A Level Psychology


What is it about at sixth form level? 

The mind is the most sophisticated thing we know of in the universe. For many centuries the province of philosophers, the scientific study of mind and behaviour that we call psychology emerged relatively recently and remains one of the most exciting areas of human inquiry as there is still so much to learn. People talk of our minds being shaped by our genes, our upbringing and our social groups but how accurate is this? You will not only learn in depth about what has been found but also learn about how to conduct the research itself: how to design an experiment and how to analyse results. You will consider how memory works and how it is far from the simple recording device we take it to be. You will be surprised how easily eyewitness ‘memory’ can be corrupted by seemingly irrelevant factors! You will also look at how stress affects the mind, how we form relationships and attachments, theories of cognitive development in childhood and a range of abnormalities from compulsive behaviours to phobias.

It is important to remember that psychology is a science. You will be involved in studying the biology of the brain in detail. You will also need to develop the complex mathematical skills needed to interpret experimental data. Psychology is not about the interpretation of dreams or learning how to develop a healthier mind. This said, by learning more about how the mind works, you may well find it gives you a healthier conception of how humans work.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study two papers which contain three topics each. In Paper 1 (Introductory Topics in Psychology), you will begin with social influence, asking how our behaviour is shaped by those around us. You will then consider different kinds of and theories of memory and its fallibility. Finally, you will look at theories of attachment and how maternal deprivation affects cognitive and emotional development. In Paper 2 (Psychology in Context), you will begin by studying three major approaches to psychology: the behaviourist, the cognitive and the biological. You will continue with biology to look in detail at the structure and functioning of the nervous system. Finally, you will look at topics in psychopathology, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression and phobias.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study additional topics under Paper 2 and a third paper, Paper 3 (Issues and Options in Psychology). In Paper 2, you will consider further approaches to psychology and the biology of the brain along with a new topic: Research Methods. This will introduce you to the basic ideas and aims of a science, how to structure an experiment and how to interpret the results. In Paper 3, you will look at three topics. First, you will look at the different explanations that have been offered for why human beings form romantic relationships with one another. You will then look at schizophrenia: how to define it, explain it and treat it. Finally, you will look at some forensic psychology and consider the causes of criminal behaviour.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Psychology is a challenging and rigorous subject which is well respected by universities. It will prepare you well to pursue the subject undergraduate study but also provide you with skills that will be invaluable in across both sciences and humanities courses. It will teach you about scientific methodology and you will put this into practice when designing your own experiments. This aspect of the course will also help you develop the ability to work independently and in groups. You will develop the valuable and difficult skill of interpreting statistics. The focus on essays will mean that you will learn how to write clearly and concisely.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You should have at least a B in Maths (Higher Tier) and a B in English because of the importance of understanding how to analyse scientific data and of writing essays. On top of that, you should be curious to find out more about how why humans and animals behave as they do.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

Students sitting the AS will sit two exams on Paper 1 and Paper 2, each worth 50%. Students sitting the A level will three exams on Papers 1, 2 and 3, each worth 33%. 

For the AS, the format of both exams is the same. There are three sections. In each section, there is a mixture of multiple choice, short answer and extended writing questions. Each exam lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.

A level

For the A level, the format of the papers varies. Papers 1 and 3 have four sections and Paper 2 has three sections. There is in all three papers the same mixture of multiple choice, short answer and extended writing questions. Each exam lasts 2 hours.

The questions allow students to demonstrate their ability to draw together their skills, knowledge and understanding from across the full course of study and provide extended responses. An ‘extended response’ is evidence of sufficient length generated to allow students to demonstrate their ability to construct and develop a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured.


The Human Mind
By R. Winston
Published by Bantam Press, ISBN 978-0553816198

Classic Case Studies in Psychology
By G. Rolls
Published by Routledge, ISBN 978-1444104899

The Science of Mind and Behaviour
By R. Gross
Published by Hodder Education, ISBN 978-1471829734

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology
By H. Coolican
Published by Psychology Press, ISBN 978-1444170115

Thinking, Fast and Slow Paperback
By D. Kahneman
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0141033570

Exam Board and Specification Codes


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


Oliver Milton
Head of Department