MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review - Kaplan Test Prep 2021–2022


The Kaplan MCAT Review Team

· Alexander Stone Macnow, MD


· Áine Lorié, PhD


· Derek Rusnak, MA


· Mikhail Alexeeff

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

· Laura L. Ambler

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

· Krista L. Buckley, MD

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

· Kristen L. Russell, ME


· Pamela Willingham, MSW


· Melinda Contreras, MS

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

· Samantha Fallon

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

· Jason R. Selzer

Kaplan MCAT Faculty

Faculty Reviewers and Editors: Elmar R. Aliyev; James Burns; Jonathan Cornfield; Alisha Maureen Crowley; Nikolai Dorofeev, MD; Benjamin Downer, MS; Colin Doyle; Christopher Durland; M. Dominic Eggert; Marilyn Engle; Eleni M. Eren; Raef Ali Fadel; Elizabeth Flagge; Adam Grey; Jonathan Habermacher; Justine Harkness; Aeri Kim, PhD; Tyra Hall-Pogar, PhD; Scott Huff; Samer T. Ismail; Ae-Ri Kim, PhD; Elizabeth A. Kudlaty; Kelly Kyker-Snowman, MS; Ningfei Li; John P. Mahon; Brandon McKenzie; Matthew A. Meier; Nainika Nanda; Caroline Nkemdilim Opene; Kaitlyn E. Prenger; Uneeb Qureshi; Jason Selzer; Allison St. Clair; Bela G. Starkman, PhD; Michael Paul Tomani, MS; Nicholas M. White; Allison Ann Wilkes, MS; Kerranna Williamson, MBA; and Tony Yu

Thanks to Kim Bowers; Eric Chiu; Tim Eich; Tyler Fara; Owen Farcy; Dan Frey; Robin Garmise; Rita Garthaffner; Joanna Graham; Allison Harm; Beth Hoffberg; Aaron Lemon-Strauss; Keith Lubeley; Diane McGarvey; Petros Minasi; John Polstein; Deeangelee Pooran-Kublall, MD, MPH; Rochelle Rothstein, MD; Larry Rudman; Sylvia Tidwell Scheuring; Carly Schnur; Karin Tucker; Lee Weiss; and the countless others who made this project possible.

Getting Started Checklist



And now it starts: your long, yet fruitful journey toward wearing a white coat. Proudly wearing that white coat, though, is hopefully only part of your motivation. You are reading this book because you want to be a healer.

If you're serious about going to medical school, then you are likely already familiar with the importance of the MCAT in medical school admissions. While the holistic review process puts additional weight on your experiences, extracurricular activities, and personal attributes, the fact remains: along with your GPA, your MCAT score remains one of the two most important components of your application portfolio—at least early in the admissions process. Each additional point you score on the MCAT pushes you in front of thousands of other students and makes you an even more attractive applicant. But the MCAT is not simply an obstacle to overcome; it is an opportunity to show schools that you will be a strong student and a future leader in medicine.

We at Kaplan take our jobs very seriously and aim to help students see success not only on the MCAT, but as future physicians. We work with our learning science experts to ensure that we're using the most up-to-date teaching techniques in our resources. Multiple members of our team hold advanced degrees in medicine or associated biomedical sciences, and are committed to the highest level of medical education. Kaplan has been working with the MCAT for over 50 years and our commitment to premed students is unflagging; in fact, Stanley Kaplan created this company when he had difficulty being accepted to medical school due to unfair quota systems that existed at the time.

We stand now at the beginning of a new era in medical education. As citizens of this 21st-century world of healthcare, we are charged with creating a patient-oriented, culturally competent, cost-conscious, universally available, technically advanced, and research-focused healthcare system, run by compassionate providers. Suffice it to say, this is no easy task. Problem-based learning, integrated curricula, and classes in interpersonal skills are some of the responses to this demand for an excellent workforce—a workforce of which you'll soon be a part.

We're thrilled that you've chosen us to help you on this journey. Please reach out to us to share your challenges, concerns, and successes. Together, we will shape the future of medicine in the United States and abroad; we look forward to helping you become the doctor you deserve to be.

Good luck!

Alexander Stone Macnow, MD


Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

BA, Musicology—Boston University, 2008

MD—Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2013

About Scientific American

As the world’s premier science and technology magazine, and the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, Scientific American is committed to bringing the most important developments in modern science, medicine, and technology to our worldwide audience in an understandable, credible, and provocative format.

Founded in 1845 and on the “cutting edge” ever since, Scientific American boasts over 150 Nobel laureate authors including Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, Stanley Prusiner, and Richard Axel. Scientific American is a forum where scientific theories and discoveries are explained to a broader audience.

Scientific American published its first foreign edition in 1890, and in 1979 was the first Western magazine published in the People’s Republic of China. Today, Scientific American is published in 14 foreign language editions. Scientific American is also a leading online destination (, providing the latest science news and exclusive features to millions of visitors each month.

The knowledge that fills our pages has the power to spark new ideas, paradigms, and visions for the future. As science races forward, Scientific American continues to cover the promising strides, inevitable setbacks and challenges, and new medical discoveries as they unfold.

About the MCAT


Here is a general overview of the structure of Test Day:


Number of Questions

Time Allotted

Test-Day Certification

4 minutes

Tutorial (optional)

10 minutes

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems


95 minutes

Break (optional)

10 minutes

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)


90 minutes

Lunch Break (optional)

30 minutes

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems


95 minutes

Break (optional)

10 minutes

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior


95 minutes

Void Question

3 minutes

Satisfaction Survey (optional)

5 minutes

The structure of the four sections of the MCAT is shown below.

Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems


95 minutes


· 59 questions

· 10 passages

· 44 questions are passage-based, and 15 are discrete (stand-alone) questions.

· Score between 118 and 132

What It Tests

· Biochemistry: 25%

· Biology: 5%

· General Chemistry: 30%

· Organic Chemistry: 15%

· Physics: 25%

Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)


90 minutes


· 53 questions

· 9 passages

· All questions are passage-based. There are no discrete (stand-alone) questions.

· Score between 118 and 132

What It Tests

· Disciplines:

o Humanities: 50%

o Social Sciences: 50%

· Skills:

o Foundations of Comprehension: 30%

o Reasoning Within the Text: 30%

o Reasoning Beyond the Text: 40%

Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems


95 minutes


· 59 questions

· 10 passages

· 44 questions are passage-based, and 15 are discrete (stand-alone) questions.

· Score between 118 and 132

What It Tests

· Biochemistry: 25%

· Biology: 65%

· General Chemistry: 5%

· Organic Chemistry: 5%

Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior


95 minutes


· 59 questions

· 10 passages

· 44 questions are passage-based, and 15 are discrete (stand-alone) questions.

· Score between 118 and 132

What It Tests

· Biology: 5%

· Psychology: 65%

· Sociology: 30%


Testing Time

375 minutes (6 hours, 15 minutes)

Total Seat Time

447 minutes (7 hours, 27 minutes)




472 to 528



The AAMC has defined four Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills (SIRS) that will be tested in the three science sections of the MCAT:

1. Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles (35% of questions)

2. Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving (45% of questions)

3. Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research (10% of questions)

4. Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning (10% of questions)

Let’s see how each one breaks down into more specific Test Day behaviors. Note that the bullet points of specific objectives for each of the SIRS are taken directly from the Official Guide to the MCAT Exam; the descriptions of what these behaviors mean and sample question stems, however, are written by Kaplan.

Skill 1: Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles

This is probably the least surprising of the four SIRS; the testing of science knowledge is, after all, one of the signature qualities of the MCAT. Skill 1 questions will require you to do the following:

· Recognize correct scientific principles

· Identify the relationships among closely related concepts

· Identify the relationships between different representations of concepts (verbal, symbolic, graphic)

· Identify examples of observations that illustrate scientific principles

· Use mathematical equations to solve problems

At Kaplan, we simply call these Science Knowledge or Skill 1 questions. Another way to think of Skill 1 questions is as “one-step” problems. The single step is either to realize which scientific concept the question stem is suggesting or to take the concept stated in the question stem and identify which answer choice is an accurate application of it. Skill 1 questions are particularly prominent among discrete questions (those not associated with a passage). These questions are an opportunity to gain quick points on Test Day—if you know the science concept attached to the question, then that’s it! On Test Day, 35% of the questions in each science section will be Skill 1 questions.

Here are some sample Skill 1 question stems:

· How would a proponent of the James—Lange theory of emotion interpret the findings of the study cited in the passage?

· Which of the following most accurately describes the function of FSH in the human female menstrual cycle?

· If the products of Reaction 1 and Reaction 2 were combined in solution, the resulting reaction would form:

· Ionic bonds are maintained by which of the following forces?

Skill 2: Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving

The MCAT science sections do, of course, move beyond testing straightforward science knowledge; Skill 2 questions are the most common way in which it does so. At Kaplan, we also call these Critical Thinking questions. Skill 2 questions will require you to do the following:

· Reason about scientific principles, theories, and models

· Analyze and evaluate scientific explanations and predictions

· Evaluate arguments about causes and consequences

· Bring together theory, observations, and evidence to draw conclusions

· Recognize scientific findings that challenge or invalidate a scientific theory or model

· Determine and use scientific formulas to solve problems

Just as Skill 1 questions can be thought of as “one-step” problems, many Skill 2 questions are “two-step” problems, and more difficult Skill 2 questions may require three or more steps. These questions can require a wide spectrum of reasoning skills, including integration of multiple facts from a passage, combination of multiple science content areas, and prediction of an experiment’s results. Skill 2 questions also tend to ask about science content without actually mentioning it by name. For example, a question might describe the results of one experiment and ask you to predict the results of a second experiment without actually telling you what underlying scientific principles are at work—part of the question’s difficulty will be figuring out which principles to apply in order to get the correct answer. On Test Day, 45% of the questions in each science section will be Skill 2 questions.

Here are some sample Skill 2 question stems:

· Which of the following experimental conditions would most likely yield results similar to those in Figure 2?

· All of the following conclusions are supported by the information in the passage EXCEPT:

· The most likely cause of the anomalous results found by the experimenter is:

· An impact to a man’s chest quickly reduces the volume of one of his lungs to 70% of its initial value while not allowing any air to escape from the man’s mouth. By what percentage is the force of outward air pressure increased on a 2 cm2 portion of the inner surface of the compressed lung?

