Exam skills and writing for psychology

My top tips to help you through:

  1. If it mentions “topics” in the question it is referring to the sections of the course, social is topic 1 , cognitive is topic 2, bio is topic 3 and learning is topic 4.
  2. Be very careful; do not write too much for any of the questions as you will not finish the paper. The paper is long and there is quite a lot of reading. You must stick to the rule 1 minute per mark. This rule should allow enough time to read and hopefully check your answers as well.
  3. Check the mark allocation for each question as this will dictate how much time you spend on each question.
  4. Write one well elaborated idea for each mark in the allocation.
  5. Pay close attention to the command term; remember for example that explain is like HOW and WHY; compare is about similarities and differences
  6. If the allocation is , if the allocation is >8 you need a conclusion unless the command term is discuss, when in doubt write conclusions anyway!
  7. >8 remember to employ the ATCHOOBC structure and don’t forget the sandwich model to help out with framing points up successfully, (topping and tailing).
  8. Remember the essays always require AO1 as well as AO3 and sometimes AO2 as well. Look at the mark allocation and command term and think carefully about the proportion of the essay that needs to be dedicated to each AO. AO1 must be relevant and help to underpin the AO3 points that you make. Evaluation points need clear links to description points.
  9. If its a scenario question keep on referring to themes from the scenario/extract; try and find as many hooks in the question and linked psychological ideas as there are marks available.
  10. Don’t forget a calculator for your stats!
  11. Take a highlighter so you can highlight the question; when you read tables highlight all the row and column headings to help you find your way round the data, there is one quite complicated table in on of the exams.
  12. When reporting results of stats tests and levels of significance, always use all of the available figures in your answer, e.g. quite the actual critical and observed values as well as the significance value.
  13. When answering on studies, especially variations, e.g. Milgram, Bandura, check the date and make sure you are taking about the correct study in your answer.
  14. The spec says you need to be able to define any terms that are used and so I have developed individual glossaries for every topic on this website; I will slowly add definitions
  15. Advice for essays: Don’t try to cram in too much. Latané’s law of diminishing returns is certainly true in essays written under exam conditions – often you pick up marks quickly in the first stages of the essay but the more you write, the less marks there are to gain and the more time you are potentially wasting that could be used for other questions. Writing fewer points in an essay can definitely lead to more marks, because it gives you time to develop your points fully. Think quality not quantity.

Command terms and what they mean

How to…prepare for Key Questions

How to evaluate…


your practicals


Research Methods

Treatments and therapies

attack an 8+ marker

Attack a 20 marker: essay grid theories 16 or 20 (1)

respond to extract/scenario questions

Essay marking front sheets

Evaluate, assess and to what extent: evaluate-study-essay-front-sheet


What have Edexcel asked on already and what might be coming next?!

Examples of pupil exam work

Self Assessment of Essays: A level Psychology Essay Self Assessment

Grade Visualiser: AS Grade visualiser

Reviewing Past Papers: returned script review sheet paper 1

Revision Planner Sheets: revision planner

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© Amanda J Wood, 2016-2017