A-Level Sociology: How to Revise and Succeed

A-Level Sociology is a relatively new subject but it’s becoming even more popular than traditional subjects like history and geography.

So what exactly does being a successful A-Level Sociology student involve? How can you set yourself up to bank some good grades that will enable you to reach your goals beyond A-Levels?

I interviewed Zoe Holland, one of my academic coaches and a Sociology teacher with over 20 years of experience in teaching. In this article, you’ll get to read what she had to say about: 

  • What Sociology is
  • How to revise A-Level Sociology and the strategies that can help you achieve the top grades
  • Jobs with A-Level Sociology and where it can lead you.

You can also listen to the full conversation using the podcast player above or listen on The School Success Formula podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

What is A-Level Sociology?

Put simply, Sociology is the study of society, people and their behaviour.

Studying A-Level Sociology needs an enquiring mind as it dives deep into important questions like ‘how far does society influence our actions?’. It explores big issues that shape the landscape of our society and how we navigate it, like identity, class, gender and ethnicity. 

It pairs well with many other A-Level subjects and is a great foundation for many careers, particularly in today’s world where identity politics is such a hot topic.

How to revise A-Level Sociology 

At the moment, across all exam boards, A-Level Sociology doesn’t have any coursework. This means that getting a top grade will fully depend on your ability to effectively revise and approach your exam paper in the right way.

A-Level Sociology assessment objectives

To successfully study Sociology and earn those top marks, you need to understand the assessment objectives. For A-Level Sociology, there are three assessment objectives. And, as Zoe says, you need to see which of them hold the most marks. For Sociology, that’s knowledge, understanding and application. 

That means you need to show that you understand sociological theories, concepts and evidence, and how they’re relevant to the question you’re answering. 

To get the top grades that you’re aiming for, though, you’ll also need to meet the 3rd assessment objective. This one is all about analysis and evaluation.

This means showing that you know different sociologists’ names and theories and making critical points about the theories. You’ll need to pick out their strengths and weaknesses to make judgements and come to conclusions. 

The assessment objectives are a lot like Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills. The higher up the hierarchy of thinking skills you get, the more marks you can reach in your exam. It’s demonstrating those top-tier thinking skills that will get you the top marks. 

What does the difference between a C grade and A* grade answer look like? 

So the difference between a C grade and an A* grade is demonstrating evaluation and being able to link ideas together. But what does that actually look like?

Zoe uses the example of answering a question about Marxism to illustrate the difference. 

C grade answers might discuss that sociologists have criticized Marxism and that it has some strengths and weaknesses. The problem with this is that it doesn’t discuss sociologists’ theories and it doesn’t link to the question.

An A* answer will go deeper. For example, they might discuss that feminists, such as Greer, have criticized Marxism for overlooking the importance of gender in social relationships. They might conclude that this means that Marxism overlooks the complexity of social structures.

A-Level Sociology examiners have also made it clear that it’s really important to show you understand the links between different factors.

For example, when looking at the differences in achievement by working-class and middle-class students, we talk about internal factors (what happens in school) and external factors (what happens at home). 

A and B grade answers show understanding of how the factors are linked, like discussing how poor nutrition at home can lead to a lack of concentration in school. 

This is the kind of thinking that will tick the box of evaluation and help you get a top grade. 

If you want to see more examples, Zoe will be walking you through some real A-Level Sociology questions and model answers in the How to Revise A-Level Sociology Masterclass.

Should you bring your personal opinions to A-Level Sociology?

Sociology is a subject where every student can bring their experiences to the table, like their experience of school and their experience of family, whatever their family may look like. Sometimes, it’s great to use those experiences to fuel classroom discussions and relate to the theories you’re learning. 

So it might surprise you to hear that it’s actually best not to express your own opinions in a Sociology exam.

When students give their personal opinion in an exam, it takes away from their answer and can hurt their chances of getting a top grade. 

The judgements and conclusions that you make in your answers should be based on the work of sociologists. Using your own opinion takes away the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the different strands of sociological theories. 

How important is reading around the subject for A-Level Sociology?

Reading outside of your Sociology textbook is a key and under-used way of helping you reach for the top marks. 

Staying up to date with current affairs will enable you to use up to date examples in your answers, which is such a great signal to the examiner that you’re engaged with and understand the subject.

Particularly now, with so many changes occurring throughout society, the world of Sociology has lots to discuss. You should stay aware of developments that are relevant to your studies. Developments like government policies, particularly in education, family and crime, as well as their possible effects. 

What should you read? 

Watching the news is an easy way to see what’s going on in the world on a daily basis. It’s important to remember that the media is selective about what it reports, though, and your reading should go further than this. 

Aim to consume a wide variety of media and channels to make sure you’re hearing lots of different opinions. Take note of the difference of opinions you do come across and think about how you could evaluate them.

There are plenty of podcasts to listen to and newspaper articles to read. Even Twitter can help – you can follow many of the sociologists you’re studying on Twitter. As Zoe shares that some of her students have done, you can even reach out to sociologists and ask their opinions on current affairs. 

Jobs with A-Level Sociology: where can Sociology take you?

In the past, you might have heard Sociology being disregarded in terms of its ability to lead to a career.

But the truth is, A-Level Sociology can in fact be a diving board into a lot of rewarding careers. It spans a great range of interests so it can open up a whole array of fulfilling jobs, from teaching to marketing. Many students even decide to become sociologists themselves. 

Particularly following the pandemic, there’s a lot of demand for people working in mental health, psychology and advising the government in social policy.

In fact, Zoe says, there’s never been a better time to study Sociology.

Do you want more help with A-Level Sociology?

If you found this helpful, join the How to Revise Sociology Masterclass live on the 2nd of October. It’ll also be recorded and will be available to watch in The Extraordinaries Club anytime after that.

The Masterclass is a great opportunity to hear even more of Zoe’s helpful advice on A-Level Sociology revision, taking you through model answers, showing you how you can achieve those top grades, and much more. I look forward to seeing you there!

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