A Level Psychology

 

What is it about at sixth form level?

Psychology is the science of mind, brain and behaviour. As we grow up we all become experts in human behaviour. Isn’t Psychology all just common sense? Well yes and no: psychological understanding begins by formulating theories and looking for evidence to support or challenge them. Common sense can be found to both support and contradict what we find. As most students are new to psychology the course aims to develop an appreciation of the variety of possible explanations. Aggressive behaviour for instance: do we learn it or is it in our genes? Is it caused by abnormal brain chemicals, playing violent computer games or our upbringing? How can we investigate these questions? Psychology uses a range of methods including laboratory experiments, natural observation in the field, surveys or interviews and case studies. Learning about these methods and their strengths and limitations is an important part of the course. You also learn about the different fields of Psychology in the 21st century, including social, cognitive, developmental, biological and abnormal psychology.

Lower sixth

In addition to being introduced to a range of Approaches and Research methods you also learn about four specific areas. A famous study in Social Influence investigated how far people would go to obey an authority figure: would they shock someone to death? We also research Memory: what techniques could improve your memory? How does information get into long-term memory? We investigate how memory can be corrupted in eyewitness accounts of crimes. Attachment is the emotional bond between two people. How do early attachments between parents and children form, and how do they influence relationships later on? Finally, Psychopathology looks at abnormal psychology. What is ‘normal’? What causes mental disorders and how can we treat them?

Upper sixth

In upper sixth you learn more about Biopsychology by studying the structure and processes of the brain and nervous system. We select three areas of psychology for an exploration of such questions as: What factors affect attraction in Relationships? How can we measure Stress and its effects on health? What are the effects of computer games on Aggression? You also consider Issues and Debates in psychology, such as the relative importance of environment and heredity in determining behaviour, to what extent we might have free-will in how we behave, or the ethical issues involved in doing research on human behaviour. You extend your understanding of the scientific process and Research Methods, including the application of statistical tests to check the validity of research findings.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

If you are curious about people, what motivates their behaviour and what makes them who they are then psychology should suit you. It might also help you to understand yourself! Through studying research methods in psychology you will gain a very good awareness of the principles of science, as well as developing some of your maths skills. Critical analysis is another essential skill to be developed: you will learn to evaluate different explanations and understand strengths and limitations of different research methods. The variety of approaches covered reflects the different academic disciplines which psychology has been influenced by, including philosophy, biology, medicine, anthropology and sociology. It can therefore make a good fit with many other A level subjects.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

No prior knowledge of psychology is required. Good passes in GCSE Maths and English are important and an aptitude for biology would be an advantage.

How is the course assessed?

Lower sixth

For the AS course there are two written 90-minute exams with equal weighting. Paper 1 is on Introductory Topics in Psychology, covering Social influence, Memory and Attachment. Paper 2 Psychology in Context covers Approaches in Psychology, Psychopathology and Research Methods. There is a mixture of short questions, including some multiple-choice, and some longer ones requiring extended writing of about one side in length. Exams sat at the end of the lower sixth will not contribute towards the overall A level.

Upper sixth

Paper 1 and 2 will be similar to those sat in the lower sixth but will include both AS and A2 content. The A level is examined in three written exams of equal weight, each lasting two hours. Questions in Papers 1 and 2 build on topics covered at AS: Paper one includes Social Influence, Memory, Attachment and Psychopathology while Paper 2 covers Approaches, Biopsychology and Research Methods. Paper 3 has questions on Issues and Debates in Psychology alongside three sections on Options in Psychology, each offering a choice of three topics: students answer one from each section based on the particular options they have studied. There is a longer answer of between one and two sides of writing.

Reading

AQA Psychology for A level, year 1 and AS
By C. Flanagan, D. Berry, M. Jarvis & R. Liddle
Published by Illuminate Publishing, ISBN 978-1908682406

AQA Psychology for A Level Year 2
By C. Flanagan, D. Berry, M. Jarvis & R. Liddle
Published by Illuminate Publishing, ISBN 978-1908682413

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: AQA (A) 7181, A level: AQA (A) 7182

Anastasia

Grades achieved at MPW
A*A*A*

Progressed to
University College London (Economics) 

“Honestly, I could not imagine when I joined MPW that, due to language and adaptation barriers, I would achieve top grades in my first A-level exam sittings. This view changed completely after only a few weeks in the college’s supportive and motivational environment; with teachers who aimed at finding a personal touch with each student and with my Personal Tutor who made my adjustment to the UK education system not only an easy step in my life but, more importantly, an enjoyable one.”

Julia

Grades achieved at MPW
A*AABB

Progressed to
King's College London (International Relations)

 “The teachers really helped me overcome any difficulties I came across; they always seemed willing to offer support be it inside or outside of the classroom. I could safely say my teachers inspired me to work hard and aim for the best, sometimes simply by being passionate about what they do.”

Andrew

Grades achieved at MPW
A*AA

Progressed to
University of York (Law) 

“Having a Personal Tutor to discuss ANYTHING with, from my UCAS application to organising my life in general, really did make life at the college more streamlined and in general less stressful.”

Cynthia

Grades achieved at MPW
A*A*A*A

Progressed to
University College London (Economics)

“My subject teachers and Personal Tutor have been very patient and helpful in supporting my studies and university application.”

Akmaral

Grades achieved at MPW
A*A*A*

Progressed to
University College London (Mathematics and Statistics)

“International students have many aspects to think about, such as accommodation and guardians, but MPW surprised me by having a highly organised and supportive administration. Also, because most MPW Cambridge students are local, as an ‘international’ student, I found this very useful in both improving my English and in giving me a taste of a genuinely ‘English’ college.”