Outline and Explain Two Practical Advantages of Using Social Surveys in Social Research (10)

It’s possible that a 10 mark question on A level sociology papers 1 or 3 could simply ask you about a ‘pure’ research method, as with the example above.

You might like to review the fuller material on social surveys first before looking at the answer below!

This post suggests a strategy for how to answer such possible questions and provides one exemplar answer, which I think would get full marks in the exam….


  • Make two, distinct points—as different from each other as possible!
  • For each of the points, explain, develop it twice, and (if it flows) do a linked evaluation.
  • It’s good practice to link to Positivism and Interpretivism and use examples.

Exemplar Answer

Firstly, surveys are a quick and cheap means of gathering data from large numbers of people, across wide areas, because, once sent out, millions of people could potentially fill them at the same time.

They are especially quick/ efficient if put online because computers can analyse pre-coded answers and quantify/ compare the data instantaneously.

They also make it easier to gain government funding because you can generalise from large data sets and thus use to inform social policy—the census, for example, allows the government to plan for school places in the future.

However, Interpretivists would argue you never get in-depth/ valid data with this method, and so predictions can be flawed—the polls on Brexit didn’t tell us what people really thought about this issue!

Secondly, 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.

This also means that busy people with family commitments can easily use social surveys.

However, Interpretivists and Feminist argue this wouldn’t be an advantage for all topics—some areas are so sensitive they require personal contact, such as domestic abuse.

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’.

How I Would’ve Answered Yesterday’s AS Sociology Exam Paper (7191/1 – Education)

A few thoughts on how the AQA’s 7191 (1) Education AS exam from May 2017 –

If any teacher finds this annoying because they like to keep these papers back for next year’s mock exam, forget it –

  • Any student can find out the questions on social media, very easily
  • The AQA seems to be publishing last years’ exam on their public access web site earlier, rather than keeping them secure.

You can easily just make up yr own exam papers and mark schemes using adobe editor. Also, I’m not giving the exact questions (well, with the exception of Q01) 

Question 01 – Define term hidden curriculum

Boom! Easy starter – in my 13 key concepts for the sociology of education

The norms and values taught at school which are not written down as part of the formal curriculum – for example the norm of respecting authority and being punctual.

Question 02 – Selection policies and social class

Covered here

Some oversubscribed schools select by catchment area – pupils have to live in a house within a certain distance from the school to stand a chance of getting in – this has resulted in covert selection by mortgage – house prices near the good schools increase and so poorer, working class families cannot afford to move into those areas, thus they have no real choice of getting into the best schools.

Question 03 – Three ways in which school mirrors capitalism

Classic Marxist correspondence theory: see here for three ways, explain school – work…

  • hierarchy
  • authority
  • motivation by external rewards
  • even the reproduction of class inequality 

Question 04 – Education policy and ethnic minorities’ experience of education 

Looks awful, but I’m assuming the policies don’t have to be about ethnicity in particular.

Policy 1 – Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius Programme – linked to positive aspirations for black boys, pro-school subcultures. 

Policy 2Banding and streaming – linked to institutional racism, Steve Strand, Gilborn and Youdell, educational triage. 

Question 05 – In school factors, the gender gap and educational achievement 

Simple really – It’s covered here and you could’ve bolstered it with this stuff

  • Point 1 – teacher labelling and evaluations 
  • Point 2 – Feminisation of teaching and evaluations
  • Point 3 – Subcultures – laddish ones obviously, also hyper-feminine and evaluations
  • Point 4 – Gender identities – I’d use sexual harassment of girls as an evaluation
  • Overall evaluations using out-of school factors and changing gender roles linked to in-school factors, probably concluding that schools really don’t change very much! 

Question 06 – Questionnaires and class differences in educational achievement.

It’s quite similar to this question here

My answer would have focused on the strengths of the method for making comparisons, and the ease of measuring material deprivation compared to the problems of measuring things like cultural deprivation and cultural capital and gaining access to working class parents. 

I would’ve covered all of Theoretical, ethical and practical of course. 

Interestingly the item didn’t give you very much….

You may have noticed that if you follow this blog, you can pretty much game the sociology exams just by memorizing the content. Personally I’ve no problem with this, being good at exams and being able to think sociologically are two different things, and one of these is a useful life-skill, the other isn’t!

Game on!

AQA Exam Paper 7191 (2): Research Methods with Families and Households

An overview of the AS Sociology paper 7191 (2), and a few quick hints and tips on how to answer each of the questions…

NB – Technically this paper is research methods with topics in sociology, but nearly everyone does the families and households topic. If you don’t do that topic, choose the topic you have studied!

You will be given a total of 90 minutes to answer this paper and is out of a total of 60 marks (this means 1.5 minutes per mark). There are a total of 6 questions, 5 on ‘pure education’ and 1 on ‘methods in context’.

For paper 2, you get a booklet with the questions, and then a separate booklet in which to write your answers. There are two sections – section A on research methods has 2 questions – one four mark outline question and one 16 mark essay question. Section B2 will be on families and households –

The general structure of the paper is as follows:

Section A

  • QO1: Outline two advantages/ limitations/ problems of using a research methods (4 marks )*
  • Q02:  Evaluate the strengths/ limitations of a research method (16 marks)*

Section B (Families and Households Option)

  • Question 08: Define the term… (2 marks)
  • Question 09: Using one example, briefly explain something (2 marks)
  • Question 10: Outline three ways/ factors/ criticisms (6 marks)
  • Question 11: Outline and explain two ways/ reasons/ criticisms (10 marks)
  • Question 12:  Applying material from Item B and your knowledge evaluate something to do with the family (20 marks)

General hints and tips

Question 1 and Question 10: Outline 2/3 reasons –  these are 2/3 lots of ‘1+1’ – make sure you explain HOW each point has an effect, or is affected by something. For example, if the question asks you to outline two practical problems with doing participant observation – state a problem and explain why it’s a problem!

Question 16: For any pure methods essay – follow the TPEN plan – evaluate using practical, ethical, theoretical factors, and do nature of topic. Top and tail with positivism vs interpretivism. Use examples to illustrate where you can!

Question 08: Define the concept and give an example. Even though it says define, it’s good practice to do this and then back it up with an example to show you understand it. NB – this could be any concept within families and households – sometimes they’re obscure, sometimes they’re easier – if it looks unfamiliar, don’t worry about it and just move onto the next questions.

Question 09: Explain something using an example – you need to do two things here – think of it as a ‘1+1’ mark question.

Question 11: It’s good practice to try and pick 2 very different answers – from different parts of the education module. Explain and develop using perspectives/ research evidence.

Question 12: You should be familiar with the essay structure – Intro – then PEEC – Overall evaluations, then conclusion. 4 points all internally evaluated. If in doubt, chuck the perspectives at it.

Finally, if it all goes really pear-shaped, have a look at my alternative careers guidance – you don’t even need A levels to pursue these options!

*these are typical questions which focus on a method, you might be asked about other things, such as sample, or practical, ethical, or theoretical problems in general, for example!

AQA AS Sociology Exam Paper 1 (7191/1) – Education and Methods in Context

An overview of the AS Sociology paper 7191 (1), and a few quick hints and tips on how to answer each of the questions…

You will be given a total of 90 minutes to answer this paper and is out of a total of 60 marks (this means 1.5 minutes per mark). There are a total of 6 questions, 5 on ‘pure education’ and 1 on ‘methods in context’.

This is a ‘write in ‘ paper – you get a booklet with the questions, and lined gaps after each question – write your answers in the gaps. If you need to use extra paper, put the question number you are adding to in the appropriate place.

The general structure of the paper is as follows:

  • Q01 – Define the term (2 marks)
  • Q02 – Using one example, briefly explain something (2 marks)
  • Q03 – Outline three ways/ factors/ criticisms (6 marks)
  • Q04 – Outline and explain two ways/ reasons/ criticisms (10 marks)
  • Q05 – Applying material from Item A and elsewhere, evaluate something to do with education (20 marks)
  • Q06 – Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using xxx method to research xxx issue in education (20 marks)

General hints and tips

Questions 1 – define the concept and give an example. Even though it says define, it’s good practice to do this and then back it up with an example to show you understand it. NB – this could be any concept within education – sometimes they’re obscure, sometimes they’re easier – if it looks unfamiliar, don’t worry about it and just move onto the next questions. (A colleague of mine cynically refers to this question as ‘did you revise this concept the night before the exam? Yes – 2 marks, No – 0 marks)

Question 2 – Is a ‘1+1’ question which is asking you to do two things – firstly, explain how something affects else, and secondly. give an example.

Question 3 – is 3 lots of ‘1+1’ – make sure you explain HOW each point has an effect, or is affected by something. For example, if the question asks you to outline three ways in which cultural deprivation affects educational achievement – state three forms of CD and then explain how, explicitly, this affects educational achievement…

Question 4 – It’s good practice to try and pick 2 very different answers – from different parts of the education module. Explain and develop using perspectives/ research evidence.

Question 5 – You should be familiar with the essay structure – Intro – then PEEC – Overall evaluations, then conclusion. 4 points all internally evaluated. If in doubt, chuck the perspectives at it.

Question 6 – write it like a methods essay (theoretical, practical, ethical) and then chuck in a few topic links where you can – IMO you’ve very little to gain from thinking about this too much – most students just can’t do what the examiners want to get them into the top mark bands, and even if they do, there’s a risk the (underpaid) examiners will mis-read a top band answer as a mid-band answer – do a good methods essay with a few topi links and you’re pretty much guaranteed 13/20.

Finally, and this is very important, if one or more of the questions simply just don’t make sense, don’t panic, it happens, it’s not your fault – it’s the examiner-bots, their programmers haven’t quite perfected their algorithms yet, and they sometimes just chuck out nonsense. If that happens again this year, just look for the key words and write about the general topic area, and you’ll probably get some marks.

Very finally, if it all goes really pear-shaped, have a look at my alternative careers guidance – you don’t even need A levels to pursue these options!

AQA A level Sociology – The Three Exam Papers

There are a total of three exam papers for the AQA A-level sociology exam, papers 7192 (1) – Education with Methods in Context and Theory and Methods; paper 7192 (2) Topics in Sociology (typically families and religion are the options); and paper 7191 (3) Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods.

Papers 1 and 3 are ‘write in’ papers – they are gapped booklets, and you write your answers after each question. For these two papers, you answer every question.

Paper 2 is the ‘options paper’ – the exam paper and answer booklet are separate. There are 4 options in each section, you select one topic from section A (most centres do the families option) and one section from section B (most centres do the religion option, I teach the global development option).

A level exam summary posterA3.png

There are 5 ‘question types’ across all 5 papers…

  • 4 and 6 mark outline questions (papers 1 and 3)
  • 10 mark outline and explain questions, no item (papers 1,2 and 3)
  • 10 mark ‘applying material from the item analyse’ questions (papers 1,2 and 3)
  • 20 Mark Methods in Context question (paper 1)
  • 20 and 30 mark essay questions – 30 marks on papers 1 and 3, 20 marks (*2) on paper 2

All exams are 2 hours long, and are marked out of 80

please see this page on exam advice for specific advice on how to answer all of the above questions.

Related Posts 

AS Sociology – how to answer short answer ‘outline’ (6 mark) questions

Question 3 of the topics section of the AS sociology research methods and topics exam will ask you to outline three reasons/ ways/ or criticisms (for example, you may be asked to outline three consequences, possibly). =

Question 3 has a total of 6 marks, and you need to think of this as 3 lots of 1+1* – this is how they are marked – 1 mark for each ‘partial reason’ and then +1 for each of those reasons developed further – so say something, then explain how, develop it further, basically doing what the question is asking you to do!

Outline three criticisms of the Marxist perspective on the family (6)

below are the ‘identifiers’ , add in more explanation to each point to guarantee 1+1

  • Many families don’t just mindlessly consume products (the family is not automatically a unit of consumption)
  • Radical Feminists argue Patriarchy is more oppressive than Capitalism – Patriarchy preceded Capitalism
  • The nuclear family doesn’t ‘fit’ Capitalism as well as Marxists suggest
  • It is economically deterministic – nuclear families existed before Capitalism

Outline three ways in which family life has become more symmetrical (6)

below are the ‘identifiers’ , add in more explanation to each point to guarantee 1+1

  • More couples are live in dual-earner households
  • Men and women share child care and housework more equally
  • Men and women are more likely today to spend their leisure time together than separately

Outline three reasons why family life has become more child centred (6)

below are the ‘identifiers’ , add in more explanation to each point to guarantee 1+1

  • Women have fewer children
  • Parents are more dependent on their children because of increased uncertainty in every other aspect of social life.
  • Parents have more money to spend on children
  • There are more laws protecting children

*NB this IS NOT CLEAR from the ‘outline’ – I’ve heard some teenagers say they think this is because the AQA examiners have a burning hatred of teenagers, and I’ve heard some cynical colleagues suggest that the lack of clear instruction is just because the examiners don’t get out much and thus haven’t had much practice in receiving or giving clear instructions.

However, it’s also possible that this is deliberate and really just all about differentiation – exams are designed to create winners and losers, and not giving clear instructions about what you should actually be doing to get the marks simply makes it more likely that there are going to be clear losers. 

AS Sociology – how to Answer ‘using one example, briefly explain’ questions

Question 2 on the AS sociology paper 2 exam (research methods with topics in sociology) will ask you to briefly explain something using one example. Below are a few examples of how you might go about answering such questions, using the families and households topic as an example…

Using one example briefly explain what is meant by the term Patriarchy (2)

Patriarchy is a system of male domination and control of women. A good example of this is where social norms and values suggest women should be at home looking after the kids and men work, this makes women dependent on men for money,  and thus easier to control.

Using one example explain what is meant by the term ‘childhood is socially constructed’ (2)

The idea that the norms and values and social roles associated with childhood are not determined by the biological age of a child, but are influenced by society, and thus ideas associated with childhood vary over time – FOR EXAMPLE in Britain today ‘children’ aged 15 are prevented from working full time by law, but in the Victorian era it was acceptable for children to work.

Using one example explain what is meant by the ‘commercialisation of housework’ (2)

New technologies mean that there are now products people can buy which reduces the amount of domestic labour people have to do at home – e.g. hoovers, washing machines, microwaves and microwave meals reduce the amount of time spend cleaning, washing and cooking.

Analyse two reasons for gender differences in subject choice (10)

The trick here is to pick two broad (rather than very specific) reasons, which will give you the most scope to develop

 The first reason is gendered differences in early socialisation

Fiona Norman (1988) found that most parents socialise boys and girls in different ways – they tend to be more gentle with girls, protect them more, and encourage them in more passive activities, such as reading with them, whereas ‘typical boys’ are encouraged to run around and ‘let of steam’ more.

Later on in school, this might explain why more boys do active subjects such as P.E. and why more girls do reflective, academic subjects such as English and sociology.

A further gender difference in socialisation is the toys boys and girls play with – dolls for girls and cars and tool sets for boys, which could explain differences in vocational subjects – health and social care subjects (working with children) are very female dominated, engineering (making and fixing) are very much male dominated.

However, Postmodernists would say that these stereotypes are breaking down, and that gender stereotypes in socialisation are much less common than in the past, hence why we are seeing more gender diversity in subject choice today.

Peer group pressure might also encourage boys to do ‘typically boys subjects’ and girls to do typically girls subjects.

This linked to hegemonic (dominant ideas about) masculinity – stereotypically, ‘real men’ are good at sport, and so boys are under pressure play sport to fit into their male peer group, this doesn’t apply to girls and could explain why more boys do PE later in their school careers.

Similarly hegemonic femininity also requires that girls ‘look good’ (as Louise Archer found) which could explain why it is mostly girls who do hair and beauty courses.

Verbal abuse is one way these peer groups reinforce dominant gender identities. Boys choosing girls’ subjects can be accused of being ‘gay’, and vice versa for girls, and this may steer them away from subjects which don’t fit in with their gender domains.

To analyse this even further all of this is especially true of working class girls and boys, and for younger children, less so for middle class and older children (doing A level for example).



Outline Three Ways in Which Schools Have Become Increasingly Privatised in Recent Years (6)

Privatisation involves the transfer of public assets to private companies

This is an example of a possible 4 or 6 mark question for the A Level sociology paper 1 education exam, possible answers below…

  • Marketization = exogenous privatisation, or introducing the principles of the free-market, private sector into how schools are run. This involved giving parents the right to choose (like consumers) and making schools compete for funding (funding per pupil) =
  • The expansion of Academies – Many academy chains are private companies (such as Harris) and have an ‘executive structure’ like businesses, with one ‘CEO’ overseeing many schools.
  • The control of exam boards by international companies – Edexcel is owned by the global publishing company Pearson’s for example, which makes money from exams (colleges pay for students to enter exams), but also publishing text books and running revision courses linked to those exams.
  • Global ICT companies such as Apple and Google producing educational hardware and software which schools are required to purchase. iTunes Edu is a good example of this (may overlap with the point above!
  • Education or knowledge becoming a commodity – through the introduction of fees in higher education – this turns students into ‘consumers’ and makes them want knowledge they can use to get a career and make money, rather than knowledge for its own sake. So Marketing courses expand, English Literature courses decrease.
  • The emergence of the Education Services Industry – Private companies building and maintaining schools through public-private partnerships – in which the state enters into a long term contract and pays a private company to either build a school or carry out repair and maintenance work (electrics/ plumbing/ gardening)
  • The expansion of private tuition – increased competition for results has led to most parents employing private tutors in addition to regular education – sometimes through agencies, which are private businesses.

* (you don’t need to write the definition when you answer this particular question!)

Sociology of Education CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle

This document 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

Assess the Usefulness of Positivist Approaches to Social Research (30)

Just a few thoughts on how you might go about answering this question… if it comes up on paper 3 of the A level sociology exam

 Paragraph one – outline the key ideas of Positivism

  • Positivists believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world.
  • By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies and social behaviour just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
  • Positivists believe that good, scientific research should reveal objective truths about the causes of social action – science tells us that water boils at 100 degrees and this is true irrespective of what the researcher thinks – good social research should tell us similar things about social action
  • Because positivists want to uncover the general laws that shape human behaviour, they are interested in looking at society as a whole. They are interested in explaining patterns of human behaviour or general social trends. In other words, they are interested in getting to the ‘bigger picture’.
  • To do this, positivists use quantitative methods such as official statistics, structured questionnaires and social surveys
  • These methods also allow the researcher to remain relatively detached from the research process – this way, the values of the researcher should not interfere with the results of the research and knowledge should be objective

An example of the Positivist tradition in Sociological research – Durkheim’s cross national study of suicide in 1897. Durkheim believed that if he could prove that one of the most individual acts any human being could perform, that is, killing himself or herself, could be explained through social factors, then surely any action could be examined in such a way.  Durkheim’s analysis of official statistics, showed that rates of suicide were higher in countries experiencing rapid economic growth , among unmarried men rather than married men and in Protestant countries rather than Catholic countries.

