The MCAT Psychology and Sociology section (commonly called Psych/Soc) was introduced by AAMC in 2015. Though it is the newest section of the MCAT, it is just as important as the others, and makes up one-fourth of the overall score. 

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This section of the test tasks students with:

  • Recalling fundamental psychological and sociological principles
  • Understanding research methodologies that pertain to studies in this subject
  • Applying this knowledge to data sets, charts, and figures that summarize research.

You will need to take the information you've learned and the content you've memorized and:

  • Correctly interpret research presented within this section
  • Accurately apply psychological and sociological principles to passage-based questions.

This means it is necessary to practice and become familiar with the types of passages and questions that appear in the section.

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Structure of the Section

The Psych/Soc Section contains 44 passage-based questions and 15 free-standing questions sorted in the following way:

  • 59 questions (95-minute time limit)

Broken into:

  • 10 passages, containing 4, 5, or 6 questions each.
  • 4 sets of free-standing questions, containing 3 or 4 questions each.

Concepts in the Psych/Soc section are tested in the following proportions:

  • 60% - Questions related to psychological concepts.
  • 35% - Questions related to sociological concepts.
  • 5% - Questions related to biological concepts (biology is tested much more heavily in other sections of the MCAT).

Like all MCAT sections, this section is scored on a scale from 118–132, with a median score of 125.

Note: The Psych/Soc section is the fourth and final section of the MCAT, coming at the end of a 7.5-hour test. This can pose an added challenge, as it needs to be completed at a time when mental fatigue may be at its highest. The best way to combat this challenge is to take MCAT practice tests under conditions that replicate actual testing conditions as closely as possible. Specifically, resist the urge to pause the practice test and return a day later. You can’t do that on the real MCAT examination, so don’t do it during practice! By practicing the Psych/Soc section at the end of a full-length practice test, you can build mental stamina and become more effective at completing the section even if you are mentally drained.

AAMC Foundational Concepts

The AAMC has identified five foundational concepts within the section (Foundational Concepts 6-10), and it expects test-takers to become familiar with the psychological and sociological concepts that compose them. 

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#1 Foundational Concept 6 – Sensation and Perception (25% of the section)

This foundational concept contains ideas related to the processes by which human beings take in stimuli from their surrounding environment and organize those stimuli into sensory experiences. It is important to understand the neurobiological mechanisms through which humans ' sense and process sights, sounds, and other stimuli. Biological concepts are not frequently tested in this section of the exam, but the writers may include some questions on neurobiology and brain structures when testing these concepts.

Examples of sensation and perception concepts that might be tested include:

  • Weber’s law
  • Gestalt principles
  • Brain lateralization

This foundational concept also includes human memory processes. A familiarity with the psychological processes of short-term memory, long-term memory, and sensory memory is essential. It is also good to know about psychological processes and phenomena that lead humans to forget information. There are an enormous number of vocabulary terms related to memory that you need to be successful in this section.

Examples of memory concepts that might be tested include:

  • Baddeley’s model of working memory
  • Procedural memory
  • Retrograde/anterograde amnesia

Attention and consciousness are additional concepts that fall under this foundational concept. The psychological processes behind selective attention, divided attention, and other cognitive processes are important to know. The writers may ask test-takers to compare and contrast these cognitive processes and identify which ones are applicable to a situation described in a question stem or passage, so it is important to understand the differences between them.

Examples of attention/consciousness concepts that might be tested include:

  • The Broadbent filter model of attention
  • The Treisman attenuation model of attention
  • The cocktail party effect

#2 Foundational Concept 7 – Personality and Behavior (35% of the section)  

This foundational concept is about the processes through which human beings make decisions and carry out behaviors. If that sounds like a broad category, it is; this is the largest foundational concept area on the section. It’s essential to be familiar with the various theories and perspectives regarding personality in order to apply them to psychological research. For example, the AAMC will NOT ask anyone to determine which personality theory is the 'best' or 'most accurate.' Instead, you might be asked which theory is most applicable to a passage detailing a research study. For this reason, it’s important to understand the differences between each theory of personality so they can be correctly applied to the passage.

Examples that might be tested include:

  • The psychoanalytic perspective
  • The social-cognitive perspective
  • The trait perspective 

The psychological processes of learning also fall within this foundational concept. It is important to familiarize yourself with associative learning processes such as Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory.

This includes vocabulary terms within classical conditioning theory, such as:

  • Unconditioned stimuli and responses
  • Conditioned stimuli and responses
  • Neutral stimuli

Skinner’s operant conditioning theory is another type of associative learning that is just as critical, and terms within operant conditioning theory such as:

  • Positive reinforcement/punishment
  • Negative reinforcement/punishment
  • Reinforcement schedules

Non-associative learning principles such as habituation, dishabituation, and sensitization can be tested as well.

The subfield of social psychology is essentially a mix of psychology and sociology. Human beings behave differently in groups than they do when they are alone. There are a number of vocabulary terms within this subfield that explain how and why this happens, and it is important to be able to apply them to the social situations described in this section’s passages. Many of these terms can appear similar to each other at first glance, and it is necessary to know the specific elements that make one social psychology vocabulary term applicable when another is not.

Examples of terms that can be tested include:

  • Social facilitation
  • Social loafing
  • Groupthink/group polarization

Psychological disorders may also be tested as part of this foundational concept.