Skill 3: Reasoning About the Design and Execution of Research

The MCAT is interested in your ability to critically appraise and analyze research, as this is an important day-to-day task of a physician. We call these questions Skill 3 or Experimental and Research Design questions for short. Skill 3 questions will require you to do the following:

· Identify the role of theory, past findings, and observations in scientific questioning

· Identify testable research questions and hypotheses

· Distinguish between samples and populations and distinguish results that support generalizations about populations

· Identify independent and dependent variables

· Reason about the features of research studies that suggest associations between variables or causal relationships between them (such as temporality and random assignment)

· Identify conclusions that are supported by research results

· Determine the implications of results for real-world situations

· Reason about ethical issues in scientific research

Over the years, the AAMC has received input from medical schools to require more practical research skills of MCAT test takers, and Skill 3 questions are the response to these demands. This skill is unique in that the outside knowledge you need to answer Skill 3 questions is not taught in any one undergraduate course; instead, the research design principles needed to answer these questions are learned gradually throughout your science classes and especially through any laboratory work you have completed. It should be noted that Skill 3 comprises 10% of the questions in each science section on Test Day.

Here are some sample Skill 3 question stems:

· What is the dependent variable in the study described in the passage?

· The major flaw in the method used to measure disease susceptibility in Experiment 1 is:

· Which of the following procedures is most important for the experimenters to follow in order for their study to maintain a proper, randomized sample of research subjects?

· A researcher would like to test the hypothesis that individuals who move to an urban area during adulthood are more likely to own a car than are those who have lived in an urban area since birth. Which of the following studies would best test this hypothesis?

Skill 4: Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning

Lastly, the science sections of the MCAT test your ability to analyze the visual and numerical results of experiments and studies. We call these Data and Statistical Analysis questions. Skill 4 questions will require you to do the following:

· Use, analyze, and interpret data in figures, graphs, and tables

· Evaluate whether representations make sense for particular scientific observations and data

· Use measures of central tendency (mean, median, and mode) and measures of dispersion (range, interquartile range, and standard deviation) to describe data

· Reason about random and systematic error

· Reason about statistical significance and uncertainty (interpreting statistical significance levels and interpreting a confidence interval)

· Use data to explain relationships between variables or make predictions

· Use data to answer research questions and draw conclusions

Skill 4 is included in the MCAT because physicians and researchers spend much of their time examining the results of their own studies and the studies of others, and it’s very important for them to make legitimate conclusions and sound judgments based on that data. The MCAT tests Skill 4 on all three science sections with graphical representations of data (charts and bar graphs), as well as numerical ones (tables, lists, and results summarized in sentence or paragraph form). On Test Day, 10% of the questions in each science section will be Skill 4 questions.

Here are some sample Skill 4 question stems:

· According to the information in the passage, there is an inverse correlation between:

· What conclusion is best supported by the findings displayed in Figure 2?

· A medical test for a rare type of heavy metal poisoning returns a positive result for 98% of affected individuals and 13% of unaffected individuals. Which of the following types of error is most prevalent in this test?

· If a fourth trial of Experiment 1 was run and yielded a result of 54% compliance, which of the following would be true?

SIRS Summary

Discussing the SIRS tested on the MCAT is a daunting prospect given that the very nature of the skills tends to make the conversation rather abstract. Nevertheless, with enough practice, you'll be able to identify each of the four skills quickly, and you'll also be able to apply the proper strategies to solve those problems on Test Day. If you need a quick reference to remind you of the four SIRS, these guidelines may help:

Skill 1 (Science Knowledge) questions ask:

· Do you remember this science content?

Skill 2 (Critical Thinking) questions ask:

· Do you remember this science content? And if you do, could you please apply it to this novel situation?

· Could you answer this question that cleverly combines multiple content areas at the same time?

Skill 3 (Experimental and Research Design) questions ask:

· Let’s forget about the science content for a while. Could you give some insight into the experimental or research methods involved in this situation?

Skill 4 (Data and Statistical Analysis) questions ask:

· Let’s forget about the science content for a while. Could you accurately read some graphs and tables for a moment? Could you make some conclusions or extrapolations based on the information presented?


The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT tests three discrete families of textual reasoning skills; each of these families requires a higher level of reasoning than the last. Those three skills are as follows:

1. Foundations of Comprehension (30% of questions)

2. Reasoning Within the Text (30% of questions)

3. Reasoning Beyond the Text (40% of questions)

These three skills are tested through nine humanities- and social sciences—themed passages, with approximately 5 to 7 questions per passage. Let’s take a more in-depth look into these three skills. Again, the bullet points of specific objectives for each of the CARS are taken directly from the Official Guide to the MCAT Exam; the descriptions of what these behaviors mean and sample question stems, however, are written by Kaplan.

Foundations of Comprehension

Questions in this skill will ask for basic facts and simple inferences about the passage; the questions themselves will be similar to those seen on reading comprehension sections of other standardized exams like the SAT® and ACT®. Foundations of Comprehension questions will require you to do the following:

· Understand the basic components of the text

· Infer meaning from rhetorical devices, word choice, and text structure

This admittedly covers a wide range of potential question types including Main Idea, Detail, Inference, and Definition-in-Context questions, but finding the correct answer to all Foundations of Comprehension questions will follow from a basic understanding of the passage and the point of view of its author (and occasionally that of other voices in the passage).

