How to answer the 30 Mark Essay Question (Edexcel)

There are four 30 Mark Essay Questions in the three 2-hour exams that you will take at the end of your A-Level course. This means 120 marks, 48% of all available, will be awarded based on the 30 Mark Essay Question. For this reason, it is really important that you are able to tackle it correctly. This post builds upon the following post on the Assessment Objectives:

What are the Assessment Objectives in Edexcel A-Level Politics? | Politics Teaching

What should the overall structure of the 30 Mark Essay Question look like?

It is important to note that there are no set criteria for what a 30 Mark Essay should look like. Examiners are not allowed to look for a certain template. However, this does not mean that there are not ways to approach the question that are better suited to meeting all of the assessment objectives. The two key options are:

  1. A For and Against Approach

A candidate could choose a traditional for and against approach where they start by considering arguments for and against the statement in the question and then consider the arguments against. This approach may allow you to exhibit a wide-range of AO1, however, it is unlikely to lead to strong marks in AO2 and AO3.

2. A Thematic Approach

The best approach for a candidate to take will be a thematic approach. You should look for three themes which you can approach in a balanced way. This will enable clear AO2 and enable you to make consistent judgements across your essay and not just in your conclusion.

What then should the general structure of an essay look like?

Exemplar Question – Evaluate the extent to which direct democracy is unhelpful in Liberal Democracy (30 Marks)

  1. Introduction: An introduction to an A-Level Politics essay has three purposes. Firstly, it sets the tone for your essay and for the examiner reading it. Examiners read many exams per day and, frankly, some of what they read will not be very good. Starting in a positive way is really important and gets them interested in your answer. Showing off some knowledge and being able to define any key terms will help to do this. Secondly, it should lay out the things you will discuss in your essay. By the end of your introduction the examiner should have a clear idea of what your essay will look like. Finally, your introduction should set out the argument that you are going to be putting forward in your essay.

A way to structure this is to remember the mnemonic D.T.A:

D Define any key terms and describe the issue in the question

T – Set out the themes/things you are going to be discussing in your essay

A – Set out the argument you are ultimately going to be presenting throughout your essay.

Introduction example

Direct Democracy refers to a system in which citizens decide directly on policies themselves. In Britain, one example of Direct Democracy is the use of referenda. To answer this question the following needs to be considered: the tyranny of the majority, the dangers of populism, the problems of the representative system and public engagement. Ultimately, although representative democracy has its faults, direct democracy is too easily infiltrated by Populism that can lead to decisions being made that are not in the national interest.

2. Three x Body Sections: You should aim for three sections, each focusing on a particular theme. Within this, you should look explore a point and a counterpoint. At the end of each section, you need to come to a judgement (often called a mini conclusion). It is essential you are making judgements throughout your essay and not just leaving it to the conclusion. You should also look to prioritise your arguments, with your best arguments used first. This means if you run out of time you are doing so on your weakest section. There isn’t a set way to structure within the paragraph, but mnemonic that students have found helpful is:

P.E.A.C.E – Point, Evidence, Analysis, Counterpoint, Evaluation.

Section Example

One reason that it could be argued that more direct democracy should be deployed in the UK is because it encourages participation in the political process. Recent developments of direct democracy in the UK have had the impact of increasing participation in British politics. For example, the e-petitions process has led to public opinion on key political issues being clearly shown – for instance when 6.1 million people signed a petition calling for Brexit to be abandoned. This might influence the policies of political parties (for example the Lib Democrats chose to run on a manifesto of abandoning Brexit). In addition, recent referendums have resulted in significant turnout such as the Scottish Independence Referendum (84%) and the EU Referendum (72%). Increased participation is significant for the political process as it makes any decision that is eventually taken more legitimate. This means that, in terms of increasing participation, direct democracy should be encouraged wherever possible in the UK.

On the other hand direct democracy arguably puts too much power in the hands of people who are not politically well-informed and therefore might not make decisions in the interests of the country. People can be too easily swayed by populism and self-interest. This was seen in the Brexit Referendum of 2016 which was emotionalised and arguably people did not fully understand what they were voting for. It is notable that the most googled term on the day after the Brexit Referendum was ‘what is the EU’. Further to this, not everyone has equal interest in Politics. Direct democracy gives equal say to those with little to no interest as those who have intense interest.  This can lead to political positions in which there is more activism taking precedence at the expense of more moderate positions. This delegitimises the decisions that are taken as they are defined by levels of interest, not levels of expertise. Ultimately, whilst direct democracy may increase participation it does so at the expense of direct expertise at an issue. Whilst representative democracy can be frustrating, it allows for an educated political class to make decisions about complex issues. Therefore, it should be argued that the use of Direct Democracy should be limited.

3. Conclusion: The purpose of a conclusion is to summarise your arguments, to compare their strengths and come to a clear overall judgement. You shouldn’t be adding any extra information in your conclusion, new material should be in the body of your essay. In addition, try not to make it a binary issue, try to consider the extent to which you are making your judgement.

A way to structure this is to remember the mnemonic J.A.R:

J – Make sure you start the conclusion with a clear overall judgement on the question.

A – What is the potential alternative to the judgement that you have come to.

R Return to your judgement and explain why you have decided it is superior to the alternatives.

Conclusion example

There can be no doubt that, although appealing in principle, direct democracy is deeply flawed. In order to make an issue accessible for ordinary systems it has to be simplified, often to the point that it no longer reflects the realities of the issue in question. However, direct democracy can sometimes play a role in supplementing direct democracy, for example, petitions are a useful way of alerting representatives to the issues that matter to their constituents. Yet, ultimately, although limited direct democracy can support a representative system, the normalisation of its use on deciding big issues is dangerous and can lead to political confusion.

Frequently asked questions

Q. Do I have time to plan my answer?

Yes, and you must do so. Planning your answer is important and will save you time throughout your essay. It also allows you to prioritise your argument and be sure which side of the debate you are going to fall down on.

Q. How long should this take?

You will have around 45 minutes to complete this in your final exams. However, do not worry if it is taking much longer to do this at the moment. It always does and any former A-Level student will tell you it just takes time to get confident under the exam conditions. (That said, practice helps significantly!).

Q. I’ve been told I need to use synoptic points?

There is a requirement to use synoptic points in the 30 Mark Essay Paper for Paper 2: Uk Government. If you do not do this, you cannot get into Level 5. However, Politics is inherently a synoptic subject, and you are likely to be doing this anyway. Just leave time to check at the end of your paper that you have done so.

Some students even underline their synoptic points to highlight them to the examiner. You do not have to this, but there is no harm in doing so.

Q. How important is political terminology?

You should deploy political terminology wherever you can, and some political terminology will make you stand out. For example, you might refer to elective dictatorship or populism. However, remember that political terminology also refers to any language a non-politics student would not know, so you are using political terminology all the time.

An exemplar for a full 30 Mark Essays can be found here: Level 5 Response – Evaluate the view that Parliament is effective at scrutinising the Executive in the UK (30 Marks) | Politics Teaching

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Leave a Reply