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A Level Sociology Essays – How to Write Them

This post offers some advice on how you might plan and write essays in the A level sociology exams. 

The sociology A level exam: general hints for writing essays

  1. Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes for a 30 mark essay.
  2. Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  3. Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/ your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  4. Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  5. Try to stick to the following structure in the picture above!
  6. Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  7. Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

 

Skills in the A Level Sociology Exam

The AQA wants you to demonstrate 3 sets of skills in the exam – below are a few suggestions about how you can do this in sociology essays.

AO1: Knowledge and Understanding

You can demonstrate these by:

  • Using sociological concepts
  • Using sociological perspectives
  • Using research studies
  • Showing knowledge of contemporary trends and news events
  • Knowledge can also be synoptic, or be taken from other topics.
  • NB – knowledge has to be relevant to the question to get marks!

AO2: Application 

You can demonstrate application by…

  • Using the item – refer to the item!!!
  • Clearly showing how the material you have selected is relevant to the question, by using the words in the question
  • Making sure knowledge selected is relevant to the question.

AO3: Analysis and Evaluation (NB ‘Assess’ is basically the same as Evaluation)

You can demonstrate analysis by….

  • Considering an argument from a range of perspectives – showing how one perspective might interpret the same evidence in a different way, for example.
  • Developing points – by showing why perspectives argue what they do, for example.
  • Comparing and contrasting ideas to show their differences and similarities
  • You can show how points relate to other points in the essay.

You can demonstrate evaluation by…

  • Discussing the strengths and limitations of a theory/ perspective or research method.
  • You should evaluate each point, but you can also do overall evaluations from other perspectives before your conclusion.
  • NB – Most people focus on weaknesses, but you should also focus on strengths.
  • Weighing up which points are the most useful in a conclusion.

A note on using the item:

Every 30 mark question will ask you to refer to an ‘item’. This will be a very short piece of writing, consisting of about 8 lines of text. The item will typically refer to one aspect of the knowledge side of the question and one evaluation point. For example, if the question is asking you to ‘assess the Functionalist view of education’, the item is likely to refer to one point Functionalists make about education – such as role allocation, and one criticism.

All you need to do to use the item effectively is to make sure at least one of your points stems from the knowledge in the item, and develop it. It’s a good idea to make this your first point. To use the evaluation point from the item (there is usually some evaluation in there), then simply flag it up when you use it during the essay.

Seven examples of sociology essays, and more advice…

For more information on ‘how to write sociology essays for the A level exam’ why not refer to my handy ‘how to write sociology essays guide’. 

The contents are as follows:

Introductory Section

  • A quick look at the three sociology exam papers
  • A pared-down mark scheme for A Level sociology essays
  • Knowledge, application, analysis, evaluation, what are they, how to demonstrate them.
  • How to write sociology essays – the basics:

The Essays

These appear first in template form, then with answers, with the skills employed shown in colour. Answers are ‘overkill’ versions designed to get full marks in the exam.

  1. Assess the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the Marxist view of the role of education in society (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the extent to which it is home background that is the main cause of differential education achievement by social class (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that education policies since 1988 have improved equality of educational opportunity (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the view that the main aim of education policies since 1988 has been to raise overall standards in education.’ (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that in school processes, rather than external factors, are the most important in explaining differences in educational achievement (30) – detailed essay – Quick plan.

 

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Hints for A Level Sociology Paper 3 (Crime and Deviance)

A few hints for how I recommend answering the Crime and Deviance section of AQA’s paper 3 (which also contains theory and methods, more of that later). NB – What’s below isn’t endorsed by the AQA, but it’s my best interpretation based on what I’ve been told works.

Questions 1 and 2 (4 and 6 mark short answer questions) –‘Outline two ways/ Outline three reasons’

  • Point (1 mark) + Explanation (1 mark)
  • Do this (two times over for question 1, three times over for question 2)
  • Bullet point each point and explanation.

Question 3 – The Outline and Analyse Question (10 marks) – ‘Using material from Item A, outline and Analyse two ways in which…’

  • Read the item – this will give you your two ways (it will effectively limit you to two points)
  • For each of the two points, make two further analytical points to develop that point, and ideally evaluate it.
  • Do this twice.

Question 4 – The essay question (30 marks) Applying material from Item B evaluate something

  • Read the question – if it asks you to do two things, make sure you do both
  • Read the item – at least two of your points should stem from the item
  • Make 3-6 total points depending on the essay – deeper or broader
  • Use the Point –Explain – Expand (analyse) – Evaluate structure
  • If it’s a perspectives essay, evaluate using other perspectives towards the end of the essay as you build up to your conclusion.

 

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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*

8-10   

  • 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.