Here are some sample Foundations of Comprehension question stems:

· Main Idea—The author’s primary purpose in this passage is:

· Detail—Based on the information in the second paragraph, which of the following is the most accurate summary of the opinion held by Schubert’s critics?

· (Scattered) Detail—According to the passage, which of the following is FALSE about literary reviews in the 1920s?

· Inference (Implication)—Which of the following phrases, as used in the passage, is most suggestive that the author has a personal bias toward narrative records of history?

· Inference (Assumption)—In putting together her argument in the passage, the author most likely assumes:

· Definition-in-Context—The word “obscure” (paragraph 3), when used in reference to the historian’s actions, most nearly means:

Reasoning Within the Text

While Foundations of Comprehension questions will usually depend on interpreting a single piece of information in the passage or understanding the passage as a whole, Reasoning Within the Text questions require more thought because they will ask you to identify the purpose of a particular piece of information in the context of the passage, or ask how one piece of information relates to another. Reasoning Within the Text questions will require you to:

· Integrate different components of the text to draw relevant conclusions

The CARS section will also ask you to judge certain parts of the passage or even judge the author. These questions, which fall under the Reasoning Within the Text skill, can ask you to identify authorial bias, evaluate the credibility of cited sources, determine the logical soundness of an argument, identify the importance of a particular fact or statement in the context of the passage, or search for relevant evidence in the passage to support a given conclusion. In all, this category includes Function and Strengthen—Weaken (Within the Passage) questions, as well as a smattering of related—but rare—question types.

Here are some sample Reasoning Within the Text question stems:

· Function—The author’s discussion of the effect of socioeconomic status on social mobility primarily serves which of the following functions?

· Strengthen—Weaken (Within the Passage)—Which of the following facts is used in the passage as the most prominent piece of evidence in favor of the author’s conclusions?

· Strengthen—Weaken (Within the Passage)—Based on the role it plays in the author’s argument, The Possessed can be considered:

Reasoning Beyond the Text

The distinguishing factor of Reasoning Beyond the Text questions is in the title of the skill: the word Beyond. Questions that test this skill, which make up a larger share of the CARS section than questions from either of the other two skills, will always introduce a completely new situation that was not present in the passage itself; these questions will ask you to determine how one influences the other. Reasoning Beyond the Text questions will require you to:

· Apply or extrapolate ideas from the passage to new contexts

· Assess the impact of introducing new factors, information, or conditions to ideas from the passage

The Reasoning Beyond the Text skill is further divided into Apply and Strengthen—Weaken (Beyond the Passage) questions, and a few other rarely appearing question types.

Here are some sample Reasoning Beyond the Text question stems:

· Apply—If a document were located that demonstrated Berlioz intended to include a chorus of at least 700 in his Grande Messe des Morts, how would the author likely respond?

· Apply—Which of the following is the best example of a “virtuous rebellion,” as it is defined in the passage?

· Strengthen—Weaken (Beyond the Text)—Suppose Jane Austen had written in a letter to her sister, “My strongest characters were those forced by circumstance to confront basic questions about the society in which they lived.” What relevance would this have to the passage?

· Strengthen—Weaken (Beyond the Text)—Which of the following sentences, if added to the end of the passage, would most WEAKEN the author’s conclusions in the last paragraph?

CARS Summary

Through the Foundations of Comprehension skill, the CARS section tests many of the reading skills you have been building on since grade school, albeit in the context of very challenging doctorate-level passages. But through the two other skills (Reasoning Within the Text and Reasoning Beyond the Text), the MCAT demands that you understand the deep structure of passages and the arguments within them at a very advanced level. And, of course, all of this is tested under very tight timing restrictions: only 102 seconds per question—and that doesn't even include the time spent reading the passages.

Here’s a quick reference guide to the three CARS skills:

Foundations of Comprehension questions ask:

· Did you understand the passage and its main ideas?

· What does the passage have to say about this particular detail?

· What must be true that the author did not say?

Reasoning Within the Text questions ask:

· What’s the logical relationship between these two ideas from the passage?

· How well argued is the author’s thesis?

Reasoning Beyond the Text questions ask:

· How does this principle from the passage apply to this new situation?

· How does this new piece of information influence the arguments in the passage?


Each of the four sections of the MCAT is scored between 118 and 132, with the median at 125. This means the total score ranges from 472 to 528, with the median at 500. Why such peculiar numbers? The AAMC stresses that this scale emphasizes the importance of the central portion of the score distribution, where most students score (around 125 per section, or 500 total), rather than putting undue focus on the high end of the scale.

Note that there is no wrong answer penalty on the MCAT, so you should select an answer for every question—even if it is only a guess.

The AAMC has released the 2019—2020 correlation between scaled score and percentile, as shown on the following page. It should be noted that the percentile scale is adjusted and renormalized over time and thus can shift slightly from year to year.

Total Score


Total Score




















































































































Source: AAMC. 2019. Summary of MCAT Total and Section Scores. Accessed November 2019.

