If you’ve landed yourself on this page, it’s already pretty evident that you’re a smart test taker. You know that you need to have a plan, and you’re eager to learn what tips and tools might help you succeed. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is comprised of four main sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys)
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc)
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/BioChem)
By the time you get to the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psych/Soc) section of the test, you’re in the home stretch. It’s the last section, and some test takers find it to be the easiest, while others struggle with the psychology and sociology concepts. Those who didn’t focus on psychology or sociology during their undergrad tend to find this section particularly daunting. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, we have some tips to help you succeed on this final section of the MCAT.
What’s on the Psych/Soc Section of the MCAT?
Before you can do well on the Psych/Soc section of the MCAT, you need to understand how you’ll be assessed during this section. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) describes the Psych/Soc section of the MCAT as follows,
“The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section asks you to solve problems by combining your knowledge of foundational concepts with your scientific inquiry and reasoning skills. This section tests your understanding of the ways psychological, social, and biological factors influence perceptions and reactions to the world; behavior and behavior change; what people think about themselves and others; the cultural and social differences that influence well-being; and the relationships between social stratification, access to resources, and well-being.
The Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section emphasizes concepts that tomorrow’s doctors need to know in order to serve an increasingly diverse population and have a clear understanding of the impact of behavior on health. Further, it communicates the need for future physicians to be prepared to deal with the human and social issues of medicine.”
– The AAMC
The Psych/Soc section accounts for 25% of the test, and you will be given 95 minutes to complete the 59 questions in the section. Possible scores on Chem/Phys range from 118-132. It’s made up of a combination of passage‐based and discrete questions.
This section tests first-semester psychology, first-semester sociology, introductory biology concepts and how they relate to mental processes and behavior, research methods, and statistics concepts. It also requires you to show scientific inquiry and reasoning, research methods, and statistics skills as they relate to social and behavioral sciences. The content breakdown for Psych/Soc is as follows:
- 65% introductory psychology**
- 30% introductory sociology
- 5% introductory biology
The AAMC adds the following note regarding introductory psychology, “Please note that about 5% of this test section will include psychology questions that are biologically relevant. This is in addition to the discipline target of 5% for introductory biology specified for this section.”
Following are the scientific inquiry and reasoning skills you’ll need to understand for the Psych/Soc section, according to the AAMC
- Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles: This includes demonstrating your understanding of the concepts and principles themselves as well as identifying relationships between concepts.
- Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving: This includes reasoning when it comes to principles, theories, and models. You will also need to be able to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations and predictions.
- Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research: This includes understanding scientific research and being able to reason about ethical issues.
- Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning: This includes interpreting tables, figures, and graphs. You’ll also need to be able to draw conclusions from and reason about data.
You will have access to a periodic table during this section of the MCAT.
Finally, the Psych/Soc section tests your understanding of five foundational concepts:
- Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world.
- Biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors influence behavior and behavior change.
- Psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors influence the way we think about ourselves and others, as well as how we interact with others.
- Cultural and social differences influence well-being.
- Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being.
This is a lot to take in, and simply making sense of all this information is a feat in itself. This is why you need a concrete study plan and high-quality resources to help you make the most of your time and prepare for the Psych/Soc section. We’ll help you understand what you can expect from this section, how to go about studying, and we’ll provide you with valuable tips to help you succeed.
How to Study for the Psych/Soc Section of the MCAT
Some people argue that the Psych/Soc section requires more rote memorization than other sections of the MCAT. You should indeed have a basic understanding of a wide variety of terms for this section. However, you’ll need to understand these terms as they relate to real-world scenarios. Simply memorizing a lot of definitions will not serve you well.
On the Psych/Soc section, you’ll find questions surrounding the following topics:
- Research methods
- Social processes
- Mental disorders
As you study for and learn more about this section, you’ll find that the covered topics are vast, and it’s difficult to determine which you’ll actually see on test day. The above list may only scratch the surface.
Because of the wide range of topics covered, there is a tremendous amount of volume you need to study and memorize when preparing for Psych/Soc. Despite this, some test takers believe they can wait to study for Psych/Soc because memorizing a lot of information seems “easier” than studying for other portions of the test. This is not wise; although the information might be less conceptually difficult for some, you still need to space out your memorization to maximize your learning.