1-3     

  • 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. 

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Ethnicity and Crime: Short Answer Exam Questions and Answers

This post contains two examples of possible 4/6 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions which may come up on the AQA’s Crime and Deviance Paper 3.

Outline two structural factors which may explain differences in offending by ethnicity (4)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined

  • The higher rates of single parent families in African-Caribbean households (1 mark) this might explain the higher levels of crime because absent fathers mean lack of a disciplinary figure and the fact that children from Caribbean households are more likely to join gangs (+1 mark)
  • Blocked opportunities in the education system for African-Caribbean children (1 mark) which means lower educational achievement, and a higher chance of being unemployed, which is correlated with higher levels of economic crime (+1 mark)
  • Institutional racism in the police force (1 mark) higher rates of ethnic minority crime may be a frustrated response against police oppression, as with the London riots (+1 mark)

Outline three ways in which Racism may manifest itself in the criminal justice system (6)

Two marks for each of two appropriate reasons clearly outlined or one mark for appropriate reasons partially outlined. The following would get 1 mark each, you need to add in the +1s

  • The police stop disproportionate amounts of black and Asian people (1 mark)
  • Black suspects are more likely to be sent to jail than white people (1 mark)
  • Ethnic minorities are more likely to have their cases thrown out of court than white people (1 mark)
  • Black and minority officers are under-represented (1 mark)
  • There is a ‘canteen culture’ of Racism in the UK police force (1 mark)
  • The police force fail to take race crimes against ethnic minorities seriously (1 mark)

Related Posts

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Analyse two ways in which patterns of crime may vary with social class (10)

Just a few thoughts on how you might answer the above 10 mark question – a possibility for the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods Paper 3

NB – There is every possibility that the actual 10 marker will be much more convoluted (complex) than this, but then again, there’s also the possibility of getting a simpler question – remember you could get either, and there’s no way of knowing which you’ll get – it all depends on how brightly the examiner’s hatred of teenagers is burning when he (it’s still probably a he!) writes the paper… 

FirstlyUnderclass – New Right – highest levels of crime – unemployment/ single parents = low attachment (Hirschi) also less opportunity to achieve legitimate goals (Merton’s strain theory), also more relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures (Young). Results in more property crime (theft) , possibly violent crime because of status frustration (Cohen). Backed up by prison stats – disproportionate number prisoners unemployed etc.

In contrast Middle classes supposedly have lower crime rates because they experience the opposite of all of the above.

However, Interactionists argue this difference is a social construction – Media over-reports underclass subcultures and deviance (Stan Cohen), Police interpret working class deviance as bad, middle class deviance as acceptable (Becker).

Secondly… Elite social classes – Because of greater access have the ability to commit different crimes – Corporate Crime – health and safety negligence (e.g. Bhopal) – Marxists = cost is greater than street crime – more people die annually than from street murders (Tombs and Whyte) – Also white collar financial crimes (e.g. Kweku Adeboli/ Madhoff/ Enron) – Total economic cost greater than street crime (Laureen Snider) – often go unpunished because of selective law enforcement (Gordon) – e.g. Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley paying below the minimum wage – but crimes = technically more difficult to prosecute and the public generally aren’t that worried about them.

In contrast ‘the rest of us’ don’t have the ability to commit high level Corporate Crimes, and so any one crime committed by an ordinary individual is relatively low-impact in comparison, although more likely to be picked up by the media and the authorities.

Finally (relevant to both of the above) – the government doesn’t collect any reliable stats on the relationship between social class and offending so we can’t actually be sure how the patterns vary any way!

And a few bonus thoughts on a related question… 

Outline and analyse two reasons why crime statistics may not provide us with a valid picture of the relationship between social class background and patterns of criminal behaviour (10)

First way into the question = pick two different sets of stats on crime and talk them out…

1. Prisoner statistics suggest that…..

2. The Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests that…

Second way into the question…. More general points (easier, but more danger of repeating yourself)

1. The types of crime committed by elite social class are different to those committed by those from lower social classes…..

2. According to Interactionists, the different labels agents of social control attach to people from different class backgrounds mean the crime stats may lack validity…..

3. There are so many different ways of measuring social class and the government doesn’t collect any systematic data on the relationship between social class and crime….

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Assess the Contribution of Post/ Late Modern Perspectives to our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

An essay plan on Post/ Late Modern perspectives on crime and deviance covering the relationship between consumerism and crime (Robert Reiner), The Vertigo of Late Modernity (Jock Young), the consequences of globalisation for crime, and the rise of cyber crime, all followed by some evaluations and a conclusion. 

