Sociology A-level exam dates June 2018 (AQA)

A reminder of the dates of the three sociology 2018 A-level exams, the first of which is on the 5th June…

The dates of the three A-level sociology (AQA) exams are as follows:

sociology exam 2018

Important information:

  • The formats of the exams are summarised here
  • You have to know ALL of theory and methods as well as education for the 5th of June 2018!
  • Papers 2 and 3 are VERY close together, so you probably want to have revised all of paper 3 before paper 2! Click here for my recommended exam timetable for A-level sociology revision.

Disclaimer – this information is correct to my own knowledge. It is your responsibility to double check with the AQA/ your college when (and of course where) your actual exam is!

Useful Sources

How to Answer Methods in Context Questions: A Model Answer from the AQA

‘Methods in Context’ questions appear on A Level Sociology Paper 1 (Education with Theory and Methods) and AS Sociology Paper 1 (Education with Methods in Context).

Methods in Context questions will ask students to evaluate the strengths and limitations of any of the six main research methods for researching a particular topic within the sociology of education, applying material from the item.

Students often struggle with these questions and so it is useful to have exemplars which demonstrate how to answer them. Thankfully the AQA has recently released some of these, with examiner commentary, and below I’ve reproduced a top band 18/20 answer to one particular methods in context question!

NB – I’ve take this directly from the AQA’s feedback to the 2017 AS sociology exam series (specific source below), but I’ve repositioned the comments on each paragraph to make them more accessible (at the end of each paragraph, rather than at the end of the whole essay.

The specific question below appeared on the June 2017 AS Sociology Paper 1 – the whole paper is now publically available from the AQA’s web site.

Methods in Context

The Question:

Investigating working-class educational underachievement

Read Item B below and answer the question that follows.


On average, working-class pupils underachieve in education compared with those from middle-class backgrounds. Some sociologists believe that material deprivation is one factor that causes working-class underachievement. Other sociologists argue that values and attitudes in working-class homes may cause underachievement. School factors may also affect achievement.

Sociologists may use written questionnaires to study working-class educational underachievement. Using written questionnaires enables the researcher to reach a large number of pupils, parents and teachers. Also, those who complete the questionnaire can usually remain anonymous. However, not all those who receive a questionnaire will complete it.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using written questionnaires to investigate working-class educational underachievement.

The Mark Scheme (Top Band Only: 17-20)

Answers in this band will show accurate, conceptually detailed knowledge and good understanding of a range of relevant material on written questionnaires.

Appropriate material will be applied accurately to the investigation of the specific issue of working-class educational underachievement.

Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using written questionnaires to research issues and characteristics relating to working-class educational underachievement. These may include some of the following and/or other relevant concerns, though answers do not need to include all of these, even for full marks:

  • the research characteristics of potential research subjects, eg pupils, teachers, parents, (self-esteem; literacy skills; attitude to school)
  • the research contexts and settings (eg school; classroom; home environment).
  • the sensitivity of researching working-class underachievement (eg schools’ market position; negative publicity; vulnerability of participants; parental consent; teacher reluctance).

Evaluation of the usefulness of written questionnaires will be explicit and relevant. Analysis will show clear explanation and may draw appropriate conclusions

Student Answer – Awarded 18/20 (AS standard!)

Picture version:

Page 1

Page 2

Text Version:

Paragraphs as in actual student response, numbers added for clarity.

Examiner comments appear in red after each paragraph.

ONE – Written questionnaires are a type of survey where questions are standardised and distributed to large numbers of people. This is useful in an educational setting because it means they can be given to numerous students in numerous schools, something which is very important when investigating working class pupils as there are many regions which are predominantly working class.

First paragraph – general advantages of written questionnaires – standardised and large distribution. Attempt to link to topic

TWO – One major advantage of using questionnaires is that they pose relatively few practical issues. They are fairly cheap to create and distribute and they quick to fill out, especially if all questions are closed ended. This means that access is not usually an issue for the researcher as they will not disrupt lessons as much as other methods such as structured interviews, meaning that the researcher is more likely to received permission from the gatekeeper. Furhtermore, working class pupils are more likely to need to take on paid work and so the quick-nature of questinnaires which are not very time consuming means that they are useful for investigating working class underachievement.

