Analyse the reasons for social class, ethnic and/ or gender differences in society

Analysis Grid Sociology.pngThe issue of why differences in life chances by class, gender and ethnic differences exist forms a major part of any A level sociology syllabus, and I would say the analysis of the reasons behind these social differences is fundamental to sociology’s very self-identity.

Within A level sociology, students need to be able to a very general ‘macro’ analysis the ‘general reasons’ behind differences in life-chances by class gender and ethnicity, and they need to be able to focus in and analyse more specifically the reasons why there are specific variations. For example, across the A level syllabus you might reasonably ask students to do any of the following:

  • Analyse the reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
  • Analyse the reasons for differences in educational achievement by social class(education)
  • Analyse two reasons for differences in conviction rates between ethnic minorities (crime and deviance, AND this was an actual question in the AQA’s 2017 paper 3.

The point of this post is to provide a general framework to help students analyse why there are variations in class, gender and ethnicity in so many areas of social life.

A framework for analysing in A level sociology

To analyse the any social difference by class, gender or ethnicity I’d recommend simply looking at the following:

  1. (Functionalism) Socialisation (@home) differences – material versus cultural
  2. (Marxism/ Feminism) Society – Power/ Ideology/ Blocked Opportunities/ Patriarchy/ Capitalism/ Racism
  3. (Labelling Theory) Micro processes, especially labelling.
  4. (Postmodernism) – Individual Freedom….

The picture below shows the prompts I use to get students to analyse the reasons for gender differences in child care….

Analysis A Level Sociology

The above is a ‘BIG VERSION’ so it shows up here, I actually provide my students with the following blank A3 grid (prompts are the same as on the big version)

Analysis Grid Sociology

And I Include the following instructions either on the back of the A3 ‘grid’ or on a PPT…

Developing Analysis Skills in Sociology—Instructions

  1. Write in/ place the cards/ discuss the concepts and research evidence you could include in each bubble.
  2. Try to be logical— demonstrate how each ’broken down’ concept forms a ’causal chain’ to answer the question.
  3. You COULD add in evaluation outside each bubble.
  4. If you like ‘subvert the bubbles’ by analysing differently (see below)

Alternative ways of doing it!

  • Analysing this question from four broad perspectives is only one way of doing it—you could adopt a purely Marxist/ Feminist analysis and analyse using Marxist. Liberal, Radical and Difference Feminism.
  • You could also analyse this by using different institutions… focus on the family, education, work and the media.
  • And you could even analyse by research methods—simply macro versus micro….

The idea is that students can develop analysis within each bubble, but also across each bubble, the bubbles on the left and right (as you go down the template) should be especially easy to link together.

Essentially, students need to be able to analyse the reasons for any difference (within education/ families/ crime/ religion/ work, depending on options chose) by any of class/gender/ ethnicity (or two or three of these). This means there are a lot of possible combinations – in other words, there is a limitless amount of fun to be had with developing analysis skills.

Analysis questions in the A level sociology exams

All three of the A level sociology exam papers will have one 10 mark ‘analyse two reasons why’ questions. For example:

  • Analyse two reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
  • Analyse two reasons for differences in educational achievement by ethnicity (education and research methods

These questions will have an item which will fundamentally limit what reasons students can choose. I’d recommend a different template for specific exam preparation.

More of that later, personally I think it’s better to encourage ‘open analysis’ early on, as this also helps with the ‘outline and explain’ questions as well as any of the essay questions.

Ironically (not surprising for the AQA) the above template is probably better preparation for the 10 mark ‘outline and explain questions’, because good explanation also requires analysis!

Comments welcome!

As far as I see it, the above structure works for any combination of class/ gender/ ethnicity for any topic within A level sociology, although it doesn’t apply as well to Global Development.

Of course you might disagree, if so, do lemme know, and keep analysing!

 

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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.

Do exam results matter?

So it’s A level result’s day and you’ve stuffed up. But do exam results actually matter?

IF you wish to pursue success through what Robert Merton would have called the ‘legitimate opportunity structure’ then they probably do matter, but if you have access to to ‘alternative opportunity structures’ or if you ‘reject the ordinary success goals of society’, then they probably matter a whole lot less.