Durkheim further theorised that the ‘causes’ of a higher suicide rate were low social integration and low social regulation. Thus Durkheim’s ‘general law of social action’ is that if people become detached from society they are more likely to kill themselves.

Paragraph two – Two Interpretivist criticisms of Positivism

Firstly, they argue that the ‘objective’ quantitative methods favoured by positivists are not actually objective at all, arguing that if we look at positivist methods in more detail, there are a number of subjective factors that influence the research process. Somebody has to write the structured questionnaires that are used to collect quantitative data, meaning there is probably selection bias over the questions used – and official statistics are collected by people.

Atkinson criticised Suicide Stats and Interpretivists more generally have criticised both police crime stats and imprisonment stats for being socially constructed.

Secondly, Interpretivists argue that human beings are not just puppets, merely reacting to social forces. In order to fully understand human action, once again, we need more in depth qualitative approaches to see why and how certain students can turn disadvantage around and make schooling work for them! People are also unpredictable, and sometimes irrational. Because individuals are thinking and self-aware, they can react to their situations in different ways.

Max Weber argued that human behaviour that has a “sense of purpose”. Human beings attribute their own meanings to their actions, and different people can engage in the same action for different reasons.   In order to understand human action, we need to ask individuals why they are doing what they are doing!

Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that one can only truly understand social action by understanding the meanings and motivations that people give to their own actions. They don’t believe that one’s actions are simply shaped by one’s position in the social structure, rather that they are a result of micro level interactions in daily life and how individuals interpret these micro-level interactions.

An Interpretivist approach to social research – An Interpretivist Approach to social research would be much more flexible and qualitative seeking to see the world through the eyes of the respondents. Good examples of Interpretivist research include Paul Willis’ study of ‘The Lads’, Venkatashes’ study – gang leader for a day and Douglas’s study of suicide – which explored the different meaning behind suicide.

What all of these qualitative studies provide is an in depth account of the lives of the people being researched. You get ‘their story’ and get to see the ‘world through their eyes’ – the researcher allows the respondents to speak for themselves and we can an empathetic understanding as they tell us what they think is important, find out why they act in the way they do according to their interpretation of the world.

The rich data the above studies doesn’t easily translate into stats and you can’t generalise these findings to the wider population, but Interpretivists argue that these qualitative studies are better because you get a much fuller understanding, at a human level, of why people act in the way that they do.

Paragraph three – Positivist criticisms of Interpretivism

A Positivist Criticism of Interpretivist research is that it may lack objectivity because of the intense involvement of the researcher with the respondents and that the government cannot use Interpretivist research to inform social policy because it is too expensive to get sample sizes that represent the whole of the population

Positivists are also uncomfortable with the idea that there is no ‘end goal’ to Interpretivist research, it just goes on and on, leading to an open ended post-modern relativism.

Paragraph four – Positivist research today/ Conclusion  

Sociologists have not completely abandoned the positivist tradition today – many researchers still do quantitative research focusing on correlations and generalisations. Two excellent recent examples of this are Inglehart’s World Values Survey and Richard Wilkinson’s cross national research on the effects of inequality – published in the spirit level – both suggest that a general ‘law’ of society is that the greater the level of inequality in a society, the more social problems such as crime and depression there are.

However, most researchers today have abandoned the extreme idea that society exists independently of the individual and that people are predictable – for example Anthony Giddens developed the concept of structuration to point out that people have to consciously make society, even though they often end up reproducing similar structures, while many recent events such as Brexit clearly show that people are not that predictable.

In conclusion, there is clearly still some usefulness in understanding society at a macro level and recognising the fact that individuals are ‘steered’ by the social structure, but we need to combine this will understanding people’s thoughts and feelings to truly explain human action.

Related Posts 

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