First Year Exam Paper Breakdown: Philosophy POE Question

I love deliveries from new spec text books to stationery. Today’s delivery: philosophy exam papers from the new spec exams (Examiner’s Report 2017: What can we learn?). Here’s a break down of a student’s answer for the question on Problem of Evil.

Assess the claim that natural evil has a purpose (30)

OCR marks given for student’s answer:
A01 15/15
A02 14/15

From reading the student’s answer there are a few noticeable points:

The structure is very clear and simple with an introduction, four main paragraphs and a conclusion.

intro aug 1.jpg

There are three simple things that make this introduction work. The first is the student uses the word ‘natural’ 3 times and ‘purpose’ twice. This shows that they are directly linking their essay to the question immediately (it is also a good way for the student to really clarify what the question is asking of them). Secondly the quote grabs the reader’s attention immediately. It is a short yet relevant quote from Augustine which the student then links into the question with a ‘this means’. Thirdly the student introduces the other key names involved Hick and Irenaeus. This makes it clear to the reader that they will be involved in this answer.

The four main paragraphs have a very clear theme and structure

Paragraph One: What is natural evil? The student uses Aquinas definition with examples to raise rhetorical questions such as:

This creates an evaluative and questioning tone whilst still linking to the question with the focus on ‘purpose’.

Para Two: St Augustine’s Theodicy – linking moral evil to why we have natural evil and that because we are seminally present we are being punished for original sin. The student makes four clear links to natural evil, so the question is always being answered. This student also integrates effective A02 following the structure of: point – explain (30% of paragraph) – evaluate (70% of paragraph) using critical words to help emphasize these points such as ” ridiculous”, “weak” “too many flaws” and


Para Three: John Hick’s theodicy and views on natural evil. Now when is started reading this paragraph I thought ‘uh oh essay tangent’, clearly my student had my voice in her head at that point too as once she had outlined Hick’s views on natural evil (point – explain) it is then compared to Augustine’s theory. Comparison to another thinker shows sophisticated writing because it takes control to keep the question in mind and not go down a tangent into someone else’s argument.


See in this how the student makes links to natural evil and purpose, whilst presenting key ideas from Hick and Augustine (soul making vs soul deciding) with the evaluative tone e.g “rather well, as it gives it a much more realistic and believing purpose.” The student concludes that paragraph to say Hick’s theodicy is stronger than Augustine’s.

Para Four: Hume’s evaluation against Hick, including Dawkins digger wasp and Stephen Fry’s insects in children’s eyes point, to make the argument that natural evil never has a purpose.



So in summary aim for:

  • Clear structure with short introduction, 4-5 main paragraphs and conclusion
  • Multiple links to the question, embedded into each paragraph
  • Lots of critical words to emphasise the evaluative tone and rhetorical questions to add that philosophical spin
  • Demonstrate knowledge through technical terms (glossary words) and key names

For more guidance on teaching this structure see: The Four Steps to Teaching A01 & A02 Effectively

I am aiming to write a post for each answer from the Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought exam questions.

Thank you to my student for allowing me to use her work 🙂



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