Para 2 – advantage of Wc related to context of research in schools (gatekeepers).

THREE – However, when investigating working class pupils there may be the issue of cultural deprivation, particularly language issues. Berciler and Englemann argue that the language spoken by the working class is deficient, a particular issue when trying to interpret the questions on a written question questionnaire. When coupled with the fact that questionnaires are written in the elaborated code but working class pupils (and parents) tend to speak in the restricted code this can be a major problem in gaining accurate results; unlike with other methods, questions cannot be clarified

Para 3 – good link to topic and WQ re language and speech codes.

FOUR – As well as posing few practical issues, written questionnaires do not pose many ethical issues. This is because the respondent can remain anonymous if they so wish and they can also leave any intrusive or sensitive issues blank. When studying working class underachievement this is a particular advantage because some pupils may be embarrassed to discuss their home lives, particularly if they live in poverty.

Para 4 – ethical issues discussed – anonymity developed with reference to topic

FIVE – Even though there are relatively few ethical uses, the researcher must be aware of harm to respondents. For working class children there may be a stigma attached, and for sensitive issues such as home life, the use of questionnaires can still cause distress. Nevertheless, the fact that respondents are not obligated to respond means this ethical problem is easily overcome.

Para 5 – further developed with reference to topic

SIX – From the perspective of a positivist, written questionnaires are a useful way to investigate working class underachievement because the data produced when using standardised questions is quantitative and high in reliability. This makes questionnaires useful for investigating working class underachievement because it allows cause and effect relationships to be established, for example whether or the not the structure of the education system reproduces working class underachievement, or whether there is a correlation between family background and achievement. However, the nature of written questionnaires can be an issue if the researcher’s meaning is imposed onto the questionnaire so it is another  fact that must be taken into account

Para 6 – various positivist concepts – good on usefulness of WC – but not unique to topic

SEVEN – From the point of view of an interpretivist, written questionnaires are not useful when investigating working class underachievement because the data lacks validity. While questionnaires may be able to identify that factors such as material deprivation may influence the achievement of working class pupils, it does not get to the heart of the matter. Written questionnaires do not investigate the meanings that pupils may attach to the reasons they may underachieve, and do not let the respondent communicate their ideas freely. Because of this lack of validity interpretivists do not favour the use of written questionnaires to investigate working class underachievement.

Para 7 – interpretivism and validity – not related to topic specifically (generic)

EIGHT – Ultimately, written questionnaires can be useful to investigate working class underachievement because the data is easy to analyse and compare, which may be useful as the data could be used over time to look at whether government policies put in place to reduce working class underachievement really work. Not only that but they are representative, so generalisations about the wider population can be made in a way that methods favoured by interpretivists cannot.

Para 8 – attempt to relate strengths of WQs to topic

Overall COMMENT – very strong on method with some (2/3) clear links to topic

MARK: 18/20

For more examples of model answers to exam questions, please see the links on my main page on exam advice

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’.T

Paper 1 Education with Methods in Context
Tuesday 16 May 2017
7191/1 Education with Methods in Context
Final Mark scheme
June 2017
Version/Stage: v1.0
Feedback on the exam(s)
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 Education with Methods in Context
Published: Autumn 2017

A Level Sociology: 10 mark questions

There are two types of 10 mark question across the 3 A-level sociology exam papers: ‘outline and explain questions’ (no item) and ‘applying material from the item’ questions.

Below is a nice wall-chart explaining the difference between them, adapted from the AQA’s ‘notes and guidance document. (source)

Sociology A-level 10 mark questions.png

*the action word here might be different. Instead of ‘reasons’ it may be ‘criticisms’, ‘consequences’, ‘ways’ or something else!

**Obviously there will be an item! Not included here because it wouldn’t fit. YOU MUST REFER TO THE ITEM!

For specific examples of the two different types of 10 mark question, please click here: A-level sociology: exams and revision advice. For even more practice questions, see below!

Revision Resources for Sale…. 

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A-level sociology revision bundles  – each of which contains the following:

  1. Revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. model essay questions.

NB – it’s only the bundles which contain all four of the above resources, some of the resources available are sold separately.

I’ve taught sociology for nearly 20 years, and been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about. If you purchase, you’d also be helping me escape the man and regain my humanity.



Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years.

A 10 mark ‘analyse with item’ practice question and answer for the AQA’s A-level paper 2: families

Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years (10)

  • Hooks

Item A

Parents today spend a great deal of time and money trying to make sure that their children enjoy a comfortable upbringing. They want their children to have opportunities that they themselves never had. ‘March of progress’ sociologists argue that these changes in family life have led to an improvement in the position of children in society.

How to answer this question?

It’s pretty obscure (IMO) but the item gives you TWO obvious ‘hooks’:

  1. Time/ money/ comfortable upbringing which is pointing to ‘improving living standards’
  2. Improved opportunities – education being the most obvious!

The above two should be your two points, analysed in both cases from the March of progress view (how have these improved the position of children), and to my mind this question is also screaming for you to evaluate each of these points (unlike the not item outline and explain 10 mark questions, you do get marks for evaluating in these ’10 mark with the item’ question.

You might like to review these two posts before attempting this question:

The Mark scheme


 A brief model answer..

I advise developing each of the points below still further!

Point 1: As it says in item A, one change in children’s position in society is that parents spend more time and money on them, and so they have a more comfortable life… the average child now costs about £250K to raise, much more than 100 years ago.

Development – this is because of economic growth over the last 100 years, parents now earn more money and so are able to spend more on children’s toys and ‘educational experiences’ which can further child development; as well as more nutritional food, which means children are healthier.

Further development – parents are also more involved with the socialisation of their children; this is especially true of middle class parents who invest a lot time ‘injecting cultural capital’ into their children.

Further development – lying behind all of this is the fact that children are no longer seen as economic assets: they no longer have to work, but rather there has been a cultural shift in which children have rights and should be allowed a lengthy childhood in which they are cared for.

Evaluation – However there are critics of this ‘march of progress view’ – not all parents are able to afford products for their children (lone parents for example) which can create a sense of marginalisation; also there is a sense in which parents spend time with their kids because they are paranoid about their safety in a risk society – Frank Furedi for example argues that this might stifle child development by preventing them from becoming independent.

Point 2: The second social change which can be said to have improved the lives of children is improved opportunities for children – such as with the expansion of education.

Development – 100 years ago (early 19th century) schooling was only compulsory up until about the age of 14, and this was gradually extended through the decades until today children are expected to be in education or training until the age of 18.

Further Development – From a functionalist point of view, education is meritocratic today and so provides opportunities for all children to achieve qualifications and get jobs appropriate to their skills. Children also benefit from the secondary socialisation schools provide, which many uneducated parents may not be able to provide effectively. We now have National Curriculum which ensures all children learn maths English and a broad range of other subjects

Further development – The expansion of education has been combined with the expansion of child welfare more generally – so schools are about improving child well being and safety more generally, meaning children have more opportunities to escape abuse than in the past.

Evaluation – However, from a Marxist point of view, not everyone has the same opportunities in school, and from a Feminist perspective gendered socialisation and stereotyping in school means that girls do not have equality of opportunity with boys.

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.

Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

A 10 mark ‘analyse with item’ practice question and answer for the AQA’s A-level paper 2: families and households section

Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

  • Hooks

Item C

Marxist sociologists have long argued that the traditional nuclear family performs ideological functions for capitalism, through for example, socializing children into thinking that hierarchy normal and inevitable.  

However, radical Feminist sociologists argue that the main function of the nuclear family lies in maintaining inequalities between men and women through promoting patriarchal ideology.

 A brief model plan…

Point 1: One ideological function = socialising children into thinking inequality is normal, this is done through ‘age patriarchy’ – children are expected to be obedient to parents.

Development – much like the correspondence principle in education this gets children ready to be obedient to their bosses in work and also to accept inequalities in broader society, class inequalities which exist between bourgeois and proletariat for example.

Further development – According to Marxist Feminists, traditional gender roles further encourage obedience to the rules at work – if man thinks he is ‘the provider’ and women are dependent at home, the male worker is less likely to go on strike because it undermines his provider role.

Further development – According to Marxists the family might also passify children by acting as a unit of consumption – they are taught to ‘find their identity’ in the products they consume, not in thinking and questioning, thus this might contribute to ideological control.