In this post, I’ll go through some of the conditions which might make exam results matter to an individual, and some of the conditions which mean they might matter less…

A-Levels, Degrees, ‘Success’ and the Legitimate Opportunity Structure 

Writing in the 1940s, Robert Merton broadly defined the legitimate success goals of American society  as those of material wealth, and the legitimate means to achieving these goals as being through education and a career which paid an income. In the USA and UK Today, most people still aspire to the goals of achieving material success, and most people still try to do so through the legitimate opportunity structure – basically through hard work and legal means, rather than crime.

As a general rule, if you wish to achieve the ‘legitimate success goals of society’ through ‘legitimate opportunity structures’ then getting a good set of A-levels and a degree is still the surest way of achieving these goals for most people.

In 2015 (UK stats) graduates, on average, earned 45% more than non-graduates, that’s about £10 000 pounds a year more than non-graduates.

This trend is even more marked if we were to make the comparison between non-graduate jobs and the very highest paying ‘professional careers such as Medicine, Law or Engineering, and all of these professions require a degree, which typically require A-levels to get onto an appropriate degree-level course.

So, if you want a ‘conformist’ lifestyle – a decent paying job, then getting A levels and then a degree is the most obvious way to get one, in which case your A-level exam results matter.

However, fortunately, this is pretty much where the ‘A-levels are important to your success’ line ends, mainly thanks to a certain expansion in the legitimate opportunity structure.

The Legitimate Opportunity Structure has Expanded

Simply put, there are are loads of alternative routes to achieving the ‘ordinary success goals of society’.

For starters, there are access courses, through which you qualify for the ‘access to higher education diploma – over 40 000 people enroll on them every year, and you can do them in a lot of subjects.

access higher education.png

Secondly, apprenticeships are by far the largest growth area within the ‘legitimate opportunity structure’ in recent years. There were over 500 000 apprenticeship starts in 2015-16, and 190 000 of them were level 3 apprenticeships, so if you’ve really stuffed up your A-levels, there’s plenty of opportunity to start again here.

Thirdly, you could try your hand at becoming an ‘entrepreneur’. While I don’t believe there is unlimited opportunity for everyone to make millions through inventing things or just having ideas, you certainly don’t need a degree to try. NB – if you have a great idea, but lack capital, then crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way of funding a new business venture, that you can basically start from your bedroom.

And don’t forget, that these days you can always become an ‘entrepreneur of yourself’ – by blogging or vlogging your way to success – as many make-up artists, personal trainers, or vanilla-spreaders have done. Although just as with entrepreneurship more generally, there isn’t unlimited opportunity for everyone who wants to to make big (or even sufficient) money doing this. This strategy is maybe one for the pretty, pretty vacant, and extreme types among us….

Fourthly, you might be able to exploit your cultural and/ or social capital and network your way into a decent job, or internship… although this probably only applies if your parents are screamingly middle-class, still, for the top 5% or so it’s an option.

Rejecting the Legitimate Opportunity Structure 

A final set of reasons why A level results may not matter is if you simply don’t want to pursue an ‘ordinary life’. There are plenty of alternative lifestyles which don’t require A-levels or degrees, and offer a very alternative ‘educational experience’ in themselves. NB I covered many of these in this post last year: ‘alternative lifestyles – or how to avoid ‘working’ for a living‘, below is just  a briefer summary of that post:

Firstly – you could try ‘living off the land’ – admittedly you’d need to buy the land first, which is quite an investment, and if you’re doing it in the UK you’d need to negotiate the archaic planning laws, but once you’ve got the land, it’s possible to grow or rear most of your food, and to live very rich life, very money-cheaply indeed. I recently visited Lammas eco-village in West Wales, and the guys there all live of a few thousand pounds a year only. You might also like to check out my other suggestions for experiments in alternative living –

Secondly, you could become a perpetual traveler – you don’t need much money to get you started, and if you do this you could just earn as you go. You might even be able to combine it with earning some money from a travel blog, although as with vlogging more generally, I suggest you only try this if your pretty sexy.