Further information on score reporting is included at the end of the next section (see After Your Test).


We strongly encourage you to download the latest copy of MCAT® Essentials, available on the AAMC's website, to ensure that you have the latest information about registration and Test Day policies and procedures; this document is updated annually. A brief summary of some of the most important rules is provided here.

MCAT Registration

The only way to register for the MCAT is online. You can access AAMC’s registration system at

You will be able to access the site approximately six months before Test Day. The AAMC designates three registration “Zones”—Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Registering during the Gold Zone (from the opening of registration until approximately one month before Test Day) provides the most flexibility and lowest test fees. The Silver Zone runs until approximately two to three weeks before Test Day and has less flexibility and higher fees; the Bronze Zone runs until approximately one to two weeks before Test Day and has the least flexibility and highest fees.

Fees and the Fee Assistance Program (FAP)

Payment for test registration must be made by MasterCard or VISA. As described earlier, the fees for registering for the MCAT—as well as rescheduling the exam or changing your testing center—increase as one approaches Test Day. In addition, it is not uncommon for test centers to fill up well in advance of the registration deadline. For these reasons, we recommend identifying your preferred Test Day as soon as possible and registering. There are ancillary benefits to having a set Test Day, as well: when you know the date you're working toward, you'll study harder and are less likely to keep pushing back the exam. The AAMC offers a Fee Assistance Program (FAP) for students with financial hardship to help reduce the cost of taking the MCAT, as well as for the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS®) application. Further information on the FAP can be found at

Testing Security

On Test Day, you will be required to present a qualifying form of ID. Generally, a current driver's license or United States passport will be sufficient (consult the AAMC website for the full list of qualifying criteria). When registering, take care to spell your first and last names (middle names, suffixes, and prefixes are not required and will not be verified on Test Day) precisely the same as they appear on this ID; failure to provide this ID at the test center or differences in spelling between your registration and ID will be considered a “no-show,” and you will not receive a refund for the exam.

During Test Day registration, other identity data collected may include: a digital palm vein scan, a Test Day photo, a digitization of your valid ID, and signatures. Some testing centers may use a metal detection wand to ensure that no prohibited items are brought into the testing room. Prohibited items include all electronic devices, including watches and timers, calculators, cell phones, and any and all forms of recording equipment; food, drinks (including water), and cigarettes or other smoking paraphernalia; hats and scarves (except for religious purposes); and books, notes, or other study materials. If you require a medical device, such as an insulin pump or pacemaker, you must apply for accommodated testing. During breaks, you are allowed to access food and drink, but not to electronic devices, including cell phones.

Testing centers are under video surveillance and the AAMC does not take potential violations of testing security lightly. The bottom line: know the rules and don't break them.


Students with disabilities or medical conditions can apply for accommodated testing. Documentation of the disability or condition is required, and requests may take two months—or more—to be approved. For this reason, it is recommended that you begin the process of applying for accommodated testing as early as possible. More information on applying for accommodated testing can be found at

After Your Test

When your MCAT is all over, no matter how you feel you did, be good to yourself when you leave the test center. Celebrate! Take a nap. Watch a movie. Ride your bike. Plan a trip. Call up all of your neglected friends or stalk them on Facebook. Totally consume a cheesesteak and drink dirty martinis at night (assuming you're over 21). Whatever you do, make sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with thinking too hard—you deserve some rest and relaxation.

Perhaps most importantly, do not discuss specific details about the test with anyone. For one, it is important to let go of the stress of Test Day, and reliving your exam only inhibits you from being able to do so. But more significantly, the Examinee Agreement you sign at the beginning of your exam specifically prohibits you from discussing or disclosing exam content. The AAMC is known to seek out individuals who violate this agreement and retains the right to prosecute these individuals at their discretion. This means that you should not, under any circumstances, discuss the exam in person or over the phone with other individuals—including us at Kaplan—or post information or questions about exam content to Facebook, Student Doctor Network, or other online social media. You are permitted to comment on your “general exam experience,” including how you felt about the exam overall or an individual section, but this is a fine line. In summary: if you're not certain whether you can discuss an aspect of the test or not, just don't do it! Do not let a silly Facebook post stop you from becoming the doctor you deserve to be.

Scores are released approximately one month after Test Day. The release is staggered during the afternoon and evening, ending at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This means that not all examinees receive their scores at exactly the same time. Your score report will include a scaled score for each section between 118 and 132, as well as your total combined score between 472 and 528. These scores are given as confidence intervals. For each section, the confidence interval is approximately the given score ±1; for the total score, it is approximately the given score ±2. You will also be given the corresponding percentile rank for each of these section scores and the total score.


For further questions, contact the MCAT team at the Association of American Medical Colleges:

MCAT Resource Center

Association of American Medical Colleges

(202) 828-0600

How This Book Was Created

The Kaplan MCAT Review project began shortly after the release of the Preview Guide for the MCAT 2015 Exam, 2nd edition. Through thorough analysis by our staff psychometricians, we were able to analyze the relative yield of the different topics on the MCAT, and we began constructing tables of contents for the books of the Kaplan MCAT Review series. A dedicated staff of 30 writers, 7 editors, and 32 proofreaders worked over 5,000 combined hours to produce these books. The format of the books was heavily influenced by weekly meetings with Kaplan’s learning science team.

