Wondering how to answer your AQA psychology essays for the 12 and 16 marker questions? If you’re studying AQA A level psychology from 2016 onwards, in this post I’ll be answering that exact question and breaking essay writing down.
At AS level your essay questions can be up to 12 marks while at A level and in your second year of study they can be worth up to 16 marks. So the question is how do you write them? Let me answer this for you.
AS 12 Marker Essay Questions For Psychology
The marking doesn’t actually show you how the 12 marker AS essay questions are split. In the old specification it use to state that this was 6+6. This meant 6 was for theory and 6 was for evaluation. Now however it simply states that the mark allocation is 12 marks in total and they leave it to you to distribute this based on your own judgement. My advice is to treat this as a 6+6 split although if you had to focus more on one I would say evaluation tends to be more important and you want to try include more of that where you can.
A level Psychology 16 Marker Essay Questions
Again you won’t be told how your 16 marker questions are split either and it will simply state 16 marks in total in the exam itself. I have however heard the actual mark allocation is split 6+10!
This means 6 marks are for theory (AO1) and 10 marks will be dedicated to evaluation points (AO3).
Structuring Your AQA Psychology Essays
There’s two popular ways of how you structure essays. I’ll mention the one I like but it’s totally up to you which one you choose.
- The first method is using PEEL. This stands for Point – Explanation + Evidence – Evaluate – Link-back.
- The second method is using my own which is still following the PEEL format but instead splits this writing theory first followed by evaluation. This is basically writing all your points and explanations first for the entire essay (P+E), leaving a line of space and then writing all your evaluation (E+L)
PEEL Essay Writing
Here I’ll cover the PEEL method of essay writing for AQA psychology. Lets cover what each letter is asking you to do firstly.
Point: Here you make your point. What is it you’re trying to say? Make sure it’s clear and relevant to the question that is being asked.
Explanation + Evidence: This involves stating your explanation or theory elaborating on your point. This is where you will score the bulk of your AO1 marks so be sure to make sure its detailed, varied and uses appropriate terminology. You have no time or space to write waffle as it all needs to be directly to the point and concise.
Research studies can score AO1 marks as long as the question does not ask for an explanation, outline or model. If the question asks you to discuss “research into XYZ” then “research” can include theories and studies. Be sure to read the question carefully on the wording of this as it catches a lot of students out. Here you will also link to your evidence and research studies to backup your point and explanations. If you’ve just explained how the working memory works for example you now throw in evidence for this explanation that either backs it up or refutes it. It’s important you trigger your evaluative commentary by writing statements such as “this supports the explanation/theory because” or “this shows clear weaknesses/undermines/refutes the theory because”. This will help examiners know whether its AO1 or AO3.
Evaluate: Here you can evaluate the study or explanation for strengths and weaknesses but its imperative that you then link back to what the implication is for the theory, model or explanation (see link-back below for more details on this).
Here’s a quick cheatsheet on general evaluation points – but remember to always end each by linking back!:
- Student samples: Age bias, lack generalisation to wider population.
- Laboratory studies: Lack ecological validity due to artificial settings, demand characteristic’s possible as participants know they are being observed, lack external validity if the setup can not be applied to the real world. Strengths however: Easy to replicate and check reliability, more control over the experiment to measure the effect of the DV and limit extraneous variables from affecting results.
- Lack of internal validity: Anything that suggests you are not measuring what you want to measure can be argued to affect the results as they lack internal validity. This could include personality variables or confounding variables that are actually affecting the results and not the DV (dependent variable)
Lack of mundane realism: Do the tasks lack realism? If they are not indicative of real world situations then lack of mundane realism can be used as a criticism. For example a lot of research into the memory models were not really testing how memory is used in everyday life.
- Gender bias: Only men or women involved? The findings may suffer from gender bias if they can not be applied across both genders. Was age a factor perhaps? What is the implication on the theory/point if this is a factor?
