A-level Religious Studies exams and revision: AQA explains what you need to do

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Our series on exam advice continues with tips from AQA on A-level Religious Studies

To help you make the most of your remaining revision time, we’ve worked with exam board AQA to create a series of exam advice articles.

In each of these features, you’ll find advice and easy-to-follow tips written by one of AQA’s subject matter experts.

Read on to get the inside track on A-level Religious Studies, direct from the people who make the exams.

AQA logo byline
AQA logo byline

Know each question type

AO1 questions will always ask you to ‘examine’ and AO2 will always ask you to ‘evaluate this claim’. The ‘examine’ questions want you to consider carefully and provide a detailed account of the topic.

Unpack the key ideas with reasons and evidence, including scripture and scholarly opinion where appropriate. In the ‘evaluate’ questions, examiners want to see you consider several options or arguments and come to a conclusion about their importance or success.

Make sure you’ve practiced plenty of both question types across philosophy, ethics and religion. You should spend 18 minutes answering a 10-mark AO1, and 27 minutes on a 15-mark AO2.

If you’re not sure how the questions will look, check out our specimen papers.

Answer the question (a)

Do shape your answer to the question that’s been set. Make sure you’re answering the question by paying attention to the command and the content words.

For example, here’s a question that asks you to ‘examine the approach taken to moral decision making by virtue ethics. You must illustrate your answer with reference to the issue of lying.’ The command is ‘examine’ and the answer should only focus on virtue ethics - there’s no need to discuss any other theories here. Also, if you didn’t include examples of lying, you’d limit your marks.

Don’t try to learn pre-prepared answers as these won’t answer the specific questions that are set on the day.

Use the specification

Use the specification to form a revision check list. Anything listed on the specification could be used in exam questions.

Make sure you can explain and evaluate the key content, and explain the views of the scholars who are named on the specification. Other philosophers or scholars can be useful, but they won’t be specifically asked for in the questions.  

Use the specification content list to look for links to help with Dialogues – for example, how could you use the work you’ve done on Religious Language and verification to support an argument on the Dialogue between the beliefs of religion about life after death and philosophy?

Answer the question (b)

When you’re answering questions, use appropriate evidence and arguments to support your points.

For example, you don’t need to describe the ‘life and times’ of Bentham, but you may need to be able to say what his key ideas were and to explain how they’re an example of teleological ethics.

Practise creating arguments for your AO2 responses. There’s not an ‘expected’ answer to the question, and it’s therefore very important that you use evidence to create a debate and/or come to a clear conclusion as to what you believe the answer is.

The strongest answers in 2018 included a clear, justified conclusion, and the level descriptors require one for you to achieve Level 3 or above.

How to approach Dialogues

This section is about an exploration of the implications of one set of ideas (from philosophy or ethics) for a second set of ideas from your chosen religion.

The questions will ask you for an evaluation of the impact of the ideas from philosophy or ethics on the ideas and/or practice of your chosen religion – e.g. how successfully or not the religion responds to the challenges it faces.

The command phrases ask:

  • “Critically examine and evaluate this view.” This means that explanations should be evidence-based and arguments should be supported by evidence and reasons, critically analysed and evaluated.
  • “With reference to.” This states that the two perspectives being considered on this issue are your chosen religion and philosophy/ethics. From the content you’ve covered, you need to select the most useful arguments and examples in relation to the question set.

So, do recognise the importance of thinking, planning and paragraphing. Plan your essays and think about how the points fit together to make a clear and coherent essay. There was a trend in 2018 that the answers achieving the highest marks often showed evidence of planning.

In 45 minutes you have time to plan, it doesn’t have to be neat ordetailed, but it should help you to focus and structure your answer. Remember that providing a clear line of argument is important.

Don’t provide overlong descriptions of theories without using the main points to support or refute a theory or argument.

You also need to link the evidence back to the question that’s been set. Don’t forget that the Dialogues questions make up half the marks on Paper 2, so performing well in these is one of the keys to overall success.

Remember to include:

  • knowledge and understanding of relevant philosophy and ethics topics
  • knowledge and understanding of relevant topics from your study of religion
  • analysis and evaluation in the application of knowledge and understanding between the two areas
  • useful examples and evidence (such as scriptures and scholars’ views)
  • your conclusion - applied directly to the question

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Good luck from AQA

AQA believes everyone has the potential to achieve, and we make sure our qualifications give all students the opportunity to show what they can do and progress to the next stage of their lives.

Our subject experts worked with The Student Room so we can reach as many students as possible with advice on how to approach your revision and exams. We wish you well in the weeks ahead, and don’t forget to look after yourselves too: eat well, sleep well and tell someone how you’re feeling if there are days when things don’t go so well or you don’t feel so good.

 Good luck!