At the moment I am working on strategies to maximize AO2 marks, both for the new GCSE and the new A Level. Inspired by Lucy Beng’s recent Facebook post and the discussion it generated, I thought I would blog about my ideas here.
Over time I have come round to advising all my students to take a conclusion-first approach, avoiding the twin traps of just describing different points of view and running out of time before developing a proper conclusion.
In the very limited time available in both GCSE and A Level exams, I think that students are more likely to score higher marks by arguing a case from the outset than they would by waiting until after they have gone through two different points of view. I am fed up of seeing middling students confuse listing points in favour and points against for an argument… and am fed up of seeing able students run out of time before getting to the bit that would score decent AO2 marks.
I have developed a formula for success to train my students to score the best AO2 marks. Ideveloped the full rationale for this and gave GCSE specific examples in a recent video that I produced for Candle Conferences GCSE Religious Studies events.
NB: I am well aware of the pitfalls of using formulae and writing frames, but know from experience that it is better to start with a frame and then let the more able ditch it than not to use one and let the weaker students flounder.
“Religious Experiences like St Paul’s prove that God exists!” Discuss (12)
TRADEC (spacing indicates minimum paragraphs at GCSE level – stonger students could split these down further, down to one paragraph per letter of TRADEC)
- THESIS – the point of their argument e.g. “Religious experiences like St Paul’s do prove that God exists!”
- REASONS – as many reasons in support of their point as they can manage, each with evidence (i.e. a quote, a scholar, a name etc.) plus explanation.
- AGREE – they must mention at least one well-known person or group who would agree with their argument and explain why this is.
- DISAGREE – The second paragraph or section of the essay begins with a well-known somebody or group who would argue the other point of view. Their argument must be explained with reference to evidence, e.g. a quote or reference.
- EVALUATE – They then evaluate the counter-claim, explaining why this argument fails to convince, giving reasons.
- CONCLUSION – if there is time they finish by repeating their thesis and main reason(s) plus explaining the limitations or implications of their argument.
- As I see it, the TRADEC approach has the advantage of making sure that they cover and explain different points of view and reach a conclusion quickly. In my experience, it reduces the marks-penalty for running out of time at both GCSE and A Level.
- The structure forces them into forming chains of reasoning because they are arguing for their own perspective, supporting it with reasons and evidence, albeit masked behind third person phrasing i.e. “Religious Experiences like St Paul’s prove that God exists” NOT “I think that Religious experiences prove God’s existence“.
- TRADEC also pushes more able students to evaluate at least one of the points of view they cover, demonstrating higher-level skills and reasoning for the higher levels.
- Putting implications or limitations of the argument into the conclusion is great practice, forcing them to consider the relevance of their work, and will push them towards the level 5/6 at A Level in time.
- TRADEC is tricky to master, not least because it forces students to make up their mind on the question BEFORE they start writing. This is no bad thing once they get used to doing it though… avoids those awful answers where it is obvious that the student hasn’t a clue what they think.
- TRADEC takes a lot of practice – which is why I am starting in Year 7.
- TRADEC goes against the “wisdom” of some primary school (and GCSE!) teachers, who tell students that the “correct” way to respond to an AO2 type question is to write I think X and then I think Y – demonstrating that they are either double-minded and capable of holding two contradictory perspectives at the same time or that they haven’t thought about the question at all…
- Of course, there ARE more sophisticated ways to write an essay, particularly at A Level! TRADEC does point students towards a more assertive essay-style, which can mean that they score highly on AO2 at the expense of AO1. Nevertheless, this can be remedied very successfully later on with more able students. Given A Level AO2 is 60% to AO1 40% this is a risk I am happy to take to get them started on the right track.
There are a number of model essays that I have produced for A Level, many of which use the TRADEC structure, elsewhere on this site. For example, this model essay on Irenaeus has the thesis highlighted.
Do let me know what you think of this approach to teaching AO2 skills. I suspect that this discussion has legs and will run and run…