The growing number of students taking psychology A-level - up from 13, 611 in 1992 to 19,270 last year - has prompted the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board to offer a modular alternative to traditional syllabuses.
Under the NEAB system, candidates will study two core subjects - perspectives in psychology plus research methods and data analysis - and choose four of the following: contemporary topics in psychology, social psychology, child development, psychology of atypical behaviour, cognitive psychology, health psychology and psychology of education. The format allows them to substitute one of the optional subjects for an associated science component drawn from the biology or chemistry syllabus.
An aspect of the NEAB syllabus not covered by rivals is the "contemporary topics" module, exploring areas like paranormal phenomena.
The NEAB module in research methods and data analysis corresponds to a module in the GNVQ health and social care syllabus and could be studied alongside it.
Elspeth Wagstaff, subject officer at the NEAB, says some students can find a whole A-level a bit daunting. "The modular A-level can be a very attractive proposition, particularly for people in FE, because they can take their time. It's a much more flexible system than a straight two-year A-level course. "
Around three-quarters of all psychology students are in FE, and it is in this sector particularly that the NEAB is hoping to challenge the Associated Examining Board's dominance of the subject at A-level. In 1994, 94.4 per cent of candidates sat the AEB paper and only 4.8 per cent took the NEAB exam.
Meanwhile, the Oxford and Cambridge board is piloting a more skills-based, practical syllabus.