Cultural bias: Is the study based on the values of one country? Is it based only in one country without considering others and how they may differ? Then you can argue cultural bias.
- Correlational research: A lot of research is correlational and this can be used as a weakness e.g. people who are more violent play a lot of video games. Someone may argue that video games therefore cause basis of your argument for correlational research because you cannot establish cause and effect; just because two things are linked, it doesn’t mean one is causing the other and there could be a third variable involved.
- Case studies: You can’t generalise the findings based on one case study; this may be due to individual differences, personality variables, upbringing, culture etc (this is a weakness then). Case studies do however provide lots of information or allow you to study something that may normally be difficult or you are unable to recreate in the laboratory which is a strength.
- Longitudinal studies: Allow you to see how a variable can affect people over time (strength) however outside influences may even factor in (also known as extraneous variables).
- Animal studies: You can generalise the findings of animals to humans due to differences in anatomy (weakness) – Animal studies however allow you to draw theories and conduct research which would be unethical to conduct on humans. The harm caused to animals however will always raise ethical issues which you can highlight.
Link-Back: Using evaluative comments to highlight what the impact is on the theory commenting on how it is either supported or undermined. If there is other concerns this raises then highlight these to score evaluative commentary marks. You can also use issues, debates and approaches too so throw them in where they are appropriate.
My MethodMy own method follows the PEEL format but its a little different as previously stated. The idea is you simply split all your theory and evaluation points into two different sections rather than interweaving them as the PEEL method states. The reason I’ve always used this method is it makes it easier for the examiners to see exactly where all your theory is and where your evaluation is.
Take a look at the image on the right for example. In green you have all the AO1 (theory, explanation,outline etc) and then after a line of space I would do all my evaluation in blue (AO3). This would involve all my evidence, evaluation and link-backs to the theory.
My thinking behind this method is it becomes much easier to remember your essays but also I believe examiners prefer this method as it makes their lives easier. Think about it – they sit marking hundreds of essays no doubt frustrated after the 20th one and if you present an essay that makes their life easier, they can see where all your marks go and no doubt they will find marking your work much easier too then. A happy examiner is a generous examiner maybe?. I can only go on my experience and this technique helped me score 100% twice in my exams (as well as many other students) so it’s why I tend to favour it. Ultimately however it’s your choice as most teachers advocate the peel method of essay writing.
Breadth vs Depth
A common question I’m asked is how much do I write? Is there a word count? Although some people may sometimes offer a rough estimate your best way of knowing how much to write is by looking at what the mark allocation is for the question. A 12 mark question is looking for at least a detailed page of writing and a 16 mark question is looking for at least around 2 pages (to play it safe).
The examiners however will be looking to see variety in how much you know (breadth) and how detailed your knowledge is on the topic (depth). If you write a lots of varied points on the subject this shows good breath. If you are able to explain in detail a topic and the intricacies, using appropriate terminology and make good links this shows depth. One can usually compensate for the other to a degree so if you don’t write a huge variety of information, provided its detailed you can make up for this through your depth. This also works vice versa too so keep this in mind.
Use specialist terminology – instead of saying “the front of the brain, try refer to the actual name such as “the prefrontal cortex” for example.
Issues and Debates Score Easy Marks
You have a whole new section in this new psychology specification focusing on issues and debates. They can score easy marks as part of your evaluation so whenever you feel like you’re able to throw them in, do it as it all adds to your evaluative commentary. Heres a neat trick to remember a bunch of issues and debates; just remember the word GRENADE.
- G=Gender bias
- R=reductionism (only apply this to biological explanations as it wont score marks for anything else)
- E=Ethical Issues
- N=Nature vs Nurthure
- A=Animal studies
- D=Determinism (again best applied only with biological explanations)
- E=Ethnocentrism (also known as cultural bias)
Hope this helps? If it does leave a comment below and show your support and share it with your classmates.