What is psychology?
In 1890, the American psychologist William James defined psychology as ‘the science of mental life’. Nowadays, it is often defined as ‘the science of mind and behaviour’.
Psychology is mainly about individuals, how they gather information, make decisions, interact with others. “Psychology is about how we make sense of the world and how we behave in it. It’s about how we see, hear and touch, how we think, remember and concentrate, how we develop and maintain our identities and how we interact with others.” (Banyard, P. & Flanagan, C. OCR Psychology, 2008).
There are different approaches in psychology, concerned with different areas, such as developmental psychology, social psychology, etc. This will become clearer as you go through the course, because you will look at studies from different approaches in psychology. Added to this, there are different perspectives in psychology, such as humanistic, behaviourist and psychoanalytic. At the simplest level, these are different views on the nature of psychology, and how it should be studied. At AS level, the most important thing about the different perspectives is that they have influenced different methods of study within psychology.
The website of the British Psychological Society www.bps.org.uk has some useful information about studying Psychology at A level, and about careers with an A-level or a degree in the subject.
About the Course
Which exam board do we use?
OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations) www.ocr.org.uk
How is it going to be taught?
As discussed above, psychology can be broken down into different areas or approaches, and each of these approaches is concerned with a slightly different subject matter. Broadly speaking, these approaches are:
• Cognitive Psychology (concerned with the study of processes such as memory, thought, language, perception and attention)
• Social Psychology (how the real or implied presence or behaviour of others affects our behaviour)
• Developmental Psychology (the changes that occur over a person’s lifetime, from conception to later adulthood)
• Physiological Psychology (the study of how biological factors influence behaviour)
• Individual Differences (the study of those characteristics that vary between individuals e.g. personality, intelligence, mental health etc.)
The AS specification is based on 15 ‘core studies’ (three from each of the areas listed above). These studies have been selected by the exam board either because they are classic studies in psychology, or because they illustrate an important issue in psychology.
The other topic studied is Psychological Investigations and Methods, which looks at how psychologists formulate, conduct and evaluate research. This topic obviously links to all of the approaches listed above.
How is it assessed?
The AS level in Psychology is externally assessed with two written examinations.
Paper 1 – Psychological Investigations (1 hour) 30% of AS; 15% of A2
A few structured questions (three on the specimen exam) worth around 20 marks each (the exam total is 60 marks). Questions range from those requiring answers of 1-2 sentences to those requiring answers of 1 – paragraphs. All questions should be answered.
Paper 2 – Core Studies (2 hours) 70% of AS; 35% of A2
Looks at all of the core studies:
Section A – a range of 10-15 short answer questions.
Section B – candidate selects one of two studies to answer questions on, there are approximately 6 questions requiring short paragraph answers.
Section C – choice of two questions requiring short answer and a mini-essay.
How will my progress be assessed/evaluated? During the course you will be required to write essays, complete exercises with short and long answer questions, and critique research projects. The format of these will be very similar to the formal examination, and your work will be discussed with you on a weekly basis.
In addition to this, you will undertake an informal assessment (in exam-like conditions) at the following points:
At the beginning of November (the week after half term)
At the end of February (the week after half term)
There will also be mock exams towards the end of the course, in preparation for the AS exams (dates TBC).
What about A2?
The A2 course builds on what you have covered in the AS course. At A2 level you start to look at areas of applied psychology – in other words, how can psychology help to explain practical areas of everyday life?
There are two exams at this level:
Options in Applied Psychology (1 hour 30 mins) 25% of A2
(We will be doing the options in Forensic Psychology and the Psychology of Sport and Exercise)
Approaches and Research Methods in Psychology (1 hour 30 mins) 25% of A2