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

This is for the Edexcel Specification. If you do AQA or another board the guidance will be different.

The Assessment Objectives (AOs) are what you are being benchmarked against in your A-Level Exams. There are three of them and you need to understand what each is and recognise how you hit them in your answers.

What are the three Assessment Objectives?

AO1 (35% of the A-Level)

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of political institutions, processes, concepts, theories and issues.

In summary AO1 is what you know and the depth and breadth of your knowledge about the topics in the specification.

AO2 (35% of the A-Level)

Analyse aspects of politics and political information, including in relation to parallels, connections, similarities and differences.

In summary AO2 is your ability to analyse. This means your ability to explain the implications of an issue with reference to the question you are being asked.

AO3 (30% of the A-Level)

Evaluate aspects of politics and political information, including to construct arguments.

In summary AO3 is your ability to create coherent arguments and to make clear judgements on the question you are being asked.

The reason that the percentages are different is that there is no AO3 for the two 12 Mark Questions in Paper 3. For the 30 Mark Questions and the 24 Mark Ideologies question the three AOs are all equally weighted.

Are the Assessment Objectives equally important?

The answer to this holistically is yes. Examiners use a ‘best-fit’ approach when assigning an overall level to your work. A good example of this can be seen by looking at the responses below.

Q. Evaluate the view that British democracy would be strengthened by utilising more Direct Democracy

Below shows three different sections for this essay title, all based on the same themes.

Response 1

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. There are three key ways that direct democracy has been deployed in the UK. Firstly, the Recall of MPs Act (2015) allows MPs to be recalled by their constituents if they meet one of three criteria. So far, two MPs, Fiona Onasanya and Christopher Davies have been removed as being MPs under this process. Secondly, e-petitions have increased the say of ordinary people on issues that they feel are important. There have been some significant e-petitions including:

6.1 Million – Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU

1.8 Million – Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the UK

Finally, there has been an increase in the use of referendums in the UK. Since 1975 there have been three nationwide referenda: the EEC Referendum (1975) the AV Referendum (2011) and the EU Referendum (2016). In addition, there was a significant referendum in Scotland in 2014 which had 84% turnout on the issue of whether Scotland should become an independent nation, in the end, 54% voted for Scotland to remain in the UK. The significant amount of direct democracy introduced in the UK shows how significant it has become.

However, it can also be argued that Direct Democracy puts too much power in the hands of people who are not politically well-informed and therefore might make bad decisions. For example, the 2016 EU Referendum was dominated by populism. The Leave Campaign twisted the truth by arguing that leaving the EU would mean £350 Million more to spend on the NHS and that Turkey would soon be joining the EU and therefore Britain would be flooded with immigration. People did not know enough about the issues to see through this and therefore trusted what was being said to them. Therefore, whilst direct democracy might increase participation, it does not necessarily increase the quality of that participation and therefore the use of direct democracy should be limited.

Verdict: The candidate who wrote this response clearly knows their stuff. The depth and breadth of their knowledge is remarkable and some of it is extremely specific. The AO1 undoubtedly of A* quality. However, they are not really using this knowledge to analyse the question. They are not considering how this knowledge helps to answer the specific question being asked. For instance, note that the candidate starts by saying that ‘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’. However, they do not really analyse this point they are making. There is a clear judgement. However, because there is not much analysis, this cannot really be well-substantiated. Ultimately, whilst initially impressive, this is somewhat of a ‘knowledge dump’. Whilst it would score highly on AO1, the AO2 and AO3 mark under ‘best-fit’ would bring it down.

Response 2

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. Participation is essential to the successful operation of politics as it legitimises decisions that are taken. If there is limited participation, any action that is taken cannot really be said to have a mandate of the population. Direct democracy increases participation as it is easy to access and therefore turnout is often exceptionally high. People find it easy to access issues of direct democracy and to give their political opinions. Therefore, it can be said that direct democracy should be encouraged because it increases participation and therefore makes political decisions far more legitimate.

However, it can also be argued that Direct Democracy puts too much power in the hands of people who are not political well-informed and therefore might not make the best decisions. Whilst participation is important, it should not come at the expense of expertise. Too often, direct democracy makes people feel like they are experts in an issue simply because they have heard lots about it. In reality, expertise on complex political issues is something that takes a very long time to build up and this cannot help in the short-term over the course of a referendum campaign.

Therefore, overall, it is clear that direct democracy should be limited. It is far more important to enable decisions to be made by people who have become relative experts in political issues (like MPs). Whilst electors might not always like the decisions they make, this is the nature of the Trustee Model. These decisions will still be more legitimate than those made by the uneducated masses who might be voting based on emotion rather than any clear political rationale. Whilst participation is important, it should not be artificially increased by making people think that they are experts when in reality they are not.

Verdict: The candidate who wrote this response is analysing the question and produces some very advanced AO3. They make a complex judgement on the question. In this sense it is very impressive. However, they are not deploying much AO1 at all and therefore the judgement they eventually reach is not well-substantiated. It would be unusual to see a response like this, but this would score higher in AO3 and AO2 than in AO1.

Response 3

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.

Verdict: The candidate who wrote this does not produce AO1 as good as the candidate in Response 1. They also do not produce AO3, or even AO2, that is as advanced as Response 2. However, this response would by far score best of the three. The candidate is exhibiting they are tackling all three Assessment Objectives and they are using AO1 as a foundation for AO2, which subsequently allows them to make substantiated judgements.

As you can see, whilst the AOs are worth the same, AO1 is the foundation of any answer.

2 thoughts on “What are the Assessment Objectives in Edexcel A-Level Politics?

  1. Pingback: How to answer the 30 Mark Essay Question (Edexcel) | Politics Teaching

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