Which Exam Board Are You Studying?
The first question to ask yourself when revising for GCSE psychology is which exam board am I studying?
There are 4 main exam boards used in the UK.
They are AQA, OCR, Edexcel and WJEC.
For the purpose of this guide, we will be exclusively focusing on the AQA exam board however the methodology when it comes to revision can be applied to other exam boards too.
Is GCSE Psychology difficult?
The short answer is no, GCSE psychology is not a particularly hard subject to learn. The long answer however, is it can be if you do not learn all the key studies and concepts.
The subject is heavily 'knowledge' based which means unlike other technical subjects like mathematics where you are required to work things out, for GCSE psychology, you need to be familiar with the key studies, their strengths and weaknesses and recall this.
Therefore while GCSE psychology is not a difficult subject, you are required to absorb a lot of knowledge and understand the theories and concepts well enough that you can evaluate them.
There are 8 topics you need to learn and the hardest part is usually remembering the key studies, the name of the researchers and the dates (although remembering the dates isn't really that important).
To score a Grade 9 (the highest mark possible) you need to achieve about 80% on average across both exam papers according to the grade boundaries here.
Get Good Resources To Help You Revise
Normally you would need to spend about £20 on a textbook to help you with this.
Textbooks tend to be designed with a specific exam board in mind and then follow it exactly giving you everything you need to know for your course.
- Thankfully you don’t need to spend any money because we’ve covered your whole GCSE psychology subject here (for free). This includes revision resources for every chapter!
- You can also download our AQA GCSE psychology textbook PDF here. This will help you revise the whole course and is the most detailed resource available for the subject anywhere! We've broken down every chapter with practice questions at the end too to help consolidate your learning.
Download The GCSE Psychology Specification
With the revision resources out the way, the first thing to do is to download the subjects specification.
The next question running through your mind is likely to be what is the specification?
- The specification is something all exam boards release that informs students and teachers exactly what the topics and questions are likely to be about within the exam itself.
For example, the topic of psychology itself is huge so we need to narrow down and know exactly what is going to be taught within this subject.
This is what the specification shows you and it is a vital tool to use as part of your revision.
Understand What Is In Each Exam Paper
The specification will show you the GCSE Psychology exam itself will consist of 2 exam papers.
Each paper is worth 50% of your total exam grade.
You will first sit paper 1 which is titled Cognition and behaviour.
You will then sit paper 2 which is titled Social context and behaviour.
As you scroll through the specification, you will be presented with this first page below that explains this:
This first page breaks down all the topics within the subject and tells you how many marks there are for this first exam paper (100 marks) as well as how long the exam is going to be (1hr 45minutes).
This section shows us that in your paper 1 exam, your topics will be:
- Research methods
This page and the following table also shows us that the paper 2 exam topics consist of:
- Social influence
- Language thought and communication
- Brain and neuropsychology
- Psychological problems
We can also see here that the paper 2 exam is also worth 100 marks and is 1hr 45 minutes long.
Breakdown Your Subtopics
So we now have a broad idea of the chapters we need to learn.
However, we now need to begin delving inside these chapters so we can better understand all the subtopics within them.
Let’s use the Memory chapter as an example of this.
Within the Memory chapter, there is a host of subtopics we need to know as the exam can ask a question on any of them.
It’s important to note, everything the specification highlights can be asked in the exam.
Topics not in the specification can’t be asked so we focus our efforts completely on what the specification highlights.
Here is a checklist of everything you need to know for the Memory chapter and all the sub-topics within it:
- Processes of memory
- Different types of memory
- Episodic memory
- Semantic memory
- Procedural memory
- How memories are encoded and stored
- Different types of memory
- The Structures of memory
- The Multi-Store Memory model
- The sensory memory store
- The short-term memory store
- The long-term memory store
- The features of each store including:
- The Multi-Store Memory model
- Primacy and recency effects
- The effects of serial position
- Murdock's serial position study
- Memory as an active process
- The theory of reconstructive memory, including the concept of 'effort after meaning'
- Bartlett’s War of the Ghosts study
- Factors affecting the accuracy of memory, including interference, context and false memories
This list starts to give us an idea of how much we need to delve into each topic.
