The Complete AAMC Outline: What’s on the MCAT Exam?

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Session 167

The AAMC Outline shows you what you are expected to know for the MCAT. But is that all you need to know? Plus, some psychology/sociology material!

We’re joined by Phil from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). If you’re looking for some tutoring, contact Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) directly and talk to them.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:00] Getting the Most of Your Psych/Soc Section From the AAMC Outline

The AAMC has this outline on what’s on the MCAT exam. It contains about 128 pages so it’s a huge outline. Some of those are not as useful a prep tool as others.

'This outline is really useful in the Psychology and Sociology section.'Click To Tweet

The Psychology/Sociology (P/S) section is testing your knowledge of vocabulary. The outline gives you what stuff they’re going to be asking you about and what stuff they’re going to expect you to know. But it doesn’t mean they can’t ask you anything outside of that.

The AAMC has practice materials that you’ve never heard of and they expect you not to have seen that. You just have to go to the passage and pull stuff out of it.

The questions are not testing your knowledge. They’re just testing your ability to read and learn and understand what’s going in this experiment.

That being said, there’s other stuff they expect you to know and they’re going to hold you accountable for it.

Phil had a student who was strong across the board except for the Psych area. They worked on this outline and he let the student explain in their own words with their own examples.

They spent a whole month and took a bunch of practice tests. She got from 124 to 131 on the practice test. And she got a 132 on the actual test, which is the perfect score.

Since then, he had done this with ten other students and five of them had gotten perfect scores.

'It takes a big, long process and it takes a couple of months.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Breaking Down MCAT Psych/Soc Practice Questions]

[06:54] Why the Outline Isn’t as Useful for the Bio Section and Other Sciences

A student should look at the outline for every section. But Phil doesn’t think it’s as useful as in the Bio section. For instance, they will mention the bioenergetics concentration.

But that doesn’t really help that much as you don’t know what you should be looking at. Of course, you have to look it up and figure out what’s going on.

A lot of the things on the Psychology/Sociology are just discrete vocabulary and not topics. Whereas a lot of the stuff in the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics sections are more of topics than vocab stuff.

In the Physics section, if it talks about the right-hand rule in magnetism and the equation for the magnetic field. Writing out the magnetic field and the equation isn’t merely as useful as doing practice questions.

'In the Chemistry, Physics, Bio areas, you're not going to be tested on memorizing these but on utilizing them.'Click To Tweet

Whereas in the Psych section, they’re testing the vocab stuff. If you can go through and write out the vocab definition of all these things, it’s going to mesh better with what the MCAT is going to ask when it comes to those.

[09:05] Understanding the Importance of Focusing on the P/S Section

The P/S section is something you just have to know a ton of. In fact, there are more psychology questions than you do physics and chemistry questions combined. But people are ignoring Psych and spend a month focusing on Physics. This is pervasive across the board.

This changes the way it’s scored as the MCAT is a curved exam. If everyone is not putting in a lot of effort in Psych, then everyone is doing okay in Psych because it’s an even thing.

But if there’s any section where a little effort will raise a score the most, it’s the P/S section. That’s because nobody is spending any time on this.

'If you need to raise your score two or three points, psych might be the best way to do it.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Psychology Grab Bag of Discrete Questions for the MCAT]

[13:54] Understanding Some Psych Terms: Sensation vs. Perception

Sensation and perception are two different things. A sensation is neurologic-based. If you activate a neuron, that signal gets sent to your brain. It’s possible to sense something but not perceive it.

There are different thresholds, which would be another vocab term. There’s the threshold of sensation and the threshold of perception. So you want to make sure you know the difference between these.

There’s the size of the stimulus. The absolute threshold is the threshold of sensation. And there’s the threshold of perception where a louder and more intense stimulus is able to increase the likelihood of you perceiving and noticing things.

This example is just with touch. It’s the same with light. If a neighbor in another house lights a candle. That light might hit your eye but you don’t notice it. You wouldn’t perceive it even if you sensed it. And it’s the same with all the other senses where you’re able to sense something but not perceive it.

An example of a question would be a nerve is damaged and now the signal can’t get to the brain. So what process are we messing with? Sensation or perception?

Or they could present cases where you could sense something and not perceive it such as a flame in the arm or a candle in the window that you didn’t notice.

It may also be the opposite and they’d ask you if it’s possible to perceive something and not sense it. A perception without a sensation would be noticing something that is there that isn’t actually there. An example of this is the phantom limb syndrome or if you’re just hallucinating.

'Don't just define these terms but think about how the MCAT is going to be asking you questions.'Click To Tweet

[17:53] Weber’s Law

There’s another threshold associated with Weber’s law where you will notice a percent increase.

Here’s a classic example. Imagine that you put a paperclip on your hand with your eyes closed. If someone were to add another paperclip on top of that, would you notice the change in weight?

There’s a good chance you would. But if you’re carrying a couch and somebody throws a paperclip on top, you’re not going to notice that.

'It's not that your body is able to sense a change in the intensity but your body notices a percent increase.'Click To Tweet

Your body actually notices an increase in a certain percentage of the stimuli. In this case, going from one paperclip to two is 100% increase. This is noticeable. Whereas the couch that’s going up 0.001% increase in weight.

Generally, there are some percentages that your body will notice in terms of sensation. It’s not just within the realm of touching. It also applies to sound and light, hearing and seeing things.

Beware of the common trap here: Weber’s law is about the intensity of a signal source. If you’re changing the intensity of a sound or light, you’re talking about louder or brighter. You’re not talking about changing colors or changing frequencies.

Here’s an example of the application of Weber’s law.

Phil experimented on this when he was a child even if he didn’t know it was Weber’s law at that time.

He was sitting on a couch watching TV and his mom yelled at him to turn down the TV. So from 50, he turned it down to 40. And then turned it up to 41, 42, until it got to 58. It was louder than when it started and his mom didn’t even notice it.

That’s because she didn’t notice the small incremental change because the percent increase of those was too small. Whereas if he went straight from 40 to 58 and his mom would have yelled at him.

Another example would be standing in the woods in the middle of the night and someone lights a candle. You’re going to see that candle. Versus if you’re on stage and there’s a bunch of spotlights shining in your eyes. Then someone at the back of the theater lights a candle and you’re not going to notice that.

Even though it’s the same amount of added light, we’re just changing the percent increase. So if it’s pitch black and you add a candle, that’s an infinite increase in light.

[Related episode: Psych/Soc Series: Hearing, Weber’s Law and More]

[23:25] Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

If you’re looking for some tutoring, go to Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Sign up for a free consultation call. Check it out and tell them you heard about them here on the podcast.


Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)