When I began teaching I found A-level sociology difficult to assess, and even more difficult to write meaningful feedback for students. This was due in part to my own inexperience, but mainly due to the complex set of Assessment Objectives (AO’s) students are expected to meet.
In AQA sociology these objectives are (or rather were, in the old spec):
AO1 – description, demonstration of knowledge and understanding.
AO2 – interpretation, application, evaluation and analysis.
It is a big challenge for students (and teachers!) to understand exactly what is required by A02 in sociology. To assist students I have created a simple essay structure that they were expected to follow for the old ‘assess’ style questions for example. ‘assess the contribution Functionalists have made to our understanding of society today (33)’. To help recall I created the mnemonic ‘Dogs Sometimes Walk Looking Cross’ (in tribute to my angry dachshund) and have even included a cross looking dog in the wall display. This essay structure helps the less able students access some of the necessary features of AO2 by breaking down what is actually meant by ‘analysis’, ‘application’ and ‘evaluation’. It is also a good place to begin the more able student as they can use the structure as a template to develop their own essay style.
This structure does not include the ‘interpretation’ aspect of A02. It is inferred that if students do the other sections well they will have demonstrated correct interpretation of the question and the material used to support their arguments. I do however insist they refer to the item (if required by the question) a minimum of twice, and make constant references back to the original question in their prose.
I will explain how this essay structure has been used in the past by my students, then explain how it may be used to hit the reformed AO’s in the new 2016 AQA specification.
Essay Structure (old spec ‘assess’ questions)
Dogs – Describe (A01)
Sometimes – Strengths (evaluation A02)
Walk – Weaknesses (evaluation A02)
Looking – Links to a theory/sociologist/evidence (application A02)
Cross – Comparison with other sociological material (analysis A02)
Although it of course makes sense for the essay to begin with a description, the rest of the structure is semi flexible, as long as the order makes logical sense and adds to the quality of the argument.
To put this in context if a student were answering the question mentioned earlier - ‘assess the contribution Functionalists have made to our understanding of society today (33)’ (unit 4 old spec) the basic structure would go as follows:
Description (A01) Include a selection of the Functionalist theories and how they approach society e.g. Durkheim organic analogy, macro, positivism, social facts. Parsons, Merton. A comment on how this helps us understand society as reference to the question would also be useful.
Strengths and Weaknesses (A02 evaluation) of these theories. E.g. they are dated…
Links to research, evidence, (A02 application) (as this is a unit 4 question synoptic links to other areas of the course would be expected e.g. to Parsons and the meritocracy of the education system from unit 2 or functional theories of crime from unit 4). It is possible this will be found following on from the A01, students may prefer to complete this part before beginning their evaluation, this will depend on the flow of their argument. In a unit 4 question such as this I also expect real world applications, for example a link to a specific crime perhaps that the Functional perspective would help understand – such as the public reaction to the WPC’s shot dead in Manchester in 2012.
Compare and Contrast (A02 analysis) with another sociological theory – this is often found towards the conclusion, for example one of the criticisms of Functionalism is it is outdated, perhaps a more recent theory, Postmodernism may be better able to assist our understanding of society today? The trick here is to ensure your students show restraint – they do not want to launch into an essay on Postmodernism as this will not be creditworthy. They must draw out the differences between Postmodernism and Functionalism and explain why that is a problem for the original theory, and why it facilitates the need for a second theory to explain society today.
The new spec 2016
The new AQA specification for AS and A-level has added an AO although the skills required remain very similar.
AO1: Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of: sociological theories, concepts and evidence, sociological research methods.
AO2: Apply sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods to a range of issues.
AO3: Analyse and evaluate sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods in order to:
• present arguments
• make judgements
• draw conclusions.
The splitting up of the chunk that was AO2 into AO2 and AO3 should help students to better understand what is required. The old ‘assess’ questions no longer exist (in sample paper 1 and 2 anyway) however they have been replaced with ‘evaluate the view’ and ‘analyse reasons’ that can still follow the structure suggested. However I would suggest more emphasis be given to the description, strengths and limitations in an ‘evaluate’ question, and emphasis given to the description, links/application and compare and contrast in the ‘analyse question’. The AO’s are also more explicit in their requirement of research methods content and application, this will need to be embedded within the teaching.
Essay structure new AQA spec (2016)
Dogs – describe (A01)
Sometimes – strengths (evaluation A03)
Walk – weaknesses (evaluation A03)
Looking – links to a theory/ sociologist/ evidence/method (application A02)
Cross – comparison with other sociological material (analysis A03)
By getting students to follow this structure, or at least ensure they include evidence of it in their essays, even if not in that exact order you maximise their chances of hitting the AO’s and gaining valuable marks. As a heavy essay writing subject sociology students often struggle for time in their exams, this structure means that if they begin to run out, they will know what they simply must include even if only alluded to very briefly.
This structure also has the additional benefit of making written feedback easier, as missing sections can be identified and students encouraged to work on them. Lessons can then be tailored to address specific issues. For example I find the compare and contrast section always warrants some additional guidance for example and lends itself well to an activity based lesson.
As the application to the new specification has demonstrated, this essay structure is flexible and may indeed be transferable to other exam boards and qualifications.
Alexandra Hay teaches social sciences at a secondary school in Staffordshire and is a professional doctorate student at Keele University.
