Tackling the new specification

Mike Lamb
2015-11-18 13:52


Mike Lamb, Subject Genius, A-level specification

Whilst browsing the new specification for AQA A-level Psychology last academic year my colleague confidently announced that it looked straightforward with few changes. The content had reverted to much that had been in an earlier specification (9 years ago now), as so often happens, and he would have very little new content to have to grasp. For me it seemed a little more daunting, as it does for my pupils who really seem to worry about the lack of past papers questions, the importance of which was drummed into them through endless practice papers at GCSE level across their subjects.

As well as this obvious issue the other concerns that I faced were the increasing amount of assessment of mathematical skills, the change of assessment objectives, change of question types, more explicit emphasis on application questions and the major concern of just how much to cover on each specification point.  So with the first term over I thought I would report how I had dealt with these challenges, as perhaps they might serve to help others.

  1. Mathematical Skills. I have tried to put a little emphasis on this in as many lessons as possible, to ‘drip feed’ it in. This is so the pupils are not only familiar with the concepts but also are not so scared of it. Just the mention of Maths to some of my pupils seems to send shivers down their spine! For example when handing back work I have asked pupils to calculate their own percentages, when looking at Inter Observer Reliability I have asked them to work out IOR scores for made up investigations (also considering number of significant figures at the same time), drawn graphs on figures related to Cross Cultural Variations and also introduced the use of means, medians etc as measures of central tendency. None of these are difficult or beyond GCSE Maths understanding and hence it helps to promote confidence with the pupils along the way.
  2. Change in Assessment Objectives. In some ways the change in terms of what constitutes AO1/2 and 3 is less important, as long as pupils know how to answer the different types of questions that they will be asked. The language has changed and the emphasis has shifted but the pupils know no different, of course, and hence this is just something for teachers to be clear on for the pupils sake. I have used the fronts of folders for pupils to note down the type of questions they will be asked and whether they are AO1/2/3, however as stated above as long as they know how to approach them at this stage, then I see this as sufficient. This is especially relevant for ensuring pupils know what a ‘research methods’ question is asking for as again these will be explicitly assessed, in a slightly different format to previous papers.
  3. Change of question types. I am a firm believer in practising questions in ‘exam conditions’ in class and then reviewing, reflecting and improving in the run up to exams. This is especially important with what I see as an increased variety of types of question and the lack of past paper questions available. Therefore it is simply a case of firstly making use of what is available (e.g. specimen papers on the AQA website), adapting what is appropriate from the past papers of the previous spec (ensuring specification points match up appropriately) and what I often challenge my pupils to do is to develop their own questions, and answers.
  4. Application Questions. As per above this is again down to practice and what I tell the pupils is 1) using your psychological skills and knowledge (Content) and 2) applying it to the situation (Context). I have set the pupils up with questions to do, sometimes individually at other times in pairs/groups, or discussed scenarios as a class, or again asked pupils to write their own scenarios and mark other’s interpretation of them.
  5. How much to teach. This remains a concern in my mind as I am sure it does for many. The lack of exams half way through the full A level, potentially provides more time and opportunity to go into depth. I see this as an opportunity to go into more detail, go off spec a little more, provide more demonstrations, time for more mini research projects, thought experiments and also for a little more fun! By providing the pupils with tick lists for each of the specification points I ensure that they feel confident with each bullet point and I encourage them to use this as a revision checklist. An unknown element still exists but as I tell my pupils (and myself!) all schools have access to the same materials and hence I feel confident that we are all in the dark and in the same boat (both at once) and hence only the unprepared will be disadvantaged.

Good luck!