Evaluation – a problem with this specifically performing functions for capitalism is that ‘age patriarchy’ within families typically occurs in pre-capitalist societies.

Point 2: Radical Feminists argue the traditional nuclear family normalises gender inequality

Development – women stay at home look after the kids, men go to work, women are thus financially dependent on men in this situation

Further Development – This can also be reinforced by the way dads tend to police daughters more than sons (differential gender socialisation)

Further development – the privatised nuclear family also allows male violence against women to go unnoticed

Evaluation – HOWEVER, liberal fems and postmodernists would point out that gender norms are changing and the above is all much more likely in the age of the negotiated family and the pure relationship.

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.

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which an ageing population may affect family structures.

My attempt at a model 10/10 answer for this A-level sociology exam question (families and households topic)

This is the 10 mark question in the crime and deviance section of the AQA’s 2016 Specimen A-level sociology paper 2: Topics in Sociology, section A: Families and Households option.

In this post I consider a ‘lower middle mark band’ student response (4/10 marks) to this question and the examiner commentary (both are provided by the AQA here) before considering what a ‘top band’ answer might look like.

The Question (with the item!)


The Mark Scheme:


Student Response:

sociology example student response

Examiner Commentary: (4/10 marks)

This is taken straight from the AQA’s own specimen (2016) material. NB I think the commentary actually misses out the most significant thing the candidate does not do, see below for my commentary on the commentary… 

What the candidate does well

  • Two reasonable suggestions are offered
  • There is no problem that they are “opposites” in that both situations may occur in different families.
  • The response provides a competent explanation of each change, explaining how and why older people may impact on female members of the generation beneath them (unfortunately, this is not what the question has asked for).

What the candidate does not do well

  • The response fails to fully answer the question because it does not explicitly connect the change in the position of women to family structures – implicit links to roles are as far as the response gets.
  • This answer does not have a strong knowledge base and concepts are limited
  • The second paragraph could do more to explain how/why the ageing population will lead to more grandparents who are able to provide the suggested role.
  • Both knowledge and application to family structures could be much stronger in this response however there is enough material of partial relevance to access the middle band.
  • This answer is a little too brief, given that around 15 minutes of an examination should be allocated to a 10 mark question.

How you might improve on this response to move up to the top band….

This is my input:



Anyway, if you’d like to submit an improved answer in the comments which takes on board the above feedback, I might even mark it!

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.

If you’re not quite as flush, how about this… just the 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Sociology Revision Notes

*Price will vary with dollar exchange rate


Outline and explain two practical problems of using documents in social research (10)

There are a lot of documents available and it can be time consuming to analyse them qualitatively

Taking news for example, there are thousands of news items published every day.

You also need to distinguish between ‘real and ‘fake news’.

Also, in the postmodern age where fewer people get their news from mainstream news it is necessary to analyse a wide range of media content to get representatives, which makes this more difficult.

Because there are so many documents available today, it is necessary to use computer assisted qualitative analysis, which effectively quantifies the qualitative data, meaning that some of depth and insight are lost in the process.

With personal documents, gaining access might be a problem

Personal diaries are one of the most authentic sources of information because people write them with no intention of them being seen.

However, they may not be willing to show researchers the content because they say negative feelings about people close to them, which could harm them.

Blogs would be easier to access but  the problem is people will edit out much of what they feel because these are published.

Outline and explain two practical problems which may affect social research (10)

practical problems social research

One practical problem may be gaining access

Analysis/ development – Deviant and criminal groups may be unwilling to allow researchers to gain access because they may fear prosecution if the authorities find out about them.

Analysis/ development – some groups may be unwilling to take part in research because of social stigma.

Analysis/ development – the characteristics of the researcher may exacerbate all of this.

Analysis/ development – A further problem, is that if all of the above are problems, the research is very unlikely to get funding!

A second practical problem is that some studies can be very time consuming

Analysis/ development – gaining access can take a long time, especially with covert research.

Analysis/ development – even with overt research, gaining trust, getting respondents to feel comfortable with you can take months.

Analysis/ development  – unexpected findings in PO may further lengthen the research process

Analysis/ development – Some Participant Observation studies have taken so long that the findings may no longer be relevant—e.g. Gang Leader for a Day.

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’.

Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work


Main post on the functionalist perspective on education.

