The AQA produces an examiner report after every exam, and it’s very good advice to look at these reports to see common mistakes students made last year, so you can avoid making the same mistakes this year!
Below I’ve selected FIVE choice pieces of advice based on the two most common errors from the 2018 Education with Theory and Methods paper.
For the short answer questions, make sure you get your ID and Development the right way round – for example, last year’s 4 mark question was on ‘two reasons why marketisation policies may create social class differences in educational achievement’ – many students started with a policy rather than a reason, they should have started with a reason and then illustrated with a policy.
The six marker was ‘outline three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement – the report says that many students did not get a second mark because they failed to be specific enough in their application to gender or educational achievement, so be specific!
For question 5 – the methods in context question – the best answers used the hooks in the item, so use the item!
At the other end of the paper – the final 10 mark theory and methods and question, a lot of students seemed to run out time to answer this, so make sure you get your timing right. Remember that it’s almost certainly going to be easier to get 4/10 for a 10 mark question than to go from 12/20 to 16/20 on a methods in context question – the bar’s lower after all!
Focussing on the final 10 marker – if you get another ‘criticise a theory’ type question’ then the best answers simply used other perspectives to develop their criticisms.
It seems that the 10 marker with item and 30 mark essay question were OK!
All information taken from the AQA’s 7192/1 examiner report.
A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.
Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the theory and methods aspects of sociology
Interviews are one of the most commonly used qualitative research methods in the sociology of education. In this post I consider some of the strengths and limitations of using interviews to research education, focussing mainly on unstructured interviews.
This post is primarily designed to get students thinking about methods in context, or ‘applied research methods’. Before reading through this students might like to brush up on methods in context by reading this introductory post. Links to other methods in context advice posts can be found at the bottom of the research methods page (link above!)
Practical issues with interviews
Gaining access may be a problem as schools are hierarchical institutions and the lower down the hierarchy an individual is, the more permissions the interviewer will require to gain access to interview them. For example, you might require the headmaster’s permission to interview a teacher, while to interview pupils you’ll require the headmasters and their parent’s permission.
However, if you can gain consent, and get the headmaster onside, the hierarchy may make doing interviews more efficient – the headmaster can instruct teachers to release pupils from lessons to do the interviews, for example.
Interviews tend to take more time than questionnaires, and so finding the time to do the interviews may be a problem – teachers are unlikely to want to give up lesson time for interviews, and pupils are unlikely to want spend their free time in breaks or after school taking part in interviews. Where teachers are concerned, they do tend to be quite busy, so they may be reluctant to give up time in their day to do interviews.
However, if the topic is especially relevant or interesting, this will be less of a problem, and the interviewer could use incentives (rewards) to encourage respondents to take part. Group interviews would also be more time efficient.
Younger respondents tend to have more difficulty in keeping to the point, and they often pick up on unexpected details in questions, which can make interviews take longer.
Younger respondents may have a shorter attention span than adults, which means that interviews need to be kept short.
Students may see the interviewer as the ‘teacher in disguise’ – they may see them as part of the hierarchical structure of the institution, which could distort their responses. This could make pupils give socially desirable responses. With questions about homework, for example, students may tell the interviewer they are doing the number of hours that the school tells them they should be doing, rather than the actual number of hours they spend doing homework.
To overcome this the teacher might consider conducting interviews away from school premises and ensure that confidentiality is guaranteed.
Young people’s intellectual and linguistic skills are less developed that adults and the interviewer needs to keep in mind that:
They may not understand longer words or more complex sentences.
They may lack the language to be able to express themselves clearly
They may have a shorter attention span than adults
They may read body language different to adults
Having said all of that, younger people are probably going to be more comfortable speaking rather than reading and writing if they have poor communication skills, which means interviews are nearly always going to be a better choice than questionnaires where younger pupils are concerned.
To ensure greater validity in interviews, researchers should try to do the following:
Avoid using leading questions as young people are more suggestible than adults.
Use open ended questions
Not interrupt students’ responses
Learn to tolerate pauses while students think.
Avoid repeating questions, which makes students change their first answer as they think it was wrong.
Unstructured interviews may thus be more suitable than structured interviews, because they make it easier for the researcher to rephrase questions if necessary.
The location may affect the validity of responses – if a student associates school with authority, and the interview takes place in a school, then they are probably more likely to give socially desirable answers.
If the researcher is conducting interviews over several days, later respondents may get wind of the topics/ questions which may influence the responses they give.
Schools and parents may object to students being interviewed about sensitive topics such as drugs or sexuality, so they may not give consent.
To overcome this the researcher might consider doing interviews with the school alongside their PSHE programme.
Interviews may be unsettling for some students – they are, after all, artificial situations. This could be especially true of group interviews, depending on who is making up the groups.
Peer group interviews may well be a good a choice for researchers studying topics within the sociology of education.
