Breaking Down MCAT Psych/Soc Discrete Questions

Session 68

Psychology and sociology can be sneaky hard on MCAT. It also turns out to be one of the hardest sections on the MCAT. As always, I am joined today by Bryan Schnedeker of Next Step Test Prep. Follow along with us and tell your friends about the podcast and what you’ve learned.

We have a new book coming out called The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT. This is the second book in the series. (My first book is The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview). I just got word from our editor and we’re hoping to have it out soon. Go to and register there. Sign up to get notified when the book goes live.

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[02:15] Psych/Soc Is Your Dessert on the MCAT

Over the past couple of years, this has become one of Bryan’s favorites because he finds it easy. However, this turns out to be one of those sections many students are struggling with. And since Bryan also finds this easy to teach, students can really benefit from all the tips and strategies that will be shared here.

[03:11] Take a Guess, Trust Your Instinct

Question 10: A Sociologist investigating the efficacy of a newly implemented breast cancer screening tool and how it has impacted healthcare delivery for all women in the country would best achieve this goal by conducting a:

  • (A) Repertory Grid Test
  • (B) Weber Test
  • (C) Cochrane Review
  • (D) Power Analysis

Bryan’s Insights:

I guessed it right this time, since it’s the only choice that I’ve heard of. The right answer here is C. Bryan explains a Cochrane Review is just a way of doing a systematic review of primary research in health care.

Bryan adds that MCAT students should trust their instincts. If something looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you saw it while you were prepping. So it’s more likely to be the right answer.

Whereas if something is really mystifying. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s a strike against an answer choice.

Okay, so what my gut was telling me, was that this is the only one I’ve heard of and I don’t want to waste any time so I’m just going to go with this. Bryan says you have to answer every question. At some point, you need some sort of a rationale. And then you just keep moving even if the rationale is shaky. This is the tenth question and there are still other more questions to answer so you’ve got to keep moving.

I also want to add that there’s no reason not to leave a blank question because you’re not marked for wrong answers. Bryan says blank is wrong so you might as well take a guess.

Just a quick run through of the answer choices though. The repertory grid test is an individual psychology test which is sort of a personality assessment. A Weber Test is where you play a noise in each ear at the same time. Then ask the person which is louder. This is a way to test if someone’s got unilateral hearing or hearing degradation. And Power Analysis is a statistics test which you do before the study to figure out your sample size you need.

[06:18] Native- versus Foreign-Born Doctors

Question 11: In the last ten years, the number of practicing doctors in the U.S. who went to medical school in a foreign country has increased at twice the rate of the number of native doctors has increased. The difference in growth is most closely related to which demographic phenomenon?

  • (A) Increasing urbanization
  • (B) Demographic transition
  • (C) Globalization
  • (D) Falling fertility rates

Bryan’s Insights:

I’m taking a guess and I’m choosing (C) since more people are moving around and their travel to the U.S. used to be easier. And this happens to be the correct answer.

Bryan explains that the question didn’t say anything about urban versus rural. It just said native-born and foreign-born doctors. So it’s not (A).

Demographic transition is a very specific thing. You start off as a third world country with high rates of birth and death. Then you move to Stage Two, where death rates fall of with better care of infants. And then you move to Stage Three, where birth rates fall off as well. With higher socio-economic status and more education, women tend to delay child birth. And Stage Four is the classic American, Western, European, and Japan model with both very low birth and death rates. So this has nothing to do with foreign versus domestic.

Lastly, fertility rates falling wouldn’t make sense since the question says increasing rates.

[09:05] Let’s Talk About Groups

Question 12: Veterans are typically incredibly supportive of and loyal to others who have served. Most take pride in belonging to a group dedicated to the protection of the U.S. even if they’re no longer serving. And they’re happy to be lifelong members of the Armed Forces. This version of self identity best fits which category?

  • (A) Reference group
  • (B) Outgroup
  • (C) Secondary group
  • (D) Ingroup

Bryan’s Insights:

I’m taking a guess once again and as a former member of the Armed Forces, there’s only one thing that I recognize here and that’s Reference Group. Unfortunately, I didn’t get this right this time.

Bryan explains this is a classic in Psych and Sociology, where you get this jumble of words. All of which sound similar and kind of sound like conversational English words. They don’t sound super technical. But they do have technical meanings which have very specific definitions.

A reference group is a group that sets certain norms against which you compare yourself. There’s nothing in the question about comparing yourself with other veterans. The classic example is knowing how much your salary should be by comparing yourself to your coworkers. In this case, other people who have a similar job is your reference group.

An outgroup is just a way of saying “the other,” which is a group you do not identify with. Any group you think you’re not a member of is an outgroup. In this question, it’s about belonging to the group, so it’s the opposite and that would be answer choice (D). An ingroup is any group that you define yourself as a member of. This could be everything from very small groups (siblings) all the way to a group that includes millions or even tens of millions. So anything you identify with is a member of your group.

[11:48] Differentiating Primary Group and Secondary Group

The secondary group is different from a primary group. Primary groups are long-lasting, emotionally intimate, and they tend to be formed for your whole life and not for a specific purpose. The classic example is your family. It wasn’t formed to achieve a particular purpose. It lasts your whole life. There’s bonds of emotional support and trust there.

On the other hand, a secondary group tends to be large, transient, and only formed for a specific purpose. The classic example would be your co-workers at your part-time job while you’re in college. You work at Starbucks and the group of employees there was formed for one purpose – serving overpriced coffee. You’re not emotionally intimate with those people and you only work there a couple of years.

In this case, your military unit could be seen as a secondary group. Or it can be a primary group that could last a long time. But the key thing here between primary and secondary is that the question explicitly says that they take pride in belonging to the group. And they see that being a veteran is a lifelong label for them. So the world “lifelong” is your clue. It’s not a transient secondary group so something is not right. So answer choice (C) is not the right answer.

[13:40] Dispositional Attributions

Question 13: Which of the following statements represents an environmental attribution with respect to a driver’s failure to stop at a red light?

  • (A) The driver believes that they are too important to be delayed.
  • (B) The driver is a reckless person.
  • (C) The driver is generally rude to others.
  • (D) The driver is rushing to visit an injured spouse in the hospital.

Bryan’s Insights:

How to analyze this is that the answer hinges on the environmental attribution. And to me, environmental is outside of the person. A driver believing is not outside so is the driver being reckless as well as the driver being rude. So I would choose (D) here. And I got correct!

Bryan explains this is called a dispositional attribution. A person is just disposed to behave a certain way. And when you think of attribution theory, the reasons we explain to ourselves about why people do what they do is because of this certain disposition. And then there’s environmental, which is not about the person. This means “he did this because in this case…”

[15:15] Get Notified Once Our New Book Is Out!

Once again, go check out Register and sign up to get notified when The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT comes out. It will be on sale when we release it. It’s taken for Next Step’s books with some strategies and passages. It offers a ton of information about how to properly prepare and plan for the MCAT.

This will not replace your Next Step book or whatever books you have. This will help you plan all out so that you’re not just cramming out all the content in your face. And so that you won’t forget about all the small details that will help you get the best score possible.


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