Education teaches us specialist skills for work – At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs. This allows for a complex division of labour to take place.

Role Allocation and meritocracy – Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy


Main post on the marxist perspective on education.

The reproduction of class inequality and the myth of meritocracy – In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

School teaches the skills future capitalist employers need through the ‘Hidden Curriculum (e.g. pupils Learn to accept authority; they learn to accept hierarchy, and motivation by external rewards)

Paul Willis

Willis described the friendship between the 12 boys (or the lads) he studied as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work. The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.


Stereotypical views of teachers and careers advisors as well as peer group pressure means that subject choices are still shaped by traditional gender norms – which limits the kind of jobs boys and girls go onto do in later life.

Even though girls do better at school, they still get paid less than men, so qualifications do not necessarily result in more pay!

The New Right

Main post on the new right and education

The mid 1970s was a time of rising unemployment in Britain, particularly among the young.  It was argued that the education system was not producing a skilled enough workforce and that the needs of the economy were not being met. From the mid 1970s both the Conservative and Labour governments agreed that education should be more focussed on improving the state of the economy by providing training courses for young people in different areas of work.

This emphasis on meeting the needs of industry became known as ‘New Vocationalism’ which first took off in the 1980s.

How to revise effectively

Or how to get an A*. 20 of the best revision strategies of A* students or proven by research, to ensure you’re mentally sharp, focused and revising effectively.

20 Effective revision strategies used by A* students and/ or  proven to be effective through actual research.

how to revise

The revision advice below is broken down into three general categories:

  • General health and well being advice – how to ‘take care’ of yourself during the revision and exam period to make sure you’re physically and mentally up to the challenge.
  • General ‘exam and revision preparation’ advice – advice on planning your revision and exam period: what you need to do before you start your two months (or so) of revision, and what to do before any particular ‘revision session’
  • Specific revision  techniques you should be using during any particular revision session (whether that’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and hour or more!)

NB – I teach A-level sociology (as if the blog doesn’t give that away), but the advice here should be relevant to anyone studying similar humanities A-levels, or even science based A-levels. If you’re doing A-level sociology, you might be interested these exam-focused revision resources I’ve put together – they’re basically a series of ‘bundles’ of revision notes, mind maps and model answers based on possible exam questions. 

General health and well being advice 

How to ‘take care’ of yourself during the revision and exam period to make sure you’re physically and mentally up to the challenge. 

  1. Eat properly – this means eating breakfast, plenty of fruit and veg, minimize the junk and sugar, and stay hydrated!
  2. Get a decent night’s sleep – keep your phone in a separate room if necessary.
  3. Get our for some exercise and fresh air – even just a brisk 20 minute walk around the block can help shake off fatigue.
  4. Figure out when you work best (morning, afternoon, evening) and plan to do as much revision during your own personal ‘mental peak’ times as possible.
  5. Figure out where you work best – at home, or at college, or a mixture of both.
  6. Set yourself realistic revision goals and treat yourself when you reach them (see number below) – although don’t overdo the treats. Take a leaf out of the workout kid’s book – just a few pieces of candy as a treat at the end of each session, rather than a large Dominos,  jumbo Toblerone or family size pack of Cornettos.

Preparing for Revision

Advice on planning your revision and exam period: what you need to do before you start your two months (or so) of revision, and what to do before any particular ‘revision session’.

sociology revision timetable 2018
An example of a monthly ‘overview’ revision timetable
  1. Download the specification (or more broken down knowledge checklist) for each subject, put them at the front of your revision folder, or stick them on your bedroom wall. (If you’re studying sociology, then here is an overview of the AQA’s sociology specification). Another way of saying this, is that the first thing you need to know, is what you need to know! 
  2. On the above lists, grade each sub-topic into ‘easy’ ‘moderate’ and ‘difficult, use the traffic light system if you like…. then you’ll know what you need to spend more time revising.
  3. Do a monthly ‘overview’ revision timetable – which overviews the topics you’ll be studying on a day to day basis, stick it at the front of your revision folder, or on your bedroom wall. This ‘overview plan’ should incorporate at least one day off a week. For A-levels, I’d suggest starting on April 1st (and if you think that’s a joke, you’re the fool) at the latest – to allow yourself time to ‘visit’ each sub-topic at least three times before the exam. Click here for an example of what I believe an effective revision timetable. (This ticks the ‘spreading out study over time’ box in many of the guides used to compile this mega-list.)
  4. Read the examiners reports and any marked exemplars you can find from past-papers – together these will tell you what the examiners want you to do to get particular grades.
  5. Download all of the past papers you can find, or at least know where you can get hold of them. Text books, revision guides, your teacher, or little moi (on this very we site) can provide you with examples of ‘possible questions’ for the new specifications, given that there aren’t too many exemplars around ATM.
  6. If you have to, then organise your revision notes (or if you don’t have them yet, your actual notes) – into appropriate folders with dividers which demarcate each sub topic.
  7. Sort out your study space – you don’t necessarily have to fold your clothes up, but at least clear a desk space in advance of hitting the revision. I’d also recommend having a ‘place’ for each set of revision notes for each of your subjects.
  8. Cut out all distractions before you begin any study session – for most students this is probably simply a matter of putting their phone in another room for a couple of hours or so, and making sure there are no social media windows open through which you may be distracted. Obviously you might go online for revision advice, but don’t get distracted down the rabbit-hole in the process!
  9. At the beginning or day (or week, but I prefer days), plan out what you are going to revise that day- with goals for each session. A decent ‘day revision plan might incorporate the following:
  • Two or three sessions with each session lasting from one to three hours, and focusing on one or more sub-topics (depending on how well you know that sub-topic).
  • Each session should have a distinct goal: for example: review all of the marriage and divorce topic by ‘testing myself’ and ‘plan 2 exam questions’ on this topic.
  • You should ‘mix it up’ over the course of the day – for example if you you’re doing three sessions, do one of sociology, one of English, one of History.
  • Your daily plan should be realistic – some sub-topics might take you two sessions, depending on how large they are and how difficult you find them.
  • If should incorporate all of the health and well being advice above: time for breakfast, breaks, exercise, and allow you time for a decent night’s sleep
  • It might incorporate an element of the ‘revision cycle’: the first 10 minutes of your sociology session might involve testing yourself on yesterday’s sociology session.

Specific Revision Techniques 

This is probably what you came here for: these are the specific strategies you should be using during any particular revision session (whether that’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and hour or more!).

The advice below is supposed to apply to any of the major ‘topics’ or ‘chunks of learning’ within any topic. For A-level sociology, for example, a sub-topic is something like ‘perspectives on education’, or ‘demography’ within the family. For each of these topics, you should have something like 1-4 pages of your own revision notes, depending on how you’ve organised the information.

Some general advice is that revision should be active and exam focused, not passive (i.e. not just re-reading)

  1. Test yourself – rather than simply re-reading your own revision notes, you should ‘turn the page face down’ and ‘go over the content in your head/ our out-loud’, and then turn the page back over to see how well you remembered the content.
  2. Make brief, active revision notes with a clear structure  (NB most of these should already be done BEFORE you start on your final wave of revision in April-May, so this should only be applying to the few gaps you have) – then do more reading and thinking and less ‘writing’ – i.e. think about the structure of the notes, use sub headings, and as few words as possible. Make links between other areas of the course and be as visual as possible (mind maps work well for many students), and TEST WHAT YOU KNOW immediately after you’ve made them.
  3. When reviewing revision notes, do so actively – THINK about how you would use the material to answer exam questions, look for links to other areas of the course. This is where working with a constructive friend can come in really handy – test each-other, and explain what you’ve just reviewed to your friend. ‘Teaching’ someone else is often the best way of learning.
  4. Read past papers and exemplars – make sure you’re doing this regularly, especially towards the end of May for A-levels (2018 dates)
  5. Practice exam papers – both planning and the occasional full answer.

In short – Effective revision is not rocket science, it’s just a matter of adopting a healthy lifestyle, planning in advance, and doing active, exam focused revision in each revision session. 

Sources used to write this post

Below, I list the sources I used to create the above ‘mega revision advice list’ with a summary of each of the specific pieces of advice given on each site, and a rationale for why I used this each source of advice. 