Examples of mental disorder categories that can be tested include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Note: Psychological disorders can be extremely complicated and overwhelming to study if you try to do so all on your own. After all, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 th Edition (the most current reference book used by psychiatrists to diagnose patients) is over 900 pages long! Fortunately, the test-writers do not expect anyone to memorize 900 pages of information on psychological disorders. When it comes to these disorders, the writers only require an understanding of basic details. Having a knowledge of the categories and types of psychological disorders that the writers ask about most frequently will go a long way toward achieving success on questions within this foundational concept.

Our MCAT courses will help you learn about these categories and identify the specific categories and disorders you need to study in order to succeed in this section.

#3 Foundational Concept 8 – Self-Identity and Social Interactions (20% of the section)

This foundational concept is about the ways that people form their sense of identity and how that sense of identity can influence interactions with other people. The writers can test concepts related to personal and social identity, as well as internal psychological factors that affect the way individuals perceive themselves. There are a number of psychological vocab terms that begin with the word “self” that fall within this area, and the writers can ask test-takers to distinguish between them.

Examples of self-identity concepts that might be tested include:

  • Self-concept
  • Self-efficacy
  • Self-esteem

In addition to psychological principles related to the sense of self, the writers can test how this affects perceptions of others. Humans are prone to psychological biases that can have a meaningful effect on thought processes and social interactions. These biases can elicit prejudiced thoughts, discriminatory behavior, or other types of harmful social interactions. Understanding the way in which cognitive biases can drive prejudice and discrimination is an important skill to utilize when interpreting a social situation presented in a question stem or passage.

Examples of specific biases that might be tested include:

  • The fundamental attribution error
  • The actor-observer bias
  • The self-serving bias

#4 Foundational Concept 9 – Culture and Social Institutions (15% of the section)

This foundational concept includes the most important sociological theories that attempt to explain the workings of society, along with the theorists who developed them. These sociological theories are highly important to the field, so it is critical to understand the basic premise of each theory as well as the individuals who developed them. The ability to understand the scope of each theory (and determine whether it is a macro-level sociological theory, micro-level sociological theory, or both) is essential.

Examples of main sociological theories that might be tested include:

  • Structural functionalism
  • Conflict theory
  • Symbolic interactionism

Additionally, it is necessary to know the most important social institutions and the vocabulary terms related to these institutions. Social institutions are hierarchical systems that structure society and bring order to the behaviors and interactions that occur within them.

While there are many social institutions in modern societies, the three most tested ones are:

  • Education
  • Government
  • Healthcare 

Because this is the MCAT, the test writers include more questions on the social institution of healthcare than any other social institution. This means it is important to understand sociological principles related to both past and present-day healthcare phenomena.

Examples of significant principles related to the social institution of healthcare include:

  • Medicalization
  • The sick role
  • Social epidemiology

#5 Foundational Concept 10 – Effects of Social Inequality (5% of the section)

This foundational concept includes the mechanisms through which inequality impacts health. While it is the foundational concept with the least amount of content on this section, it is by no means unimportant, and emphasizing the effects of inequality on human health outcomes is one of the main reasons that the AAMC added this section to the MCAT in 2015. Being aware of the factors that can lead individuals and groups to experience inequality, and therefore unequal outcomes, will even aid in correctly interpreting passages and situations that fall outside this foundational concept.

Examples of phenomena related to social inequality that might be tested include:

  • The socioeconomic gradient in health
  • Social stratification
  • Social reproduction

Research Methods

There is one final content area that is essential to understand in order to succeed on the Psychology and Sociology section, and it actually falls outside any of the foundational concepts laid out by the AAMC; the content area of research methodologies. Instead, the AAMC lists four Scientific Reasoning and Inquiry Skills (SIRS) to develop, all of which greatly benefit from an understanding of research methods.

The four SIRS are as follows:

  • Skill 1: Knowledge of Scientific Principles
  • Skill 2: Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving
  • Skill 3: Reasoning about the Design and Execution of Research
  • Skill 4: Data-based Statistical Reasoning

While Skill 3 is the one that is most directly related to research methodologies, all four are relevant. In order to improve any of these skills, it is important to understand:

  • The types of research studies that are common to the fields of psychology and sociology
  • Common vocabulary terms related to research methodologies
  • Common flaws that occur throughout the process of psychological and sociological research

It is also important to be able to interpret data presented in charts and graphs that are included in passages on this section so that the results of research studies can be applied to MCAT questions. So, even though it is not considered a “foundational concept” for this section of the test, understanding research methodologies and the four skills listed above will enable success on questions across all content areas within this section.

Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Vocabulary!

Of all the sections on the MCAT, this section is the one that requires the greatest amount of memorization. While you do not need to be an expert in every single psychological and sociological vocabulary term, you do need to be as prepared as possible for whichever words are pulled from the incredibly vast number of terms. Creating a set of flashcards and/or a vocabulary sheet is a great way to become familiar with the terms and definitions that you will need to know to succeed in this section. It is also important to start studying for the section far in advance of your test date so that you have enough time to work through all the vocabulary terms you need to learn before test day.

Variety is the Name of the Game

On other sections of the MCAT, the test-writers might ask two, three, or even four questions on certain high-yield topics. However, on the Psych/Soc section, it is unlikely to see even a second question on the same content area. In fact, it’s possible that this section could have 59 questions about 59 different topics! For this reason, you need to be prepared to answer questions on a wide range of psychology and sociology concepts so that you are ready for the variety of questions that you will see in this section.


Overall, the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section tests many concepts, and it is important to be able to apply these concepts to research studies and situations described in passages. Preparing well in advance of your test date is the best way to build the knowledge and practice you need to succeed on the section. Because of the amount of psychology and sociology content that is tested on this section, knowing the vocabulary terms and scientific principles of MCAT psychology and sociology—and knowing them well—will help you succeed.