“But I have never sat an exam before!” Strategies to Help Students Excel.

I cannot express how pleased I am that exams are going ahead this year. I am able to plan, organise and structure my teaching once more around a clear end goal without flip flopping between TAG’s, assessments and the general unknown. I know this same sentiment however is not felt by students. We know what is coming, the hardship of revision that is needed and the intense pressure and stress that the exams culture puts students under. The problem is our students do not. They have not had to revise for exams or sit formalised, intensive exam periods that feel like you are sitting in a pressurised gas can ready to explode at any minute. So what can we do to help ensure our students are resilient revisers, independent workers and exam succeeders?

Identifying the problem:

A good place to start when organising revision is to ask students to write down what they think ‘resilience’ means and how a student would show this when preparing for exams.  I would also ask them what independent study looks like. Quite often students might struggle to remain resilient or complete productive independent study but this is because they don’t know what these qualities actually look like in practice. From here you can discuss their views, iron out issues and set a clear structure of expectation.

You then need to work out if a student is struggling or underperforming due to lack of revision (night before exam cramming will not work) or a lack of fruitful revision (revising for hours but nothing is working).  This will then help work out a strategy appropriate to the needs of the student.

Organising their minds:

A disorganised folder = disorganised mind and thus disorganised revision. Students need to be able to see a clear path through the topics in order to organise where to start.

So where to start: using the specification for each topic or a list of past exam questions get students to RAG rate what they know (green), sort of know (amber) and totally don’t know (red). This way they can see where their priority areas are (see Past Exam Questions: Gaps and Patterns (for 2022 exam))

Once they have identified which areas need the most work, give students a blank weekly timetable (one for every week leading up the exam) and get them to fill out when they have free evenings, weekends and study periods (this is often tricky around student’s employment schedules and can often be an ongoing activity). Have them add in important dates like the exams, class mocks, HW deadlines or tests. From here they start to fill out what topic areas they will revise on what day. This provides much needed structure to their revision.

Revision strategies:

Continue reading ““But I have never sat an exam before!” Strategies to Help Students Excel.”

Exam 2022: Examiner Report Summaries (2017-2020)

We can learn a lot from previous exam feedback such as patterns, gaps and common mistakes. I could not recommend studying the examiner’s reports enough, as they are practically the mind of the examiner directly instructing students what to do and what to avoid. If you then go into your exams and make one of those mistakes (which have been highlighted previously) well that’s just silly and unprepared. So this blog summary, taken from previous blog posts, has all the relevant information for the 2022 exam in one place.

General comments (2017-2020):

Good points:

  • Evaluation throughout
  • Focus directly on question not general topic
  • Outlined line of argument at the beginning (often in introduction) and followed this throughout answer (AO2 driven). Those that added evaluation near end of each paragraph often did not score into higher brackets.
  • Relevant material used
  • Showed knowledge from other topics (synoptic links) suggesting an understanding of the holistic nature of the A level.

Bad points:

  • Lack of focus on exact wording of the Q
  • Long introductions, summaries better left until the end
  • Most of essay spent on A01 with A02 added at the end – resulting in insufficient depth
  • Write everything I know on that topic (pre prepared formulaic answers)
  • Evaluate through juxtaposition of different views. In other words, putting one name against another name and thinking this is evaluation. You need to say which view is stronger/ more convincing etc.
  • Lack of planning leading to long rambling answers- paragraphs are your friend!
  • Few students showed signs of having undertaken research.

Specific Comments


PhilosophyGood pointsBad points
Critically discuss Aristotle’s understanding of reality. (2018 First Year only)  Very good accounts of Aristotle’s empiricism, explanation of four causes and prime mover (who draws things to him in a disinterested manner).
Used Plato in an evaluative way in relation to Aristotle scored higher bands.
Confusion between efficient and formal causes (note: this has been an issue throughout the legacy papers as well).
Wrote all they knew about Plato and only compared with Aristotle in the final paragraph.
To what extent does Hume successfully argue that observation does not prove the existence of God? (2018)  Variety of Hume’s criticisms, relating them to succinct summaries of the Teleo and Cosmo arguments. (Satisfactory answers wrote copious amounts of descriptions for Aquinas and Paley, leaving little room for Hume).
Darwin and Tennent’s anthropic principle when used in relation to Hume.
Analysed Hume’s criticisms, weighing up how successful they are.
Juxtaposing alternatives such as Big Bang without justify any reasoning as to why applying them.
Accepting points without question such as Hume’s Epicurean thesis.  
Assess Boethius’ view that divine eternity does not limit human free will. (2019)  Explain in detail Boethius’ reasoning including simple and conditional necessity.
Effective use of Aquinas’ lofty peak and comparisons to Swinburne’s everlasting ideas.  
Least popular and least well done- insufficient knowledge of key theory.
Some compared to Anselm’s four dimmensionalist approach but didn’t understand how his views of eternity meant that all moments were in God equally and so God is with us in the moment of choice.
Linked divine eternity to the afterlife or concentrated too heavily on FW.
PoE was discussed but only credited when tied to Q.
Debate surrounding God’s other attributes: omnipotence, punish/ reward and omniscience.
Critically compare the logical and evidential aspects of the problem of evil as challenges to belief. (2019)Focus on the critically compare.
Explored how Augustine’s privatio boni defeated the logical problem by removing ‘evil’ from the Inconsistent Triad (very clever!).
Explored how Hick’s vale of soul making accounted for the scale of evidential evil.
Compared the ‘a priori’ nature of logical with ‘a posteriori’ nature of evidential.
Discussion of God’s attributes and FW (synoptic links to Nature of God).
Unprepared for this question.
Inconsistent Triad not linked to Q.
Some students thought the theodicies where the evidential problem of evil.
Analyse Aristotle’s four causes (2019).  More interesting responses used own examples to show four causes.
Discussion around Aristotle’s empirical approach/ reliance on senses/ a posteriori knowledge vs Plato’s rational a priori approach. This was then evaluated by linking to whether Aristotle was successful in explaining the main parts of his argument: potentiality, PM, change and movement etc.
Fallacy of Composition used effectively against Aristotle, whether humans do have an innate purpose (Sartre) and evolution as a challenge to purpose.
Confusing the four causes or not knowing and understanding the formal cause.
Confusing the views of Aristotle and Aquinas’ three ways.
“The world was created by chance, not by God’s design.” Discuss (2019)  Aquinas, Paley and Tennant used well, as well as Hume’s Epicurean Hypothesis as an alternative to chance.
Dawkins’ blind watch maker was used to demonstrate chance and no foresight with Tennant’s aesthetic as a counter argument.
Big bang, red shift and evolution used well to support chance.
Kant was used well by some, as well as Douglas Adam’s conscious puddle and Mill on POE.
Confusion over teleological and cosmological with some even drawing upon Ontological argument too.
Over simplistic use of Paley’s watch
Overuse of Ockham’s razor which did not add to their argument.  


Continue reading “Exam 2022: Examiner Report Summaries (2017-2020)”

Past Exam Questions: Gaps and Patterns (for 2022 exam)

I have worked through the past exam questions for the new spec so that students can see the wording of previous questions and recognise the obvious gaps that haven’t been asked previously. Be aware that even though certain areas have been asked before (e.g. Daly specifically) the examiners could ask the same area again or even ask a very similar question as previously asked.

Obvious gaps for Philosophy:

  • Understanding of reality and Plato’s reliance on reason as opposed to the senses.
  • The analogy of the cave including details of the analogy, its purpose and relation to the theory of the Forms
  • Aristotle’s use of teleology
  • The Prime Mover and connections between this and the final cause
  • Comparison and evaluation of Plato’s Form of the Good and Aristotle’s Prime Mover
  • Comparison and evaluation of Plato’s reliance on reason (rationalism) and Aristotle’s use of the senses (empiricism) in their attempts to make sense of reality.
  • The challenge of Evolution (Teleological or Cosmological)
  • Hume’s criticisms for the existence of God from Natural Religion – specifically against Cosmological
  • Whether or not it is possible to successfully defend monotheism in the face of evil
  • Hick’s reworking of the Irenaean theodicy which gives some purpose to natural evil in enabling human beings to reach divine likeness
  • Whether or not the need to create a ‘vale of soul-making’ can justify the existence or extent of evils
  • Omnipotence: Divine power and self-imposed limitation
  • Omniscience: Divine knowledge and its interaction with temporal existence and free will
  • (Omni)benevolence: Divine benevolence and just judgement of human actions, including Boethius’s argument relating this to divine foreknowledge, eternity and free will.
  • Anselm’s four-dimensionalist approach as an extension of Boethius’s view
  • Whether Boethius, Anselm or Swinburne provides the most useful understanding of the relationship between divinity and time
  • Whether or not any of these thinkers are successful in resolving the problems of divine knowledge, benevolence, justice, eternity and human free will.
  • Whether the attributes should be understood as subject to the limits of logical possibility or of divine self-limitation.

Obvious gaps for Ethics:

Continue reading “Past Exam Questions: Gaps and Patterns (for 2022 exam)”

Exam 2022: Everything you need to know!

What a surprise! I had been expecting a vague, undecipherable message from OCR about the 2022 exams that raised more questions than it answered. So what a shock when the news filtered down that not only had topics been removed but the guidelines were pretty much as clear as they could be. I felt like I had been hit by a train of emotions: elated that the students have some compensation for a tough year, mournful of the topics lost such as Liberation Theology and Pluralism (which make for really good essays), grateful that for the first time in two years I actually feel like I can plan and have direction and then the stress hit…there will be an exam and we need to be ready!! So after having some time to process the news, here is everything you need to know about your exam:


Topics to revise for the examTopics that will not be mentioned on the exam
AristotleBody, Mind and Soul
TeleologicalReligious Experience
CosmologicalReligious Language
Problem of EvilReligious Language 20th century
Nature of God 

What to watch out for:

  • You might get a comparison question between Plato and Aristotle e.g The Form of the Good is more convincing than the Prime Mover.
  • You might get a question asking about arguments from observation where you can discuss both Teleological and Cosmological approaches.
  • Knowing details and facts about evolution and the big bang will help develop evaluation.
  • God of gaps, burden of proof, verification principle, language game, reductionism all act as extended evaluation possibilities.
  • Keep control over a Nature of God answer as there is a lot you could write e.g if the Q asks for the attribute of eternal stick with eternal not the other attributes.
  • Know your key words for POE and who argues what. Also make sure you know the difference between logical and evidential.


Topics to revise for the examTopics that will not be mentioned on the exam
Meta EthicsBusiness Ethics
Euthanasia (need Natural Law and situation Ethics) 
Sex Ethics (need Natural Law, Situation Ethics, Kant and Utilitarianism) 

What to watch out for:

Continue reading “Exam 2022: Everything you need to know!”

2021 Assessment Guidelines: What you need to know (from OCR)

Last week, I joined other RS teachers (virtually) for a Q/A session with Ewan Brady (from OCR) who tried to shed some light on the final weeks ahead. Here is a summary of what was said: 


  • Use a ‘range’ of different types of evidence from various parts of the course. Be “consistent as possible” – apply the same across all students (including setting the same questions if a student misses original assessment). 
  • “Most recent evidence is most accurate” – Holistic view at end.  A “greater weight to the more recent.”  
  • There is no minimum or maximum amount of evidence “not a specific number.”  Provide enough for a “clear picture” but essentially it is based on what each individual teacher/ centre “class as sufficient.” There is no “hierarchy of evidence.” 

Setting and marking assessments: 

  • Do not use 2020 grade boundaries as the exam was “set to a different standard”. 
  • No expectation that your grades should be capped. Not based on previous years (historical data). 
  • Be cautious of grading individual essays. 
  • If you have adapted your own questions following “Ofqual centre devised tasks” guidelines, whilst this is an “added complication” as you have to use your own mark schemes, apply the levels of response and remain fair and consistent to all your students. 
  • Final grading is based on an “overall impression [of] what you have actually seen in front of you.”  

Key message repeated throughout is that it is “up to you how you organise it [and] what you include.” Grading should be based on “performance over range and time and professional judgement.”  

Provided by the exam board: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHnkck3V0TA 

I left the meeting feeling supported by OCR but I still have a few concerns:

Continue reading “2021 Assessment Guidelines: What you need to know (from OCR)”

Essay Writing Top Tips

Are you missing out on those top grades? Are you struggling to know how to improve your essays? These might help:

  1. Have you used technical terms/ glossary words throughout your essay?
  2. Have you added extra details, stats etc? E.g Scottish philosopher David Hume (Check out to help: https://ithinkthereforeiteach.com/going-for-gold-achieving-that-a/)
  3. Have you added a variety of extra names, specific current examples, quotes, synoptic links (A01)? Have you evaluated each one fully and linked to your line of argument (A02)?
  4. Have you taken apart the WHOLE question and used it throughout your essay? (Do not ignore any word in the question. All words in the question have been carefully and specifically selected, so use them and engage with their meaning…unless ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’ or ‘discuss’ as these are what the examiners want you to actually do in your answer).
  5. Have you asked yourself ‘so what?’ or ‘why?’ after you think you have made an evaluation point? A lot of the time students state evaluation but do not justify. You can spot this by questioning your points and if you have written WHY they are relevant to the Q/ your line of argument (Check out: https://ithinkthereforeiteach.com/are-you-arguing-with-me/ and https://ithinkthereforeiteach.com/writing-the-perfect-part-b/)

I hope these help. If you have any questions or problems, please feel free to drop me an email.

Good luck with all your essay writing and assessments 🙂

Check out these videos for further help:

There are a lot of revision resources including Revision Packs (which contain glossaries of key words and possible exam questions), Key Knowledge Tests (assess your basic knowledge of each topic) and Revision Support (e.g https://ithinkthereforeiteach.com/product/revision-activities-new-spec-a-level/ which has activities, synoptic link ideas and key knowledge assessors) in the Shop. Just click on the image below to be transferred: