Hi there, I used to be like you where I was getting 8/9 out of 16 on my essays and I thought all hope was lost. I ended up getting an A* in my a level and am currently studying my bachelors in Psychology. I have to say the A level is very different to many of the subjects I took at GCSE and so it took a while to wrap my head around. What I did was make an essay plan for every double page of my textbook, and then memorise it. You get like 4-6 marks for the basic information you give them about a topic (AO1) and then a whopping 10 for evaluation (AO3). You can also use these AO1 parts as answers to other questions so I found it the most useful for overall study. I always did an extra AO3 paragraph just in case I forgot one in the exam
You should start by introducing the topic you're talking about, I did addiction as a topic, so I'll use that as an example. I'll do nicotine addiction specifically. For this topic they could ask for the learning theory, brain neurochemistry or both, so it's useful to make 2 essay plans for them seperately, as combining them in the exam would be easy (brief explanation for each followed by 2 paragraphs from each evaluation). For this example I'll focus on neurochemistry:
There's two hypotheses for this: desensitisation hypothesis and the nicotine regulation model
- talk about the role of nAChRs, the ventral tegmental area and the acetycholine receptors which respond to nicotine (nAChRs).
- then you talk about desensitisation and how that occurs, how the receptors are stimulated and produce dopamine but then they shut down, leading to down regulation
- then you talk about the effect of dopamine and the two reward pathways, the mesolimbic pathway to the nucleus accumbens and the mesocorticol pathway which is released in the frontal cortex. Briefly explaine dopamine creates a reward and pleasure sense, reducing anxiety etc. You can also say that nicotine also stimulares glutamate which triggers more dopamine
If you explain all of the above its probably enough for those 6 AO1 marks.
The nicotine regulation model:
- resensitisation of neurons leads to upregulation
- upregulation leads to withdrawal
- chronic desensitisation leads to tolerance
Again each othe biological mechanisms behind these needs to be described.
AO3 you want a mix of supporting evidence and limiting evidence, you can also talk about real-life applications, how the explanations might be reductionist, or only consider one neurotransmitter involved. There's also individual differences to consider. You want to write your paragraphs with a P.E.A.R.L. structure which is point, evidence, analysis of the evidence, relate to the context/reader response, link back to the question. This is an example below:
- P. There is supporting evidence for the desensitisation hypothesis
- E. McEvoy et al. (1995) studied smoking behaviour in patients with schizophrenia, some of whom were taking haloperidol, a dopamine antagonist drug treatment for schizophrenia. Haloperidol treatment increased smoking in this sample of participants
- A. It appeared that this was a form of self-medication, an attempt to achieve the nicotine 'hit' by increasing dopamine release.
- R. There is also more recent direct evidence for the importance of the dopamine reward system in brain imaging studies (Ray et al. 2008).
- L - This therefore demonstrates that there is supporting evidence for the desensitisation hypothesis.
You want 4 good evaluation points, 3 is find if they're great but the 4th is to cover your back. I used to do strengths first and then limiations because it creates a stronger argument. I also never got penalised for not writing a conclusion but that's person opinion.
If you're doing AQA I found that the revision guides (with the green and pink haired girls on), not the textbooks, were more helpful for creating those essay plans. I'd highly recommend buying one if you have the money.
I hope this helps you.