A Level Sociology AQA Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods

Last Updated on January 11, 2019 by

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 1 Education with Theory and Methods (7192/1).

This information is derived from 3 separate training course I’ve been on run by the AQA’s representatives, my interpretation of how you should answer these questions is not endorsed by the AQA. I have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible in this advice, and it’s the same advice I use with my own students.

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1 – An Overview

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1

  • Paper 1 is a  2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • It is a ‘write in’ paper – you get a gapped booklet, and you write your answers after each question.
  • There are a total of 6 questions and you must answer all of them.
    You have 1.5 minutes per mark.

Exam Technique for Paper 1

Some of the exemplar questions on the next few slides are taken from the AQA’s A Level Sociology Specimen Paper 1, 2015.

4 and 6 Mark ‘Outline’ Questions

  • A four mark question will ask you to ‘Outline’ two ways in which/ reasons why/ criticisms of….
  • A six mark question will ask you to outline three ways/ reasons/ criticisms.
  • Think of these as ‘1+1’ question/ answers –  you need to give a reason and explain how.

Example of a 4 mark question

‘Outline two material factors that may affect social class differences in educational achievement.’ (4)

Mark Scheme

  • Two marks for each of two appropriate factors clearly outlined
  • One mark for appropriate factors partially outlined.

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • Overcrowding at home (1 mark) means not having private space in which to study (+1 mark).
  • High family income (1 mark) means parents can pay for private tuition to help with schoolwork (+1 mark).

Example of a 6 mark question

‘Outline three reasons why government education policies aimed at raising educational achievement among disadvantaged groups may not always succeed’. (6)

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • It is difficult to implement policies (1 mark), for example if they involve intervening in pupils’ home life to change how parents socialise/motivate children (+1 mark).
  • Educational policies alone cannot overcome poverty as a cause of underachievement (1 mark). This requires far-reaching redistributive economic policies to tackle it (+1 mark).
  • Means tested educational policies such as free school meals may have low uptake by targeted groups (1 mark) because of the stigma attached to them (+1 mark).

10 Mark ‘Applying from the Item and Analyse’ Questions

  • A ten mark question (on papers 1 and 3) will ask you to analyse two reasons (applying material from a very short item).
  • You need to give a reason, develop it and analyse it, and then repeat for the next reason.
  • You should spend about 15 minutes on this question. Each reason MUST come from the item!

Example of a 10 Mark Question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item A

According to the Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, middle class parents possess more cultural capital, than working class children.

Bourdieu argues that the skills and knowledge middle class parents possess, such as themselves having benefited from education, and the fact that they are more comfortable dealing with middle class institutions such as schools, is passed down to their children, which explains why they do better in school.

Applying material from Item A, analyse two ways in which cultural capital might give some children an advantage in education (10)

Hooks in the item:

  • Skills – might be research skills)
  • Knowledge (might be linked to tastes)
  • Better education
  • More comfortable dealing with middle class institutions

Any of these hooks can form the basis of ‘one way’ for each ‘way’…

  • Make a point about cultural capital from the item
  • Explain how it gives children an advantage
  • Develop it once, ideally by using a research study, linking to other sub-topics within education
  • Develop it at least one more time, using perspectives if possible.

30 Mark Essays

Possible 30 Mark Essays on Education

  • Evaluate the contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of the role of education ins society (30).
  • Evaluate the view that differential achievement across social groups is mainly due to in-school factors (30).
  • Evaluate the view that educational policies since 1988 have both raised standards and improved equality of educational opportunity (30).

Writing 30 Mark Essays

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes.
  • Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  • Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/ your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  • Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  • Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  • Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

General Structure for Any Sociology Essay

  • Introduction
  • Point (relate to question)
  • Explain
  • Expand
  • Criticise
  • (repeat 3-5 times)
  • Overall Evaluations
  • Conclusion (refer to item)

20 Mark Methods in Context Questions

  • A ‘methods in context’ (MIC) essay question will ask you to apply a method to a topic within education
  • The easiest way to explain how to write MIC essays by using an example…

Example of a Methods in Context Question

Read item B then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

A ‘Safe’ Strategy for Answering Methods in Context (‘MIC’) Questions


  • Spend about five minutes planning the essay first:
  • Highlight the ‘hooks’ in the question.
  • Jot down the theoretical, ethical and practical strengths/ limitations of the method.

Essay section 1:

  • Write a ‘safe’ three paragraphs on the method, covering the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the method.
  • As you do this, try to discuss the general strengths and limitations of the method relating to researching education in general (pupils, parents, teachers, in schools and classrooms, maybe in pupils’ homes).

Essay section 2:

  • Use the hooks in the item to discuss why this method might be a particular problem, or particularly useful for the topic you are.
  • Just doing this two or three times should be enough to lift you into the top mark band (17-20).

Essay section 3:

  • Write a brief conclusion – state whether this is a sensible method for researching this topic!

Paper 1: Theory and Methods Section

‘Outline and Explain’ something to do with theory and/ or methods (10) marks)

  • There won’t be an item for this question
  • Pick two reasons/ ways which are as different from each other as possible.
  • Try to develop each using different parts of the course – making links….
  • There will probably be two bits to the question – make sure you make the links.
  • There may only be one ‘little’ 10 mark question, but it could be on any aspect of theory and/ or methods:

Examples of possible theory and methods ten markers

  • Theory: ‘Outline and explain two criticisms of the Marxist view of society (10).
    Methods: Outline and explain two practical problems of using Participant Observation in social research’ (10).
  • Theory and Methods: Outline and explain two reasons why Postmodernists are generally critical of quantitative research methods (10).

Video Version of the above advice (for ‘visual’ learners)

Good luck – And don’t panic… Everyone’s in the same boat.


A Level Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

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