Psychology A level

Why study Psychology? A Subject for Life

Psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behaviour, and psychologists are interested in trying to discover why people behave the way they do; whether these behaviours are normal or abnormal. By using scientific methods, we attempt to explain how the mind works and why people behave in the way that they do.

Psychology would be a useful area of study to anyone who is interested in a career in which you are dealing with people. That might be anything from sales to medicine! A psychologist might try to solve problems such as helping people to perform more efficiently in their workplace, or to become a more effective analyst.

Psychologists also help people who are experiencing mental health difficulties such as depression or phobias, or even just to make sure that you as students are working in the most effective way possible. Psychologists find solutions to problems in all kinds of settings!

High standards of literacy and numeracy are essential to the A-level course, as these skills underpin the fundamental elements of the course. It is an ideal subject to take if you are planning on any career which involves extensive interaction with other people. Psychology is not just an academic subject, but a life skill – what could be more important than understanding other people?

Entry Requirements

Ideally, you should have at least a grade ‘C’ in the following GCSE subjects: a discursive subject (which contains a lot of essay writing), such as English or History; Maths or Science (combined or single subject sciences). You should have a curiosity about the subject and the ability to think for yourself.

Course Content

The specification we follow is the WJEC Syllabus. In accordance with the school’s policy, ALL students will be entered for the AS exam (Year 12), regardless of whether or not they intend to progress onto A2 (Year 13).  All students receive a copy of their entire AS/A2 syllabus during their first psychology lesson.

AS level (Year 12) and A2 (Year 13) content:

AS (Unit One) content:
Psychology: Past to Present
>Biological Approach
> Psychodynamic Approach
> Behaviourist Approach
> Cognitive Approach
> Positive Approach

Unit 1 (AS) focuses on the assumptions, therapy and classic research relating to 5 areas of psychology; psychodynamic, behavioural, cognitive, biological, and positive. Each area will be examined in light of forming a relationship.

AS (Unit Two) content:
Psychology: Using Psychological Concepts
>Contemporary Debates
• The Ethics of Neuroscience
• The mother as primary care-giver of an infant
• Using conditioning techniques to control the behaviour of children
• The reliability of eyewitness testimony (including children)
• Relevancy of positive psychology in today’s society

>Research Methods

Unit 2 (AS) focuses on 5 related contemporary debates, and extensive principles of research which underpin the science of psychology. There’s an increased emphasis on numeracy, including collecting different types of data & representing them, and interpreting data from a graph; additionally descriptive statistics such as measures of central tendency and dispersion. You will be expected to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and evaluation of two key pieces of research, one from social psychology and the other from developmental psychology.

A2 (Unit Three) content:
Psychology: Implications in the Real World
>Criminal Behaviours
> Controversies in Psychology
• Sexism
• Cultural Bias
• Ethical costs of conducting research
• Non-human animals
• Scientific Status

Unit 3 (A2) allows the learner to make a choice of 3 from 6 topics. You get to choose from addictive behaviours, autistic spectrum behaviours, bullying behaviours, criminal behaviour, schizophrenia, and stress. Each of the 3 you choose will be studied from biological, social, and individual differences perspectives, as well as how to modify that behaviour. We will also look at controversies in psychology such as sexism, ethics and the use of animals in experiments.

A2 (Unit Four) content:
Psychology: Applied Research Methods
>Personal Investigations (two compulsory investigation stipulated by the exam board)
>Research Methods

Unit 4 (A2) is perhaps the most exciting as learners will have an opportunity to conduct a personal investigation and see the process through from planning to execution. The work you do in the investigation will help you to answer questions in the exam on the content of the investigation. In addition, further study of research methods to novel scenarios will be an opportunity to further develop your understanding of how research is conducted, and includes the addition of inferential statistics. This was identified by universities as an area in need of improvement and you’ll be at a massive advantage should you choose to do psychology at university!

Practical Assessment:

There will be no internal assessment that leads to marks that contribute towards the AS or A-level grades. Instead, practical work (personal investigations) will be assessed in the Unit 4 written paper.


AS level Psychology exams (at the end of Year 12):

Unit 1:

Compulsory questions relating to five psychological approaches and classic pieces of research
80 marks (1 hour 30 minutes written exam) 50% of AS 20% of A-level.

Unit 2:

Section A: Contemporary debate One question linked to the given debates.
Section B: Principles of research and application of research methods Principles of research Compulsory questions on the theory of psychological research (including the work of social and developmental psychologists).
Application of research methods to a novel scenario: Compulsory questions requiring a response to a piece of research previously unseen.
80 marks (1 hour 30 minutes written exam) 50% of AS 20% of A-level.
A2 Level Psychology exams (at the end of Year 13):

Unit 3:

Section A: The study of behaviours – three structured essays from a choice of six.
Section B: Controversies in psychology One question from a choice of two requiring a synoptic exploration of psychological controversies.
100 marks (2 hours 30 written exam) 40% of A-level.

Unit 4:

Section A: Personal investigations Compulsory questions based on investigative activities carried out prior to the assessment.
Section B: Application of research methods to novel scenarios Compulsory questions requiring a response to pieces of research.
60 marks (1hour 30 minutes) 20% of A-level.

Where does it lead?

Past students have gone onto study many different degree courses; these include Psychology, Medicine, Veterinary, Dentistry, Law, Clinical Psychology, Criminology, Forensic Science, Criminal Psychology, Health and Social Care, Nursing, Education, Counselling, Occupational Health, Sport Psychology, Armed Forces, Mental Health and much more! The list is very varied and reflects the fact that Psychology is a valued A-level that leads to the development of a critical, analytical approach to information by students who can present their conclusions coherently. Psychology is considered a science by many of the leading Universities and is recommended as a supporting subject for those studying medicine.

Reading List

WJEC Psychology AS: The Complete Companion Student Book for WJEC. Second Edition (ISBN: 978-0-19-835917-3)
WJEC Psychology A Level Book 2: The Complete Companion Student Book for Eduqas and WJEC (ISBN: 978-0-19-835611-0)
The Research Methods Companion for A Level Psychology Second Edition. Complete Companion Psychology. (ISBN: 978-019-8356134)
All of the above are published by Oxford University Press.

Psychology Review
Philip Allan Updates. (4 issues each year), edited by an expert team of leading Psychologists will stretch and challenge students’ knowledge with:
• Specially written articles on recent research in Psychology, central to A-level topics
• Grade-boosting advice from examiners
• Additional online support, with tailored resources to support articles in the magazine

Useful websites:

There are many, the following is a short selection:

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