The first year of the
course (AS psychology) prescribes precisely which studies must be
The second year of the
course (A level psychology) prescribes only the
topics. Therefore be aware that different teachers in different
schools and colleges use different studies to illustrate the topics.
It is a mistake to look at
the second year of the course as just another list of core studies.
Of course you will need to know a number of studies (probably more
than in the first year but not in the same detail) but it is very
important that you understand that this part of the course is really
interested in the contributions that psychologists can make to
Therefore understanding the
topics (and sub topics) is just as important as learning the
studies. For example you may learn a couple of studies or
techniques which suggest ways of managing pain (if you are studying
the health unit) but it is just as important that you understand
some of the psychological issues which arise from investigating ways
of managing pain.
All of the Specialist
Choice Units are divided into 8 topics. And each topic area is
further subdivided into 3 sub topic areas
The specialist choice exams
are split into 2 parts. Part A and Part B. You
choose one question from two in Part A and again, one question from
two in part B.
You will be doing two
questions in the exam. Each question will be based on a different
topic. Therefore there will be 4 different topics in the exam and
you will be required to answer two.
It is also worth noting
that the part A question is worth 16 marks out of 50 and the part B
question is worth 34 marks out of 50. As the exam lasts 1 hour 30
minutes you should be spending 30 minutes on part A and 1 hour on
A common mistake that is
made in the Specialist Choice unit is that students do not cover at
least two studies that investigate each of the sub topics and
attempt to make studies fit which are really describing something
However at the same time
you will find that there are studies which do cover a number of sub
topics which will help you limit the number of studies that you need
In Part A there will be two
questions and you have to choose one. Each question will be from one
topic area (e.g. stress in the health unit or psychology of
testimony from the crime unit) but will be more specific and be
taken from a sub topic of that topic. Therefore there are normally
three possible questions that are asked. For example if the
question was on stress the three possible questions could be about
the causes/sources of stress, the measures of stress
or management of stress.
The question in Part A will
be split in to 2 parts. The first part will be asking you to
describe a study/theory/explanation or a technique and the second
part will be asking you to evaluate this. For example:
(a) Describe one
psychological technique used to manage stress. 
(b) Discuss the problems
of techniques used to mange stress. 
Part (a) is a descriptive
question and could be worded in many different ways such as
‘outline’ or’ consider’.
The part (a) question may
just ask you to describe a study which is relevant to the sub topic
such as ‘describe one study/theory of the causes of stress.
To gain full marks for this question your answer must be appropriate
(i.e. the study you describe must be investigating the sub topic
being asked) and accurately described. You must also demonstrate
that you have understanding by showing that you are not merely
describing a study but are applying it to the question. For
example, in the health unit if the question is asking you to
describe a study which measures stress you should be referring in
your answer as much as possible to how the study does measure
However you need to read
the sub topics very carefully as some of them cover more than one
bit of psychology. For example in the Crime unit topic, Psychology of testimony, the
subtopic states that you need to know aids to
recall/recognition: identikit and identity parades. Therefore
you would need to know studies or techniques investigating identikit
and identity parades.
It would be advisable to
always know at least two psychological studies, theories or
techniques that cover each of the subtopics.
Part (b) is an evaluative
question and could be worded in many different ways such as,
discuss, or compare and contrast.
Part (b) questions may just
ask you to evaluate what you have described in part (a). For
example evaluate a study which investigates the causes of stress.
In this case you should be aiming to make four evaluative points
about the study. For example, discussing the ethics of the study,
the sample of the study and so on.
However you will be more
likely to be asked to evaluate the sub topic more generally. For
example you could be asked to ‘discuss the problems that
psychologists have when investigating the causes of stress’. To
answer this question you need to aim to make four evaluative points
about why it would be difficult for psychologists to investigate the
causes of stress. For each point you must say why it would be
difficult for psychologists to investigate the sub topic and then
give an example from a study that you have learnt. Do not simply
evaluate the study that you have described in part (a) as this will
not gain many marks. You will really have to think about the issues
that would arise from the question being asked.
In Part B there will be two
questions and you have to choose one. Each question will be from
one topic area (e.g. stress from the health option). There are
therefore 8 main possible questions the examiner can ask.
The question in part B will
be split in to 3 parts. The first part will ask you to describe
studies in a topic area, the second will ask you to evaluate this
evidence and the third part will be asking you to apply this
evidence. For example:
(a) Describe what
psychologists have discovered about pain 
(b) Evaluate what
psychologists have discovered about pain 
(c) Based on the
evidence you have discussed, suggest a way of managing pain 
Also note that the maximum
marks for Part A are 16 whereas the maximum marks for Part B are
34. Therefore you need to be thinking about completing a Part A
question in 30 minutes and a Part B question in an hour.
The part (a)
question is asking you to describe some psychological
evidence/theory which is relevant to the question. You are advised
to aim to describe about four studies (but don’t worry if you only
describe three studies in the exam). Importantly these studies
should cover a broad range of the topic. For example, together the
studies should really be investigating each one of the three
It is also important that
the studies you describe show understanding of the studies and are
not ‘list like’. You can demonstrate understanding by using a
commentary in your descriptions of the study which explains what the
studies really do explain about the topic. A useful way of doing
this is by using the words from the subtopic in your answer. For
example, if you start a question on stress you could say ‘One thing
psychologists have discovered about stress is the causes and sources
of stress. The study carried out by xxxx discovered that the causes
of stress are in the environment and so on.
The part (b)
question will ask you to evaluate the studies of stress. However,
it is important that you do this in a particular way. You must
start of by identifying and defining an issue which is relevant to
the topic and say why it is relevant to the topic. You should then
illustrate the issue with preferably two pieces of evidence that you
have described in part (a). To gain full marks there must be an
analysis/discussion of the issues. These could be in the form of
comparisons and contrasts.
You should be aiming to
identify and discuss 4 issues although don’t worry if you only have
time to complete three in the exam.
The part (c)
question will be asking you to apply your psychological knowledge to
You will gain marks for a
suggestion which is detailed and is clearly based on psychological
evidence. You will also have to give a clear rationale based on
psychological evidence to explain why this suggestion might work.
Of the 8 marks available for this answer about half of the marks
come from your description of the suggestion and the other half come
from the way you relate your suggestion to psychological evidence.