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Essay Guide for A2 Psychology

What types of questions will there be?
In AS Psychology you learned how to write short 8/10/12 mark answers, in which the AO1 and AO2 marks were divided equally. In A2, the essays are 24 marks each and you get 8 marks for AO1 and 16 marks for AO2/3/Issues, Debates and Approaches (IDA). So, you need to make a lot more evaluative points in A2!

Here are some 24 mark questions from past papers:
Topic: Relationships

Discuss the influence of childhood experiences on adult relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

Topic: Eating Behaviour

Discuss explanations of one eating disorder. (8 marks + 16 marks)

The questions can also be ‘parted’ like these:
Topic: Eating Behaviour

Discuss the role of one or more factors that influence attitudes to food.
(4 marks + 8 marks)
Outline and evaluate the role of neural mechanisms in controlling eating.
(4 marks + 8 marks)
Topic: Aggression

Outline the role of genetic factors in aggressive behaviour. (4 marks)
Outline and evaluate one social psychological theory of aggression.
(4 marks + 16 marks)

So it’s important to know when and how much AO1 and AO2/3/IDA to write. Also, don’t skip revising any parts of topics as they might come up in the parted questions.

Different types of evaluation.


This is where you provide evidence to support an AO1 idea e.g. about a theory, model or study.


In AS you did this as part of AO2. AO3 is where you comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the research methods used to investigate the topic, for example:

(1) What methods the research uses: * experimental methods (lab experiment, field, quasi/ natural experiment) (must have an IV and DV) or * non-experimental methods (case studies, interviews, questionnaires, correlational studies, observations)
If using experimental methods
(+ve) from these the researcher can infer a causal relationship between variables, ie. that A causes B
(+ve) gives good control over extraneous variables so enhancing internal validity of the research
(-ve) experiments tend to be artificial and lack ecological validity
If using non-experimental methods
(-ve) cannot infer a causal relationship between variables, so the info gained from the research is limited
(-ve) where self-report measures (people giving info about themselves eg. questionnaires and interviews) are used the main problems are: * social desirability bias (people giving answers to make themselves look good rather than telling the truth) * That you get a measure of what people say they do rather than what they actually do
(-ve) where retrospective report methods are used, the problem is that people are asked to think back to an earlier period in their life (eg. childhood) and so may have forgotten what happened, and then reconstruct the memory or confabulate (make something up completely)
(+ve) where a longitudinal /prospective study is conducted (following people over a time period) this is useful as it means people don’t have to rely on thinking back too far

(2) Does the research on this area of Psychology tend to raise ethical issues? Comment on which issues (deception, lack of informed consent, lack of right to withdrawal, lack of privacy & confidentiality, causing distress or harm, no debriefing), in which particular studies, and the consequences of these issues. You could also comment on how these ethical issues might have been dealt with.

(3) Are findings on this area of Psychology all consistent (if so they are seen as being reliable), or are they very mixed (and therefore unreliable). If they are mixed, then the area of Psychology is not understood well and further research is needed to confirm findings.

(4) What is the external validity of the research like? Comment on its population validity and ecological validity

(5) What is the internal validity of the research like? This is affected by: * Is the research actually testing what it is supposed to be, or testing something completely different? (think about the IV and DV in experiments; demand characteristics; investigator effects; social desirability bias)

(6) Is the research done on animals? If so you can comment on the issue of extrapolation (extending the findings to humans), and also that ethical issues may be raised.

| AO3 points checklist – remember to apply MERIEA | Yes/no? | 1 | Method: Experimental or non-experimental method? | | 2 | Ethical issues raised? | | 3 | Reliability: are findings contradictory (unreliable) or consistent (reliable)? | | 4 | Internal validity – demand characteristics – investigator effects – social desirability bias – mundane realism? | | 5 | External validity – ecological – population validity? | | 6 | Animals – extrapolation – ethical issues? | |