Brief intro outlining the key ideas of Post/ Late Modernism

  • Postmodern society is different to modern society – It is more consumerist, and individuals have more freedom of choice than ever before.
  • Late Modernists argue that crime has changed in some fundamental ways in the age of postmodernity

Point One – Consumer society is a high crime society (Robert Reiner)

  • Crime started to rise in the 1950s with the birth of consumerism
  • 80% of crime is property crime, suggesting a link between the increase in materialism and the rise of crime
  • Rapid crime increase became especially pronounced with the neoliberal policies of Thatcher

Point Two – The ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ (uncertainty) explains crime and deviance today (Jock Young)

  • Postmodern life is insecure – neither jobs nor relationships are for life. These instabilities create a constant state of ‘anomie’ or meaninglessness.
  • Thus people no longer find security in their jobs/ relationships, and they thus look for thrills at weekends to give their life meaning – risk taking behaviour is the norm (‘edgework’) and much crime is an outcome of this.
  • Winlow’s study of night-time violence supports this, as does Katz’s work on ‘Edgework’.

Point Three – Globalisation has resulted in many new types of crime

  • Postmodern culture is global – there are many new flows of money, goods, technologies and ideas which open up new opportunities for crime.
  • Some of the most significant types of global crime are drug-crime, people trafficking, cybercrime and the global terrorist threat.
  • One thing fuelling this is global inequality (demand and supply).
  • One major consequence is the increase awareness of ‘risk consciousness’ and the increase in fear, especially because of the perceived terrorist threat.

Point Four – New Technologies open up new opportunities for crime, especially cyber-crime

  • Cybercrime is one of the fastest growth areas of crime and this is global in nature.
  • Fraud is one type of crime – such as the Nigerian Romance Scam.
  • Cyber-stalking and harassment also seems to be more common than face to face crimes of this nature.
  • Governments are also under threat from ‘cyber attacks’ from foreign powers.

Overall Evaluations

Positive Negative
+ Society and the nature of crime do seem to have changed in recent years, so it’s worth revisiting the ‘underlying causes’

+ Better than Marxism and Feminism as these theories look at crime more generally, rather than just focussing on issues of power.

– On closer inspection there doesn’t seem to be much new in many late-modern theories of crime – much of it just seems to be Strain Theory updated.

– These theories may be too general to be useful to anyone. If there are multiple causes of crime, which are complex and global, we have no clue what to do to control crime?!?

Conclusion – How useful are post (late) modern theories in helping us understand crime and deviance

On the plus side it is clear that the nature of crime has changed with the onset of a global, hyper-connected postmodern society.

However, we might not need a completely new batch of theories to understand these changes. Marxists, for example, would say that we can understand much global crime, and even much ‘local crime’ because of the increase in economic inequalities which are part of globalisation.

Related Posts 

Modernity, Post-Modernity, and Late-Modernity 

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AS Sociology Exam Advice (AQA)

A brief podcast I put together which provides an overview of the two AS Sociology exams (AQA syllabus)

 

 

Final Assessment of AS Sociology – 2 Exam Papers

Paper 7191 (1) 90 minutes, 60 marks

Education and Methods in Context

Paper 7191 (2) – 90 minutes, 60 marks

Research Methods and Families and Households

Paper 7191 (1) 90 minutes, 60 marks

Education and Methods in Context

Paper 7191 (2) – 90 minutes, 60 marks

Research Methods and Families and Households

Education (5 questions)

Define the term…

(3 min) (2 marks)

Using one example, briefly explain…

(3 min) (2 marks)

Outline three ways…

(9 min) (6 marks)

Outline and explain two…

(15 min) (10 marks)

Applying material from Item A and elsewhere, evaluate…

(30 mins) (20 marks)

Methods Applied to Education (1 question)

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

(30 min) (20 marks)

Research methods (2 questions)

(Q01) Outline two….

(6 mins) (4 marks)

(Q02) Evaluate… Something about research methods

(24 mins) (16 marks)

Families (5 questions)

(Q08) Define the term…

(3 mins) (2 marks)

(Q09) Using one example, briefly explain…

(3 mins) (2 marks)

(Q10) Outline three…

(9 mins) (6 marks)

(Q11) Outline and explain two….

(15 mins ) (10 marks)

(Q12) Applying material from Item A and your knowledge, evaluate…

(30 mins) (20 marks)

Relevant Links 

The AQA Sociology Hub Site

Specimen Sociology exam papers and mark schemes from the AQA

If you like this sort of thing then you might like to purchase my extensive no-nonsense revision notes – over 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Research Methods Coverv3
Purchase on iTunes for only £0.99*

*Price will fluctuate with the dollar exchange rate

 

Further Revision Notes to Follow