Finally, and most hardcore of all, you could learn to live without money. Hardcore I know, but there are people doing it! As a softer alternative, you could just try to access as much stuff as possible without money, by skip diving for food or just living off hand-me down clothes, for example. If you want some further inspiration on how you might transition to fully money-less, you might like to check out my earlier blog post on Freeganism.

In Conclusion 

A-level results matter a lot less if you’re prepared to ‘think outside the box’ about what you want out of life.

How I would’ve answered A level sociology paper 3: crime and deviance with theory and methods, June 2017

Crime and deviance with theory and methods is the third and final exam paper (7192/3) in the AQA A level sociology specification – below are a few thoughts on how I would’ve answered the paper from the June 2017 exam…

Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Two reasons for ethnic differences in offending

I’m a bit concerned that the plural on differences means you need to talk about two different ethnic groups… so to be on the safe side. (Of course it’s not obvious that you need to do this from the question, and maybe you don’t, but remember the AQA’s burning hatred of teenagers… I wouldn’t put it past them!

To be on the safe side…

  • African-Caribbeans more likely to end up in jail due to more serious nature offences (knife/ gun convictions) compared to whites
  • Asians over represented due to Islamophobia – more labelling by media/ public/ police = higher conviction rate.

Both of those need to be better articulated, but they are two completely different reasons!

The hub post for ethnicity and crime is here – official statistics on ethnicity and crime

Q02 – Outline three functions of crime

BOOM!

Or so you probably thought… it’s simply a matter of explaining Durkheim’s three functions of crime:

  • Integration
  • Regulation
  • Social chance

BUT – Have you really nailed the difference between integration (belonging/ connections) and regulation (clarity of rules/ prevention of anomie)?

Q03 – Analyse two ways in which deviant subcultures may respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals

The item directs you to underachievement at school and deprived or unstable neighbourhoods. You could draw on the material from subcultural theory – so I’d go with…

  • Albert Cohen’s status frustration and the standard rebellious subcultures.
  • Then you could draw on Cloward and Ohlin’s subcultural types (there’s that burning hatred of teenagers again, this is turgid old stuff that could be relevant) – criminal or retreatist subcultures
  • To link into the above point you could draw on Merton’s responses to strain and just relate these to subcultures.

Q04 – Evaluate sociological contributions to crime prevention strategies

The item directs you to both right and left realism and then surveillance… so it’s simply a matter of

Obviously topped and tailed with an intro and conclusion

Q05 – Outline two advantages of choosing overt observation compared to covert observation

I covered this at the bottom of this post of participant observation, but you’d need to expand on all the points!

I’d probably go for point 1 validity and point 2 on ethics to make sure the two points are very different.

One thing you NEED to do for this is to compare the two -overt and covert!

Q06 – Evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches in our understanding of society

Straightforward – the item directs you to consensus and Marxism and labelling theory (also Weber’s social action theory, but I’d leave that aside and just settle for 16 or 17 out of 20) and talks about power.

So simply –

Point 1 – Functionalism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 2 – Marxism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 3 – Social action theory and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Overall evaluation – use PM to criticise both, and conclude that conflict theories are absolutely more relevant!

Overall I thought this was a reasonable paper! Classic, even.

How I would’ve answered the families and households section of A level sociology paper 2 (AQA, 2017)

Hints and tips on how I would’ve answered the A level sociology exam paper 2, 2017 (families and households section)

2017 Paper two exam questions and answers

Question 04: Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood…

For starters, identify two changes to gender roles – three obvious ones to target include:

  • the fact that both men and women now work
  • The fact that child care and parenting roles have changed
  • the fact that there is greater equality in the domestic division of labour

Then you simply need to link these to aspects of the experience of childhood:

  • Toxic childhood
  • disappearance of childhood
  • basic socialisation
  • age of parents
  • family size (number of siblings)
  • marriage and divorce

You could also criticise the extent to which things have actually changed!