It may not always be possible to make AO3 evaluation as sometimes we don’t know which research method was used for a study. You MUST write about IDA in every essay though, or you will only get a maximum of 10/11 evaluation marks out of 16.
There are lots of different types and not all will apply to each topic. Make sure you note down any IDA points when we evaluate in class.
Issues and debates (remember FUNCREG!):
Free will and determinism Reductionism
Use of animals in research Ethical issues (can also be AO3)
Nature vs nature Gender bias
Cultural bias
Approaches - always try and compare these against other:
Biological (biochemistry, neuroanatomy, genetics, evolution).
Psychological (cognitive, behavioural, psychodynamic).
Remember, don’t only give negative points – there are also usually positive things to be said when evaluating.
Try and think of the wider applications of psychology e.g. that biological findings can lead to pharmacological treatments and relationship breakdown models are used by relationship counsellors.

Essay structure

1. At AS you usually outlined then evaluated at the end. At A2 you need to follow PEES (Point outline, Evidence, Evaluate, Synopticity e.g. IDA) all the way through. Do not leave all the evaluation till the end. This will ensure you are always evaluating everything you write which will gain you the marks especially if you run out of time on a question!

2. Plan what you will/need to include before you start. There is a reason they give you a space to plan! In the plan include study names and the theories you will talk about, plus bullet phrases or key words of evaluation.

3. P: POINT- state the theory and /or point you want to make. This should be clear and simple e.g. There is evidence from twin studies to suggest that aggression is inherited …(AO1)

4. E: EVIDENCE- back up the point you make with evidence, i.e. a study or another person who backs up the study. Describe the study briefly and say what it shows, e.g., it supports the view that aggression is inherited because... (when you write “it supports …” this becomes AO2).

5. E: EVALUATION - sum up your point and evidence. Is the evidence solid (reliable, valid etc). Could there be another explanation for the evidence you have talked about? For example, if family members have the same aggressive tendencies this could be genetic, or another explanation such as social learning theory may be more likely. Is there research which goes against your evidence or theory e.g., does another study show the opposite? (AO2/3).

6. S: SYNOPTICITY - Here you need to include Issues, Debates and Approaches. For example, the biological approach to aggression is reductionist. It is crucial to fully explain what you mean by this though. Just saying it is reductionist will not gain the marks. You need to say why it’s reductionist and why this is a problem. e.g., the biological approach to aggression is reductionist as it reduces complex aggressive behaviours to too simple a level. It is likely there are environmental factors also involved which it does not take into account.

7. Repeat this around 3 - 5 times throughout your essay. At the end (especially for a 24 mark question) you need to have a small concluding paragraph of pure evaluation.

Useful words and phrases to use in essays.

Conjunctions - write these at the beginning of paragraphs and to link points of your argument together

Therefore However
As a result For example
As you can see In relation to
This appears to In order to
While It’s clear that
Although Additionally
Furthermore Whereas
As such An example of this

Implications: use these to fully explain your evaluative points and to gain extra critical commentary marks!
This demonstrates that This is good/bad because
This suggests that This states that
This shows that This challenges
This means that This conveys
This provides support for It can be concluded that
This is good/bad because This conveys
Leading to Resulting in
This supports This provides reinforcement for
This raises the possibility of This shows support for
This contradicts This agrees/does not agree with

Comparative Phrases – use these for comparing (obviously!) different therapies, explanations, theories, results of studies, approaches, etc.
Similarly This challenges
In contrast When compared to
This reflects Equally
On the other hand In comparison
Contrary to this Conversely
Whereas Others would argue
This is better/worse because This is weaker/stronger because

An exemplar essay

Here is an A grade essay and mark scheme from AQA. In an exam situation it is not always easy to write a perfect PEES structured essay, but this one shows what is needed for a higher grade.

PSYA3 Relationships (24 marks)

Discuss psychological theories of the maintenance and breakdown of romantic relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

NB Numbers in the text relate to the point-by-point comments below.

