Note: This guidance should not be treated in any way as official Pearson Edexcel guidance.
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:
You may also find the posts on the different Assessment Objectives useful:
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 broad options are:
- A For and Against Approach
A candidate could choose a traditional for and against approach, whereby they start by considering arguments for the statement and then consider the arguments against it. The candidate can then weigh up the arguments and come to a conclusion. This approach can be tempting to students because it is familiar (in may be used on other subjects and have been used in GCSE exams) and because it is simple.
The problem with this approach is that while it may allow candidates to show off their knowledge to the examiner (thereby scoring high AO1 marks), candidates are less likely to be effectively develop this knowledge into AO1 and AO2.
For 30 Mark Essay questions the marks are weighted equally across all three Assessment Objectives and all need to be given equal consideration.
2. A Thematic Approach
Consequently, the best approach for a candidate to take will be a thematic approach. Candidates should look for themes which allow them to consider the arguments in favour of the statement and those that are contrary to it. This enables candidates to develop arguments (achieving AO2) and to come to substantiated judgements (achieving AO3). Importantly, AO3 will be possible throughout the essay, rather than candidates simply relying on their final conclusion. The 2023 Examiners Report made clear that this was still a key area for improvement for students:
‘Essay questions were generally structured well, but we are still seeing AO3 as the weakest AO across the board’. (Paper 1 Examiners Report – 2023)
‘Essay questions were generally structured well looking to develop a real sense of debate that engaged with the question. There is still a need to develop a stronger sense of A03 – realistically the reader should be able to write the conclusion in their head having read the essay, and it should match the conclusion written by the candidate’. (Paper 2 Examiners Report – 2023)
See bottom for acknowledgement.
The following partial response from the 2022 examination report highlights effective interim judgements (mini-conclusions):
What then should the general structure of an essay look like?
Whilst there will be some essays in which a different approach should be taken, generally a general structure should look as below. For illustration purposes, the following Exemplar Question has been used – Evaluate the extent to which direct democracy is unhelpful in Liberal Democracy (30 Marks).
- 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 also 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.
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.
The following introduction was highlighted in the 2022 examiners report as being strong:
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. In recent exam series Examiners Reports have highlighted the importance of this. 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.
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.
This example from the 2022 Examiner’s Report shows a candidate looking at both sides of the argument before coming to a considered judgement:
3. Conclusion: The purpose of a conclusion is to summarise your arguments, to compare their relative 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. Remember, the command word in the question is ‘Evaluate’, this means examiners want you to place a level of value on the statement you are being asked to consider.
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.
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.
The following was highlighted in the 2022 examiners report as being part of a Level 5 essay:
Frequently asked questions
Q. Do I have time to plan my answer?
Yes, and you really 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.
During exams it can be disconcerting to see other candidates scribbling away. However, if you were able to stop and just watch, you would notice that those candidates who do not effectively plan their answer take lots of pauses and thinking time during their exam. Effectively planning your essay can actually save you time.
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. You do not need to do this for Paper 1: UK Politics. The essay question will have this intruction:
In your answer you should draw on relevant knowledge and understanding of the study of Component 1: UK Politics and Core Political Ideas. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way.
However, do not panic about this. An answer that does not do this cannot reach Level 5 (although few answers will reach Level 5 anyway and you do not necessarily need to reach Level 5 to achieve an A* grade). But, Politics is an inherently 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.
Q. What does a strong response look like?
One of the best ways to see strong responses, or strong elements of responses, is to look at the material shared by the board in their Examiners’ Reports. These are linked here: Edexcel Past Papers – Politics Teaching.
In 2022, the board published the following resource.
Full Exemplar Answers can be found here: Exemplar Answers.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.
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2023 Examiners Reports: