Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches to our understanding of society (20)

How to get full marks for a 20 mark theory essay in A-level sociology

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to the 20 mark theory essay which came up in the 2017 A-level sociology paper.

The specific question under investigation in this case is: ‘Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches to our understanding of society’ (20).

For general advice about how to answer the whole of paper three please see this post on ‘the 2017 crime and deviance with theory and methods’ paper.

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

AQA Sociology 20 mark essay mark Scheme

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

AQA Sociology 20 mark essay mark Scheme 2

Student Response:

Sociology is divided between conflict and consensus approaches. The former believe there is harmony in society because of shared values (Functionalists), the later believe society is not harmonious but based on a division between a dominant and subordinate group (Marxists/ Feminists)

Some sociologists argue conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches for understanding society – Marxists view society as a conflict between the Bourgeosie (ruling class) and proletariat. They argue there is no harmony because the former exploit the later to create profit and keep their businesses running. The proletariat feel frustrated and alienated because they don’t control the means of production and technological advancement means many are losing their jobs and being made redundant. This all serves the interests of the ruling class who look for new, innovative ways to increase their profits. Marxists argue that certain aspects of society which appear functional are simply a false consciousness – making it appear the Bourgeoisie care about their workers but in reality they don’t for example health and safety laws exist so the proletariat are fit to keep working. However, Marxism only looks at the economic contribution of society and argues that all other institutions are influenced by the economy. Yet many would disagree, arguing that the purpose of the family or religion is to provide comfort, not profit for the Bourgeoisie.

Moreover, labelling theory also argue that conflict approaches act as a better understanding to society than consensus approaches. As an action theory, it argues that if we believe that an event is real, then it will have real consequences. Therefor they look at labelling in society and how there is link between conflict and power (item C) – an individual is given a label in society which influences their behaviour. Becker found that if a student is labelled as deviant then they are more likely to underachieve in school because they accepted that label as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When labels are given from those in higher authority, then they become a master status and become a dominant feature of the individual, which can lead to a deviant career. This also happens with certain crimes – e.g. those with the drug label are more likely to have the crime and the label enforced. However, LT is criticized for not taking into account wider structural features of society such as how capitalism influences people’s behaviour.

However consensus theories are critical (repeats question)… they argue societies are based on shared values and value consensus which allows institutions to harmoniously work together (item C). Parsons argues that this is because of functional prerequisites. Firstly there is economic adaptation to society to meet the economic needs of members, there is goal attainment where society create goals and allocates resources to these goals – the role of government. Then there is integration so the different institutions can meet share goals – the media, education, religion. Finally there is latency where the family socialises individuals into shared norms that society needs: instrumental and expressive role. Thus society hasn’t collapsed because it has a shared value system.

However, functionalism is criticised by postmodernists because it has an absolutist view of society as being functional for all. It neglects the fact that society is fragmented and diverse and the rise of different social movements like black lives matter or Feminism contradict the view that individuals form cohesive communities.

In conclusion it seems Functionalism as a consensus theory has relatively good ideas… for example that social change in society is a result of increasing complexity of society and to ensure that society doesn’t move into a state of anomie so equilibrium occur, different bits of society adapting to compensate.

However conflict theory seems more useful in understanding our society where there is complexity and no longer individuals who follow the same norms and values but rather join different groups which enhance their individual personal beliefs.

Examiner Commentary:

Well, at least one student’s been paying attention for the last couple of years!

Mark: 20/20


This post has primarily been written to help students revise for their A-level sociology exams.

For more revision help please see this page: Exams, essays and Short Answer Questions.

This is a similar question applied to Crime: Evaluate Consensus Theories of Crime.

Please click here to return to the homepage –


Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/3 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods
Published: Autumn 2017

Analyse two ways in which deviant subcultures may respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals (10)

How to get full marks for a 10 mark ‘item’ question in sociology A-level.

