Getting ready for A level Psychology

Psychology is a brand new subject for most students. There is a large amount of new vocabulary to get used to, as well as new ways of thinking. I’ve put together some resources which will help students to start to become familiar with psychological concepts as well as keeping their valuable GCSE skills going, so they will be able to hit the ground running in September.

Also it’s an opportunity to whet their appetites with some of the juicy bits of psychology which may not be covered in depth in the syllabus. This will catch their storytelling imaginations and give them an eagerness to know more, along with establishing a basic framework of understanding.

Here is a menu of options which may help to prepare Y11 students and give them a head start this summer.

Psychology in context

The BPS Origins timeline at https://origins.bps.org.uk/ is fun to explore, and I have asked Y11 students to complete the infographic or make their own poster summary, making sure they include key facts and researchers from each of the six approaches we cover in A level Psychology. They can find out more about these researchers and approaches in Chapter 5, Approaches in Psychology from The Complete Companions for Year 1 and AS Student Book.

Psychology researchers in history

I ask students to find out the name of these famous psychologists, and write a summary of who they are and summarise their main research:   

Present a brief biography of one of these researchers, and another researcher of your choice: What was their educational background?When did they carry out their key research? What is their contribution to Psychology? How important do you think it is? Was there any controversy or disagreement from other psychologists, at the time, or more recently? Which of the six approaches does it fit into?

A broad foundation

I ask students to read one of two books: Great Myths of the Brain by Christian Jarrett, or The Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett. Afterwards they then submit a review, with these instructions:

These are not books that need to be read from cover to cover, necessarily. You can dip in to chapters that interest you. I would like you to look out for shockers and blockers as you read. Shockers are ideas that surprise you, or alter your existing ideas about something. Blockers are things that you find difficult to understand, or that raise questions for you.Write a book review of your chosen book, summarising key points from the chapters you focused on, and identifying your shockers and blockers. This should be between 300 and 500 words.  

There is also an engaging 13-minute TED youth talk by Ben Ambridge, debunking 9 myths about Psychology – see if they can spot them all? We did this via Zoom and the students typed the myths into the chat box. https://www.ted.com/talks/ben_ambridge_9_myths_about_psychology_debunked

Psychology research

The BPS PsychCrunch podcasts are very accessible and give interesting examples of how psychologists research real life issues. There are 20 episodes, all worth listening to. I am doing this via Zoom and encouraging students to try making notes in different ways; linear, non-linear, mind maps and no-words notes.

It’s a useful opportunity to do this when the students aren’t needing to make notes to revise from, whilst enabling them to still learn about the processes of psychology. https://digest.bps.org.uk/podcast/

Some BBC The Life Scientific episodes are also very interesting and will give a picture of how a researcher’s career might lead them to particular discoveries. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015sqc7/episodes/guide

The BPS Research Digest is always worth a browse and gives excellent brief summaries of the PFC and evaluation of new research.

There are also some reviews of particular areas, such as ’10 Psychology findings that reveal the worst of human nature’ https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/10/12/what-are-we-like-10-psychology-findings-that-reveal-the-worst-of-human-nature/

And ‘Good at heart? 10 Psychology findings that reveal the better side of humanity’ – https://digest.bps.org.uk/2019/12/10/good-at-heart-10-psychology-findings-that-reveal-the-better-side-of-humanity/

This could be an opportunity to explore the work of a particular psychologist in more depth, an example of this is using Zimbardo’s website about the Stanford Prison Study (https://www.prisonexp.org/the-story), which includes short clips of original film footage, by Zimbardo’s team.

Zimbardo went on to research heroism, which seems topical as keyworkers are being described as heroes in the media daily. Articles relating to heroism: https://www.heroicimagination.org/library

A 23-minute TED talk by Zimbardo exploring the Abu Ghraib trials, evil, how to be a hero, and how we can rise to the challenge: https://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_the_psychology_of_evil

Psychology in the News

There are three podcasts by Dean Burnett, ‘This is your brain on lockdown’ series, 10 minutes each, which are good discussion-starters, applying some real psychology to this very unusual situation we are experiencing. The first one, ‘It’s good that you’re stressed’ is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCSEWq3NRzk

The BPS has a collection of brief articles online by researchers who are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2020/03/26/how-psychology-researchers-are-responding-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Or students could be encouraged to find one article on a news website which relates to Psychology – mental health, social change, isolation, altruism, etc.

Self-development

It would be so good if students could start off with more of a growth mindset, believing that they are able to learn effectively if they put the effort in. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset TED talk (10 mins) could help: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve

Students could be encouraged to keep on top of their maths skills, as these will be vital for A level Psychology. I’ve highlighted some resources from Oxford which help to improve mathematical skills.

Author: Rachel Moody – Head of Psychology, King Edward VI School, Southampton


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