Revision and exam skills
For the A-level qualification, students sit three papers:
• Paper 1 is called Introductory topics and consists of four sections: the social psychology topic of social influence, the cognitive psychology topic of memory, the developmental psychology topic of attachment and the individual differences topic of psychopathology. Each of these sections is worth 24 marks, for a total of 96 marks. Research methods questions may be incorporated into all four of these sections. Paper 1 accounts for one-third of the overall marks for the A-level. You will have 2 hours to sit this paper, with all questions being compulsory for all candidates.
• Paper 2 is called Psychology in context and consists of three sections: approaches, biopsychology and research methods. Approaches and biopsychology are worth 24 marks each, with research methods worth 48 marks, for a total of 96 marks (and thus an overall total for both papers of 192 marks). Research methods questions can again occur in all sections. Paper 2 accounts for one-third of the overall marks for the A-level. You will have 2 hours to sit this paper, with all questions being compulsory for all candidates.
• Paper 3 is called Issues and options in psychology and consists of four sections: (a) the compulsory topic of issues and debates, worth 24 marks, then three optional sections: (b) relationships, gender, cognition and development, (c) schizophrenia, eating behaviour, stress, and (d) aggression, forensic psychology, addiction. Each of these is worth 24 marks and candidates answer questions on one topic from each section. Paper 3 accounts for one-third of the overall marks for the A-level. You will have 2 hours to sit this paper, with a total of 96 marks available.
The exam process
You may have attended all lessons, completed all work, revised hard and be extremely motivated to succeed. However, unless you perform well in your examinations you won’t get what you deserve. Therefore, it is essential that you fully understand the exam process in order to achieve and get that grade you want.
TYPES OF MARKS
There are three types of marks that can be gained in the examination.
• AO1 marks — these are awarded for relevant description of psychological knowledge. For example, describing the multi-store model of memory. The availability of these marks in a question can be identified by the use of certain exam injunctions (’command words’ — the words in a question that inform you what kind of answer is required) within the question (see oppostite for a list and explanation of exam injunctions).
• AO2 marks — these are awarded for relevant application of psychological knowledge to scenarios that are provided. For example, applying your knowledge of normative social influence to a scenario that illustrates its usage. The availability of these marks in a question can again be identified by the use of certain exam injunctions.
• AO3 marks — these are awarded for relevant evaluation of psychological knowledge. For example, assessing the degree of research support for the learning theory explanation of attachment formation. The availability of these marks in a question once again can be identified by the use of certain exam injunctions.
Exam injunctions are the ’command words’ in a question, the words that tell you what kind of answer is required in terms of description, application and evaluation. Some questions may involve creating answers that focus on only one of these injunctions, for example a ’description only’ answer, while other questions may involve creating answers that focus on two exam injunctions, for example a ’description and evaluation’ question. There is even the possibility of an ’application essay’, which would require creating an answer that focuses on all three of the injunctions.
In order to fully understand what type of answer you should be writing, familiarise yourself with the following different exam injunctions. This should help you to avoid the trap of writing answers that contain irrelevant material in terms of what a question requires.
• Identify means simply to name, no other description is required
• Define involves explaining what is meant by
• Outline means give brief details without explanation
• Describe means give a detailed account without explanation
• Correctly complete means to fill in the missing information
• Select means to choose the correct option
• Refer means to include information from a certain source
• Give means to show awareness of
• Explain means to give a clear account of why and how something is so
• Evaluate means to assess the value or effectiveness of
• Discuss means to give a reasoned balanced account (including descriptive and evaluative material)
• Assess means to judge the quality/importance of
Different question types
There are, broadly speaking, six main types of question and students should ensure that they have had regular experience, under exam conditions, of each of them. Remember that all topics can be examined by each of the question types, so ideally students should be familiar with all question types for all the topics listed in the specification.
Each question type is quite different from other question types and has a certain way in which it must be answered to maximise marks. Therefore it is worthwhile having a look at some common mistakes that students make with each question type and learning some strategies that will help to increase the marks you gain in the actual examination. The differences between one grade and another in the examination can be just a few marks, so by learning and practising strategies that maximise your marks you could easily improve by one or two grades. Let’s have a look at the question types now. Sample question answers are on pages 227, 229, 231, 234—37, 239—41, 243—45.