How to Prepare for MCAT Psychology: Complete Guide

June 25, 2024

minute read

The psychology portion of the MCAT can be challenging to study at first since there are so many terms to learn. At the same time, many test-takers have never attended a formal psychology course or taken an official psychology exam.

Even though it could seem challenging to learn this on your own, several strategies can make getting ready for MCAT psychology doable (and even enjoyable!). 

Keep reading if you want to know the best techniques on how to prepare for MCAT psychology. Let’s start!

What is MCAT Psychology? 

The scientific study of behavior and the mind is called psychology

Psychologists are actively interested in researching and comprehending how the mind, the brain, and behavior work.

Psychology is one of the subjects included in the MCAT because, as future doctors, you need to understand how humans think and behave. 

To respond to questions in MCAT psychology, you must use your knowledge of fundamental concepts and your talent for scientific inquiry and reasoning. 

MCAT psychology tests your understanding of the psychological factors influencing human perceptions and reactions to the outside world, behavior, and behavioral changes. 

MCAT psychology covers 65% of the MCAT Psych/Soc section

This means that out of the 59 questions, 39 will be related to psychology. 

Psychology plays a crucial role in your MCAT.

Psychology Topics to Study for the MCAT

To succeed in MCAT psychology, you need to be aware of the different concepts and topics covered in this section. 

The list below shows the different topics you need to study for the MCAT psychology. 

How Much Time Should You Give Yourself to Study for the Psychology Section on the MCAT?

How much time you devote to the MCAT can make or break your performance. Remember that the MCAT is challenging; therefore, you must put in extra time and effort to get a good MCAT score.

We advise devoting no more than 6 hours each day to intensive MCAT preparation (except for full-length practice exams, which can take around 8 hours with breaks). 

The ideal timetable will tell you to study for three sections daily, leaving you with 2 hours per section. Additionally, if you are not under any severe scheduling limitations, it is a great idea to take one day off each week. 

MCAT psychology covers 65% of the MCAT psych/soc section. Therefore, as you study for this section, most of your preparation time should be spent on the different MCAT psychology concepts mentioned in the previous section. 

If you are on a 3-month study plan, about two months should be given to MCAT alone. However, note that this may vary depending on your school and work obligations. Adequate preparation and excellent time management are keys to the MCAT. Please adjust accordingly.

10 Tips and Strategies to Prepare for the MCAT Psychology Section

Studying for the MCAT psychology can be nerve-wracking. While it may not involve terms and formulas that need to be memorized, there is much more to it that makes it incredibly challenging for most students. 

The good news is that there are proven ways to help you succeed in MCAT psychology, and many students can attest to their effectiveness. 

Here are some tips and strategies you can apply as you prepare for MCAT psychology.

Understand the Terminologies by Heart 

Yes, there are a ton of them, but you will do better if you memorize the terms of sociology and psychology. Flashcards can be a helpful review tool, whether you make your own or use materials from other sources. 

However, the AAMC prefers to move beyond simple definitions, so make sure you understand the concept in its entirety.

Examine the Passage's Argument in Detail

Most MCAT psychology questions have a thesis they are trying to prove with a few paragraphs of evidence. 

As you read a passage, make a small note at the end of each paragraph. Take note of the position it attempted to take and how it relates to the central idea.

Use Context Clues for Questions You Do Not Know

It is not always clear which concepts might be assessed on the MCAT, so students frequently become frustrated. 

Accepting that it is impossible to anticipate exactly what will be covered is a challenging hurdle to overcome; thus, mastering the use of context clues and process of elimination to deal with new topics is an essential ability to improve on practice exams.

Use a Variety of MCAT Resources 

It will be beneficial to be exposed to various study resources because they all emphasize specific terms. You might want to invest in the AAMC’s and the different MCAT prep books that are available in the market. 

Some of them might be pricey, but so are your entire medical school expenses. You might also want to enroll in MCAT prep courses and MCAT tutoring services.

Use the Khan academy Videos as a Primary Source; Use the Prep Books as Supplements

We definitely want to preface first that this strategy may not work for everyone, but is something that you can consider! For us, the Khan Academy psychology videos have a great balance of simply and concisely defining and explaining terms while also providing examples to help apply those concepts. Sometimes, we find that the prep books can be filled with so much info that can often distract from the main point!

However, for topics that may require a more in depth explanation, this is where using the prep books as a supplement can come into play! These are more needed for the finer details and if you really want to “tighten down the bolts” on certain topics!

We think this strategy allows for the best of both worlds: you can focus more on the high yield, simply explained topics from the Khan Academy videos while also supplementing them with the in depth explanations of the prep books when needed.