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to a 10 mark ‘analyse with the item question’ which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

For general hints and tips on how to answer all questions across paper three please click h

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

crime deviance 10 mark question.png

The Mark Scheme (top band only)


Student Response:

Point one

One way deviant subcultures may respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals is by offering alternative ways of attaining success. Cohen found that working class boys often felt a strain to achieve in the middle class education system.

This is because the education system did not offer them equal chance of attaining mainstream goals (item A) because it not have the same norms as them and the boys experienced a culture clash.

As a result the boys responded by creating a subculture which revolved around an alternative status hierarchy, valuing hostility and spite, rewarding behavior mainstream society condemned.

They wanted the same goals as the middle class: status and success but their inability to attain so led them to achieving status from their peers through truanting and vandalism.

This means that deviant subcultures look for different ways to attain mainstream goals when the opportunities to do so are taken from them. However, Cohen is criticized for assuming that the working class boys all had the same shared goals: not all of them considered themselves a failure.

Point two

Cloward and Ohlin argue that not all deviant subcultures respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals in the same way. They argue that the neighbourhood a person lives in creates different types of subculture in response to attaining goals.

Unstable neighbourhoods (item A) can reproduce criminal subcultures, creating an apprenticeship for crime and allowing people to socialise with adult criminals, meaning that children turn to utilitarian crime such as theft to achieve consumerist goals.

On the other hand, deprived neighbourhoods create conflict subcultures where high rates of unemployment and social disintegration mean people turn towards non utilitarian crime due to frustration. This means people turn to crime out of frustration, not to gain status.

However, this is deterministic, as not all people from deprived neighbourhoods turn to crime.

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

crime deviance 10 mark question comments

KT’s commentary:

  • This looks like overkill to me, I would have thought this is easily 10/10!
  • Note that you can still achieve full marks while referring to dated sociology!


Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/3 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods
Published: Autumn 2017

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.

Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10)

A model answer for a 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question on the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2 (families and households)

A model answer to a possible 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question, written for the A-level sociology AQA A-level paper 7192/2: topics within sociology: families and households section).


Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10) 

outline explain decline marriage.png

Model Answer

The first social factor is in more depth than the second. 

Economic changes such as the increasing cost of housing and the increasing cost of weddings may explain the decline of marriage:

Young adults stay living with their parents longer to save up for a mortgage, often into their 30s. Men especially might feel embarrassed to marry if they still live with their parents, because it’s not very ‘masculine’. This also reflects the importance changing gender roles: now women are taking on the ‘breadwinner role’, there’s no obvious need to marry a man. This applies especially to low income earning, working class men.

Furthermore, it’s often a choice between ‘marriage’ or ‘house deposit’: most people just co-habit because they can’t afford to get married. People would rather by a house because ‘material security’ is more important than the ‘security of marriage’. People also fail to save for weddings because of the pressure to consume in postmodern society. However, this only applies to those who want a big ‘traditional’ wedding, which costs £15K.

The significance of economic factors criticise the postmodernist view that marriage declining is simply a matter of ‘free-choice’.

A Second reason for the decline of marriage is secularisation, or the decline of religion in society.

Christianity, for example emphasises that marriage is a sacred union for life before God, and that sex should only take place within marriage. With the decline of religion, social values have shifted so that it is now acceptable to have sex before marriage, and with more than one partner, meaning that dating, serial monogamy and cohabitation have all replaced marriage to a large extent.

The decline of religion also reflects the fact that marriage today is not about ‘pleasing society’, it is simply about pleasing the two individuals within the relationship, the ‘pure relationship’ is now the norm, and people no longer feel like they need God’s approval of their relationshp, so there is less social pressure to get married.

However, this trend does vary by ethnicity, and Muslims, Hindus and Jews within Britain are all much more likely to get married in a religious ceremony.

Visual Version for social change one:

AQA Sociology exam practice questions 10 marks

Other posts you may find useful:

Possible 10 Mark Analyse Questions Derived from the AQA’s A Level Sociology Specification: Education Section

I’m just in the process of re-examining the AQA’s ‘specification’/ vaguefication* for the sociology of education section to get a better idea of what kind of 10 mark ‘analyse’ questions might come up.

