What can we learn from the AQA A Level Psychology 2019 Examiner’s Reports?

The examiners were pleased that students had been well prepared for the specification, and had gained considerable knowledge. There were some concerns about the accuracy of material students are coming across online, and it’s important that we should guide them towards more reliable sources, and teach them to be critical and check facts.

There were a few areas, highlighted by examiners, where students were letting themselves down this year. These include:

Applying their knowledge. Particularly in research methods questions, it is not enough to just know definitions. The questions often require ‘thinking on your feet’, and there were some very challenging research methods questions in Paper 3. Many students apparently had difficulties explaining how sampling would be carried out, and it is really worth training students to spend time thinking through the research that is described, making sure they know what research design has been used. Thinking, highlighting and annotating the stem with ‘IV’, ‘DV’, ‘sample’, ‘design’ etc. is an invaluable use of time before moving on to answer the questions. If they muddled up repeated measures and independent groups designs, they were likely to lose all of the marks in questions about that piece of research. In the last few weeks of the course, I get students to do timed short questions in class, with no writing allowed for the first minute or so. There is a minute and a quarter per mark, so if we think of the quarter minutes as thinking time, this gives one minute for a 4 mark question, 30 seconds for a 2 mark question, and so on.

Get your students practising research methods questions with our On Your Marks resources from The Complete Companions for AQA Kerboodle :

On your marks: Research methods A Level Part 1
On your marks: Research methods A Level Part 2
On your marks: Research methods A Level Part 3

Explaining statistical testing. Do they know the difference between tests of difference and tests of correlation? This is vital, and some students seem to use the terms interchangeably, meaning they come unstuck in questions on hypotheses as well as statistical testing. They also need to be clear that ‘correlation’ (Pearson’s, Spearman’s) is not the same as ‘association’ (chi-squared). And they should be able to explain why a test is suitable, and why a different test is unsuitable for a particular set of data.

Show pages 20 and 21 of The Complete Companions for AQA Year 2 Revision Guide to your students to help them with answering questions on correlation and chi-squared tests.

Correct use of specialist terminology. ‘Reductionism’ is a problem again this year, and students need to understand that it is the belief that things can be explained simply by reducing them down to their constituent parts. In other words, reductionist arguments claim that behaviour can be understood as being nothing but the sum of its components. In Psychology, it should only be applied to the biological approach (genes, neurotransmitters etc.) and the behaviourist approach (stimulus-response units). It is not correct to describe cognitive theories as reductionist: ‘limited’ is OK (as they may overemphasise cognitive mechanisms and ignore emotion, motivation, social context and so on). If we are looking at levels of explanation, only the simplest level should be described as reductionist. I get students to practice applying ‘levels of explanation’ to different behaviours, such as a kiss, depression, attachment, stress etc. Getting the right word is vital in Research Methods, too, and I use a kind of ‘Articulate’ game using laminated cards of key terms so they can practise defining them correctly. I think this is much more useful than many quizzes which only require recognition rather than recall.

Our Defining terms in issues and debates animation from The Complete Companions for AQA Kerboodle may help.

Clear and coherent writing. Some students’ handwriting is undecipherable and the examiners recommend that they should be advised to use a word processor or scribe. But even answers which are legible may be difficult to understand as the sentences are unclear, points are made in an illogical order, and many students show a complete lack of understanding of some concepts like ‘debate’ and ‘paradigm’. Again, planning and thinking time is really important, and re-reading an answer to check it makes sense may be very worthwhile as incoherent writing will not get the marks. An important skill is selecting the appropriate material to answer a specific question, rather than brain-dumping everything that comes to mind related to the topic. I’m teaching ‘PECS’ this year, ‘Point, Elaborate/evidence, Counterargument, So what?’. I hope this will help students to plan their evaluation, incorporating counter-arguments and ensuring they explain the relevance of the point to their overall discussion.

Our workbooks may help your students to practise planning their answers, try out pages 12 and 13 from The Complete Companions for AQA Paper 2 Workbook.

In this blog we have included some content to help you support your students in the particular areas that this year’s reports have highlighted.

The Complete Companions 5th Edition series of Student Books, Kerboodle, Revision Guides and Exam Workbooks contain the very latest exam advice and information from AQA including some recent minor tweaks to the AQA specification for teaching from September 2019. The new student books also contain enhanced evaluation sections and a new feature, exam coaching sections which are proving popular – so if you haven’t yet taken a look, find out more here.

Rachel Moody
Head of Psychology, King Edward VI School, Southampton

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