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How to Write 16 Mark Essays For AQA A level Psychology

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How to write 16 mark essays for AQA A Level Psychology

You will hear of numerous different ways to structure AQA A Level psychology 16 marker questions but the most effective tried and tested way will be keeping it nicely split between your theory points (AO1) and evaluation points(AO3) rather than mixing the two together across your paragraphs.

This structure of writing essays for A level AQA psychology has consistently scored students highly, even full marks in their exams.

The reason for this is the examiner is a human being and will be marking your essay as well as hundreds of other student answers and they will appreciate it so much more if you have made your essays explicitly easy to read and differentiate where the marks go as each is capped up to a certain amount.

For 16 marker questions, theory marks are capped at up to 6 marks and evaluation marks are capped at up to 10 marks.

Therefore, the harder you make the examiners work by trying to identify where the AO1 (theory) marks are or where the AO3 (evaluation) is, the less likely it is that you will be scored correctly across both elements up to the correct limit.

So make it nice and easy and the way you do this is write your theory first, and write it to a depth that clearly shows it is up to 6 marks worth of content that is well developed, and also up to 10 marks worth of evaluation points that also have sufficient depth.

Let's look at the theory element first and what information you should be looking to cover.

How do you structure 16 markers for AQA A level psychology?

Firstly, you do NOT need to write any introductions when starting your psychology essays (or even conclusions in your evaluation at the end) and this is a common way to waste time in this subject. Simply go straight into outlining what the relevant theory states or into the evaluation itself without any filler.

Let's use the example from the A-level Psychology exam in 2023 (Paper 1) which asked two 16 mark questions in a single exam paper (yes you can be asked more than one 16 marker question in a single exam as this paper demonstrates).

The first 16 mark essay question asked this: Discuss research into minority influence (16 marks).

We've covered research into minority influence including consistency, commitment and flexibility here. The AQA specification actually tells you exactly what you need to know for this topic here too and it clearly outlines that the 3 subtopics you are required to know are:

  1. Consistency
  2. Commitment
  3. Flexibility

Therefore your theory element should be focused on outlining these three elements with enough detail to explain what each is with relevant information. Your evaluation would then be about the theory itself and it's strengths and weaknesses. You do not have to offer any conclusion but it is important to outline implications that relate to the theory itself. We'll examine what I mean for this further down when discussing the evaluation side of things but lets focus on theory for now.

The mark scheme for this question itself offers the following tips for examiners when assessing how much to score the theory section:

  • Knowledge of factors affecting minority influence including consistency/persistence, commitment (the augmentation principle), flexibility
  • Knowledge of other factors, eg confidence
  • Synchronic (consistency between members of minority) and/or diachronic consistency (consistency over time)
  • Process of conversion/internalisation
  • Accept minority influence processes involved in social change, such as the ‘snowball effect’, social cryptoamnesia
  • Description of studies of minority influence, eg Moscovici et al (1969), Wood et al (1994), Nemeth and Brilmayar (1987)

The above bullet points as mentioned are from the mark scheme itself and we can interpret the following from this:

  • You need to write all 3 elements which are consistency, persistence and commitment.
  • You need to show consideration of other factors too related to these 3 elements such as the confidence of the individual too.
  • You need to show a good level of depth that explains the process of conversion/internalisation occurs.
  • You need to link the theory to how it affects social change through the 'snowball effect' and also how social cryptoamnesia is also a factor.
  • You can also bring in relevant studies and describe them too if needed and what they found which will likely be related to the 3 factors consistency, persistence and commitment.

This shows you that to score the full 6 marks for theory (AO1), you will likely need to write a concise paragraph with the above information. I would therefore prepare for my exams by going through all the possible questions that can be asked and creating 16 mark model essay answers for every topic. We talk about all the possible essay questions you can be asked here for paper 1.

A good approach is to download all the past exam papers and their mark schemes to see all the questions that have come up to date and use the mark scheme just as I have shown you above to know what to cover when creating your model example answers.

The way you shape your model answers is therefore by using the guidance from the mark scheme so you know what to include across theory and evaluation.

Use Acronyms To Memorise Your Psychology Essays

Memorising complete 16 mark essays is difficult and will require you to utilise a memory technique known as chunking combined with using acronyms. The way this basically works is you structure the essays in such a way that you are able to form acronyms using the first letter of each paragraph. By remembering the acronym, this should in turn help you remember the rest of that particular paragraph using simply the first letter. It's always important to try and form an acronym that spells either a familiar word or phrase.

Here's an example:

Your remembered acronym might be SUMO-TUBO for a single essay (a strange word right? But easy to remember!)

'SUMO' would be for all the theory element of the essay while 'TUBO' would be for the evaluation.

So your theory element would begin with the letter S and this would begin your paragraph and be for all of your first point. The next section would then begin with U and form the next point you are making followed by M for the third.

This is basically how this technique works but it will only be successful if you do the following:

  1. Create model 16 mark content first using the mark schemes and resources to cover everything in the spec.
  2. Structure your created essays in a way that helps form memorable acronyms at the beginning of each main point or paragraph.
  3. You practice your essays over and over again using this technique and memorising your acronyms for each essay. This part is key and provided you do this well, it usually takes students about 2-3 months (or longer) dependent on how often you practice them.

How long should a 16 mark psychology essay take?

The 16 mark essays are broken down with 6 marks for theory and 10 marks for evaluation.

Assuming we are aiming for an A* grade and to score full marks (which is possible and we should always be aiming for), you want to spend about 5 minutes writing your 6 marks worth of theory (AO1) and another 10 minutes at most writing your 10 marks of evaluation (AO2). I would argue you should not spend longer than this and if you could write them both in less time, e.g. 12-13 minutes total, this would be ideal.

To summarise, this should be approximately about 2 pages worth of writing with the theory element making up just over half the page and the rest being evaluation.

How many evaluation points is a 16 marker psychology?

The question of how many evaluation points you should write for 16 mark psychology essays depends on the breadth (how many different evaluation points you make) and depth (how well you explain each point and its relevance to the theory) of your essays.

Let's start with what we know - We know the evaluation section is worth up to 10 marks.

A straightforward approach that ensures you work towards the higher bands will see you write at least 4 well developed points in your evaluation with the goal of them scoring between 2 to 3 marks each.

If you write more relevant points (breadth) that are less developed and linked back to the theory, you can get away with less depth but if you write less breadth (less points, say for example you write 3, you need to consider writing more depth for each one instead).

So ultimately you have the option of writing between 3-5 points of evaluative commentary dependent how well you explain each and the level of depth you go into.

How long is each psychology A level exam?

How long each exam paper is depends on which paper you are sitting and whether it is AS or A-level. A summary of timings below:

AQA AS Psychology Paper 1 1 hour 30 minutes7181/1
AQA AS Psychology Paper 21 hour 30 minutes7181/2
AQA A-level Psychology Paper 12 hours7182/1
AQA A-level Psychology Paper 22 hours7182/2
AQA A-level Psychology Paper 32 hours7182/3

In short, the AS papers are all 1 hour 30 minutes while all the A-level papers are 2 hours.

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