Basic Question Types in A-Level Sociology (AQA focus)

There are three main types of ‘question’ in A-level sociology exams:

  • Outline and explain questions
  • Analyse questions
  • Evaluate questions

This (hopefully) raises the question (is that a pun?) about what you’re likely to be asked to outline and explain/ analyse or evaluate….

If you read to the AQA’s specification carefully, which I’ve done (I couldn’t sleep the other night, it did the trick nicely), then you’ll find that there are 7 ‘core themes’ in A level sociology that examiners are likely to wrap these three basic question types around.


Seven basic types of outline (and explain) questions 

Outline simply means give a reason and explain how….

  1. Outline and explain three ways in which a concept ‘manifests itself in society.
  2. Outline and explain the effects of various social policies/ social changes
  3. Outline and explain the reasons for social class/ ethnic and gender differences in society
  4. Outline and explain the reasons for various social changes
  5. Outline and explain all of the five perspectives on education/ families
  6. Outline and explain a positivist/ interpretetivst approach to social research
  7. Outline and explain the strengths and limitations of any research method

Seven basic types of analyse question

Analyse means picking something apart into its component parts…. basically it involves outlining and explaining and then ‘digging deeper’ to explain even further…

  1. Analyse how a concept relates to other concepts/ perspectives
  2. Analyse the reasons for social changes
  3. Analyse the impact of social policies/ social changes
  4. Analyse the reasons for social class/ ethnic and gender differences in society
  5. Analyse the functions which institutions perform in society, using any of the perspectives
  6. Analyse how globalisation has affected social life.
  7. Analyse any social problem quantitatively or qualitatively…

Seven basic types of evaluate question

Evaluate means to demonstrate the strengths and limitations of something….you typically do this by considering a claim from another perspective, or by using evidence to support or refute it. 

  1. Evaluate the usefuleness/ relevance of a concept in explaining social phenomena today.
  2. Evaluate how significant a certain factor is in explaining changes in society
  3. Evaluate the view that a particular social policy/ social change has had a negative or positive impact on society.
  4. Evaluate the view that a particular reason is the most significant reason for class/ gender or ethnic differences in society.
  5. Evaluate the usefulness of any perspective for helping us to understand the role of institutions in society.
  6. Evaluate the view that globalisation has had a positive/ negative effect on any aspect of social life.
  7. Evaluate the usefulness of quantitative/ qualitative approaches to social research (possibly applied to a particular topic)

Thoughts on using these question types to teach A-level sociology

It’s relatively easy to differentiate teaching according to whether you’re asking students to ‘outline’ (easy) or analyse/ evaluate (more difficult), but I also think teachers need to be VERY AWARE of the which of the seven types of question they are getting students to think about, as each has a different kind of ‘flavour’ which influences the way it should be approached. 

NB – the question types above are not meant as an exhaustive account of all the possible question types students might be asked about in the exam, but if you focus on getting students to think about these questions you’re covering most of the bases.

Two other types of basic sociology question…

There are other ‘action words’ for sociology questions, such as define and apply, which students also need to be able to answer, but I really wanted to keep the above focused on the three main types of exam style question…

Define questions

Define any sociological concepts (and give example to illustrate)

Apply questions 

  1. Apply a perspective in order to explain any social phenomena/ media event/ social trend.
  2. Apply a research method to a particular topic.
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