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Psychology at Key Stage 5

The aim of the A level Psychology course is to introduce students to the scientific study of the mind and behaviour of humans and animals. Psychologists are interested in objective measurements of cognition and actions, but also recognise the importance of  subjective experiences. The course in A level Psychology will also develop students’ essay writing, analytical, mathematical and scientific skills.

Currently, students have eleven 50 minute lessons per fortnight at both AS and A2 level. Class sizes at AS range from 15 to 20; at A2 students are in smaller sets of 10 to 15 students.

Advanced Subsidiary Award (AS Level)

  • Examination Board: AQA - A Level Psychology B - Course code: 1186

Advanced Level Award (A Level)

  • Examination Board: AQA - A Level Psychology B - Course code: 2186

The study of Psychology will be enjoyed by thoughtful students who are interested in their own and others’ thought processes and behaviour. Good grades in GCSE Science, Maths and English are advised as there will be an element of these subjects in AS and A2 Level Psychology.

An A level in Psychology could lead onto a number of Higher Education courses. Current University degree courses include Experimental Psychology, Psychology and Philosophy, Business Psychology, Forensic Psychology, and Neuroscience.

Psychology can be useful for a range of careers, including social work, advertising, teaching, counselling, and human resources. A psychology graduate can also access careers in sports psychology, educational psychology, clinical psychology, forensic psychology, occupational psychology, health psychology and much more.

For further information about HE and Careers within Psychology please visit the careers section of the Library, and also see the British Psychological Society website at

AS Psychology

Unit 1: Introducing Psychology

The first section of this exam focuses on the Key Approaches to the study of the mind and behaviour. Students will learn about behaviourism, social learning theory, cognitive psychology, psychoanalytic theory, humanistic psychology and biopsychology. In this topic, students are introduced to the work of many famous psychologists, including Pavlov, Skinner, Watson, Bandura, Freud, Rogers and Maslow.

The Gender Development section of this unit focuses on how gender roles and gender identity are determined. This allows us to examine the nature-nurture debate, and provides students with a chance to reflect on the importance of upbringing on behaviour. Links are made with the key approaches in terms of how gender development can be explained.

The Research Methods section underpins the whole of psychology. Students will learn how psychologists conduct different types of research and the problems they encounter in doing so. When studying research methods, students will be encouraged to design and conduct their own investigations into topics including sports psychology and educational psychology.

Unit 2: Individual Differences, Social Psychology and Cognitive Psychology

The Social Psychology section of this unit focuses upon social influence. Students will learn to what extent humans will conform with or obey those around them and why this occurs. Students will examine why some people are able to resist such pressures and what implication this has for social change.

The section on Cognitive Psychology focuses on the importance of human memory. Students will study models concerning how the human memory system operates and will look at several theories of forgetting, including motivated forgetting such as repression. Finally, they will apply their knowledge to real life by looking at memory improvement techniques.

The Individual Differences section focuses upon autism. Students will examine the triad of impairments which are used to diagnose autistic spectrum disorders. They will study biological and cognitive explanations for autism and also look at the effectiveness of various therapeutic programmes, including behaviour modification and drug therapy.

A2 Psychology

Unit 3: Child Development and Options

From the Child Development section of the paper, students will study Cognitive Development; from the Applied Psychology Options section they will study two of the following options: Forensic Psychology, Cognition & Law and Schizophrenia & Mood Disorders.

The Cognitive Development topic introduces students to research by Piaget, including conservation tasks and the three mountains experiment. Students will study alternatives to Piagetian theory including nativist explanations and the information processing approach.

The Forensic Psychology topic allows students to explore theories of criminal behaviour, as well as methods of offender profiling used by the police.  Students will investigate the effectiveness of custodial sentencing and learn about treatment programmes given to offenders.

The topic of Cognition and Law focuses on processes in face recognition, and relates this to the use of composite systems and police line-ups. Students study factors that affect the reliability of eye-witness testimony and examine the ethical and methodological issues surrounding the false memory debate.

By studying Schizophrenia and Mood Disorders, students will develop an understanding of the process of diagnosis for different disorders. Students will learn about different explanations and treatments for psychosis and neuroses.

Within each of these topics students will be expected to develop their knowledge, understanding, skills of analysis and evaluation in relation to relevant theories and studies, develop an understanding of the major approaches in psychology through their study and develop an appreciation of issues and debates as relevant to each topic studied.

Unit 4: Approaches, Debates and Methods

For the Approaches question, students will develop their knowledge, understanding and evaluation skills in relation to each of the key approaches studied for Unit 1. Students will be expected to understand assumptions and limitations of each approach, and to appraise the benefits of an eclectic approach to the study of psychology.

The Debates question invites students to consider several of the debates that run through the study of psychology. Students will consider nature and nurture, holism and reductionism, and the more philosophical question of freewill and determinism. In addition, students will consider the advantages of an idiographic or nomothetic approach to psychology and will examine the justification for regarding psychology as a science.

Methods in Psychology provides students with an extended opportunity to conduct their own research, and in doing so, develop skills in research design, data analysis and data interpretation. Students will learn about the concepts of hypothesis testing through the use of both parametric and non-parametric tests. They will study issues of reliability and validity, and through this approach to research consider the scientific nature of psychological enquiry.

Internal Assessment

Students are internally assessed through homework, class work and presentations. In addition, there is a formal assessment at the end of each topic.

Public Examinations

AS Psychology involves 2 examinations, each of 1½ hours duration. Both exams contain short answer questions, questions on stimulus material, and essay questions which require extended writing. The AS examinations take place in May.

A2 Psychology involves 2 examinations, each of 2 hours duration. In the Unit 3 exam, students will be expected to answer three structured questions on the material covered, involving short answers and essays. The Unit 4 exam will require students to incorporate their knowledge from Units 1, 2 and 3 in their answers. The A2 public examinations take place in June.

Last year’s results saw the majority of A-level students improve on their target grades.  Of the 35 students who sat the A2 exams, 60% achieved grades A*-B, and 5 students were awarded the A* grade.

A number of former students have gone on to study Psychology at degree level, at a variety of universities including Exeter, Bristol and Cardiff.