A2 Psychology AQA A – How To Answer 24 Mark Essay Questions For Psya3 & Psya4
The updated version of this post for the new specification is here:
How to write A level psychology essay answers.
This is a question that keeps popping up in one form or another and I wanted to make a video on this. You can view it below; it explains the exam technique and method I used to answer 24 mark essay questions for A2 Psychology and specifically the Psya3 and Psya4 essay questions.
Theory First, Followed By Evaluation
People have different ways of writing their essays. Some like to mix theory and evaluation together within paragraphs while others like to do one at a time (a paragraph of theory, a paragraph of evaluation, then back to theory, back to evaluation…rinse repeat).
What I personally recommend is you write all your theory first (all of it) and then you leave a line of space and then do all your evaluation. This is the technique I have used in both my Psya3 and Psya4 exams which helped me get 100% in both papers. Take a look below:The green element is the theory element while the blue element is the evaluation. Imagine you’re an examiner and you get an essay like this. You can clearly attribute all the marks for the theory section and you know everything after the first bit is pure evaluation. Theres no struggle to try and distinguish the two, your not spending ages having to mark it. Its simple.
Although you will hear you can write it how you wish its just simple perspective taking you need here; examiners are humans at the end of the day and they get frustrated sitting for ages writing countless essays. How much will they like you if you make it this easy?
How To Remember Your 24 Mark Psychology A Level Essays
My Acronym method is outlined in all my books but I thought I would write it here too.
Firstly you create your essays into your own words using my model essay answers. The theory you must ideally know from the top of your head as this is basically an explanation or concept. You can use the Acronym method to remember theory too if you wish – I did in some cases myself where I struggled but its easier using this with the evaluation points as researchers tend to be harder to remember – Its up to you, it will work for both.
Acronyms are “markers” that I used to trigger my memory to recall the rest of the essay. It is harder to remember a whole paragraph than it is a few letters which can then lead me to remember what those letters stand for and the actual studies themselves. This then triggers my memory to recall how each study is evaluated for strengths and weaknesses and so forth – a bit like a chain reaction.
Heres an example below from my Psya3 Aggression book below:
This is how memorising the essays with chunking and acronyms works. It takes practice – Using this method WILL NOT WORK unless you have model essays created first and set up in a way that acronyms fit into them as I have done. Thats the bit that will require work on your half – structuring it in a way that suits you. Once done you employ this method to recall all your essays.
Also to note: When creating your acronyms try and create a combination of letters that spell something or are easier to recall than a random order. For example remembering the acronym SPUD is easier than remembering the acronym PSDU.
Take a stopwatch with you for the essay questions
One thing I did forget to emphasise in the video was the importance of taking a stopwatch with you so you can time yourself for the Psya3 and Psya4 exams. When writing 24 mark essay answers, especially in psya3 – you need to allocate your time accordingly and a stopwatch is incredibly important as it saves you precious time looking up at the clock and trying to figure out how much time you have left.
Psya3 And Psya4 Is All About Exam Technique
Literally. Exam technique probably counts for 25% of the mark you will get. The video above explains it but I’ll get the main points written down too. When answering 24 mark essay questions in Psya3 you have 1hr 30 minutes with 3 questions to answer. Therefore you need to split the time accordingly and spend 30 minutes on each question. Within this 30 minute window you need to again split this well between your theory and evaluation sections. If it is a full 24 mark essay question you will have it split with 8 marks for theory and 16 marks for evaluation.
Here I would recommend trying to maximise your marks for theory as much as possible as that is easier than the evaluation sections. Spend no more than 8-10 minutes on this and then move on to the evaluation section trying to write as much evaluation elements as you can remember. The only thing you must ensure is that you include at least two issues, debates and approachesin your evaluation section. As your stopwatch hits the 30 minute mark, wrap up what your writing and then move on to the next question and try do the same again.
You don’t need to write 24 mark essay answers.
To score an A* in Psya3 June 2013 – You only needed to score 16/24 marks in each essay. This year is likely to be close to that number as it only ever changes slightly so if you can score 8 marks in theory, you only need about 8-10 marks in the evaluation section to fall within the top bracket and score an A* yourself. So you literally focus your attention accordingly. I personally think scoring marks for theory is easier than evaluation. With the theory element you only have to remember an explanation of something while the evaluation section requires you to remember research studies, the evaluation for them and IDA’s.
Do what works for you.
Ultimately do what works for you – this is all simply guidance at the end of the day and me chronicling my journey and what worked for me. It is by no means the definitive guide and we all learn and work differently. If you have found a method that works for you; use that instead.
www.loopa.co.uk (c) – To reference this article simply place an active link to http://www.loopa.co.uk
I have used the acronym MHBC which stands for the researchers McGuffin, Hutchings, Brunner and Caspi et al.
As soon as I see the question I remember my acronym and write this at the top: MHBC. The green element is the Theory while the blue is the evaluation. Notice where I have put the letters. As soon as I finish writing my theory (the green element) I look at my acronyms and recall M = McGuffin hence I recall his name and as I have practiced countless times writing this essay I recall his study too and the evaluation that goes with this. By the time I finish writing about him I look at the next letter which is H = Hutchings and this triggers my memory for his study and findings as well as the evaluation points.
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