Question 05: Analyse two ways in which migration patterns may have affected family structures…

I covered this in this recent blog post here

Question 06: Applying material from item D, and your own knowledge, evaluate functionalist explanations of the role of the family in society (20)

This really does just appear to be a standard ‘evaluate functionalism’ essay – all you need to do is a basic intro to functionalism, then your four standard points – Murdoch, Parson’s functional fit theory, stabilisation of adult personalities and gender roles, then conclude.

The item (which I won’t reproduce here) is pretty standard – it just wants you to emphasise increasing family diversity and the fact that families may well be dysfunctional, so evaluating from mainly radical feminism, and Postmodernism and the personal life perspective…!

Not a bad half of a paper TBH.

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.

 

 

AQA A-Level Sociology Paper 2: Families and Households Section – Exam Advice

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 2: Topics in Sociology (7192/2): families section only.

Families Households Sociology AQA Paper 2

AQA A-Level Sociology: Topics in Sociology Exam: Advice for answer the families and households section 

  • Paper 2 is a 2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • You get a booklet of questions, split into two sections (A and B), you write your answers into a separate answer booklet.
  • You answer one topic from each section (whichever two topics you’ve studied), one topic from section A, one from section B.
  • There are three 3 questions per topic (10/10/20)
  • So across the two topics, you answer a total of 6 questions
  • You have 1.5 minutes per mark.
  • This blog post only refers to section A, families and households option!

AQA Families and Households Specification

  • the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change, with particular reference to the economy and to state policies
  • changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, childbearing and the life course, including the sociology of personal life, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures
  • gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships within the family in contemporary society
  • the nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
  • demographic trends in the United Kingdom since 1900: birth rates, death rates, family size, life expectancy, ageing population, and migration and globalisation.

The 10 Mark ‘outline and explain’ (no item) question 

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • These ask about two elements from one or more bullet points within the specification topic (e.g. the nature of childhood in relation to demographic trends).
  • It will generally ask about the links or relationships between these two elements.
  • For example: ‘Outline and explain two ways in which the decline in birth rates has affected the position of children in society’ (10 marks)
  • Students don’t need to evaluate. Analysis is specified in the mark scheme for assessment objective 3.
  • Using PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) is useful for developing sufficient analysis.
  • Expressing each of the two ways in at least two separate paragraphs is useful tool.

Two examples of outline and explain families and households questions

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • Outline and explain two ways in which women’s going into work has affected relationships (10)
  • Outline and explain two ways in which changes to gender roles have affected diversity of family structures (10)

10 Mark Analyse using the item questions 

  • These have an item which is linked to the question. It encourages linking two elements from the same or different bullet points in the specification.
  • The first part of the item contains a number of points about the first of these elements.
  • These points provide possible hooks, designed to be developed into an explanation of the relationships between the two elements.
  • The second part of the item links these points back to the question.

Example of a 10 mark ‘analyse from the item’ question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item B
Many commentators seem to agree that the ageing population is a problem for society – as it leads to an increasing strain on public services, and results in a greater burden being put on the younger generation to care for the elderly.

However, some claim that such problems have been exaggerated, and are based on stereotypical views about the elderly.

Applying material from Item B, analyse two consequences of the ageing population for British society (10 marks)

20 Mark Essay Questions 

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 30 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.
  • 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 

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

Some possible examples of 20 mark families and households essay questions…

  • Assess the view that the main aim of the of the family is to serve the needs of capitalism (20)
  • Assess the view that the family has become more child-centred (20)
  • Assess the reasons for changes in the birth rate and family size (20)

And repeat for section B!!!

How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology of education exam, June 2017

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology education with theory and methods exam, June 2017… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA – NB – there is a certain level of subjectivity and irrationality within the AQA, and so they may interpret how you answer questions  to my (rational) interpretation below… )

Sociology A-level Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Outline two cultural factors that may effect ethnic differences in educational achievement (2 marks)

Difficulty – very easy

Simply pick any two cultural factors and explain how….

  • language barriers
  • parental attitudes towards education (values)
  • parental educational levels
  • family structure

And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups. 

Q02 – Outline three ways in which factors within schools may shape gender differences in education (6 marks)

Difficulty – if you’ve just wrote-learnt the ancient Anne Colley etc. stuff then easy, if you didn’t then it’s medium because it’s quite a narrow subject (NB I did anticipate this narrowness!)

Select three in-school factors then explain how…

  • subject counsellors/ teachers labels about typical boys and girls subjects
  • male and female peer groups – peer pressure
  • male dominance ‘physical subjects’
  • Gendered subject images/ resources

Then talk it through with ideally three example of different subjects, discussing both boys and girls.

Q03 – Applying material from Item A, analyse two effects of increased parental choice on pupils’ experience of education

Difficulty – it appears hard, because you think ‘WTF’ but if you think about it, and use the item, it’s easy, because you can talk about pretty much anything from across class, gender and/ or ethnicity. So I’m going to call this ‘medium’ level of difficulty, as it’s half way between the two!

NB – There are really only two hooks here – in bold below…

Point one – ‘parental choice has led to a range of school types’ this means a greater diversity of experience….. contrast different experience of school types – succeeding schools/ sink schools, you could contrast and discuss ethos/ hidden curriculum, you could bring in faith schools and ethnicity, you could bring in specialist schools, free schools, no national curriculum, link all this to postmodernism. Criticse by saying there are still general similarities – e.g. testing/ pressure/ narrowing of curriculum.

Point two parents use league tables to choose – schools want to attract pupils this means more emphasis on results, teaching to the test, the school-parent alliance, cream skimming, working class covert exclusion – selection by mortgage.. just be careful to relate all of this to ‘experience of education’.

Q04 Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological explanations of the role of education in transmitting ideas and values (30)

Difficulty – medium – this is basically a perspectives question, but the item demands that you address Feminism and PM

Intro – acknowledge the item

P1 – Functionalism (recognise it’s old) and evaluate with P/M.

P2 – Marxism – the stuff about ideology (‘ideas’) – evaluate using P/M

P3 – Feminism – evaluate with ‘girls are improving’, NB – the subject choice stuff from Q2 could be lifted in here to support the view in the item. (Actually quite bad exam design here , mr AQA!)

p4 – Postmodernism – fragmentation, diversity – evaluate with maybe NC/ teaching to the test (which also overlaps with Q3)

Conclusion – something like, oh my lord yes those old perspectives are really dated and we need to recognise education is diverse and complex…

Q05 – Using material from item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using field experiments to investigate the effects of teachers’ labelling of pupils

Difficulty – Medium, because it’s a fairly obscure method, but then again it’s applied to a very obvious topic – you can use R and J’s 1968 labelling experiment throughout (and the item!)

An obvious ‘easy in’ is that you have to be in the school in some way to conduct a field experiment. Lots of level 4 marks available right here.

I’d start with the Theoretical, practical and ethical strengths of the method, always applying to the topic, then do the limitations, the hooks in the item are asking you look at truancy and misbehaviour… you could also address performance… I’d pick up on the fact that truancy is easier to measure than misbehaviour…

The last point in the item is about people refusing to participate, which is just begging you discuss covert research to avoid this, then a whole load of practical and ethical problems which come from doing this IN SCHOOLS.

06 – Outline and explain two practical advantages of using documents in sociological research

Difficulty – Hard, because your average teenager just couldn’t care less about it!

The strategy I’d use here is to pick two different practical disadvantages and then discuss why they’re problematic for different types of public and private documents…

Practical factors include..

  • Access (the obvious one)
  • Time/ money
  • Funding
  • Personal skills of the researcher

Access should be easy – why you might find it difficult to access private documents – diaries/ letters, emails, link to ethics of using them, contrast to public documents.

Time/ money – there’s so many of them, such a diversity – it’s a never ending (time consuming) process to analyse (for example) newspapers, media reports in any depth – then I’d link to problems of sampling/ length of time it take to analyse and so on…

Not an easy question to discuss through – For both points I’d also bang on about interpretivism and positivism as much as possible, talking about how practical problems can undermine validity, representativness, reliability, and use as many examples as possible…

Anyway, just a few thoughts, the last question is probably the most difficult on reflection…

A-Level Sociology 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

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

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

Planning:

  • 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

Theory and Methods Bundle also available at the same link above!

