What is a Likert Scale?

A Likert* scale is a multiple-indicator or multiple-item measure of a set of attitudes relating to a particular area. The goal of a Likert scale is to measure intensity of feelings about the area in question.

A Likert scale about Likert scales!

In its most common format, the Likert scale consists of a statement (e.g. ‘I love Likert scales’) and then a range of ‘strength of feeling’ options which respondents choose from – in the above example, there are five such options ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Each respondents reply on each item is scored, typically with a high score (5 in the above example) being given for positive feelings and a low score (1 in the above example) for negative feelings.

Once all respondents have completed the questionnaire, the scores from all responses are aggregated to give an overall score, or ‘strength of feeling’ about the issue being measured.

Some examples of sociological research using Likert scales:

The World Values Survey is my favourite example – they use a simple four point scale to measure happiness. The poll below gives you the exact wording used in the survey…

The results on the web site (and below) show you the percentages who answer in each category, but I believe that the researchers also give scores to each response (4 to 1) and then do the same for similar questions, combine the scores and eventually come up with a happiness rating for a country out of 10. I think the USA scores around 7.2 or something like that, it might be more! Look it up if you’re interested….

America’s happiness results

Important points to remember about Likert scales

  • The items must be statements, not questions.
  • The items must all relate to the same object being measured (e.g. happiness, strength of religious belief)
  • The items that make up the scale should be interrelated so as to ensure internal reliability is strong.

*The Likert Scale is named after Rensis Likert, who developed the method.

Sources

Adapted from Bryman’s Social Research Methods

 

Postmodern Methods in Louis Theroux Documentaries

Louis Theroux documentaries are a great example of ‘postmodern’ research methods.

I say this for the following reasons:

  • Firstly, these documentaries select unusual, deviant case studies to focus on, which is especially true of the latest series – ‘Dark States’ which consists of three episodes about heroin users, sex trafficking and murder.
  • Secondly, they tend to have a narrative style, focusing on people’s stories.
  • Thirdly, there’s a lack of structure about the documentaries… Theroux makes a connection with people and sees where that leads.
  • Fourthly – there’s no real attempt to be critical, or provide any analyses of the role of economic and political structures which lie behind these stories. In short, they are not properly sociological!
  • Finally, these documentaries seem to be produced for entertainment purposes only – they simply invite us to marvel or gawp at the ‘fantastically fucked up’ individuals before us, without offering any real solutions as to how they might sort their lives out, or how society should deal with them.

A brief analysis of two episodes of ‘Dark States’ demonstrates the postmodern nature of these documentaries:

In the first episode in the series, Heroin Town, Theroux looks at how the over-prescription of painkillers has unleashed a heroin epidemic. Theroux says that he largely steered clear of the pharmaceutical companies, regulators and politicians who permitted the disaster…. Instead, he hung out on streets where heroin and opioid addiction is “off the scale, unlike anything I’d ever seen before” and made addicts the stars, giving them space to express themselves and showing how many are beguiled by the romance of being outlaws.

The third episode, on Sex Trafficking in Houston, focuses on the relationships between sex workers and pimps, also shows the ‘postmodern documentary method – in which Theroux deliberately avoided making any value judgments:

Theroux says that he avoided the term “sex slave”: “If you overdo the abusive dimension, you strip the women of agency – it’s oddly disempowering and kind of neo-Victorian. The women are getting a kind of emotional fulfilment in their relationship with the pimps, even though it is poisonous and often damaging.” The pimps tended to be stylish, eloquent and intelligent. “These guys are, in their own way, deeply damaged, often the children of prostitutes, who may have had dads or family friends who were pimps. The closest analogy I have is that they are living in semi-apocalyptic conditions where the police are just not an option.”

Of course there are both strengths and limitations of these postmodern methods… I guess the biggest strength is that they allow the respondents to speak for themselves, and it’s down to the viewer to interpret the information as they will, and analyse deeper if they feel the need!

Sources:

The Guardian

 

How I would’ve answered A level sociology paper 3: crime and deviance with theory and methods, June 2017

Crime and deviance with theory and methods is the third and final exam paper (7192/3) in the AQA A level sociology specification – below are a few thoughts on how I would’ve answered the paper from the June 2017 exam…

Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Two reasons for ethnic differences in offending

I’m a bit concerned that the plural on differences means you need to talk about two different ethnic groups… so to be on the safe side. (Of course it’s not obvious that you need to do this from the question, and maybe you don’t, but remember the AQA’s burning hatred of teenagers… I wouldn’t put it past them!

To be on the safe side…

  • African-Caribbeans more likely to end up in jail due to more serious nature offences (knife/ gun convictions) compared to whites
  • Asians over represented due to Islamophobia – more labelling by media/ public/ police = higher conviction rate.

Both of those need to be better articulated, but they are two completely different reasons!

The hub post for ethnicity and crime is here – official statistics on ethnicity and crime

Q02 – Outline three functions of crime

BOOM!

Or so you probably thought… it’s simply a matter of explaining Durkheim’s three functions of crime:

  • Integration
  • Regulation
  • Social chance

BUT – Have you really nailed the difference between integration (belonging/ connections) and regulation (clarity of rules/ prevention of anomie)?

Q03 – Analyse two ways in which deviant subcultures may respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals

The item directs you to underachievement at school and deprived or unstable neighbourhoods. You could draw on the material from subcultural theory – so I’d go with…

  • Albert Cohen’s status frustration and the standard rebellious subcultures.
  • Then you could draw on Cloward and Ohlin’s subcultural types (there’s that burning hatred of teenagers again, this is turgid old stuff that could be relevant) – criminal or retreatist subcultures
  • To link into the above point you could draw on Merton’s responses to strain and just relate these to subcultures.

Q04 – Evaluate sociological contributions to crime prevention strategies

The item directs you to both right and left realism and then surveillance… so it’s simply a matter of

Obviously topped and tailed with an intro and conclusion

Q05 – Outline two advantages of choosing overt observation compared to covert observation

I covered this at the bottom of this post of participant observation, but you’d need to expand on all the points!

I’d probably go for point 1 validity and point 2 on ethics to make sure the two points are very different.

One thing you NEED to do for this is to compare the two -overt and covert!

Q06 – Evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches in our understanding of society

Straightforward – the item directs you to consensus and Marxism and labelling theory (also Weber’s social action theory, but I’d leave that aside and just settle for 16 or 17 out of 20) and talks about power.

So simply –

Point 1 – Functionalism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 2 – Marxism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 3 – Social action theory and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Overall evaluation – use PM to criticise both, and conclude that conflict theories are absolutely more relevant!

Overall I thought this was a reasonable paper! Classic, even.

Experiments in Sociology – Revision Notes

Definitions, key features and the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of laboratory and field experiments applied to sociology (and psychology). Also covers key terms related to experiments.

post has been written to help students revising for the research methods aspect of their second year A-level exams.

Experiments – The Basics: Definitions/ Key Features

  • Experiments aim to measure the effect which one or more independent variables have on a dependent variable.
  • The aim is to isolate and measure as precisely as possible the exact effect independent variables have on dependent variables.
  • Experiments typically aim to test a ‘hypothesis’ – a prediction about how one variable will effect another.
  • There are two main types* of experimental method: The Laboratory experiment, the field experiment and the comparative method.
    • Laboratory Experiments take place in an artificial, controlled environment such as a laboratory.
    • Field Experiments – take place in a real world context such as a school or a hospital.

Advantages of Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – The controlled conditions of laboratory experiments allow researchers to isolate variables: you can precisely measure the exact effect of one thing on another.
  • Theoretical – You can establish cause and effect relationships.
  • Theoretical – You can collect ‘objective’ knowledge – about how facts ‘out there’ affect individuals.
  • Theoretical – Good Reliability because it is easy to replicate the exact same conditions.
  • Theoretical – Good Reliability because of the high level of detachment between the researcher and the respondent.
  • Practical – Easy to attract funding because of the prestige of science.
  • Practical – Take place in one setting so researchers can conduct research like any other day-job – no need to chase respondents.
  • Ethical – Most laboratory experiments seek to gain informed consent, often a requirement to get funding.
  • Ethical – Legality – lab experiments rarely ask participants to do anything illegal.
  • Ethical – Findings benefit society – both Milgram and Zimbardo would claim the shocking findings of their research outweigh the harms done to respondents.

Disadvantages of Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – They are reductionist: human behaviour cannot be explained through simple cause and effect relationships (people are not ‘puppets’).
  • Theoretical – Laboratory experiments lack external validity – the artificial environment is so far removed from real-life that the results tell us very little about how respondents would actually act in real life.
  • Theoretical – The Hawthorne Effect may further reduce validity – respondents may act differently just because they know they are part of an experiment.
  • Theoretical – They are small scale and thus unrepresentative.
  • Practical – It is impractical to observe large scale social processes in a laboratory – you cannot get whole towns, let alone countries of people into the small scale setting of a laboratory.
  • Practical – Time – Small samples mean you will need to conduct consecutive experiments on small groups if you want large samples, which will take time
  • Ethical – Deception and lack of informed consent – it is often necessary to deceive subjects as to the true nature of the experiment so that they do not act differently. Links to the Hawthorne Effect.
  • Ethical – Some specific experiments have resulted in harm to respondents – in the Milgram experiment for example.
  • Ethical – Interpretivists may be uncomfortable with the unequal relationships between researcher and respondent – the researcher takes on the role of the expert, who decides what is worth knowing in advance of the experiment.

Advantages of Field Experiments over Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – They generally have better validity than lab experiments because they take place in real life settings
  • Theoretical – Better external validity – because they take place in normally occurring, real-world social settings.
  • Practical – Larger scale settings – you can do field experiments in schools or workplaces, so you can observe large scale social processes, which isn’t possible with laboratory experiments.
  • Practical – a researcher can ‘set up’ a field experiment and let it run for a year, and then come back later.

The relative disadvantages of Field Experiments

  • Theoretical – It is not possible to control variables as closely as with laboratory experiments – because it’s impossible to observe respondents 100% of the time.
  • Theoretical – Reliability is weaker – because it’s more difficult to replicate the exact context of the research again.
  • Theoretical – The Hawthorne Effect (or Experimental Effect) may reduce the validity of results.
  • Practical Problems – access is likely to be more of a problem with lab experiments. Schools and workplaces might be reluctant to allow researchers in.
  • Ethical Problems – As with lab experiments – it is often possible to not inform people that an experiment is taking place in order for them to act naturally, so the issues of deception and lack of informed consent apply here too, as does the issue of harm.

Experiments – Key Terms Summary

Hypothesis – a theory or explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. A hypothesis will typically take the form of a testable statement about the effect which one or more independent variables will have on the dependent variable.

Dependent Variable – this is the object of the study in the experiment, the variable which will (possibly) be effected by the independent variables.

Independent variables – The variables which are varied in an experiment – the factors which the experimenter changes in order to measure the effect they have on the dependent variable.

Extraneous variables – Variables which are not of interest to the researcher but which may interfere with the results of an experiment

Experimental group – The group under study in the investigation.

Control group – The group which is similar to the study group who are held constant. Following the experiment the experimental group can be compared to the control group to measure the extent of the impact (if any) of the independent variables.

You should also know about natural experiments/ the comparative method –involves comparing two or more societies or groups which are similar in some respects but varied in others, and looking for correlations.  

Signposting

This post has been written to help students revising for the research methods aspect of their second year A-level exams.

These are the more in-depth posts on experiments

Experiments in sociology – an introduction

Laboratory experiments in sociology

Field experiments in sociology

Surveys on Family Life in the UK

Social Surveys are one of the most common methods for routinely collecting data in sociology and the social sciences more generally. There are lots of examples of where we use social surveys throughout the families and households module in the A level sociology syllabus – so what do they tell us about family life in modern Britain, and what are their strengths and limitations….?

This information should be useful for both families and households and for exploring the strengths and limitations of social surveys for research methods…

Attitudes to marriage surveys

Headline Fact – in 2016, only 37% of the UK population believe people should be married before they have children.

Findings from NatCen’s 2016 British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the British public is reaching a tipping point in its views on marriage.

For the first time since NatCen started asking whether people who want to have children ought to be married, the proportion who disagree (35%) is almost the same as those who agree (37%).

Back in 1989, seven people in ten (70%) felt that people should be married if they want to have children, compared with less two in ten (17%) who disagreed.

It’s actually worth noting how quickly attitudes have changed since the previous survey in 2012, as demonstrated in the info graphic below – in 2016 it’s now down to 37%

Percentage of the UK population who agree that parents should be married before they have children

What are the strengths of this survey (focussing on this one question)?

  • I’m tempted to say the validity is probably quite good, as this isn’t a particularly sensitive topic, and the focus of the question is the ‘generalised other’, so there should be no social desirability.
  • It’s very useful for making comparisons over time – given that the same question has been asked in pretty much the same way for quite a few years now…
  • Representativeness seems to be OK – NatCen sampled a range of ages, and people with different political views, so we can compare all that too – no surprises here btw – the old and the conservatives are more likely to be in favour of marriage.

What are the limitations of this survey?

  • As with all surveys, there’s no indication of why belief in marriage is in decline, no depth or insight.
  • The question above is so generalised, it might give us a false impression of how liberal people are. I wonder how much the results would change if you made the questions more personal – would you rather your own son/ daughter should be married before they had children? Or just different – ‘all other things being equal, it’s better for children to be brought up by married parents, rather than by non-married-parents’ – and then likehert scale it. Of course that question itself is maybe just a little leading….

Housework Surveys 

Headline ‘fact’ – women still do 60% more housework than men (based on ONS data from 2014-15)

housework UK

Women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men, ONS analysis has shown.

Women put in more than double the proportion of unpaid work when it comes to cooking, childcare and housework and on average men do 16 hours a week of such unpaid work compared to the 26 hours of unpaid work done by women a week.

The only area where men put in more unpaid work hours than women is in the provision of transport – this includes driving themselves and others around, as well as commuting to work.

This data is derived from the The UK Time Diary Study (2014-15) – which used a combination of time-use surveys and interviews to collect data from around 9000 people in 4000 households.

It’s worth noting that even though the respondents were merely filling in a few pages worth of diary, this document contains over 200 pages of technical details, mainly advice on how researchers are supposed to code responses.

What are the strengths of this survey?

  • The usual ease of comparison. You can clearly see the differences in hours between men and women – NB the survey also shows differences by age and social class, but I haven’t included that here (to keep things brief).
  • It’s a relatively simply topic, so there’s unlikely to be any validity errors due to interpretation on the part of people completing the surveys: it’s obvious what ‘washing clothes’ means for example.
  • This seems to suggest the continued relevance of Feminism to helping us understand and combat gender inequality in the private sphere.

What are the limitations of this data? 

  • click on the above link and you’ll find that there is only a 50% response rate…. which makes the representativeness of this data questionable. If we take into account social desirability, then surely those couples with more equal housework patterns will more likely to return then, and also the busier the couple, the less likely they are to do the surveys. NO, really not convinced about the representativeness here!
  • this research tells us nothing about why these inequalities exist – to what extent is this situation freely chosen, and to what extent is it down to an ‘oppressive socialisation into traditional gender norms’ or just straightforward coercion?
  • given all of the coding involved, I’m not even convinced that this is really that practically advantageous…. overall this research seems to have taken quite a long time, which is a problem given the first criticism above!

Surveys on Children’s Media Usage

Headline Fact: 5 – 15 year olds spend an average of 38 hours a week either watching TV, online or gaming.

It’s also worth noting that for the first time, in 2016, children aged 5-15 say they spend more time online than they do watching television on a TV set.

This is based on research conducted In April/ May/ June 2016, in which 1,375 in-home interviews with parents and children aged 5-15 were conducted, along with 684 interviews with parents of children aged 3-4. (OFCOM: Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitude Report)

Strengths of this Survey

  • It makes comparisons over time easy, as the same questions are asked over a number of different years.
  • Other than that, I think there are more problems!

Limitations of this Survey

  • There are no details of how the sample was achieved in the methodology – so I can’t comment on the representativeness.
  • These are just estimations from the children and parents – this data may have been misrepresented. Children especially might exaggerate their media usage when alone, but downplay it if a parent is present.
  • I’m especially suspicious of the data for the 3-7 year olds, given that this comes from the parent, not the child… there’s a strong likelihood of social desirability leading to under-reporting… good parents don’t let their kids spend too much time online after all!

Further examples of surveys on the family

If you like this sort of thing, you might also want to explore these surveys…

The Working Families Parenting Survey – which basically shows that most parents are too busy working to spend as much time with their kids as they want….

The University of Manchester’s Online Parenting Survey (which takes 20-30 minutes)

How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology of education exam, June 2017

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology education with theory and methods exam, June 2017… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA – NB – there is a certain level of subjectivity and irrationality within the AQA, and so they may interpret how you answer questions  to my (rational) interpretation below… )

Sociology A-level Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Outline two cultural factors that may effect ethnic differences in educational achievement (2 marks)

Difficulty – very easy

Simply pick any two cultural factors and explain how….

  • language barriers
  • parental attitudes towards education (values)
  • parental educational levels
  • family structure

And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups. 

Q02 – Outline three ways in which factors within schools may shape gender differences in education (6 marks)

Difficulty – if you’ve just wrote-learnt the ancient Anne Colley etc. stuff then easy, if you didn’t then it’s medium because it’s quite a narrow subject (NB I did anticipate this narrowness!)

Select three in-school factors then explain how…

  • subject counsellors/ teachers labels about typical boys and girls subjects
  • male and female peer groups – peer pressure
  • male dominance ‘physical subjects’
  • Gendered subject images/ resources

Then talk it through with ideally three example of different subjects, discussing both boys and girls.

Q03 – Applying material from Item A, analyse two effects of increased parental choice on pupils’ experience of education

Difficulty – it appears hard, because you think ‘WTF’ but if you think about it, and use the item, it’s easy, because you can talk about pretty much anything from across class, gender and/ or ethnicity. So I’m going to call this ‘medium’ level of difficulty, as it’s half way between the two!

NB – There are really only two hooks here – in bold below…

Point one – ‘parental choice has led to a range of school types’ this means a greater diversity of experience….. contrast different experience of school types – succeeding schools/ sink schools, you could contrast and discuss ethos/ hidden curriculum, you could bring in faith schools and ethnicity, you could bring in specialist schools, free schools, no national curriculum, link all this to postmodernism. Criticse by saying there are still general similarities – e.g. testing/ pressure/ narrowing of curriculum.

Point two parents use league tables to choose – schools want to attract pupils this means more emphasis on results, teaching to the test, the school-parent alliance, cream skimming, working class covert exclusion – selection by mortgage.. just be careful to relate all of this to ‘experience of education’.

Q04 Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological explanations of the role of education in transmitting ideas and values (30)

Difficulty – medium – this is basically a perspectives question, but the item demands that you address Feminism and PM

Intro – acknowledge the item

P1 – Functionalism (recognise it’s old) and evaluate with P/M.

P2 – Marxism – the stuff about ideology (‘ideas’) – evaluate using P/M

P3 – Feminism – evaluate with ‘girls are improving’, NB – the subject choice stuff from Q2 could be lifted in here to support the view in the item. (Actually quite bad exam design here , mr AQA!)

p4 – Postmodernism – fragmentation, diversity – evaluate with maybe NC/ teaching to the test (which also overlaps with Q3)

Conclusion – something like, oh my lord yes those old perspectives are really dated and we need to recognise education is diverse and complex…

Q05 – Using material from item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using field experiments to investigate the effects of teachers’ labelling of pupils

Difficulty – Medium, because it’s a fairly obscure method, but then again it’s applied to a very obvious topic – you can use R and J’s 1968 labelling experiment throughout (and the item!)

An obvious ‘easy in’ is that you have to be in the school in some way to conduct a field experiment. Lots of level 4 marks available right here.

I’d start with the Theoretical, practical and ethical strengths of the method, always applying to the topic, then do the limitations, the hooks in the item are asking you look at truancy and misbehaviour… you could also address performance… I’d pick up on the fact that truancy is easier to measure than misbehaviour…

The last point in the item is about people refusing to participate, which is just begging you discuss covert research to avoid this, then a whole load of practical and ethical problems which come from doing this IN SCHOOLS.

06 – Outline and explain two practical advantages of using documents in sociological research

Difficulty – Hard, because your average teenager just couldn’t care less about it!

The strategy I’d use here is to pick two different practical disadvantages and then discuss why they’re problematic for different types of public and private documents…

Practical factors include..

  • Access (the obvious one)
  • Time/ money
  • Funding
  • Personal skills of the researcher

Access should be easy – why you might find it difficult to access private documents – diaries/ letters, emails, link to ethics of using them, contrast to public documents.

Time/ money – there’s so many of them, such a diversity – it’s a never ending (time consuming) process to analyse (for example) newspapers, media reports in any depth – then I’d link to problems of sampling/ length of time it take to analyse and so on…

Not an easy question to discuss through – For both points I’d also bang on about interpretivism and positivism as much as possible, talking about how practical problems can undermine validity, representativness, reliability, and use as many examples as possible…

Anyway, just a few thoughts, the last question is probably the most difficult on reflection…

A-Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

A Level Sociology AQA Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 1 Education with Theory and Methods (7192/1).

This information is derived from 3 separate training course I’ve been on run by the AQA’s representatives, my interpretation of how you should answer these questions is not endorsed by the AQA. I have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible in this advice, and it’s the same advice I use with my own students.

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1 – An Overview

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1

  • Paper 1 is a  2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • It is a ‘write in’ paper – you get a gapped booklet, and you write your answers after each question.
  • There are a total of 6 questions and you must answer all of them.
    You have 1.5 minutes per mark.

Exam Technique for Paper 1

Some of the exemplar questions on the next few slides are taken from the AQA’s A Level Sociology Specimen Paper 1, 2015.

4 and 6 Mark ‘Outline’ Questions

  • A four mark question will ask you to ‘Outline’ two ways in which/ reasons why/ criticisms of….
  • A six mark question will ask you to outline three ways/ reasons/ criticisms.
  • Think of these as ‘1+1’ question/ answers –  you need to give a reason and explain how.

Example of a 4 mark question

‘Outline two material factors that may affect social class differences in educational achievement.’ (4)

Mark Scheme

  • Two marks for each of two appropriate factors clearly outlined
  • One mark for appropriate factors partially outlined.

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • Overcrowding at home (1 mark) means not having private space in which to study (+1 mark).
  • High family income (1 mark) means parents can pay for private tuition to help with schoolwork (+1 mark).

Example of a 6 mark question

‘Outline three reasons why government education policies aimed at raising educational achievement among disadvantaged groups may not always succeed’. (6)

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • It is difficult to implement policies (1 mark), for example if they involve intervening in pupils’ home life to change how parents socialise/motivate children (+1 mark).
  • Educational policies alone cannot overcome poverty as a cause of underachievement (1 mark). This requires far-reaching redistributive economic policies to tackle it (+1 mark).
  • Means tested educational policies such as free school meals may have low uptake by targeted groups (1 mark) because of the stigma attached to them (+1 mark).

10 Mark ‘Applying from the Item and Analyse’ Questions

  • A ten mark question (on papers 1 and 3) will ask you to analyse two reasons (applying material from a very short item).
  • You need to give a reason, develop it and analyse it, and then repeat for the next reason.
  • You should spend about 15 minutes on this question. Each reason MUST come from the item!

Example of a 10 Mark Question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item A

According to the Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, middle class parents possess more cultural capital, than working class children.

Bourdieu argues that the skills and knowledge middle class parents possess, such as themselves having benefited from education, and the fact that they are more comfortable dealing with middle class institutions such as schools, is passed down to their children, which explains why they do better in school.

Applying material from Item A, analyse two ways in which cultural capital might give some children an advantage in education (10)

Hooks in the item:

  • Skills – might be research skills)
  • Knowledge (might be linked to tastes)
  • Better education
  • More comfortable dealing with middle class institutions

Any of these hooks can form the basis of ‘one way’ for each ‘way’…

  • Make a point about cultural capital from the item
  • Explain how it gives children an advantage
  • Develop it once, ideally by using a research study, linking to other sub-topics within education
  • Develop it at least one more time, using perspectives if possible.

30 Mark Essays

Possible 30 Mark Essays on Education

  • Evaluate the contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of the role of education ins society (30).
  • Evaluate the view that differential achievement across social groups is mainly due to in-school factors (30).
  • Evaluate the view that educational policies since 1988 have both raised standards and improved equality of educational opportunity (30).

Writing 30 Mark Essays

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes.
  • Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  • 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?

General Structure for Any Sociology Essay

  • Introduction
  • Point (relate to question)
  • Explain
  • Expand
  • Criticise
  • (repeat 3-5 times)
  • Overall Evaluations
  • Conclusion (refer to item)

20 Mark Methods in Context Questions

  • A ‘methods in context’ (MIC) essay question will ask you to apply a method to a topic within education
  • The easiest way to explain how to write MIC essays by using an example…

Example of a Methods in Context Question

Read item B then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

A ‘Safe’ Strategy for Answering Methods in Context (‘MIC’) Questions

Planning:

  • Spend about five minutes planning the essay first:
  • Highlight the ‘hooks’ in the question.
  • Jot down the theoretical, ethical and practical strengths/ limitations of the method.

Essay section 1:

  • Write a ‘safe’ three paragraphs on the method, covering the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the method.
  • As you do this, try to discuss the general strengths and limitations of the method relating to researching education in general (pupils, parents, teachers, in schools and classrooms, maybe in pupils’ homes).

Essay section 2:

  • Use the hooks in the item to discuss why this method might be a particular problem, or particularly useful for the topic you are.
  • Just doing this two or three times should be enough to lift you into the top mark band (17-20).

Essay section 3:

  • Write a brief conclusion – state whether this is a sensible method for researching this topic!

Paper 1: Theory and Methods Section

‘Outline and Explain’ something to do with theory and/ or methods (10) marks)

  • There won’t be an item for this question
  • Pick two reasons/ ways which are as different from each other as possible.
  • Try to develop each using different parts of the course – making links….
  • There will probably be two bits to the question – make sure you make the links.
  • There may only be one ‘little’ 10 mark question, but it could be on any aspect of theory and/ or methods:

Examples of possible theory and methods ten markers

  • Theory: ‘Outline and explain two criticisms of the Marxist view of society (10).
    Methods: Outline and explain two practical problems of using Participant Observation in social research’ (10).
  • Theory and Methods: Outline and explain two reasons why Postmodernists are generally critical of quantitative research methods (10).