Let’s take a look at the Multi-Store Memory Model listed above as an example.
The specification and table show us that we are going to need to know about its three components which are:
- The sensory store
- The Short-term store
- The Long-term store
The specification also shows us that we need to know about how each store encodes information, what the capacity of each store is and the duration of storage too.
This means questions can come up asking us such things, for example:
What type of encoding is the long-term memory store?
What is the duration of the short-term memory store?
As it can be difficult to know exactly what level of depth to go into, our revision section covers everything that is relevant to the specification.
In short, if you don’t need to know it, we won’t include it as you don’t need to waste your time learning something that won’t be in the exam itself.
Each chapter will break down in a similar way with a number of subtopics you will need to learn.
Compared to A-level psychology, the amount you have to learn at GCSE level is significantly less and arguably easier to learn.
A good technique to help you is to break down each of the topics like we have shown above and create a checklist.
Your goal is then to learn each topic one by one ticking them off as you go along.
A good idea is to create a revision timetable to help you plan your revision sessions with your other subjects.
Use Past papers and mark schemes
One of the best ways to learn how to answer questions for your upcoming exams is to check what has already come up in past papers.
Therefore, past exam papers and mark schemes are ideal for this and GCSE psychology is no different.
You can find the past exam papers for the AQA exam board.
Download any past or sample exam papers available but be sure to also get the mark schemes too. Mark schemes are really helpful as they show you exactly what examiners will be looking for in your answer when awarding your marks.
Improve Your Examination Technique
A good technique is to combine different past papers to create a booklet.
You can then also do the same for the relevant mark schemes.
The idea is then to practice these booklets as exam papers themselves over time and then score yourself using the mark scheme booklet.
What you will find is over time, you should start to improve as you get more and more answers correct using guidance from the mark scheme.
This method will help you learn how to answer the questions in the way examiners will be looking out for.
This is part of learning effective exam technique.
You may know the answers in many of the questions however an effective examination technique requires you to be able to write them in a particular way and by practising like this, you will start to do that.
Learn The Different Assessment Objectives
The exams measure you for 3 different assessment objectives.
They are known as AO1, AO2 and AO3.
A good way of understanding assessment objectives is to think about them as 3 different criteria your answer can be judged on.
Not every question will be looking for all 3, some short questions may only be looking for AO1 answers however the larger questions tend to test you on all 3.
It’s important you read the question carefully to know this.
Let’s explore what each assessment objective stands for:
- Assessment objective 1 (AO1) will want you to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of psychological ideas, processes and procedures.
- Assessment objective 2 (AO2) will measure how well you apply knowledge and understanding of psychological ideas, processes and procedures.
- Assessment objective 3 (AO3) checks to see how well you analyse and evaluate psychological information, ideas, processes and procedures to make judgements and draw conclusions.
In a previous sample paper for AQA GCSE pscyhology, we are presented with a 9 mark question that begins like this:
Two students were discussing their progress in GCSE Maths.
Lizzie: ‘It’s fine for you. You were born good at maths. I wasn’t and I will never be able to do it. There’s no point trying.’
Ben: ‘You’re so wrong. I wasn’t any good at first, but I’ve worked and worked in maths. That’s why I can cope now. It’s been years of hard work!’
Outline and evaluate Dweck’s Mindset theory of learning. Refer to the conversation between Lizzie and Ben in your answer.
The question is a 9 mark question which means each assessment objective will be worth 3 marks each.
How do we know this? The nature of the question is asking us to ‘outline and evaluate’.
This shows us we are being tested on our knowledge and understanding of Dweck’s theory of learning (AO1), how well we will be able to apply this to the scenario given which includes Lizzie and Ben (AO2) and lastly how well we can analyse and evaluate and draw conclusions (AO3).
Below is the breakdown from the mark scheme which shows us what they would be looking for to score in the highest marks bracket:
For the bigger ‘essay style’ questions like this, it’s a good idea to prepare and practice your essay responses beforehand.
You ideally want to go into the exams with prepared essay answers for each of the possible questions as it can be very difficult to generate them on the fly for the first time ever.
It’s far easier to go in prepared with ‘model essay responses’ so be sure to add this as part of your revision checklist.