Research Methods – 4 Mark ‘Outline’ Questions for AS Sociology

One of the questions (worth 4 marks) in the research methods section of the AS sociology 7191 (2) research methods with families and households paper will ask you to ‘outline’ 2 things about any aspect of research methods – below are a few possible questions and some suggested answers….

Each point of your answer to a short answer ‘outline question’ is best thought of as consisting of ‘1+1’ marks -make a point and explain it… as you can see below, each point has two sentences.

Remember it’s always better if you think up these for yourself rather than just reading and copying out the answers from here…

Outline two practical advantages to the researcher of using social surveys in social research (4)

  • Surveys are a quick and cheap means of gathering data from large numbers of people, across wide areas. They are an efficient method because computers can analyse pre-coded answers and quantify the data instantaneously.
  • You don’t need ‘people skills’ to use social surveys, thus anyone can use them to do research. This is because they can be written in advance, and put on-line or sent by post, and thus sociologist’s personal involvement with respondents can be kept to a minimum.

In either paper 1 or paper 3 of the A level sociology exam you might get this exact same question as a 10 mark question, in which case you’re expected to develop both points further, and possibly evaluate it. To see how you would do this, please click here for the 10 mark answer to A level sociology question.

Outline two theoretical problems sociologists might face when using social surveys to conduct research (4)

  • The imposition problem—closed questions limit what respondents can say. Interpretivists argue respondents have diverse motives and it is unlikely that researchers will think up every possible response, thus questionnaires will lack validity.
  • Self-completion surveys can also suffer from poor representativeness – those with low literacy skills are less likely to return them as they are unable to do so, thus resulting in a narrow, biased, self-selecting sample.

To see how you might turn this into an A level answer (papers 1 and 3), please click here for the 10 mark answer to A level sociology question.

Outline two ways in which a researcher might improve the response rate of postal questionnaires (4)

  • You could include an incentive, which people could claim when they return them, such as entry into a prize draw. This means people would be motivated by the money to complete and return the questionnaire.
  • You could remind them via phone a few days after the have received the questionnaire. They may have ignored or forgotten the questionnaire, and people may be more likely to respond because of the personal contact from the researcher.  

Outline two ways in which sociologists might ensure respondents do not misinterpret the questions they are being asked in postal surveys (4)

  • You could make sure questions are clearly worded in simple language to reduce misinterpretation. Here a pilot study with an interviewer present might be a useful way of assessing what wording is the easiest to understand.
  • You could make sure the survey is carried out as a structured interview, or if a postal survey, have a phone-line where people can ask questions – this way a researcher could explain the correct way to interpret any difficult questions.

Outline and Explain Two Theoretical Problems of Using Social Surveys in Social Research

Firstly, social surveys suffer from the imposition problem, closed questions limits what respondents can say Interpretivists argue respondents have diverse motives and it is unlikely that researchers will think up every possible relevant question and every possible, response, thus questionnaires will lack validity.

This is especially true for more complex topics such as religions belief – ticking the ‘Christian’ box can mean many different things to many different people, for example.

Interpretivists thus say that surveys are socially constructed—they don’t reflect reality, but the interests of researchers

However, this is easily rectified by including a section at the end of questionnaires in which respondents can write their explanations.

Secondly, self-completion surveys can also suffer from poor representativeness…

Postal questionnaires can suffer from a low response rate, and samples might be self-selecting— due to the illiterate or people who might be ashamed/ scared to return questionnaires on sensitive topics.

Also, you can’t check who has filled them in, so surveys may actually misrepresent the target population.

However, it is possible to rectify this with incentives and booster samples.

The above is a suggested response to a possible 10 mark ‘pure methods’ question which might come up on either paper 1 or 3 of the AQA’s A Level Sociology Papers. It follows the basic formula – make a point, develop it twice, and then evaluate it (which to my mind seems to work well for ‘pure methods’ 10 mark questions. 

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.