Video Version of the above advice (for ‘visual’ learners)

Good luck – And don’t panic… Everyone’s in the same boat.

 

A Level Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Theory and Methods Bundle also available at the same link above!

Research Methods – 4 Mark ‘Outline’ Questions for AS Sociology

One of the questions (worth 4 marks) in the research methods section of the AS sociology 7191 (2) research methods with families and households paper will ask you to ‘outline’ 2 things about any aspect of research methods – below are a few possible questions and some suggested answers….

Each point of your answer to a short answer ‘outline question’ is best thought of as consisting of ‘1+1’ marks -make a point and explain it… as you can see below, each point has two sentences.

Remember it’s always better if you think up these for yourself rather than just reading and copying out the answers from here…

Outline two practical advantages to the researcher of using social surveys in social research (4)

  • Surveys are a quick and cheap means of gathering data from large numbers of people, across wide areas. They are an efficient method because computers can analyse pre-coded answers and quantify the data instantaneously.
  • You don’t need ‘people skills’ to use social surveys, thus anyone can use them to do research. This is because they can be written in advance, and put on-line or sent by post, and thus sociologist’s personal involvement with respondents can be kept to a minimum.

In either paper 1 or paper 3 of the A level sociology exam you might get this exact same question as a 10 mark question, in which case you’re expected to develop both points further, and possibly evaluate it. To see how you would do this, please click here for the 10 mark answer to A level sociology question.

Outline two theoretical problems sociologists might face when using social surveys to conduct research (4)

  • The imposition problem—closed questions limit what respondents can say. Interpretivists argue respondents have diverse motives and it is unlikely that researchers will think up every possible response, thus questionnaires will lack validity.
  • Self-completion surveys can also suffer from poor representativeness – those with low literacy skills are less likely to return them as they are unable to do so, thus resulting in a narrow, biased, self-selecting sample.

To see how you might turn this into an A level answer (papers 1 and 3), please click here for the 10 mark answer to A level sociology question.

Outline two ways in which a researcher might improve the response rate of postal questionnaires (4)

  • You could include an incentive, which people could claim when they return them, such as entry into a prize draw. This means people would be motivated by the money to complete and return the questionnaire.
  • You could remind them via phone a few days after the have received the questionnaire. They may have ignored or forgotten the questionnaire, and people may be more likely to respond because of the personal contact from the researcher.  

Outline two ways in which sociologists might ensure respondents do not misinterpret the questions they are being asked in postal surveys (4)

  • You could make sure questions are clearly worded in simple language to reduce misinterpretation. Here a pilot study with an interviewer present might be a useful way of assessing what wording is the easiest to understand.
  • You could make sure the survey is carried out as a structured interview, or if a postal survey, have a phone-line where people can ask questions – this way a researcher could explain the correct way to interpret any difficult questions.

Outline and Explain Two Practical Advantages of Using Social Surveys in Social Research (10)

It’s possible that a 10 mark question on A level sociology papers 1 or 3 could simply ask you about a ‘pure’ research method, as with the example above.

You might like to review the fuller material on social surveys first before looking at the answer below!

This post suggests a strategy for how to answer such possible questions and provides one exemplar answer, which I think would get full marks in the exam….

Strategy 

  • Make two, distinct points—as different from each other as possible!
  • For each of the points, explain, develop it twice, and (if it flows) do a linked evaluation.
  • It’s good practice to link to Positivism and Interpretivism and use examples.

Exemplar Answer

Firstly, surveys are a quick and cheap means of gathering data from large numbers of people, across wide areas, because, once sent out, millions of people could potentially fill them at the same time.

They are especially quick/ efficient if put online because computers can analyse pre-coded answers and quantify/ compare the data instantaneously.

They also make it easier to gain government funding because you can generalise from large data sets and thus use to inform social policy—the census, for example, allows the government to plan for school places in the future.

However, Interpretivists would argue you never get in-depth/ valid data with this method, and so predictions can be flawed—the polls on Brexit didn’t tell us what people really thought about this issue!

Secondly, you don’t need ‘people skills’ to use social surveys, thus anyone can use them to do research.

This is because they can be written in advance, and put on-line or sent by post, and thus sociologist’s personal involvement with respondents can be kept to a minimum.

This also means that busy people with family commitments can easily use social surveys.

