How to answer the 30 Mark Source Question (Edexcel)

This post should be read in conjunction with the guidance for 30 Mark Essays (Edexcel) posted here. As explained below, most of the principles in the 30 Mark Source Question are the same as that for the 30 Mark Essay.

The 30 Mark Source Question is the one in A-Level Politics that students worry about the most. Some students have studied History at A-Level or GCSE and have a different conception of what is required from a source question and are therefore perturbed by it. However, the source question is far more straightforward that it first seems, and this post aims to explain why that is the case and guide students through how to approach it.

What is the difference between a 30 Mark Essay and a 30 Mark Source Question?

The answer to this question is… very little. This can be seen by looking at the respective mark schemes for the two questions. Below, the differences are highlighted in bold:

AO1 – Knowledge and Understanding

30 Mark Essay Question:

Demonstrates thorough and in-depth knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, which are effectively selected in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.

30 Mark Source Question:

Demonstrates thorough and in-depth knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues, which are effectively selected in order to underpin analysis and evaluation.

AO2 – Analysis

30 Mark Essay Question:

Perceptive analysis of aspects of politics, with sustained, logical chains of reasoning, which make cohesive and convincing connections between ideas and concepts.

30 Mark Source Question:

Perceptive comparative analysis of political information, with sustained, logical chains of reasoning, drawing on similarities and differences within political information, which make cohesive and convincing connections between ideas and concepts

AO3 – Judgement

30 Mark Essay Question:

Constructs fully relevant evaluation of aspects of politics, constructing fully effective substantiated arguments and judgements, which are consistently substantiated and lead to fully focused and justified conclusions

30 Mark Source Question:

Constructs fully relevant evaluation of political information, constructing fully effective arguments and judgements, which are consistently substantiated and lead to fully focused and justified conclusions

What this shows is that fundamentally examiners are looking for broadly the same skills in a source question compared to an essay question.

Essentially, the source question is a pretty artificial exercise in which students are required to write an essay by going through some hurdles set by the exam board.

What then is the difference between the 30 Mark Essay Question and the 30 Mark Source Question?

The source is just an artificial hurdle for students to overcome.

The only meaningful difference therefore between the 30 Mark Source Question and the 30 Mark Essay question is where the point you are analysing originates.

In a 30 Mark Essay Question you are free to base your arguments around any point that you think is relevant. However, for the source question, all the points you make must originate from the source. This is the artificial hurdle the exam board are placing for what is otherwise an essay question.

How should I approach the Source Question?

Below is a five-stage guide to completing the source question.

Stage 1 – Scan read the sources

It can be very tempting to select which source you will choose to tackle based on the question title alone. As tempting as this is, it isn’t a good idea. It may well be that the question for one source is very inviting, but in fact the content of the source does not offer up clear points for analysis. It may be that whilst a question appears inviting, the content of the source doesn’t present as many clear opportunities to tackle the question. Therefore, it is worth scan reading both the questions first.

Stage 2 – Get three different coloured highlighters and read the source you have selected to tackle

Highlighters won’t show up on your scanned examination script, they are still useful to you though.

In your exam select three different coloured highlighters. Each of these are to highlight a pair of points. Just like in the 30 Mark Essay Question, you are looking for 3 sets of paired arguments i.e. an argument for a point and then another argument that challenges the original point. The source should be written by the exam board in such a way that paired arguments can be selected. Finding pairs of arguments from the source will boost the AO2 marks. The points might not necessarily be near each other in the source, and this is why highlighting them is helpful.

Stage 3 – Rank your arguments

Rank your paired arguments from best to worse. This is important. Most students will not have a chance to write three paired arguments in the source question due to the time constraints and will instead do two. You want to ensure that you are spending your time on the best points which you feel you are best able to expand upon. In addition, the AO3 marks for judgement will be higher if you are able to consider the differing strengths of varying arguments.

Stage 4 – Add some depth to your plans

Just as you would for the 30 Mark Essay question, look to spend some time adding some depth to your plans. Key points, facts, figures, quotes – anything that will help you to develop that argument when it comes.

Stage 5 – Make sure you know what your argument will be

Just as in the 30 Mark Essay question you should know what argument you will be making in your essay.

In the 2022 London Marathon Richard Lee-Wright went viral for sprinting past the professionals at the start of the race. He didn’t win. (Although he still achieved a cracking time!)

It is important to note that whilst you are doing this people around you might already be writing. Do not be perturbed by this – you will make up the time and more later by effectively planning your response. Just because someone sprints at the start of a marathon it doesn’t mean they will win the race.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I’ve been told I should not include my own knowledge in the source question, is this correct?

In the words of Margaret Thatcher “No, No, No” and if you do not include your own knowledge, in the words of Tony Blair, your answer will be “weak, weak, weak”. The ideas you should not include your own knowledge is a myth that emerged at the start of the new specification, perhaps as the exam board guidance was not clear enough.

The instruction for the question is: “analyse and evaluate only the information presented in the source”

The mark scheme says: “Marks for analysis (AO2) and evaluation (AO3) should only be awarded where they relate to information in the source.”

Just as in an essay, you must use your own knowledge to analyse the merits of the argument in the source. However, if the knowledge you deploy is not linked to a point in the source, it will not be rewarded.

Q. Do I need three paired points?

The answer to this is no. It is possible for you to achieve Level 5 based on only two points. Realistically you will have a similar amount of time for this question as you will for the 30 Mark Essay Question. However, you will have the added time challenge of having to read the source. Most students will not be able to write three well-developed paired arguments for this question. It is much better to do two well-developed paired points rather than three less well-developed ones.