Group interviews can create a safe environment for pupils
Peer-group discussion should be something pupils are familiar with from lessons
Peer-support can reduce the power imbalance between interviewer and students
The free-flowing nature of the group interview could allow for more information to come forth.
The group interview also allows the researcher to observe group dynamics.
They are more time efficient than one on one interviews.
Peer pressure may mean students are reluctant to be honest for fear of ridicule
Students may also encourage each other to exaggerate or lie for laffs.
Group interviews are unpredictable, and very difficult to standardise and repeat which mean they are low in validity.
‘Blue Monday’ is apparently the most ‘depressing’ day of the year…
Accept it’s not.
It’s actually the day of the year on which people are most likely to book a holiday, based on the following formula:
A psychologist called Cliff Arnall came up with the formula in 2005. He developed it on behalf Travel (a now defunct media channel), who wanted to know what motivated people to book a summer holiday, and the bits of the formula are (I think) supposed to represent those variables.
Industry stats suggest that late January is the period when people are most likely to book a holiday (how far this has been reinforced by the Blue Monday marketing phenomenon is hard to say), so Arnall’s variables may be valid. I’ve no idea how he came up with either them or the formula, but the idea behind it doesn’t appear to have been to calculate the most ‘depressing’ day of the year.
However, somehow the media have come up with the concept of ‘Blue Monday’, and now the third Monday in January is, in the public’s imagination, the day of the year which is the most ‘depressing’.
Intuitively this makes sense: debt, darkness, post-Christmas, all things we might think make it more likely that we will be miserable.
However, there is no actual evidence to back up the claim that Blue Monday is the most ‘depressing’ day of the year.
People have used social media sentiment analysis to look at how mood varies day to day, but this doesn’t back up the concept of Blue Monday… if anything early spring seems to be the period when people are the least happy.
There’s a further problem, the official view of the mental health charity MIND, that Blue Monday trivializes depression which tends to be a long-term mental health condition which doesn’t simply worsen as we move from Christmas into January and then gradually lift as we get further towards spring.
In the end it must be remembered that ‘Blue Monday’ is actually a marketing tool, designed to make us buy crap we don’t need in order to ‘lift our moods’, which aren’t necessarily lower in January at all!
And as a result, we get a raft of newspaper articles telling us how to ‘beat Blue Monday’, some of which suggest we should ‘book a holiday’ which is where the whole concept started after all!
Relevance to A level sociology
Firstly the concept of Blue Monday illustrates the need to think critically – this is a great example of a concept which is based on completely invalid measurements. It simply has no validity, so the only question you can ask is ‘why does it exist’, rather than ‘why are people more miserable in late January (they are not, according to the evidence!).
This is possible support for the Marxist theory of society – of ideological control through the media: Blue Monday appears to be a media fabrication designed to get us to buy more stuff.
Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.
Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…
A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)
Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement
Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.
Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice
Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.
Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.
The idea behind ‘Nudge’ was that by exploiting traits of ‘human nature’ such as our tendencies to put of making decisions, or to give into peer pressure, it was possible to ‘nudge’ people into making certain decisions.
10 years on, it seems that government all over the world have applied ‘nudge theory’ to achieve their desired outcome. They have managed to implement some relatively ‘small scale’ social policies and make huge savings at little cost to the public purse.
In the U.K. for example, David Cameron set up the Behavourial Insights Team (or Nudge Unit) which seems to have had some remarkable successes. For example:
Reminder letters telling people that most of their neighbours have already paid their taxes have boosted tax receipts. This was designed to appeal to the ‘heard instinct’.
The unit boosted tax returns from the top 1% (those owing more than £30K) from 39% to 47%. To do so they changed their punitive letter to one reminding them of the good paying taxes can do.
Sending encouraging text messages to pupils resitting GCSEs has boosted exam results. This appeals to the well-recognised fact that people respond better to praise.
Sending text messages to jobseekers reminding them of job interviews signed off with ‘good luck’ has reduced the number of missed interviews.
As with so many public-policy initiatives these days, the Behavourial Insights Team is set up as a private venture, and it now makes its money selling its ‘nudge policy’ ideas to government departments around the world.
The Limitations of Nudge Politics
Methodologically speaking there are a at least three fairly standard problems:
Firstly, the UK’s nudge unit hasn’t been in place long enough to establish whether these are long-term, ’embedded success’.
Secondly, we don’t really know why ‘nudge actions’ work. The data suggests a correlation between small changes in how letters are worded and so on and behaviour, but we don’t really know the ‘why’ of what’s going on.
Thirdly, I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many controlled trials out there which have been done to really verify the success of some of these policies.
Theoretically there are also quite a few problems:
The book and the ‘team’ above both talk in terms of ‘nudging’ people into making the ‘right decisions’… but who decides what is right? This theory ignores questions of power.
It also could be used towards very negative ends… in fact I think we’ve already seen that with the whole Brexit and Trump votes….. I’m sure those campaigns used nudge theory to manipulate people’s voting outcomes. It doesn’t take a massive swing to alter political outcomes today after all!
Finally, I cannot see how you are going to be able to ‘nudge’ people into making drastic changes to save the planet for example: I can’t imagine the government changing the message on its next round of car tax renewal letters to include messages such as: ‘have you ever thought about giving up the car and just walking everywhere instead? If you did so, the planet might stand a chance of surviving!’.
Final thoughts: the age of the ‘nudge’?
I think this book and this type of ‘steering politics’ are very reflective of the age we live in. (The whole theory is kind of like a micro-version of Anthony Giddens’ ‘steering the juggernaut’ theory.) This is policy-set very much favoured to career politicians and bureaucrats who would rather focus on ‘pragmatic politics’. It’s kind of like what realism is to Marxism in criminology theory: not interested in the ‘big questions’.
I just cannot see how this kind of politics is going to help us move towards making the kind of drastic social changes that are probably going to be required to tackle the biggest problems of our times: global warming, militarism, inequality, refugees for example.
Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology crime with theory and methods exam, June 2018… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA).
Please scroll down for links to other papers!
I won’t produce the exact questions below, just the gist…
Q01 – Outline two ways in which gender may influence the risk of being a victim of crime (4)
Difficulty – easy
Men and masculinity – aggressiveness, linked to higher levels male victims of street crime.
Women and domestic violence – linked to patriarchal norms, gender roles.
And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups.
Q02 – Three criticisms of the labelling theory of crime (6)
Difficulty – anywhere from easy to difficult…
If you’ve realised this is a ‘stock question’ that’s been waiting to happen for a while, easy, but if you’re not prepared…. it’s tricky to get beyond the ‘deterministic’ criticism.
If you scroll down to the bottom of my 2016 post on the labelling theory of crime, you’ll find five criticisms at the end of it!
Q03 – Analyse two reasons for social class differences in official crime statistics (10)
Difficulty – easy
The item clearly directs you to one application of labelling theory and one application of ‘underlying differences’.
Police and courts more likely to label wc/ Underclass behaviour as criminal – apply Cicourel. Contrast to white collar crime going unnoticed.
Greater motivation due to poverty (risk) and opportunity… link to left realism, opportunity structures.
Q04 Evaluate sociological contributions to our understanding of the relationship between the media and crime (30)
Difficulty – medium
Fair question, difficult/ niche topic.
The item directs you to relative deprivation and moral panics so you can apply strain theory, Marxism, and interactionism – quite easy.
Then New Media – so cyber crime maybe linked to postmodernism.
Of course, anyone whose done the media option will have an unfair advantage here. This is something of a problem, then again I can say the same about any of my students getting a question on globalisation and crime, given that they do the global development option.
Difficulty – easy
Q05 – Outline and explain two disadvantages of using laboratory experiments in sociological research (10)
Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) ‘topics’ exam: global development section B only. Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA)
I won’t produce the exact questions below, mainly because I haven’t actually seen the paper at time of writing, just the gist…based on what some of the students said immediately afterwards. Check back tomorrow for the updated, more precise version!
So NB – the actual questions may have been slightly different!
Q04: Outline and explain two ways in which development aid might promote gender equality (10)
I would have gone for two very basic ‘topic based’ areas to start: something about aid and improving women’s health and the knock on effects, and then something about women’s education, linked to work.
Q05: Analyse two things to do with cultural globalisation.
Obviously I need to see the item to comment fully, but I’m going to assume that the item allows you to develop one point using optimism versus pessimism and then another contrasting transformationalism with traditionalism.
However, let’s play it safe and say that the easiest way to ‘guarantee’ your A* is to max out the short answer (4-6) mark questions, and then sneak into the top mark bands for every other question. If you did that you’d end up with a total score of 67/80, made up of the marks as below
Q01 – 4/4 marks
Q02 – 6/6 marks
Q03 – 8/10 marks
Q04 – 25/30 marks
Q05 – 17/20 marks
Q06 – 8/10 marks
= Total marks of 68/70, which is still COMFORTABLY into the A* category!
The remainder of this post explains how to get full marks in the first two short answer ‘outline and explain’ (4 and 6 mark) questions and then examines the ‘top band’s of the mark schemes for the other 10 mark and essay questions, drawing on specific examples from a the AQA’s specimen papers and some model marked scripts from last year’s 2017 A-level sociology examination series.
For more details on how these exams are assessed, please see the AQA’s we site.
Strategies to get an A* in A Level sociology (focusing on paper 7192/3)
Questions 01 and 02: the four and six mark questions
Remember that this exact question could appear on either paper 1, or paper 3!
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.
74 pages of revision notes
15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods