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Research Methods Practice Questions for A-level sociology

AQA A-level sociology Papers 1 and 3 will both contain an ‘outline and explain’ 10 mark (no item) question on sociological theories, and/ or methods.

One possible format for this question is what I like to think of as the ‘pure research methods’ format (‘classic’ might be a better word than ‘pure’) in which students are asked to outline and explain two theoretical, practical or ethical advantages or problems of using one of the main research methods.

For example (taken from the AQA’s June 2017 Education with Theory and Methods paper): ‘Outline and explain two problems of using documents in social research’

There are actually 36 possible variations of such ‘pure’ or ‘classic’ research methods questions, as outlined in the flow chart below.

Outline and Explain 10 mark research methods questions

Students may be asked to give two advantages or problems of any of the above methods, or more specific methods (field experiments for example), or they may be asked to give two advantages of using overt compared to covert participant observation, or asked to simply give two ethical problems which you may encounter when doing research more generally.

Then of course, students may be asked to relate methods to theories, or just asked about a pure ‘theoretical’/ perspectives question.

While there is no guarantee that this particular format of question will actually come up on either paper 1 or 3, it’s still good practice for students to work through a number of such questions as revision practice.

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Analyse two ways in which marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

Applying material from item A and elsewhere analyse two reasons why marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

  • Hooks
  • What you need to apply the hooks to

Item A

Since the 1980s, a major aim of government policy has been to increase parental choice in education. In order to increase choice, the government introduced Open Enrolement, allowing parents to choose more than one school and league tables on school performance were also made publicly available.

However, critics of marketization argue that such polices have increased inequality of educational opportunity.

Suggested answer

The first way is that although open enrolement gave parents the right to choose more than one school, technically giving all parents the right to choose the ‘best schools’, middle class children have more effective choice than working class parents.

Development/ analysis: This is because middle class parents have more cultural capital than working class parents – they are more comfortable with reading school literature, attending open evenings and filling in multiple application forms (where they can use their elaborated speech skills), while working class parents are less confident and just end up sending their children to the local schools.

Further development/ analysis: This is further compounded by the ‘school-parent alliance’ – schools want middle class children because they know they get better results, which

Further development/ analysis: An even more basic reason is selection by mortgage – schools have catchment areas, and the houses which fall inside these catchment areas are more expensive, meaning only wealthier children get selected for such schools.

Further development/ analysis: All of this means that ‘choice policies’ have resulted in unequal opportunities for working class children, because they are less likely to be selected for the best schools, not because of their individual potential, but because the higher levels of material and cultural capital of the middle classes gives them more effective choice and thus a greater opportunity to be selected for the best schools.

A second way is that league tables have resulted in schools tending to focus more on formal academic subjects such as English and maths which possibly disadvantages those children who are not good at formal academic subjects.

Development – Because schools are now concerned about their position in the league tables, which depends on their reports and exam results, they have narrowed the curriculum to focus more on core subjects such as English and Maths, putting more resources into these subjects – this is good for those pupils who like those subjects, but bad for students who are gifted in sports or creative subjects, as these are now relatively less funded, meaning there is no equality of opportunity for all students to fulfil their diverse potentials.

Development – Postmodernists would argue this is especially problematic in a postmodern society which is supposed to be more individualised – surely in such a society, if schools are to provide equality of opportunity then they would diversify the way their resources are distributed rather than focusing them more narrowly on ‘core subjects’ for the sake of going up the league tables.

Evaluation – Having said this, the above point only applies to schools: it is quite possible that students who are more creative or vocational will put less emphasis on the cores subjects and instead take advantage of the greater diversity of ‘learning opportunities’ now available outside school to explore their talents, such as online courses and apprenticeships, which you could say ‘fit in’ with the idea of ‘an education market’.

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Analyse two criticisms of the theory that police racism is the main factor which explains the higher imprisonment rates of ethnic minorities

This could form the basis of a 10 mark question in the crime and deviance paper, in which case, you would have an item, which will direct you to two of the reasons mentioned below, which you must use if they are in the itme to get 10/10!

A mark scheme and some suggested answers to the above question*


  • Answers in this band will show good knowledge and understanding of relevant material on two reasons.
  • There will be two developed applications of material from the item
  • There will be appropriate analysis/evaluation of two reasons.

To get into this mark band you need to identify one reason, develop it, analyse it (so three good sentences of development/ analysis) and then repeat this for your second reason.

4- 7

  • Answers in this band will show a basic to reasonable knowledge and understanding.
  • There will be some successful application of material from the item.
  • There will be some analysis/evaluation

This means you’ve identified, developed and analysed one reason well, but not effectively developed or analysed the second reason.


  • Answers in this band will show limited knowledge of one or two reasons
  • There will be limited application of material from the item.
  • There will be limited or no analysis/evaluation.

You shouldn’t be down here.

Possible Criticisms

These could form the basis of any one of your two points. 

  • Underlying patterns of offending are different…
  • The characteristics of offenders are different….
  • It’s the public that’s racist, the police just respond….
  • Racism is subjective, thus difficult to define
  • Racism is difficult to research in practice.

Example which should get you 5/10

Repeat with one of the other reasons to get 10/10

The first reason why it is doubtful that police racism explains the higher imprisonment rates of ethnic minorities is that there is some evidence that ethnic minorities might commit more crime.

Development  For example, many ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation (applying left realism) which could explain actual underlying higher levels of offending.

Analysis Thus it might be these factors related to class and deprivation which explains the higher levels of policing and stop and search (and corresponding imprisonment) in minority areas rather than police racism. The police are not necessarily racist – they are just responding in an objective, rather than a racist way to really existing high crime rates in poorer areas, where ethnic minorities are more likely to live.

*Answers not endorsed by the AQA. These are my best guesses as to a safe minimum for getting full marks. NB –  You may as well go with my best guess as the exemplars produced by the AQA don’t necessarily reflect the standards they mark to anyway.