Try Mnemonic Devices 

On the MCAT, psychology demands memorization of specific concepts and terminologies. It can be challenging to recall all the details. 

To recall these concepts more rapidly, we suggest you use mnemonic devices. You can use them to help you remember essential ideas on the MCAT psychology.

We have created a list of mnemonics for the MCAT psychology you can use. Please check it out here at Mnemonics for the Psychology Section of the MCAT

Make Use of MCAT Flashcards

Flashcards are a helpful MCAT study tool. The AAMC and several independent MCAT prep businesses sell MCAT flashcards. If you like, you can also create your own flashcards. 

Remember that the MCAT is not just about memory recall, so try not to focus only on memorization.

Do you want to know the best flashcards for the MCAT? Then, check them out here at Best Flashcards for MCAT Exam.

Provide Examples and Situations of What You are Learning

Example Question: “What is a case of hindsight bias?” 

The question itself may serve as an illustration. The following is what you would see as one of the answers:

“Hindsight bias occurs when a person or group assumes they knew something was going to happen even though there is no way they could have predicted it. A student claims, following a tornado, that she was aware of its impending arrival months in advance.”

Use the AAMC practice questions that have already been written to your advantage. Going back to our example, if you do not already know what the other answer choices meant, you would also want to clarify them and provide an illustration.

Know the Dependent, Independent, and Controlled Groups in Passages Involving Experiments 

The exam writers at the AAMC really enjoy testing students on psychology (and sociology) experiments in addition to vocabulary and applying that vocabulary. Our advice is to get used to recognizing and outlining the essential elements of any experiment.

  • What are the researchers deliberately altering? That is the independent variable. 
  • What are the researchers looking for as a result? That is the dependent variable. 
  • What else must the researchers maintain constant in order for their findings to be valid? That is the controlled variable. 

Look out for the correlation values! Whether they’re strong or weak, positive or negative, they all provide valuable information and data.

Answer Practice Exams

The MCAT may require you to compare a passage on Pavlov's dogs' conditioned stimuli and something entirely different in the school research and a section regarding a study on primary schools. 

To adapt Pavlov's dog research to unrelated topics, one must understand how the study functions and the theories it creates, not only retain its essential facts. 

By working through many practice problems, you will increase your understanding of this idea.

Start Doing Practice Problems… Even If You Haven’t Reviewed or Studied Yet!

Yes, this one seems a little weird, but just hear us out and maybe it might work for you! By doing practice problems you haven’t even studied for, you’re at least getting an exposure to the terms and concepts even before you study! Maybe you’ll find that when you go and actually review these topics, they may come to you easier and much quicker!

There’s also a scientific component to this! Some studies show that getting questions wrong actually helps you retain and memorize the information much better! Researchers hypothesize that by getting a question wrong, a student can better internalize the concept because they can see the fault in their rationale, which gives them a reference point to look back on when they come across that question again!

This works very well for the Psych/Soc section, as this section is heavily involved in definitions and/or matching terms to an example! Oftentimes in practice problems, they’ll give you a rationale helping you too 1) learn the definition/concept of a term in a more concise way and 2) understand the fault in your rationale so as not to make that mistake next time!

MCAT Psychology Preparation Resources

As stated earlier, it is advised that you utilize a variety of MCAT psychology prep resources. While some of them are a bit pricey, some are free. You just have to ensure that you only rely on those that are recommended by past test-takers. 

Here are some of them: 

Additional FAQs – Preparing for MCAT Psychology 

Can I Improve My MCAT Psychology in 1 Month?

A month may not be enough if you will also be studying for the other MCAT sections. 

You can improve your MCAT psychology in a month if it is the only subject you will be studying for. Also, it will take a great deal of effort and hard work since there is quite a lot to study for. 

You would have to allot and devote extra hours of studying for the MCAT psychology if you only have a month.

What Psychology is Needed in the MCAT?

The MCAT requires your background in introductory psychology. This covers all of the key psychological theories and principles. 

Students can critically analyze psychological research and develop a deeper understanding of human thought and behavior thanks to the knowledge they acquire in this course.

How Many Psychology Questions are There in the MCAT?

Psychology plays a significant role in your MCAT score. 

Sixty-five (65) percent or thirty-nine (39) questions in the MCAT psych/soc will include psychology questions. 

Ensure that by the time you take the MCAT, you have mastered every topic to study for this section of the MCAT. 

Is the MCAT Psychology Section All Memorization? 

No, the MCAT psychology is not about memorization, nor is the entire MCAT. 
The MCAT psychology tests how you can apply the learned concepts to relevant contexts. 

It does help if you can recall the terms and theories but more critical is for you to apply your knowledge and illustrate how the information could be helpful as future doctors.

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