Exam Technique
Quick revise

Links from GCSE 

AS Sociology requires no prior learning or achievement at GCSE although it is useful to have a grade ‘C’ in GCSE English Language because of the emphasis on essay writing.

What are examiners looking for?
Examiners use instructions to help you to decide the length and depth of your answer. In essays and data response questions the following ‘action’ or ‘trigger’ words and phrases are frequently used.

State, define, what is meant by, name
These normally require a short, concise answer and is often recall material that can be learned by rote.

Explain, discuss
Some reasoning or some reference to theory is required. It normally involves reference to both sides of a debate.

Outline, describe
This implies a short response which sums up the major points of one particular theory or approach.

Identify, suggest, illustrate
These words normally require you to apply your knowledge to a particular sociological problem or theory.

Assess, examine, evaluate
These words suggest that you should look at the strengths and weaknesses of an argument or both sides of a particular debate. You should offer judgement based on evidence.

Some dos and don’ts

Do read the rubric, i.e. the set of instructions at the start of the exam paper.
You don’t want to answer too many questions or not enough or answer from the wrong sections.

Do answer the question set rather than the one you wished was set.

Do spend 5 minutes reading through the Items and the questions.
It is especially important to read through all the questions before attempting any of them. A common mistake is to use information to answer a question which is more appropriate to another question.

Do plan your response to any question worth over 20 marks.

Do pay special attention to the way marks are divided up between sections of data responses.
It is wasteful to write more than is required and it will impact negatively on the time left for the bigger questions.

Do always clearly label the part of the question you are answering.

Do use the data provided in the Items whenever it is relevant to do so.
Respond to the appropriate ‘action’ words and phrases. Failure to use them could result in you failing to pick up marks.

Do exercise care when it comes to the interpretation of statistics, tables and diagrams especially in regard to scale.
Marks are easily wasted because the candidate fails to look at how the data is organised (i.e. into percentages, thousands, etc.).

Do take care in how you present sociological thinkers and theory.
You need to recognise that contributions to sociological debate are a product of a specific time and place. For example, try to avoid suggesting that 19th-century sociologists are still making a regular contribution to modern sociological debate.

Do take notice of ‘action’ words and phrases such as ‘contemporary’, ‘recently’, ‘post Second World War’, ‘last twenty years’, etc.
These words want you to set your response in a modern context. Any reference to studies and debate outside these periods (e.g. ‘contemporary’ and ‘recent’ usually mean the last 20 years) will be regarded as largely irrelevant to the question. It is not necessary to know the exact date of a study but do know the decade in which it was produced.

Do make your sociology more valid by being aware of current social and political events.
Be aware of how sociological theory and methods can be applied to them.
Examiners want you to be able to apply your knowledge to the real world and its
social problems.

Do take care with regard to grammar and spelling.
Poor grammatical structure and spelling can impair the intelligibility of a response or weaken the argument used. A coherent and logical presentation of argument and evidence is necessary to achieve a good AS Level standard.

Don’t waste time writing out the question.
This wastes time. The marks are for the answer.

Don’t mistake your own opinion for sociology.
Try and back up what you say with evidence.

Don’t over-simplify sociological debate by presenting ideological positions
as irreconcilable.

Examiners are concerned that functionalists and positivists are often presented as ‘bad’ sociologists whilst Marxists and interpretivists are seen as ‘good’ sociologists. You need to demonstrate that sociological studies which seem opposed actually share common research problems and theoretical underpinnings. In other words, similarities are just as important as differences.

This is comparing and contrasting.

Don’t over-rely on pre-prepared ‘shopping list’ answers.
Try to avoid writing down all you know about a particular area, regardless of the question asked.

Be prepared to be flexible and to adapt your knowledge to the question set.
Think on your feet. There are no rehearsed or model answers.

Don’t be one-sided in your evaluation.
Don’t focus disproportionately on the virtues of a debate, theory or method at the expense of its drawbacks or vice versa. In order to get into the higher mark bands, your evaluation must be balanced.

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