psychology and Sociology Questions
The more practice questions you do the better. Therefore, it is important that you have the right resources.
Here is a list of MCAT psych/soc questions resources that are top-notch and will provide plenty of quality practice problems:
Always study whatever the AAMC has to offer. They are the creators of the exam so they will have the most accurate material.
Unfortunately, the AAMC doesn’t offer much for psychology and sociology practice questions. All they have are 100 questions in their section bank for Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior. A great resource, but not enough.
More psychology questions are found in the AAMC’s practice exams but you should save those for when you are practicing full-length exams, not when you are just trying to brush up this specific section.
Next Step (Now rebranded as Blueprint) has a book devoted to psychology and sociology practice questions and passages.
The passages in these books do a great job of being accurate to the actual MCAT.
In addition to this, I found that this book has excellent answer explanations. Next Step does a great job explaining why the correct answer is correct and why the incorrect one is incorrect.
Note: It is important that you purchase this book new or in a like-new condition. You do NOT want any markings on the practice problems. This defeats the purpose of actually challenging yourself to solve the problems. It might be more expensive but you can always resell the book later!
If you have purchased Kaplan’s MCAT Behavioral Science Review you will have access to their online Behavioral Sciences practice questions and passages. Great quality questions that I recommend you do.
#4 Khan Academy
Khan Academy is free. However, in my opinion, their practice passages are just alright. Khan Academy’s questions will help you gain a better understanding of the material but they don’t do the best job of representing what the real MCAT is like.
That’s why I recommend the above resources first. Khan Academy is an excellent resource for content review but you can go without practicing their problems.
Step 3: Review Questions and Make Flashcards
After you have sat down and gone through at least 10 MCAT passages or 59 problems, it’s time to do a thorough review.
Further Reading: How to Effectively Review an MCAT Practice Test
Go over each problem, whether you got it right or wrong. Make sure you really understand why the question was right or why the question was wrong.
If you missed a question or had to guess on the question due to a lack of understanding of the subject material, go back into your Kaplan book and review that section/chapter.
If you missed a question due to misinterpretation of the passage, lack of time, falling for a trap, or simply misreading the question, make a note of what it was. You want to keep that data handy for the following steps.
Finally, make sure you are making your own flashcards of concepts you struggled with. For example, if the question had you recall a particular age from Erikson’s stages of Psychosocial development, make a flashcard that has you recite all 8 stages with associated ages.
Step 4: Review Flashcards Between Sets Of Practice Questions
After you have finished reviewing your practice problems, it’s time to review the flashcards you made as well as third party flashcard sources like Kaplan.
How you choose to review the cards is up to you. I try to keep it simple, if you get the flashcard wrong put it back in the deck. If you get it right, take it out. Repeat this till the deck is empty.
In the beginning, you will want to supplement with the 3rd party flashcards. As you repeat this process multiple times, you will have more and more flashcards of your own to review and you won’t need these supplemental cards as much.
Note: If you are pressed for time you can skip the flashcards part of this guide. The flashcards will help you retain information, but the most important thing you can do is to practice applying the information you learned to the format of the MCAT.
Step 5: Come Up With A Game Plan And Repeat Steps 2 Through 4 Till You Have Mastered This Section
The final step is to continue repeating this process until you feel confident with your MCAT psychology and sociology.
Make sure you are analyzing where you are making your mistakes. Maybe there is a particular topic you are struggling with or maybe you are getting questions wrong due to missing information from the passages.
Whatever it is, focus your efforts on fixing those mistakes.
You can do one 95 minute set of questions followed by the review or even do multiple sets of 95 minutes practice followed by a longer review. Multiply one session by 4 and you got yourself a full MCAT worth of practice (This will help you with test-taking Stamina!)
What Is Important To Memorize For The MCAT Psych/Soc Section?
Really anything is fair game for the MCAT which makes it difficult to tell you what exactly is the best material to memorize for the MCAT. However, based on personal experience and research from other MCAT test-takers, I know there are some things that tend to appear more often that require straight-up memorization.
I wrote a detailed post on things to memorize for the MCAT. You can access that here!
Graphs and data sets give you a lot of information.
While practicing MCAT passages you will become more familiar with graphs and data sets. The psychology and sociology section of the MCAT loves experimental data. There will be many questions that require a good interpretation of the data.
A lot of the time you can answer questions with the graphs alone without any previous knowledge!
Know how to recognize the structure of an experiment.
Similar to the above tip, it’s important to recognize the structure of an experimental study. Make sure you know how to recognize dependent and independent variables, understanding the difference between these two terms alone will help you with some questions.
Keep track of the passage’s argument.
This is similar to the CARS section. Typically, each psych/soc passage will have a thesis they are trying to prove and a couple of paragraphs with studies to back it up.
When you read through a passage make sure you write down a quick note for every paragraph. Write down what argument it was trying to make and how does it relate to the overall thesis.
The main take away from this step by step guide is that practice makes perfect. The more practice passages you do the better. Just make sure you are properly reviewing every question and refereeing back to an MCAT content source like Kaplan.
If you follow this step by step guide, you will develop the MCAT specific skills you need to do well on the psychology and sociology section. If you have any questions please comment below or email us!