In case you don’t know (and you wouldn’t know this unless you’ve been on a course run by the AQA) a 10 mark ‘analyse’ question will take any aspect from any two of the bullet points in the AQA’s specification and ask you to make the links between them (with reference to a small item)….

Now… IF you’re already aware of this, then you probably know that there’s four main topic areas listed under the education specification/ vagueficiation, hence it’s quite easy to think up some nice combination questions taken from across these four bullet points.

HOWEVER, this might not be the limit of 10 mark question combinations – because under the education section of the A-level specification/ vagueification there is also specific reference to the ‘6 core themes’ of socialisation, power etc… so this might open up the possible of an even greater array of 10 markers.

A few possible 10 mark analyse questions:

  • Using material from Item A (remember there will be an item!) analyse two ways in which the functions of education have changed due to globalization.
  • Using material from Item A, analyse two ways in which selection policies might  have influenced the process of teacher labeling.
  • Using material from Item A, analyse two ways in which the privatization of education has affected the way in which different ethnic groups experience school.
  • Using material from Item A and elsewhere , analyse two criticisms  of the view that the hidden curriculum in schools helps to reproduce economic inequalities in wider society.
  • Using material from Item A and elsewhere, analyse two ways in which education policies might help overcome some of the disadvantages boys face as a result of gendered socialization practices.

I know some of these are just horrible, but remember, that the AQA has a burning hatred of all teenagers, and at least the above questions make sense, unlike some which have come up previously!

A reminder of the AQA’s specification for the education section of A-level paper one: 

The study of the topics in this paper should engage students in theoretical debate while encouraging an active involvement with the research process.

The study should foster a critical awareness of contemporary social processes and change, and draw together the knowledge, understanding and skills learnt in different aspects of the course.

In their study of the topics, students should examine:

  • topic areas in relation to the two core themes (socialisation, culture and identity; and social differentiation, power and stratification)
  • both the evidence of and the sociological explanations for the content listed in the topic areas below.

Throughout, students should be encouraged to use examples drawn from their own experience of small-scale research.

Attention should be given to drawing out links with other topics studied in this specification

4.1.1 Education

Students are expected to be familiar with sociological explanations of the following content:

  • the role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure
  • differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society
  • relationships and processes within schools, with particular reference to teacher/pupil relationships, pupil identities and subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning
  • the significance of educational policies, including policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy.

*I prefer the term vagueification because this ‘specification’ doesn’t actually give us a precise idea about what might come up in the exam – nowhere in the above specification does it explicitly state you need to know (for example) about ‘Chinese’ students or ‘compensatory education’, yet these have both come up in previous exam papers. Thus this specification gives you a vague idea of what might come up, not a specific idea. To get a more specific idea, you need to spend a few years teaching or examining A level sociology, read the four main text books and and intuit the advice circulating about the content of A-level. 

Outline three functions which education might perform for society (6)

This is an  example of a relatively straight forward 6 mark question which might appear on the AQA’s A level paper 1 (7192/1).

  • If you require a more detailed breakdown of paper 1 please click here.

The basic approach to answering 6 mark ‘outline’ questions is to think of them as 1+1 questions – in this case identify a function (for 1 mark) and then explain how education performs that function (for +1). Repeat this 3 times, and you have 3*(1+1) = 6/6 marks.

You should spend no more than 9 minutes on this question (a minute and a half per mark).

A ‘function’ of education is something education (mainly schools) does; a purpose it fulfills, or a goal it contributes towards achieving.

Below are some (1+1) suggestions as to how you might successfully answer this question.

