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Don’t Psych Yourself Over Psych! 

By Nikhil Jaganathan 

Seemingly endless vocabulary terms. Complicated experimental designs. Deceptive graphs and figures. This is the last stretch of the MCAT—you’re almost done! Many students consider the MCAT psychology/sociology section to be the easiest of the exam due to its more content-based nature compared to the other sections. Rather than applying countless formulas to mental math situations, intensive reading, or theoretical and highly immersive scientific experiments, the psych/soc section of the MCAT tends to be less application-based. However, the psych/soc section can be deceptively simple, and students often underestimate it, assuming that they can utilize the knowledge from their college courses to ace this section. The truth is, the weight of the psych/soc section of the MCAT is equal to that of the other sections, so here are some helpful tips to keep in mind while prepping for this section:

1. Vocab repetition is key! Before rushing into passages or beginning full-length practice exams, build strong fundamentals and gain mastery by rehearsing vocabulary months in advance. Psychology/sociology is unique in its sheer number of terms to be committed to memory, from psychological disorders to types of memory. Four to six months before your exam, begin reviewing psychology/sociology information through detailed MCAT prep  books. Once you have reviewed the detailed intricacies of the content books, this is where flashcards come in! Whether it’s your Blueprint Flashcards or Anki, consistent daily review of your vocabulary is necessary to ensure that you don’t forget details you previously reviewed, allowing you to stay at the top of your game. Flashcards are an easy way to incorporate psych/soc review into your hectic schedule, whether on the way to work, while walking outside, or eating lunch. 

2. Take vocab to the next level! Now it’s time to take this vocab to a more advanced step because simply memorizing definitions won’t be enough for the MCAT. Be able to come up with an example of each of the terms you memorize to help you build a deeper understanding of each term and to ensure that you can recognize these concepts in new contexts in MCAT passages. Furthermore, being able to quickly categorize vocabulary and concepts into discrete units and understanding how the concepts compare/contrast is crucial. Understanding not only stand-alone terms but also how these terms relate to one another is also essential. The MCAT typically doesn’t just give a passage on one topic, but rather relates it to multiple topics, so understanding the interconnectedness of these terms is vital. This is where practice passages and MCAT diagnostic tests come into play. Psych/soc questions are often predictable in the topics that they relate to and the types of scenarios that they use, so be sure to practice several passages of each psych/soc topic to ensure that you can effectively spot a concept in a narrative or experimental situation that is presented.  

3. Reviewing psych/soc! Don’t make the mistake of overlooking reviewing your psych/soc passages. Tracking vocabulary you don’t recognize, can’t define, or don’t understand completely while reviewing is essential. These are the words that you should add to your flashcards as a handy reference leading up r to your test day. By doing this, you can work more efficiently and thus strategically target your weak points.

4. Conquering the experiments! One of the most difficult parts of the psych/soc section is the experiments, which often test your ability to relate your content expertise to experimental designs, flaws, and variables. Before your MCAT, be sure to practice countless experimental passages and detailed answer explanations, such as those found in the AAMC Section Bank, to ensure that you are prepared for anything AAMC throws your way. To avoid becoming disoriented in a complex of background information, procedures, and results, make a mental list of the experimental versus control groups to better understand what was being tested. Additionally, mentally define the independent and dependent variables to determine what the researchers manipulated and measured to better understand the overall passage. Figures and graphs are often a source of panic for students in the psych/soc section, especially after hours of intense focus. When analyzing graphs, look for overall trends rather than focusing on minute details to avoid wasting time. Also, pay careful attention to axes, titles, and statistical significance markers because these can decide the right answer! 

Ultimately, the MCAT psych/soc section is often considered the most forgivable section in allowing for improvement. Your early psych/soc scores by no means decide your final score since this section is so heavily content-based. Although I’m a-freud it’s no easy feat, with consistent repetition and refined test prep techniques, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.

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