What is A-Level Psychology?
A common description of Psychology as a discipline is ‘the scientific study of mind and behaviour’ and as such Psychology centres around an understanding of the many facets of the human form.
Psychologists ask questions such as:
How reliable is eye witness testimony?
Why do human beings obey?
Are phobias caused by our learning experiences?
Is OCD simply a product of faulty serotonin transmission?
Are online relationships different to face to face relationships?
What is it that makes an individual commit crime?
And, if psychology can explain our behaviour, do we even have free will?
These are some of the questions we too will try to answer, through learning about and evaluating the available research evidence from a number of different approaches, including biological, cognitive and behavioural.
What you'll do
Psychology is a fascinating subject because it aims to explain you. Psychology tries to explain what makes us who we are; are we entirely the products of our environment or does our biology play a more important role? How does our behaviour reflect evolutionary pressures over our ancestral history?
We study a range of topics to try and answer these questions, but at a little over a century old, Psychology is still a relatively young science and there are many questions for which we do not have the answers.
In studying Psychology you will develop important skills of analysis and evaluation; making judgements as to whether the current research evidence does indeed present a persuasive argument. You will also develop written skills in order to answer both the shorter and longer, more essay based questions during the course.
Our key focus is on understanding the material we cover – which can be theoretical or scientific in nature – and challenging yourself to always think critically about the course content. An important part of the course will be undertaking your own research projects in order to fully appreciate the way science works and how new knowledge is obtained, along with all of the considerations scientists need to make in order to ensure their research is both valid and reliable.
You will be introduced to some of the foundations of Psychology such as the approaches from which different Psychologists explain human behaviour. We will also study biopsychology and issues and debates within the discipline – a common theme underpinning the topics we study.
Each of the three papers is two hours long:
Paper 1: Introductory Topics in Psychology
- Social influence
Paper 2: Psychology in Context
- Approaches in Psychology
- Research Methods
Paper 3: Issues and Options in Psychology
- Issues and Debates in Psychology
- Forensic Psychology
For more information on what is covered within each of these topics, see the specification (PDF).
Whom does this subject suit?
Most of our students will be new to Psychology, and whilst the GCSE may provide you with a foundation of some of the theories and terminology, the A level quickly builds on this from a starting point of assuming no prior knowledge.
Please be aware that in order to study Psychology at University, many of the top institutions require at least a grade 6 in Maths at GCSE, with many requiring higher. In addition, specific grades in English and Sciences at GCSE are specified by many. The overwhelming majority require at least one science subject at A level, but this does include Psychology A level for most. Note that a substantial number of departments also prefer a range of subjects to be offered at A level, with maths and further maths specifically mentioned as too narrow if only offering three A levels. Please see www.ucas.com for entry requirements for all courses at all institutions.
Psychology is a broad subject, and as such students will require a number of skills which they will develop over the two years. With the varied and interesting topics we study comes a relatively heavy workload in terms of learning content, from abstract theories to complex physiological terms. Analytical skills are required in order to evaluate theories with relevant research evidence, and then evaluate the methodology on which these studies are based.
The A level places a high demand on scientific thinking with at least 25-30% of overall assessment marks coming from research methods and an appreciation of ‘How Science Works’ and at least 10% from mathematical skills equivalent to level 2 or above.
Students will be required to analyse data from sample studies and select appropriate inferential statistical tests by the end of the course and so a willingness to learn will be important here. In order to obtain the highest grades a focused written style will also be necessary. In addition to these, students should be able to work independently and with their peers, listen respectfully to others’ views and work to deadlines.
What might the subject lead to?
Psychology is unusual in its broad scope and can thus be seen as beneficial in a number of careers, not least due to the wide set of transferable skills it aids in developing. Data analysis, evaluative and written skills, as well as an insight into the human form are valuable in careers from teaching to human resources and marketing. For information on some of the varied careers in Psychology open to you see the British Psychological Society website.