However, Interpretivists and Feminist argue this wouldn’t be an advantage for all topics—some areas are so sensitive they require personal contact, such as domestic abuse.

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’.

Using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school

An example of a methods in context question, mark scheme, and some thoughts on how to answer the question. The ‘methods in context question’ appears on paper 1 at both AS and A Level, and it’s the same format in both papers.

The item and question below are taken directly from an AQA AS sociology specimen paper, I’ve put in bold the useful ‘hooks’ in the item.

Example of a Methods in Context Question:

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

Examples of ‘Top Band’ Statements

If you top and tail this with an intro paragraph about Positivism and the strengths/ limitations of the method (thus show good knowledge and evaluation of the method in general) and a conclusion saying it’s a pretty crap method, then just 3-4 of these statements below should be enough to get you into the top mark band (17-20)

  • An advantage of self-completion questionnaires is that they can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents, or teachers, HOWEVER there are numerous reasons why pupils who are absent from school without being authorised won’t want to fill in the questionnaires – as the item states, such pupils may not be doing well at school and would be reluctant to fill in a questionnaire about something they don’t like (school), which could result in a low response rate
  • A second reason for a low response rate is, as the item states, because students have caring responsibilities at home, and they may not have time to complete the questionnaire, or they may not see it as important as their caring duties.
  • Another problem is that validity of responses may be low – if unauthorised absences are due to parents arranging holidays in term time, they may not want to admit to this in a questionnaire because they may have lied about this reason to the school to avoid a fine.
  • The item states that self completion questionnaires are a good way of finding trends and you could use them to explore the relationship between unauthorised absences and low qualifications, however, if people have low qualifications they may have low literacy levels, meaning they would not be happy filling in a questionnaire, so a booster sample would be required, or another method for such people, such as structured interviews, but this would reduce the reliability.
  • One advantage of the method is that you can distribute large numbers of questionnaires quickly, and they are usually quick to fill in, so teachers would like them as they have busy schedules, and would also probably be happy to talk about this issue, given its negative effects.
  • One problem with this method is the imposition problem – you need to set questions in advance, and as the item says, there are many reasons for unauthorised absences, they problem is that you may not discover these reasons if you don’t include it in the questionnaire in the first place.
  • This imposition problem would be a problem especially if absences are due to bullying, which is a sensitive issue – even if it is on the questionnaire, it’s quite a cold method and so respondents may not want to discuss it in a ‘tick box’ manner.
  • A final advantage of this method is that it is anonymous, which may outweigh some of the problems above.

Methods in Context CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then why not purchase my handy ‘How to Write Methods in Context Essays‘ hand-out, a bargain at only £1.49, and who knows, it may prevent you from being the victim in a future research study focusing on why certain students fail their A levels… 

It covers the following processes of how to deal with Methods in Context (MIC) questions.

  1. It starts off by looking at an example of a methods in context question and a mark scheme and outlines what you need to do to get into the top three mark bands.
  2. It tells you how to plan methods in context essays.
  3. It tells you how to actually write methods in context essays – presenting a ‘safe’ strategy to get into at least mark band 4 (13-16)
  4. In total it provides three examples of how you might go about answering a three different MIC questions.

The Mark Scheme (top three bands)

Top Mark Band (17-20) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to the specific topic

‘Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to research issues and characteristics relating to unauthorised absences from school.

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 individual pupils, peer groups, parents, teachers (eg class, ethnic and gender differences; parental literacy skills; teachers’ professionalism, self-interest or stereotypes of pupils)

contexts and settings (eg classrooms; staffrooms)

the sensitivity of researching unauthorised absences from school (eg policy and resource implications for schools; schools’ market and league table position; its impact on achievement or behaviour; stigmatisation; parental consent).’

Fourth Mark Band (13-16) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to education in general.

‘Application of knowledge will be broadly appropriate but will be applied in a more generalised way or a more restricted way; for example:

applying the method to the study of education in general, not to the specifics of studying unauthorised absences from school, or

specific but undeveloped application to unauthorised absences from school, or

a focus on the research characteristics of unauthorised absences from school, or groups/contexts etc involved in it.’

Middle Mark Band (9-12) – Good knowledge of method, loosely applied to education

‘Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, including a broadly accurate, if basic, account of some of the strengths and/or limitations of self completion written questionnaires.

Understands some limited aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.

Applying material (possibly in a list-like fashion) on self-completion written questionnaires, but with very limited or non-existent application to either the study of unauthorised absences from school in particular or of education in general. ‘

Related Posts 

Methods in Context Mark Scheme (Pared-Down)

 

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