There are no clear boundaries of where a relationship stops forming and starts to be maintained. (1) Reward-need theories argue that long-term relationships are more likely to be formed and maintained if the relationship meets the needs of the two people involved and provides rewards for them. Evidence from Smith and Mackie supports the view that meeting needs, whether these are biological, social, or emotional needs is important in maintaining a relationship. Relationships also provide different types of reward at different stages. Clark argues that as relationships progress rewards are not exchanged on a tit for tat basis but are given to provide pleasure and well-being of the other person.

Economic theories explain how relationships are maintained, and also why some relationships break down. Homans social exchange theory states people aim to reduce their costs, and increase their rewards in a relationship. If rewards are greater than costs, the relationship is in ‘profit’ but if the costs are greater than the rewards, the result is a ‘loss’, which leads to dissatisfaction and possibly breakdown. (2) SET assumes that we monitor costs throughout a relationship but Argyle argues that we only start to count costs after we have become dissatisfied. (3)

Thibaut and Kelly developed SET to include comparison of the relationship cost and rewards with alternatives. They suggest we compare the present relationship with a past relationship (CL) and the present relationship with others on offer (CL Alt). If the current relationship is less rewarding than either of these, there is dissatisfaction and breakdown is likely. SET is criticised because it assumes people are self-centred and spend time thinking about their relationships. Duck also argues that people only start to consider alternatives after they are dissatisfied. Also evidence shows that people often remain in costly abusive relationships. Those in such relationships argue that they can’t leave because they have too much invested. (4)

The investment model proposes that commitment maintains a relationship and determines when it will breakdown. Commitment is based on satisfaction with the relationship, belief that it offers better rewards than alternatives, and substantial investments. Evidence to support this model comes from Impett’s 18 month study of married couples and a study of women in a refuge who had already left their partners. (5) However in a study of abusive relationships it was found that people who had been abused most were often most committed to the relationship. (6)

Equity theory is based on the assumption that people expect that a relationship is fair. People will feel satisfied if what they put into the relationship is comparable with what they get out of it. If one person thinks the relationship is not equitable, this can lead to resentment and either action to restore balance and maintain the relationship or to breakdown. De Maris in a study of American couples found that womens feelings of poor equity in the relationship was an important predictor of breakdown.
In a longitudinal study of over 200 couples it was found that, as the model predicts, satisfaction ratings were related equity ratings made one year earlier. The majority of men and women felt their relationship was equitable, 65 % women felt they put more into the relationship than they got out of it as compared with men. (7)
This longitudinal method holds participant variables constant and depicts the sequence and continuity of relationships rather than just giving a snapshot. (8) But by asking questions about costs and benefits researchers in this and other studies are biasing the findings and neglecting other possible explanations. Hence the theory may be (9) an “artefact of the methodology”.

The equity model seems to explain maintenance and breakdown of western relationships, but is less effective in collectivist non-western cultures or in cultures where the freedom to leave a relationship is limited by laws and social norms. These economic theories are ethnocentric (10) and an etic analysis or an attempt to apply them in other cultures would be inappropriate.

Duck has argued that by focusing on narrow aspects of relationships at a particular point in time rather than taking a more holistic view research has misrepresented relationships and it would be better to study them as processes rather than states. (11). Duck’s model of dissolution of relationships does just this, describing four stages in breakdown, however this could be criticised as it does not explain why relationships breakdown. A good theory should explain not just describe.

Point-by-point comments
(1) Useful introduction that justifies consideration of reward/need theories.
(2) Concise description of theories.
(3) An assertion that would benefit from evidence to support it.
(4) Effective AO2 in which the line of argument is clear.
(5) Potentially relevant evaluative material that would gain more credit if there was more detail and consideration of the quality of the evidence.
(6) Significance of this is not clear.
(7) Detail here is not accurate.
(8) A potentially useful point not elaborated.
(9) Useful commentary on methodology.
(10) Issues and debates used in effective evaluation.
(11) This commentary hints at reductionism and that a reductionist approach may well distort understanding.

Examiner comments
As is often the case with essays on relationships, this answer is particularly long. If candidates spend too much time on one answer, other answers will suffer. However, the balance of description of theories (AO1) and commentary (AO2/3) is appropriate and reflects the greater number of AO2/3 marks.
The description of theories is sound though the decision to cover such a wide range of theories means that although all are relevant, none are described in depth/detail. Most of the information provided is accurate and has been expressed succinctly.
The commentary is sound and focused throughout. A range of evaluative points is made. These include both commentary specific to particular theories and more general commentary. In most instances, the points made have been developed reasonably well and reflect good understanding of the theories. There is evidence of issues and debates being used effectively and thoughtful evaluation of methodology. Ideas have been expressed clearly and fluently with good use of psychological terminology.

AO1: 6/8, AO2/3: 15/16

Total 21/24

Mark scheme

AO1 = 8 marks: For knowledge and understanding of theories that explain maintenance and breakdown of relationships.
Candidates are likely to describe theories such as social exchange – Homans 1971, interdependence – Thibaut & Kelly 1959, investment model – Rusbult 1983, equity theory – Walster 1978, Duck 1988. The question requires that they look at more than one theory, though there should be a depth/breadth trade-off, and candidates should be able to gain full credit by discussion of two theories. Reference to reward/needs theories should be credited in so far as they focus on maintenance rather than formation. Credit other relevant approaches to answering the question.

AO1 mark bands
8-7 marks Sound Knowledge and understanding are accurate and well detailed. A good range of relevant material has been selected. There is substantial evidence of breadth/depth. Organisation and structure of the answer are coherent.
6-5 marks Reasonable Knowledge and understanding are generally accurate and reasonably detailed. A range of relevant material has been selected. There is evidence of breadth and/or depth. Organisation and structure of the answer are reasonably coherent.
4-3 marks Basic Knowledge and understanding are basic/relatively superficial. A restricted range of material has been presented. Organisation and structure of the answer are basic.
2-1 marks Rudimentary Knowledge and understanding are rudimentary and may be muddled and/or inaccurate. The material presented may be very brief or largely irrelevant. Lacks organisation and structure.
0 marks No creditworthy material.

AO2/3 = 16 marks: Analysis, evaluation and commentary on theories that explain maintenance and breakdown of relationships.
Discussion is likely to focus on the evidence to support and/or challenge the theories described, and on the quality of/confidence in the reliability and validity of the findings cited.
Discussion of ethical and practical difficulties in these studies, such as sampling difficulty would be creditworthy. Alternative interpretations of the research findings should be credited. An alternative source of AO2 would be commentary on the rationale of theories, and comparison of the effectiveness of theories would be creditworthy. Candidates may introduce alternative explanations/theories to compare with those described.
Indicative issues, debates and approaches relevant to this question could include culture bias, scientific method and investigator bias.

AO2/3 mark bands
16-13 marks Effective
Commentary and evaluation demonstrate sound analysis and understanding. The answer is well focused and shows coherent elaboration and/or a clear line of argument. Issues/ debates/approaches are used effectively. Ideas are well structured and expressed clearly and fluently. Consistently effective use of psychological terminology. Appropriate use of grammar, punctuation and spelling.
12-9 marks Reasonable
Commentary and evaluation demonstrate reasonable analysis and understanding.
The answer is generally focused and shows reasonable elaboration and/or a line of argument is evident. Issues/debates/approaches are used in a reasonably effective manner. Most ideas appropriately structured and expressed clearly. Appropriate use of psychological terminology. Minor errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling only occasionally compromise meaning.
8-5 marks Basic
Commentary and evaluation demonstrate basic, superficial understanding. The answer is sometimes focused and shows some evidence of elaboration. Superficial reference may be made to issues/debates/approaches. Expression of ideas lacks clarity. Limited use of psychological terminology. Errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling are intrusive.
4-1 marks Rudimentary
Commentary and evaluation are rudimentary, demonstrating very limited understanding.
The answer is weak, muddled and incomplete. Material is not used effectively and may be mainly irrelevant. If reference is made to issues/debates/approaches, it is muddled or inaccurate. Deficiency in expression of ideas results in confusion and ambiguity. The answer lacks structure, and is often merely a series of unconnected assertions. Errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling are frequent and intrusive.
0 marks
No creditworthy material is presented.