In the years since this book was created, a number of opportunities for expansion and improvement have occurred. The current edition represents the culmination of the wisdom accumulated during that time frame, and it also includes several new features designed to improve the reading and learning experience in these texts.

These books were submitted for publication in April 2020. For any updates after this date, please visit

If you have any questions about the content presented here, email For other questions not related to content, email

Each book has been vetted through at least ten rounds of review. To that end, the information presented in these books is true and accurate to the best of our knowledge. Still, your feedback helps us improve our prep materials. Please notify us of any inaccuracies or errors in the books by sending an email to

Using This Book

Kaplan MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review, and the other six books in the Kaplan MCAT Review series, bring the Kaplan classroom experience to you—right in your home, at your convenience. This book offers the same Kaplan content review, strategies, and practice that make Kaplan the #1 choice for MCAT prep.

This book is designed to help you review the behavioral sciences topics covered on the MCAT. Please understand that content review—no matter how thorough—is not sufficient preparation for the MCAT! The MCAT tests not only your science knowledge but also your critical reading, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Do not assume that simply memorizing the contents of this book will earn you high scores on Test Day; to maximize your scores, you must also improve your reading and test-taking skills through MCAT-style questions and practice tests.


At the beginning of each section, you'll find a short list of objectives describing the skills covered within that section. Learning objectives for these texts were developed in conjunction with Kaplan’s learning science team, and have been designed specifically to focus your attention on tasks and concepts that are likely to show up on your MCAT. These learning objectives will function as a means to guide your study, and indicate what information and relationships you should be focused on within each section. Before starting each section, read these learning objectives carefully. They will not only allow you to assess your existing familiarity with the content, but also provide a goal-oriented focus for your studying experience of the section.


At the end of each section, you’ll find a few open-ended questions that you can use to assess your mastery of the material. These MCAT Concept Checks were introduced after numerous conversations with Kaplan’s learning science team. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that introspection and self-analysis improve mastery, retention, and recall of material. Complete these MCAT Concept Checks to ensure that you’ve got the key points from each section before moving on!


At the end of each chapter, you’ll find 15 MCAT-style practice questions. These are designed to help you assess your understanding of the chapter you just read. Most of these questions focus on the first of the Scientific Inquiry and Reasoning Skills (Knowledge of Scientific Concepts and Principles), although there are occasional questions that fall into the second or fourth SIRS (Scientific Reasoning and Problem-Solving and Data-Based and Statistical Reasoning, respectively).


Embedded in each chapter of this book is a Guided Example with Expert Thinking. Each of these guided examples will be located in the same section as the content used in that example. Each example will feature an MCAT-level scientific article, that simulates an MCAT experiment passage. Read through the passage as you would on the real MCAT, referring to the Expert Thinking material to the right of the passage to clarify the key information you should be gathering from each paragraph. Read and attempt to answer the associated question once you have worked through the passage. There is a full explanation, including the correct answer, following the given question. These passages and questions are designed to help build your critical thinking, experimental reasoning, and data interpretation skills as preparation for the challenges you will face on the MCAT.


The following is a guide to the five types of sidebars you’ll find in Kaplan MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review:

· Bridge: These sidebars create connections between science topics that appear in multiple chapters throughout the Kaplan MCAT Review series.

· Key Concept: These sidebars draw attention to the most important takeaways in a given topic, and they sometimes offer synopses or overviews of complex information. If you understand nothing else, make sure you grasp the Key Concepts for any given subject.

· MCAT Expertise: These sidebars point out how information may be tested on the MCAT or offer key strategy points and test-taking tips that you should apply on Test Day.

· Mnemonic: These sidebars present memory devices to help recall certain facts.

· Real World: These sidebars illustrate how a concept in the text relates to the practice of medicine or the world at large. While this is not information you need to know for Test Day, many of the topics in Real World sidebars are excellent examples of how a concept may appear in a passage or discrete (stand-alone) question on the MCAT.


The information presented in the Kaplan MCAT Review series covers everything listed on the official MCAT content lists. Every topic in these lists is covered in the same level of detail as is common to the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate classes that are considered prerequisites for the MCAT. Note that your premedical classes may include topics not discussed in these books, or they may go into more depth than these books do. Additional exposure to science content is never a bad thing, but all of the content knowledge you are expected to have walking in on Test Day is covered in these books.

Chapter profiles, on the first page of each chapter, represent a holistic look at the content within the chapter, and will include a pie chart as well as text information. The pie chart analysis is based directly on data released by the AAMC, and will give a rough estimate of the importance of the chapter in relation to the book as a whole. Further, the text portion of the Chapter Profiles includes which AAMC content categories are covered within the chapter. These are referenced directly from the AAMC MCAT exam content listing, available on the test maker’s website.

You’ll also see new High-Yield badges scattered throughout the sections of this book:



These badges represent the top 100 topics most tested by the AAMC. In other words, according to the testmaker and all our experience with their resources, a High-Yield badge means more questions on Test Day.

This book also contains a thorough glossary and index for easy navigation of the text.

In the end, this is your book, so write in the margins, draw diagrams, highlight the key points—do whatever is necessary to help you get that higher score. We look forward to working with you as you achieve your dreams and become the doctor you deserve to be!


In addition to providing you with the best practice questions and test strategies, Kaplan’s team of learning scientists are dedicated to researching and testing the best methods for getting the most out of your study time. Here are their top four tips for improving retention:

Review multiple topics in one study session. This may seem counterintuitive—we're used to practicing one skill at a time in order to improve each skill. But research shows that weaving topics together leads to increased learning. Beyond that consideration, the MCAT often includes more than one topic in a single question. Studying in an integrated manner is the most effective way to prepare for this test.

Customize the content. Drawing attention to difficult or critical content can ensure you don’t overlook it as you read and re-read sections. The best way to do this is to make it more visual—highlight, make tabs, use stickies, whatever works. We recommend highlighting only the most important or difficult sections of text. Selective highlighting of up to about 10 percent of text in a given chapter is great for emphasizing parts of the text, but over-highlighting can have the opposite effect.

Repeat topics over time. Many people try to memorize concepts by repeating them over and over again in succession. Our research shows that retention is improved by spacing out the repeats over time and mixing up the order in which you study content. For example, try reading chapters in a different order the second (or third!) time around. Revisit practice questions that you answered incorrectly in a new sequence. Perhaps information you reviewed more recently will help you better understand those questions and solutions you struggled with in the past.

Take a moment to reflect. When you finish reading a section for the first time, stop and think about what you just read. Jot down a few thoughts in the margins or in your notes about why the content is important or what topics came to mind when you read it. Associating learning with a memory is a fantastic way to retain information! This also works when answering questions. After answering a question, take a moment to think through each step you took to arrive at a solution. What led you to the answer you chose? Understanding the steps you took will help you make good decisions when answering future questions.


In addition to the resources located within this text, you also have additional online resources awaiting you at Make sure to log on and take advantage of free practice and other resources!

Please note that access to the online resources is limited to the original owner of this book.

Studying for the MCAT

The first year of medical school is a frenzied experience for most students. To meet the requirements of a rigorous work schedule, students either learn to prioritize their time or else fall hopelessly behind. It's no surprise, then, that the MCAT, the test specifically designed to predict success in medical school, is a high-speed, time-intensive test. The MCAT demands excellent time-management skills, endurance, as well as grace under pressure both during the test as well as while preparing for it. Having a solid plan of attack and sticking with it are key to giving you the confidence and structure you need to succeed.


The best time to create a study plan is at the beginning of your MCAT preparation. If you don't already use a calendar, you will want to start. You can purchase a planner, print out a free calendar from the Internet, use a built-in calendar or app on one of your smart devices, or keep track using an interactive online calendar. Pick the option that is most practical for you and that you are most likely to use consistently.

Once you have a calendar, you'll be able to start planning your study schedule with the following steps:

1. Fill in your obligations and choose a day off.

Write in all your school, extracurricular, and work obligations first: class sessions, work shifts, and meetings that you must attend. Then add in your personal obligations: appointments, lunch dates, family and social time, etc. Making an appointment in your calendar for hanging out with friends or going to the movies may seem strange at first, but planning social activities in advance will help you achieve a balance between personal and professional obligations even as life gets busy. Having a happy balance allows you to be more focused and productive when it comes time to study, so stay well-rounded and don't neglect anything that is important to you.

In addition to scheduling your personal and professional obligations, you should also plan your time off. Taking some time off is just as important as studying. Kaplan recommends taking at least one full day off per week, ideally from all your study obligations but at minimum from studying for the MCAT.

2. Add in study blocks around your obligations.

Once you have established your calendar's framework, add in study blocks around your obligations, keeping your study schedule as consistent as possible across days and across weeks. Studying at the same time of day as your official test is ideal for promoting recall, but if that's not possible, then fit in study blocks wherever you can.

To make your studying as efficient as possible, block out short, frequent periods of study time throughout the week. From a learning perspective, studying one hour per day for six days per week is much more valuable than studying for six hours all at once one day per week. Specifically, Kaplan recommends studying for no longer than three hours in one sitting. Within those three-hour blocks, also plan to take ten-minute breaks every hour. Use these breaks to get up from your seat, do some quick stretches, get a snack and drink, and clear your mind. Although ten minutes of break for every 50 minutes of studying may sound like a lot, these breaks will allow you to deal with distractions and rest your brain so that, during the 50-minute study blocks, you can remain fully engaged and completely focused.

3. Add in your full-length practice tests.

Next, you'll want to add in full-length practice tests. You'll want to take one test very early in your prep and then spread your remaining full-length practice tests evenly between now and your test date. Staggering tests in this way allows you to form a baseline for comparison and to determine which areas to focus on right away, while also providing realistic feedback throughout your prep as to how you will perform on Test Day.

When planning your calendar, aim to finish your full-length practice tests and the majority of your studying by one week before Test Day, which will allow you to spend that final week completing a final review of what you already know. In your online resources, you'll find sample study calendars for several different Test Day timelines to use as a starting point. The sample calendars may include more focus than you need in some areas, and less in others, and it may not fit your timeline to Test Day. You will need to customize your study calendar to your needs using the steps above.

The total amount of time you spend studying each week will depend on your schedule, your personal prep needs, and your time to Test Day, but it is recommended that you spend somewhere in the range of 300—350 hours preparing before taking the official MCAT. One way you could break this down is to study for three hours per day, six days per week, for four months, but this is just one approach. You might study six days per week for more than three hours per day. You might study over a longer period of time if you don't have much time to study each week. No matter what your plan is, ensure you complete enough practice to feel completely comfortable with the MCAT and its content. A good sign you're ready for Test Day is when you begin to earn your goal score consistently in practice.


The MCAT covers a large amount of material, so studying for Test Day can initially seem daunting. To combat this, we have some tips for how to take control of your studying and make the most of your time.

Goal Setting

To take control of the amount of content and practice required to do well on the MCAT, break the content down into specific goals for each week instead of attempting to approach the test as a whole. A goal of "I want to increase my overall score by 5 points" is too big, abstract, and difficult to measure on the small scale. More reasonable goals are "I will read two chapters each day this week." Goals like this are much less overwhelming and help break studying into manageable pieces.

Active Reading

As you go through this book, much of the information will be familiar to you. After all, you have probably seen most of the content before. However, be very careful: Familiarity with a subject does not necessarily translate to knowledge or mastery of that subject. Do not assume that if you recognize a concept you actually know it and can apply it quickly at an appropriate level. Don't just passively read this book. Instead, read actively: Use the free margin space to jot down important ideas, draw diagrams, and make charts as you read. Highlighting can be an excellent tool, but use it sparingly: highlighting every sentence isn't active reading, it's coloring. Frequently stop and ask yourself questions while you read (e.g., What is the main point? How does this fit into the overall scheme of things? Could I thoroughly explain this to someone else?). By making connections and focusing on the grander scheme, not only will you ensure you know the essential content, but you also prepare yourself for the level of critical thinking required by the MCAT.

Focus on Areas of Greatest Opportunity

If you are limited by only having a minimal amount of time to prepare before Test Day, focus on your biggest areas of opportunity first. Areas of opportunity are topic areas that are highly tested and that you have not yet mastered. You likely won't have time to take detailed notes for every page of these books; instead, use your results from practice materials to determine which areas are your biggest opportunities and seek those out. After you've taken a full-length test, make sure you are using Smart Reports to best identify areas of opportunity. Skim over content matter for which you are already demonstrating proficiency, pausing to read more thoroughly when something looks unfamiliar or particularly difficult. Consider starting with the Review Problems at the end of each chapter. If you can get all of those questions correct within a reasonable amount of time, you may be able to quickly skim through that chapter, but if the questions prove to be more difficult, then you may need to spend time reading the chapter or certain subsections of the chapter more thoroughly.

Practice, Review, and Tracking

Leave time to review your practice questions and full-length tests. You may be tempted, after practicing, to push ahead and cover new material as quickly as possible, but failing to schedule ample time for review will actually throw away your greatest opportunity to improve your performance. The brain rarely remembers anything it sees or does only once. When you carefully review the questions you've solved (and the explanations for them), the process of retrieving that information reopens and reinforces the connections you've built in your brain. This builds long-term retention and repeatable skill sets—exactly what you need to beat the MCAT!

While reviewing, take notes about the specific reasons why you missed questions you got wrong or had to guess on, perhaps by using a spreadsheet like the one below. Keep adding to the same Why I Missed It Sheet (WIMIS) as you complete more practice questions, and periodically review your WIMIS to identify any patterns you see, such as consistently missing questions in certain content areas or falling for the same test maker traps. As you move through your MCAT prep, adjust your study plan based on your available study time and the results of your review. Your strengths and weaknesses are likely to change over the course of your prep. Keep addressing the areas that are most important to your score, shifting your focus as those areas change. For more help with reviewing and making the most of your full-length tests, including a Why I Missed It Sheet template, make sure to check out the videos and resources in your online syllabus.


Q #

Topic or Type

Wrong answer chosen

Why I missed it



Nuclear chem.


Confused electron absorption and emission





Need to memorize equation





Didn't read "not" in answer choice; slow down!




Out of Scope

Forgot to research answer

Where to Study

One often-overlooked aspect of studying is the environment where the learning actually occurs. Although studying at home is many students' first choice, several problems can arise in this environment, chief of which are distractions. Studying can be a mentally draining process, so as time passes, these distractions become ever more tempting as escape routes. Although you may have considerable willpower, there's no reason to make staying focused harder than it needs to be. Instead of studying at home, head to a library, quiet coffee shop, or another new location whenever possible. This will eliminate many of the usual distractions and also promote efficient studying; instead of studying off and on at home over the course of an entire day, you can stay at the library for three hours of effective studying and enjoy the rest of the day off from the MCAT.

No matter where you study, make your practice as much like Test Day as possible. Just as is required during the official test, don't have snacks or chew gum during your study blocks. Turn off your music, television, and phone. Practice on the computer with your online resources to simulate the computer-based test environment. When completing practice questions, do your work on scratch paper or noteboard sheets rather than writing directly on any printed materials since you won't have that option on Test Day. Because memory is tied to all of your senses, the more test-like you can make your studying environment, the easier it will be on Test Day to recall the information you're putting in so much work to learn.