a) There are two aspects to this topic you need to get right. The first is to master the ideas about the major features of science: replicability, theory construction, objectivity, peer review etc.. The second is to master the data analysis and reporting. Most people can do one or the other: a few people can do both. The challenge for the exam in the summer is for everyone to be confident in both aspects.
b) I decided this year to make up a question for the test rather than set a previous exam paper as I did last year. I found it quite difficult. Firstly, the study in the stem has to be something that isn’t in the rest of the A Level course. This is because it would give an unfair advantage to people who happened to have covered the topic which came up as a research methods stem. Secondly, the range of possible questions is broad and the number of marks can vary. Some years, there is a 10 or 12 mark question like the one I included here, other years there is not. I tried to make this question challenging but fair.
c) Doing well on this is a matter of practice. As we have gone through the course, I have made sure that you have access to previous questions by breaking them down. You see the major features of science question when we do major features of science, you see the probability and significance questions when we do probability and significance etc.. You need now to get the feel of doing them all in one go in the context of a stem. That’s why the practice questions are available.
d) Watch out for writing a debrief and writing about the importance of peer review in response to a stem. I think they will be coming up soon.
e) After I put this question together, I found this study and put it on to the blog. It’s item 1 here.
Please see this post entry for some discussion. The important point for us right now is that sometimes negative results do get published.
f) The thing that concerns me most is the longer questions which occasionally come up. We did a couple in the lesson before the test in order to learn how to deal with them. I hope two things emerge. Firstly, you need to take time to think through your answers. If it’s a procedure question, that means thinking through the implications of your design decisions. If it’s a results question, make sure you understand every aspect of the data before you start writing. While I think of it, we need to make sure what to do if it asks about an abstract, introduction or discussion.
Question By Question
1) Explain how she might go about constructing a theory about the effectiveness of visual methods for learning a language. (4)
There were several reasonable attempts to answer this question. The important point here is that a theory goes beyond a conclusion of a study and makes predictions about what will happen given the presence of certain variables. Some answers got as far as testing and accepting a hypothesis and then stopped.
2) Explain how she and her colleague might have designed their observation. (6)
The “explain how someone might have” phrase comes from a previous question. I deliberately went through observational methods in the lesson before because these methods are hard to remember and because, as noted above, longer questions represent a challenge. Answers were generally reasonable. Remember to use the term “behavioural categories” when writing about a structured observation. Everybody wrote things which both matched and engaged with the stem.
3) The psychologist and her colleague were concerned about the reliability of their investigation. Identify one type of reliability and explain how they might have assessed the reliability of their observation. (4)
Everybody in Psychology or in the social sciences has her/his own definition of reliability and validity. For this module, I have tried to put my own preferred definitions on one side and use the ones from AQA. These have grown over time as more questions have appeared on markschemes. You just need to learn the ones on the markscheme for reliability and check the skeletons for validity.
4) The psychologist was aware of the ethical issues involved in this study. Write a debrief which would be suitable for this study which addresses some of these ethical issues. (5)
There’s a hole here which we need to plug. The debriefs you write as part of your studies and which I sign off tend to be good at reminding people of their rights but less good on the other functions of a debrief which are in your notes and in the markscheme: to complete participants’ understanding of the study, to monitor any unforeseen negative effects of the study and to find out if anything has upset or disturbed the participant. I think that some time before this exam finishes in 2016, they will ask candidates to write a debrief. We had better do some practice. The other complication here is that the debrief could be for the participants or, if they are under 16, for their parents. This is quite an obscure thing to spot but it is within the examiners’ rights to ask such a question.
As I have indicated in the markscheme, the ethics of this sort of study in real life are complicated. Firstly, there is a reluctance on the part of researchers to conduct studies which require a control group to be established in educational settings because the control group are given an intervention which is in theory less effective. This however is changing as people are starting to question the value of much published educational research. Secondly, in real life, each school would have its own protocol for how to inform parents about the testing of such interventions. Some might regard it as part of the routine of changing and developing educational practice and not feel the need to inform parents at all.
5) Imagine that you are writing the results section of the report on this investigation. Using information from the description of the study above and the relevant information from the statistical table, provide contents suitable for the results section.
Sketch of graphical representation: 2 marks
Most people did a bar chart of the two mean scores and labelled it properly. We need to make sure we know how to draw a histogram the AQA way.
Summary and brief explanation of the measure of central tendency and the measures of dispersion: 4 marks
Some people left this out. It is in AS. You needed to spot mean and standard deviation in the results.
Identification of appropriate statistical test: 3 marks
Identification of an appropriate significance level: 1 mark
Statement of results – 2 marks
These are a matter of practice. We will go through this in class to practise using the standard format.
6) The psychologist decided that her findings should be published and submitted her research report for peer review. Explain what is meant by peer review and explain why peer review would be important for this study. (5)
Watch out for this one as I think a peer review question relating to a stem is coming soon. Some people had a good knowledge of peer review but did not relate to the stem. This is a good example of the importance of slowing down and seeing exactly what is being asked.