One last thing

Really get to know your A2 topics, especially the evaluation bits, as there’s only so much we can cover in class. Discuss them with your friends and teach them to your families. Happy essay writing!

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...1) Why is organization an important factor in structuring an essay? Explain how to organize an essay, the steps involved and the importance of organization to good writing. A) Organization is key to effective writing. It helps guide the reader from one main idea to the next in a fluent manner. If an essay does not follow good organization, the essay might turn out poorly organized and confusing, causing the reader to become disinterested to read further. Different essays have various types of organizations. Examples are narrative essays which are told in chronological order or analysis essays which are descending or ascending in order of importance. Organization starts from a good introductory paragraph with a strong thesis which lets the reader know what will be discussed in a certain order. Good organization continues to follow this order written in the thesis to guide the reader throughout many body paragraphs. The essay then ends in a strong conclusion. This is an example of good organization which is critical to good writing because it guides a reader throughout an essay’s argument. 2) Why are supporting ideas important in substantive writing? Explain how supporting ideas enhance an essay. A) In essays, paragraphs have a certain structure of topic sentences, commentary sentences, supporting details, examples, and concluding sentences. The supporting details in a paragraph expand on the topic sentence as well as any commentary to support the ideas whch were......

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...What Does a Good Essay Need? • An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence. • An academic essay should answer a question or task. • It should have an argument. • It should try to present or discuss something: develop a ‘thesis’ or a set of closely related points - by reasoning and evidence. • An academic essay should include relevant examples, supporting evidence and information from academic texts or credible sources. 1. Starting Your Essay Although there are some basic steps to writing an assignment, essay writing is not a linear process. You might work through the different stages a number of times in the course of writing an essay. For example, you may go back to the reading and notetaking stage if you find another useful text, or perhaps to reread to locate specific information. Start work early You can’t write a successful essay unless you give yourself enough time to read, research, think and write. Don’t procrastinate or leave it until the last minute; start as early as possible. Define the question and analyse the task Writing down everything you know about a topic is not enough to make a good academic essay. Analysing, then answering the essay’s question or task is central. • Be sure that you understand exactly what the question requires you to do. • Identify the key words (like discuss or analyse) and clarify the approach you are required to take. See The Learning Centre guide ‘Answering Assignment Questions’ 2.......

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My Personality Traits

...Humanities University of Northumbria Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST Self-Assessment ISBN: 1-86135-080-5 Text editor: Rebecca Johnson Copy editor: Publications Office, University of Northumbria Designed and produced by the Department of External Relations DER: 2308HCB/6/00J Contents Project mission statement Introduction The nature and scope of the project i) The self-assessment sheet ii) Student guide to self-assessment iii) ‘Writing essays: A guide for literary studies students’ (sample) 5 7 8 10 13 23 Ways of using the materials i) How the self-assessment sheet can be used ii) Workshop using the self-assessment sheet 34 34 34 iii) How ‘Writing essays: A guide for literary studies students’ can be used 35 iv) Workshop using the essay guide 35 Impact on staff and students i) Student response to the self-assessment sheet ii) Student response to workshops using the materials iii) Staff response to the materials 37 37 37 37 Further references About the authors Acknowledgements Appendices i) Example of completed self-assessment sheet with essay 39 39 39 41 3 4 Project mission statement T he Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium is a project directed by the English division at the University of Northumbria. It involves collaborating with colleagues who teach English courses at Sheffield Hallam University, Staffordshire University and the University of East Anglia. We came together three years ago to build on......

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