It’s that time again! This is my tenth exam season and let me tell you it doesn’t get easier. Every year is a manic scrabble to get the A2 students ready with all their revision materials, last minute tips (and endless mock exams) and final words of wisdom (hopefully!) For the first years it is now a mad rush to finish the spec in time for the first exam. So here are my last minute tips for Philosophy…
Evaluation panic you can always use:
- God of Gaps: Having a gap in knowledge and filling it with God. This could even be used more creatively with Plato and Aristotle e.g. what sustains the four causes (potential to actual) = Prime Mover. Prime Mover is used to fill a gap in knowledge
- Leap of Logic: Drawing conclusions with limited or no logic/ evidence
- Reductio ad Absurdum: reducing logical statements to illogical conclusions (e.g. design in world = God designer)
- Burden of Proof: whoever is making the claim must back up with proof. So does Plato provide enough proof for WOF – yes/ no discuss in answer
- Ockham’s razor: go with the simplest solution E.g. St Theresa had a vision or was it just caused by malaria? What is the simplest solution?
- You must use critical words throughout your answer to emphasize your evaluation (see to help: Adding the ‘critical’ to your critical analysis: Developing A02). If you don’t use critical words you are only stating perspectives not evaluating them. And you cannot ‘name dump’ e.g. “Stephen Fry questions how can God exist when he allows children to die of cancer. This is a convincing argument.” This is not evaluation! You must use the special word of ‘because’.
- I recommend that my students do not use ‘I think’ as it does not read academically. Instead channel your views/arguments but use other language such as ‘one might argue’
- Don’t forget you get a lot of marks for evaluation (15 marks first year and 24 marks second year). Have you put 15 different evaluative points in your essay using critical words with ‘because’? Have you defended against the criticism and then weighed up whether the original criticism or defence is stronger?
Always start with the name used in the question at the beginning of every paragraph. So if the question asks for the ‘prime mover’ every paragraph should start with prime mover and you link the theme e.g. four causes back to the prime mover
If the question asks for criticisms e.g. Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument, always start each paragraph with the criticisms. Explain the criticism then link it to what it is that it is criticising e.g. Paley. Then evaluate its success – who more convincing Hume or Paley?
If the question is a discussion question start with a paragraph that agrees with the question – this way you are answering the question immediately. So if the question was “Religious experiences are illusions. Discuss” you might want to start with Freud – link Freud to a RE example – then use WJ to defend example – evaluate if illusion or not
Give lots of examples to explain your points
Make sure you write a minimum of 2 sides. The five paragraph rule is not necessary as long as you are covering all main areas with detailed evaluation.
Make synoptic links between topics (advised for full A level). This is where you draw links between different topics where you see an over lap. E.g
- Teleological Argument – Natural and Revealed Theology of God. (This whole topic could be argued to be Natural Theology that can be understood through senses to gain knowledge of God. Paley’s book called ‘Natural Theology’ too)
Avoid chunking (writing long paragraphs of explanation on one side of an argument). You must draw comparisons throughout. Use language such as:
- In comparison
- A difference is
- A similarity is
- On the one hand
Specific to Topics:
Link all themes to the question for good marks: Forms, Hierarchy of Forms, Form of Good, Analogy of Cave
Link all themes to question for good marks: Four causes with example and Prime Mover.
Problem of Evil:
A variety of questions might be asked:
- Questions focused upon the ‘problem’ – the problem is for Christians who believe in an all-powerful and all loving God – as why does God have these attributes and not help – hence the problem. Buddhists for example have no ‘problem’ with evil as they do not believe in a creator God.
- If the question asks about the ‘logical’ nature of the problem of evil this again is to do with God’s attributes, so you would discuss Epicurus inconsistent triad and use your theodicies to say why it is logical for God to have both attributes as evil not his fault/ responsibility.
- If the question asks about ‘evidential’ aspects this is evidence of evil. So again your theodicies with specific, recent examples. Check out the news tonight and tomorrow for the latest headlines or use for example the NHS cyber hacking, War in Syria or the death of Ian Brady.
- If the question specifies Augustine just write about Augustine and evaluate (same for John Hick but you can link to Irenaeus as he inspired John Hick)
- Mention in all questions how the theodicy links to moral and natural evil and God’s responsibility. (So for Augustine: ME – rebellious angels and A/E misusing FW, NE – result of misuse and left as punishment, God is not responsible- cannot create an absence of good, God created world perfect. For JH: ME humans spiritually immature so sometimes do wrong, NE – test to help mature, God not responsible as could not have given readymade perfection/ goodness as would have been meaningless)
You must learn William James’ four types of mysticism. If you get a question on WJ keep it simple. Structure a paragraph on aims, then one para each on the four (e.g ineffability) then final para on his other conclusions. Link each para to an example and evaluate its effectiveness.
You need to know 2-3 religious experience examples (minimum) – general questions e.g on personal accounts keep the structure to three examples – one para on each example- explain how personal – supporter WJ and critic either Freud or Feuerbach and evaluate who is more convincing.
Nature of God:
Omniscience means what God sees and eternal means where is God? Both of these ideas are linked together but need to be approached with this in mind. So for example can God see the future? (Yes -Calvin, Yes but not as we know the future – Boethius, No – Swinburne) or can God interact? (No- Boethius, Yes – Swinburne)
Omni-benevolence can be linked with all elements of the topic including omnipotence.
Update: Check out this Mark with Me video where I go through a top mark Boethius answer from the 2018 exam:
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Stick to the question that has been asked. If the question specifically says ‘Symbol’ for example – every paragraph needs to start with symbol and any other topic area is used for or against symbol. Do not write any long paragraphs on other areas e.g. Via negativa – Via negativa only relevant in relation to symbol so you must make that link. Only the link between the two gets the marks.
Remember that my power points are very intense because they cover everything you could possibly need to get an A grade, so there is lots and lots of information. You DO NOT need to worry about all of this, you just need to focus on understanding the main elements and everything else will flow in the exam.
- Answer the question – use the examiners words throughout your answer
(Please remember these are the recommendations that I give to my students and do not necessarily coincide with what your teacher may have said.)
If you would like a Revision Pack that contains quizzes, glossaries and past exam questions to help structure your revision, click on the image below (for a small charge):
To test your content knowledge check out:
2017 Year One Questions (For my comments check out: Examiner’s Report 2017: What can we learn?)