Some describe the content in this section as more vague than the other science sections, so don’t be caught off guard if you get surprised with a term you’ve never heard before on a practice test. Likewise, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a single question about a term you were sure would be tested.
To help narrow down what you’re more likely to see on test day, keep track of terms you see as answer choices in practice questions and on practice tests. Then, make another note if these terms appear again. The ones that reoccur may be more likely to show up on test day.
Additionally, we recommend starting your studying early with a tool like Memm that can help you keep track of terms you’ve studied via cards and sheets. We also make sure our information is high-yield, so this is another way to reduce studying terms that are less likely to show up on the test.
Students who have focused a lot on psychology and sociology in their studies may be tempted to put off studying for this section, instead placing more emphasis on the other three sections of the test. Spending less time on this section without first checking for your own understanding, however, can be dangerous. It’s important to figure out what you know and what you don’t and tailor your studying from there. It may well be that you don’t need to spend as much time on this section, but don’t assume that without first taking a practice test or two and getting a feel for your true starting point. Memm can help you here as well by creating a personalized study schedule.
Again, taking practice tests is another excellent way to get a feel for what things will be like on test day. Psych/Soc is the last section on the MCAT, so expect that your brain and body may be very fatigued by this point. Continually taking practice tests under testing conditions will help your body acclimate to the rigors of test day.
When test day comes and you finally begin the Psych/Soc section, don’t try to rush through just to get done or because you assume this section is easy. Treat this section with the same care you did every other section. Don’t stop just because you got through each question and you know you can go home when you end this section. You may be physically, emotionally, and mentally done at this point, but this section is worth 25% of your score; don’t let your exhaustion convince you otherwise.
Choosing which practice tests to take can be difficult, and many people use third-party tests as they prepare. It’s perfectly fine to use these tests, but we also recommend using every AAMC resource available to you. This includes practice questions and practice tests. As these are made by the same company that makes the MCAT, they will be very similar to the test itself.
Finally, we have a few additional tips to help you succeed on the Psych/Soc section of the MCAT. To do well on this section, practice studying terms in context and understanding research design.
Of course, you’ll need to study terms and know basic definitions. We recommend studying vocab words, famous experiments, famous psychologists, and other important terms in context as much as possible. Knowing what Pavlov’s dog was is very different from being able to understand the implications of this experiment on modern psychology and medicine. The more you apply examples as you study, the more prepared you’ll be.
Additionally, understanding experimental and research design is key for this section. In fact, you may find that you face many questions that solely rely on your understanding of experimental design. When you encounter a question about an experiment in your studying, practice identifying the independent variable, the dependent variable, and the control.
Resources for the Psych/Soc Section of the MCAT
When you’re studying for Psych/Soc, you’ll make the most of your time and money if you focus on resources that help you study high-yield information. Here are some of the best resources for the Psych/Soc section of the MCAT:
- A detailed breakdown of the Psych/Soc section from AAMC
- AAMC’s Road Map to MCAT Content in Sociology and Psychology Textbooks
- Memm (comprehensive sheets and high-quality cards)
- MCAT tutoring
- AAMC Practice Tests
- AAMC Practice Questions
- AAMC Section Bank
Remember to use AAMC materials liberally. When in doubt, opt for an AAMC material if it is available.
Read our MCAT Study Guide which covers how the MCAT is scored, 7 MCAT study strategies, MCAT resources, FAQs, and more.
How to Do Well on the Psych/Soc Section
Now that you know what to expect on this section of the MCAT, it’s time to get to work and begin studying. We recommend beginning to study three to six months before you take the test, and Memm is an excellent place to start. We can help you identify your strong and weak points, and we’ll create a customized schedule so you can organize your studying.
Once you’ve started studying and taken a couple of third-party practice tests, begin to take the AAMC practice tests. Be sure to plan your time so you take every single AAMC test. This will help you be prepared and know exactly what to expect on test day.
Med School Insiders offers tailored MCAT tutoring designed around your strengths and weaknesses to help you make the greatest improvements. Learn more about our MCAT tutoring services and comprehensive admissions packages.