What can we learn from the AQA GCSE Religious Studies examiner reports?

Exam insights 2019

AQA have released their examiner reports into the GCSE Religious Studies examinations which took place in the summer.  Head of Curriculum, Esther Zarifi, stated in her report of the examinations that teachers are feeling more confident with the new content as the second year of the new specification has been taught.  There are many positives included within the examiner reports, including better time management (as many completed the examination papers) and only a minority of candidates breaking the rubric on the Thematic paper, with the majority answering the four sections required as opposed to five or six.  This, in turn, has demonstrated a positive impact on results.  To make even further progress we have summarised the key issues that the examiners found students needed to improve on.

Key issues

1.Knowing the specification: It is vital pupils know the whole specification as they may be examined on anything included there. In this year’s examination, some questions demonstrated gaps in knowledge, for example, many didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer, which appeared on the Christianity paper.  Students also struggled with questions about Shi’a Islam. It is vital that diverse traditions within a religion are covered when named in the specification.

2. Knowing key terms: If the entire specification is not understood, candidates may not be familiar with key terms. Not knowing key terms was a barrier to candidates in two ways:  firstly, where it was specifically needed in 1-mark questions and secondly, where answers relied on understanding key terms in higher tariff questions.

3. Answering the question:  Some candidates did not carefully read the question and therefore did not understand the focus of the question.  In particular, there are three common errors that students should pay attention to:

  • In 12-mark questions, where students are asked to evaluate a statement some candidates answered in a descriptive way, simply arguing for and against an issue rather than engaging directly with the statement. Candidates should address the statement and refer back to it throughout their answer. 
  • In 4-mark questions, some candidates misread questions and gave contrasting arguments when the question clearly asked for similar arguments. 
  • Where questions asked about influences, some candidates missed this important point. Students need to demonstrate how someone might be influenced by a belief, as opposed to describing beliefs or just stating what they know.

4. Sources of wisdom and authority: To gain the higher marks, candidates must include religious beliefs in their 12-mark answers; the best answers will have quotations or teachings integrated into the arguments rather than being inserted at random.  It has also been recommended that candidates should make the sources clear for religious teachings, e.g. the Bible or the Qur’an, and also ensure the teachings are correct.  For example “money is the root of all evil” was not creditworthy as the teaching is the “love of money is the root of all evil.”  In order to gain full marks in 5-mark questions, a source of authority is needed. Not all candidates fulfilled this requirement.

5. Timing: It was noted in the reports that this has improved as many finished the examination papers. However, some candidates are writing introductions in their answers for the 5-mark question.  This often led to the repetition of ideas which wasted valuable time.  Also noteworthy was candidates giving two very similar answers or re-wording the same point for responses to 2-mark questions, with candidates sometimes giving a long list of answers. Again this took more time and not all responses are creditworthy in this instance. 

Jennifer Palfrey is a subject leader for Religious Studies at St Michael’s High School Chorley and has taught Religious Studies for 13 years. Jennifer is also a team leader for AQA thematic studies.

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