Q. Do I have to quote from the Source?

No. However, you do need to show the examiner that the points you are using originate from the source. Ideally you should do this at the top of the paragraph and when introducing your counterpoint. But examiners potentially mark 100 answers an evening. They are normally full-time teachers. Some may do multiple papers. Put simply – they are not robots, they are human. Concise quotes are by far the easiest way to show fallible examiners that you are analysing information from the sources.

Q. Do I have to comment on where the source comes from?

Absolutely not. Unlike in a History Source Question, where the source comes from is utterly irrelevant. We are not interested in the provenance of the source. It is simply information being provided to create an artificial hurdle and make the essay harder to write.

Q. What should I do if there is nothing else from the source I can analyse?

It is unlikely that you will be given a source that does not allow you enough arguments to structure your answer, so make sure you read it carefully. However, in the unlikely event that you run out of issues from the source, you can include your own points. You will not be awarded AO2 and AO3 for this – but can be awarded AO1. Therefore, if needed, you can do this.

Q. Do I really have to link the arguments in the source together? Can’t I just do for arguments and then against arguments?

Linking the points from the source together is the best way to ensure you are scoring marks across all the AOs. Selecting a point and counter-point approach allows you to demonstrate AO2 and then using mini-conclusions consistently throughout your answer allows you to demonstrate AO3.

Q. How do I get evaluation marks?

Just like in the 30 Mark Essay question you should be outlining your argument in your introduction and then consistently using mini-conclusions to show you are making judgements throughout your essay. Your conclusion should be a synthesis of the arguments you have already made and should not come as a surprise to the examiner.

Exemplar Question

(C) Edexcel

Exemplar Answer Section

The UK has an uncodified constitution meaning that it has a number of sources that include conventions, statute law and royal prerogative powers. Unlike revolutionary constitutions like that of the US and Germany is has evolved organically over many centuries. Despite the UK constitution constantly evolving, it is often argued that it requires major change, most notably in terms of creating a more codified constitution. When answering this question, the following themes will be considered from the source: the protection of rights in the constitution, issues of entrenchment and flexibility and whether the constitution is fit for a modern liberal democracy. Ultimately it will be argued that the UK constitution does not require major change and that change is already steadily making the UK constitution stronger.

The source presents the argument that the UKs constitution does not protect rights by saying that “a government with a simple majority [can] make significant constitutional changes which threaten our fundamental rights”. In Britain, it can often be said that there is what Lord Hailsham termed an ‘elective dictatorship’. This means that once in power the government can do as it pleases. The First Past the Post voting system often leads to colossal parliamentary majorities, such as Blair’s majorities of 179 and 166 in 1997 and 2001. Indeed, since 1945 the average government majority has been 57.5 seats. This allows the government to change the constitution without much scrutiny and can lead to changes that are seen to threaten fundamental rights. Recently this has been seen through the passage of the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill which has placed more restrictions into law on the rights of peaceful protest – something that is a fundamental right in a liberal democracy. In addition, it is clear that any statute that protects rights could potentially be repealed by a majority government. For example, the Conservative Manifesto in 2015 pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and the current Conservative Government is still tentatively considering reform to the Human Rights Act (1998). This would be done from a partisan position and may damage the concept of universality that is essential to the modern notion of rights. These factors indicate that majority governments can sometimes threaten fundamental rights. Conversely, the source also presents the more compelling counter-argument that rights are well protected despite Britain’s uncodified constitution in saying “our rights have been respected and updated by politicians and protected by an independent judiciary”. Britain has a long history of judicial oversight of rights and has a strong common law tradition. The judiciary has made a number of judgements that protect and enforce the rights of citizens. For example, in Heiden & Steinfeld v. Home Secretary the Supreme Court ruled that preventing heterosexual couples from seeking a civil partnership was discriminatory. In addition, at times the judiciary has ruled on contentious political decisions in order to protect rights. In Miller vs Prime Minister in 2019 the Supreme Court ruled that by advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament the PM had acted to frustrate parliamentary democracy and therefore unlawfully. In this ruling they were respecting the right of Parliament to scrutinise the Executive. In addition, parliamentarians are always aware that they cannot take decisions that will be politically unpopular. In 2005 this was shown when the House of Commons voted by 322-291 to reject 90-day detention of terror suspects. Despite the terror threat (the 7/7 bombings took place in July) MPs were not willing to undermine civil liberties by allowing someone to be held for three months without being charged. Therefore, on balance, on the issue of the protection of rights it is clear the constitution does not require major change as both the judiciary and the political antennae of elected representatives provide an effective check against Executive overreach.

What does this section do?

  • An introduction is written just as it would be for an essay. This defines any key terms, sets out the themes to be analysed (all of which must come from the source) and sets out an argument that will be presented in the essay.
  • At the start of each point the source is quoted. This ensures the examiner knows that the point being analysed originated in the source. Note that the quote is shortened to make sure the point of the source is clear, but without copying out significant text from the source. You are not getting marks from quoting from the source, so keep the quotes short, if possible.
  • Own knowledge is deployed which is clearly relevant to the examination of the point in the source. This is gaining AO1 marks and allowing AO2 to be advanced.
  • The term conversely is used to cleary highlight to the examiner that an alternative viewpoint from the source is now being considered.
  • The use of ‘the more compelling argument’ indicates to the examiner that you are being judgemental, as required for AO3.
  • A clear judgement is reached on the paired argument in an effective mini conclusion.

A full source exemplar essay can be found here.

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

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