Making the Grade: A* Students Share their Secrets (Nik Taylor, The Student Room, Which University)

  1. Read the examiners reports
  2. Check the past papers
  3. Download the syllabus for your subjects and check off everything as you learn it
  4. Break down revision into manageable, bite sized chunks
  5. Don’t cram, revise continually (unfortunately if you’re reading this in May and you haven’t yet done this, then it’s already too late!)
  6. Make a revision timetable.

I’ve included this first as everything on this list is just very sensible! No gimmicks at all here, just good, sound, exam focused revision advice.  In terms of validity, these strategies are what have actually worked for actual recent A* students. 

Revision Techniques – the Good, the OK and the Useless

The above BBC article summarizes some research carried out by Professor Dunlovsky and co (published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest) which reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies found that only 2 of them were ‘highly’ effective in promoting learning a further 3 had a ‘moderate’ impact on learning, while the remaining 5 had a low (or possibly detrimental) impact on learning.

2 High impact learning techniques – Do these!

  • ♦Practice testing – Self-testing to check knowledge – especially using flash cards – HIGH
  • ♦Distributed practice – spreading out study over time – HIGH

3 Moderate impact learning techniques – use them if they work ‘for you’

  • Elaborative interrogation – being able to explain a point or fact – MODERATE
  • Self-explanation – how a problem was solved – MODERATE
  • Interleaved practice – switching between different kinds of problems – MODERATE

5 Low low impact learning techniques – DON’T USE THESE!

  • X Summarising – writing summaries of texts – LOW
  • X Highlighting/underlining – LOW
  • X Keyword mnemonics – choosing a word to associate with information – LOW
  • X Imagery – forming mental pictures while reading or listening – LOW
  • X Re-reading – LOW.

In terms of validity of this advice, well it’s summarising 1000 pieces of research…. and certainly where the top five are concerned, I’m fairly convinced these are all effective revision techniques. As to the five to avoid…. personally I still think there’s a place for all of them, but only in moderation and only at certain stages in the revision process:

  • Highlighting and note taking are probably best used when learning initially, probably not for revision.
  • Mnemonics might be useful in certain areas – for example the TPEN plan for research methods.
  • I’ll withhold comment on the use of visuals…. Personally I’m a fan, but I’ll come back to this later.
  • As to re-reading, yes, useless, unless you’re ‘turning your notes over and going through them in your head’ and then re-reading said notes to check you’ve got them ‘in your noggin-nog’.

The University of Reading Library’s Revision Guides

It may be directed at degree level students, but there’s lots of good advice that’s relevant to A-level students here too. The web sites also got lots of useful downloadable pamphlets, so it’s well worth checking out!

  1. Plan your time effectively – work out a revision timetable, be realistic
  2. Download exam papers
  3. Find out what the examiner wants you to do
  4. Learn actively – if you’re ‘reviewing’ revision notes then do ‘active reading’: test yourself, and ask yourself ‘how would I use this to answer an exam question’? Look for links between what you’re revising and other areas of the course.
  5. Know the ‘structure’ of the course you are studying.
  6. Make your revision notes memorable with sub-headings, and spider diagrams, and do them in your own words.
  7. Work in blocks of two to three hours
  8. Mix it up – revise something different in each ‘block’
  9. Set targets and rewards
  10. Test yourself
  11. Practice exam questions – do written answers
  12. Be nice yourself – basically, don’t overdo it! Take regular breaks.
  13. Know when the best time is for you to revise and stick to it!
  14. Revise with friends (?)
  15. If you need to learn formulas and facts, then mnemonics or making up songs may help with ‘rote learning’
  16. Stick to a revision cycle:
  • 10 minutes after learning something (e.g. at the end of the 10 minute study break which you take after learning the topic).
  • 1 day later at the beginning of the next revision session.
  • 3 days later…
  • 1 week later….etc

I really like this well-organised list of sensible revision advice! Check out the web site for some useful and free revision resources. 

The Science of Revision: Nine Ways Students Can Revise for Exams More Effectively (The Guardian Teacher Network)

  1. Eat breakfast
  2. Put your phone away
  3. Start early and spread it out
  4. Test yourself
  5. Teach someone
  6. Think twice about using highlighters
  7. Don’t listen to music
  8. Get some fresh air and take some excercise
  9. Sleep

This is more of a ‘health and well being and general preparation list, but it’s credible because it’s from The Guardian Teacher Network.