In the study of Sociology, correct exam techniques can help one get a desirable score on their exams. Please note that the list of techniques is not exhaustive; if you have any good techniques you want to share, please tell us in the comments section below.

What am I supposed to do? (CIE AS level)

There are three main skills being assessed in your tests:

1. Knowledge and Understanding (AO1)

2. Interpretation and Application (A02)

3. Analysis and Evaluation (A03)

The AS level test consists of 6 questions, out of which you have to complete 5, totalling 50 marks. You have 90 mintes to complete your test.

1 (a): Explain a term: Explain the term with two or three sentences, examples are not needed. Worth 2 marks.

1 (b): Identify two examples/strengths etc. of a theory or a social phenomenon: First explain the term mentioned, then find two examples fitting of the question. No evaluation is needed. Worth 4 marks.

1 (c): Explain something: Anything can be mentioned in this question; no evaluation is needed, and it is generally not recommended that you evaluate this question; it is a waste of time. Worth 8 marks.

1 (d): Assess/Evaluate something: Anything can be mentioned in this question; refer to this section on how to do an evaluative essay. Worth 11 marks.

2 and 3: Assess/Evaluate something: A longer version of the 1 (d) question. Choose one to complete. Worth 25 marks.


Knowledge and Understanding

Interpretation and Application

Analysis and Evaluation
1 (a) Yes No No
1 (b) Yes Yes No
1 (c) Yes Yes No
1 (d) Yes Yes Yes
2 and 3 Yes Yes Yes

Tip: Notice how every question requires knowledge and understanding? It is extremely helpful to explain what the term/theory is about at the start of every question.

PEEL Paragraph

A PEEL paragraph is a way to structure an essay. Every paragraph consists of the following:

P-Your point

E-An example or evidence that supports your point

E-Your explanation / analysis

L-A link back to the question or next paragraph

Example PEEL Paragraph

Point[Lastly, while the two-class model in Marxist theory does accurately point out that class conflict exists in the society, conflict is not only limited between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat:]

Evidence that supports point[Marxist feminists would argue that in addition to this, there is a conflict between men and women that Marx has failed to acknowledge. According to sociologist Benston, the Marxist society is patriarchal:]

Explanation of evidence[due to the work that the proletariat perform being largely physical, men would have a larger importance in the workplace; this means that women would be responsible for domestic labour. While the man performs productive labour, housework is seen as “reproductive labour” that does not generate any monetary value, therefore would be seen as inferior to productive labour,]

Link back to question[resulting in a lower social status for women.]

10 Useful tips for examination

Using cross cultural comparisons. 90% of essays focus on the USA/UK. What about other countries?

Use the situation in other countries. Use other countries as a point of comparison for the UK/USA, especially for Family Diversity, Role of Grandparents, Conjugal Roles, Cultural diversity etc.

Modern Industrial Societies. ALWAYS look out for this term in questions.

Use postmodernism. It can be used as criticism for meta-narratives. E.g. Functionalism, Feminism ,Marxism.

Plan your essays. Do not write an essay without planning beforehand. Write your plan in the answer booklet, not the question paper. Do not cross out your plan.

Use the item. AS sociology papers are data response exams. Use the item. “As the item suggests…."" As indiciated by the item...".

Leave space between answers. Leave a space between answers, so if you have time you can go back to add additional information.

Timings are crucial: 3 Minutes for reading and planning.

1a) 3 mins b) 7 mins c) 14 mins d) 18 mins

2/3 45 mins

If you run out of time, use bullet points. In the worst case scenerio and you run out of time, write a bullet point answer.

Conclusions. Important for essays, make a judgement and answer the question, showing awareness of different perspectives.

How will my essays be marked? (CIE A Level)

Essays usually refer to 25 mark essays at A1 and 16 mark essays at A2).

All three skills will be used for your essays.

1. Knowledge and Understanding (AO1)

2. Interpretation and Application (A02)

3. Analysis and Evaluation (A03)

25 Mark question at A1 consists of 6 marks for A01, 8 marks for A02 and 11 marks for A03.

16 Mark question at A2 consists of 3.5 marks A01, 4.5 marks A02 and 8 marks for A03.

What does this mean?

What this means is that for writing an essay is that the content (studies, names of researcher, dates, figures, concepts, contemporary examples although important need to be organised coherently, applied to a variety of social situations and interpreted, and expressed in a critical fashion. You must be aware of the skills being highlighted in the question in order to use the appropriate skills in your essays. You should also practice writing essays regularly and develop a technique which addresses the skills required so that you can actually answer the question set.

Stage One

Many students are too quick into diving into an answer. They have focused on certain key terms and ‘assumed’ what the essay requires from a quick look at the question. Instead, the question should be read a number of times.

With the title provided:

·Analyse the question by underlining the key features in the essay title

·Double underline the skills being assessed, e.g., describe and explain

·Identify any terms or concepts contained in the question. These terms will need to be defined, i.e. concepts such as interactionists. Essay questions will also include terms, which highlight the skills being assessed, knowledge and understanding. E.g. (outline, explain the view, what do you understand, examine, describe, Interpretation and application, identify and illustrate, and Evaluation assess, criticise, how useful, how far, evaluate to what extent and so on.

Knowledge and Understanding: includes names of researchers, studies, concepts, description of studies.     

Interpretation and Application: the way you manage to interpret an idea successfully and how you apply sociological evidence to support ideas.

Analysis and Evaluation: identifying strengths and weaknesses, what does a theory explain, and what does it not explain, are their methodological issues?

Stage Two: Answering the Question

Arguably, there are two approaches:

1. The Jury Approach

Reviews all the relevant debates and cites supportive evidence for each of the debates, then provides a verdict at the end of the essay in the conclusion. This approach is rather like a court case where evidence for and against the case is delivered and a verdict, at the end is reached.

2. Advocate Approach

Involves starting the essay with a definite point of view. The account should then proceed to support this view thoroughly whilst including alternative arguments. However, you should attempt to either reject a statement with reservations, or accept a statement but with reservations. To totally accept or reject statements is not to deliver an evaluation. What you should do is to put forward your view in a critical and measured manner.

Stage Three: Plan the Answer (Content, Criticisms, diagrams)

Why is planning an answer important:

1. It acts as a memory recall strategy, by planning an essay before you start to write it.

2. Once you have done this, you can then organize your thought logically.

You can do two ways.

1. Linear notes ( the point by point method). This simply involves making a list of relevant points. This quick and easy to do but does not always encourage you to think and organize points in a logical fashion. A list of points can be vital in ensuring that you have remembered all the main points. You should also include the strengths and weaknesses of an ideas or application of theories and ideas.

2. Spider diagrams (diagram of the points) this involves organizing the points in a diagram - points are put together if they relevant.

Stage Four: Writing and Introduction

Introductions are an important element of a successful essay. The introduction should....

-provide the overall structure for the essay

-Should help you address the question asked.

It should include

-many of the key points to be made

-An indication of the approach of the essay

-sets up the debate between the different theories and interpretations

It could include

-a definition of terms stated in the essay title.

Stage Five

it is time you thought of the way to present the main points that form the answer to the question. The best way to do this is to put the main points into paragraphs.  


The phrases you will use will provide the examiner with the clues that you are demonstrating the skills being assessed. There are ways in which you can build up an argument or critique a point in a way that show the marker which skill you are using. The following points may help you develop ideas and link them together to either support or criticise a case...

Support Links

Further evidence supports the view that....

In addition... supports the view that....

In support of the view that... (a theorist) also believes that....

Increasing support of the view that.... Is.....

Not only does experimental evidence strengthen the.... theory but case studies have also been used to lend further weight;

Critical Links

Critical links which evaluate the previous point/views/theories/evidence. These will illustrate that you are attempting to evaluate....

An alternative theory to...view...was developed by...who...stated that.....

A major criticism of the...view is....

A major weakness of the...theory is....

Whereas the...view focuses on...the...view explores....

Analysis may stretch further when examining....

Although the...theory is supported by a variety of evidence, certain evidence contradicts the theory

A different explanation of.... Has been offered by...

A major strength of the...theory is....

Once a paragraph has been introduced, the following points may help you structure the paragraph. A paragraph must contain the following features.....

P It should be attempting to make one point

P It should begin with an opening sentence, which expresses the main point; the opening sentence might well link with previous paragraphs.

P Support sentences should follow. These support sentences should include.... An example if applicable. In addition, a brief mention of further examples could be included to broaden the scope of the main point.

P Finally, the paragraph should end with a concluding sentence. This may well clarify your main point and can help lead into the next paragraph.

Stage Six: Write a Conclusion

Many students have stated that they find this extremely difficult. What should be included? Here are some ideas what to do and what not to do!

Try Not To

r  repeat all the point you have stated

r  Do not start a conclusion with ‘Thus we can see’ This is too simplistic. If everyone could see the same thing and come to the same conclusion there would be no debate at all!

r  Do not choose one view or perspective over another for the sake of something to write. You need to be convinced and you need to justify your decision. Far better to state why you cannot arrive at a decision - this could show that you really have evaluated the material.

What to include...

P    It does depend upon the title and on the approach you have adopted. If you have adopted the jury approach, you must arrive at a considered verdict.

P    If you have adopted the advocate approach, you will need to reconsider you standpoint, pointing out the problems about your approach.

P    You can ask questions about the topic e.g., do you think there is enough evidence to enable you to support any viewpoint? What research might you wish to know in order to come to a considered viewpoint?

How can you improve your Essay Technique?

·      When writing an essay, try going through the stages in this handout

·      practice identifying the three assessed skills in essay titles

·      Although it may be time consuming, practice designing plans for your essays.

·      Be aware of language you use when writing your main points. Use some of the ideas in the handout which link ideas together to criticise points.