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As Sociology Aqa Essays

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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This entry was posted in A level sociology exam practice, Exams and revision advice and tagged 30 marks, A-level, Analysis, education, essays, evaluation, exams, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

Okay so some people were wondering how to structure an essay, so I'm gonna use one of my A accredited essays on gender differences as an example and hopefully help out a little..

Firstly - people worry over how many sociologists you need to include, we were told that you do not need to 'over populate' your essay (i liked that term). You DO NOT get credit for just chucking in a name here and there. The marks come from how much you apply the sociologist to the question. For example, this is the paragraph I wrote on Roger Slee (1998) : 

Roger Slee (1998) argues that this sort of behaviour (laddish subcultures mentioned in previous paragraph btw guys) is why boys are less attractive to schools because of ''behaviour issues, and they are four times more likely to be excluded than girls'' This is when a case of self-fullfilling proficy occurs, creating a cycle within the system. The change here? Attitudes towards boys being accademic is decreasing and education becoming feminised - yet again advantaging girls explaining the gender gap.

Now, my teacher ticked the quote, the bit about feminisation and the bit about explaining the gender gap. Note that she did not tick his name or the date - this is just extra information that shows the examiner you learnt a name. big deal? you learnt some dudes name. Its how you apply his theory to the question is what gets you the points. She (my teacher) noted that it was ''a tricky one! but you made it relevant, well done!'' proving my point. 

Second point when writing an essay is how much AO1 and AO2 you include. So for those of you reading and thinking 'er what even is she on about?' here...

AO1 - Knowledge and Understanding.  The stuff you write here shows that you know and understand sociologial theories, concepts and methods. Also shows you know the most important sociological studies. 

AO2 - Interpretation and Application. This is higher level stuff that gets you higher grades. Its selecting relevant material to answer the question and quoting appropriate material from the item. Also, using relevant examples from current situations and your own knowledge such as something you saw in the news. Mainly though its linking ideas together. Key phrase to use to get AO2 points is THIS MEANS THAT.....

Dont be fooled by thinking your WHOLE essay needs to be AO2, it doesnt. Strong AO1 is just as important as it means you show your knowledge and that you learnt stuff in your lessons! 

Setting out your essay...

In your head, you need to have a rough plan of how you're going to go about writing your