Typically we gain good a collection of marks every year in the A/A* category. This is given historically large entries of 150 students, now roughly 65 but in larger class sizes of 25-20. We are by no means perfect and one thing I have seen is not all these techniques work with all students all the time. The key, as with most of teaching is to know your individual students and support their differing needs. So now the disclaimer is done here are my top tips for A/A*.
1) Become an examiner.
I have learnt far more about what those grades look like and what differentiates them by being an examiner than I ever have from buying back scripts, examiner reports or any training course. It has standardised my marking and taught me that I mark harshly but accurately. This means I know I am their harshest critic, but someone as harsh as me could be marking their paper. (A fact I share with them)
2) Essays Matter.
As Joseph Spark of Tutor2U says “Essays Matter”. We have been prepping our students for essays by using essay planning grids for a number of years and have adapted this technique for the new spec. Students plan a 16 marker (straight O+E no application) for every single topic area. It makes for about 80plans! For an example see here.
3) Timing Matters.
What we tend to find though is lots of students can over plan. They over do their AO1, they over plan the number of AO3 etc. As PSY3 shows us with three 16markers and two 8markers they need to keep to time. So we get them to write full pelt about anything they wish for 5mins. Word count / line count it and that forms their personal maximum for planning. This ensures students who write slow think carefully about what they say and all can ensure AO1 and AO3 balance. It prevents marking essays that are too long and the comment “I didn’t get it all down”.
4) Style Matters
I find that my A grade students have an unbelievable memory. They can recall the details, use the terms, trot off 5 A03 full PEEL paragraphs, but still often get an A. The A* students though have a different style. Their essays are often shorter than A grade and contain a sense that they have a line of arguement. Whilst their is no requirement for that in the mark scheme it definitely helps give a sense of a focused and coherent essay. To achieve this I use the support sessions detailed below. I also then get them to write a 1sentence conclusion at the top of their essay plans. Write the essay. Then get a relative to guess the conclusion.
5) Small Questions Matter.
At the top end though good essay technique alone may not be enough. We use eight boxes for our essay plans which student fill by breaking their AO1 down to 3 parts and their A03 to five parts. This allows them to simultaneously plan for the big question but also 8 markers and smaller. The boxes in AO1 help them consider questions like “outline one feature” (2marks) and “Describe” (4marks) “give 1 strength / 1 weakness” (2-4marks).
6) Methods Matters.
Methods is worth roughly 25% and is very much a practice makes perfect section. This is so like their driving theory. Do enough questions and you start to recognise them. Methods forms a 25% weighting in any assessments we do, reports we write etc which gives the right impression of its importance rather than just being another topic.
These are in no way full proof, and require an incredible amount of dedication from the student, which to be honest just forces their hands. It is likely that any form of structured revision which focuses on skill and content in equal parts and is tailored to the capabilities of each student would work just as well. I mainly advocate this as it allows me to easily differentiate.
I would love to hear your ideas for A/A* in Psychology and thoughts on if these work for you in the comments below.