Outline three functions which the education might perform for society (6)

  • Getting students ready for work – school does this by starting off teaching basic reading and writing, which most jobs require, and later on by giving students specific job related skills – such as biology gets you ready for a career in medicine.
  • Education creates social solidarity which is where we all feel as if we are part of something bigger, working towards the collective good – school does this by teaching everyone the same history and literature, which helps to forge a sense of national identity.
  • Education maintains social order, performing a social control function – it does this through requiring that all students attend and through surveillance, any student who does not conform is subject to disciplinary procedures, thus learning to stick to the rules in later life.

Related Posts

I’ve basically taken the above from the Functionalist Perspective on the role of education in society.

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’.

Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on Vocational Education (30)

Evaluations in italics!

Vocational Education refers to teaching people the specific knowledge and skills to prepare them for a particular career. Vocational Education can either be on the job training – such as with apprenticeships, or courses focused on a particular career in a college (typically 16-19).

The New Right introduced Vocational Educational in the 1980s. At the time they argued that Britain needed job-related training in order to combat high levels of unemployment at that time, and in order to prepare young people for a range of new jobs emerging with new technologies, and to make them more competitive in a globalising economy.

Two vocational policies the New Right introduced were National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). The former involved building a portfolio of evidence to prove you had the specific skills necessary for a job, and the later involved on the job training, in which trainees received a small wage, funded by the government.

At first glance, the expansion of Vocational Education in the 1980s seems to support the Functionalist view of education – as it seems be about getting people ready for work and performing the function of ‘role allocation’ more effectively, however, there were a number of criticisms of early Vocationalism

Two criticisms of these policies were that NVQs were seen by many as an inferior qualification to the more academic ‘A’ level subjects, and much on the job training was of a low quality because it wasn’t very well regulated – some trainees were basically just glorified tea boys (according to research by Marxist sociologist Dan Finn in the 1980s.)

New Labour expanded Vocational Education, seeing it as a way to provide individuals with the training needed to be competitive in a globalised Post-Fordist, high skilled/ high waged economy.

The main plank of Labour’s Vocational Policy was The New Deal for young people which Provided some kind of guaranteed training for any 18-24 year old who had been unemployed for more than 6 months. This was set up in 1998 and initially cost £3.5 billion. Employers were offered a government subsidy to take on people under 25 who had been unemployed for more than 6 months. By March 2003 almost 1 million people had started the New Deal, and 40% of them had moved on to full-time unsubsidised jobs.

A second central aspect of New Labour’s Vocational Policy was the introduction of The Modern Apprenticeships scheme in 2002.There are many different levels of Apprenticeships in a huge range of industries, and they typically involve on the job training in sectors ranging from tourism to engineering. Those undertaking them are paid a small wage, which varies with age, while undertaking training.

Some of the early modern apprenticships were criticised for being exploitative – some companies simply hired workers to a 6 week training course and then sacked them and rehired more trainees as a means of getting cheap labour. However, overall, apprenticeships have been a huge success and there are now hundreds of thousands of people who do them in any one year.

A third strand of New Labour’s Vocational Policy was The Introduction of Vocational A levels –Today, the most commonly recognised type of Vocational A level is the BTEC – Which Edexcel defines as being ‘designed as specialist work-related qualifications and are available in a range of sectors like business, engineering and ICT. A number of BTECs are recognised as Technical Certificates and form part of the Apprenticeship Framework.’

While the purpose of this was to try and eradicate the traditional vocational-academic divide it was mostly working class children went down the vocational route, while middle class children did A levels, which many middle class parents regard as the only ‘proper qualifications’, and from a broadly Marxist analysis Vocational Education simply reinforces the class divide.

In conclusion, the fact that Vocational Education has gradually been extended over the years suggests that successive governments see it as playing an important role in our society, especially in getting children ready for work and providing them with the type of skills our economy needs. It is also clear that a number of children simply are not suited to a purely academic education, so in an increasingly diverse society, it is likely to have a continued role to play. However, we also need to recognise that there are problems with it, such as with unscrupulous employers using on the job training as a means of getting cheap labour, so steps need to be taken to ensure it is effectively regulated.

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