Specifications that use this resource:

Teaching guide: An overview of the new AS and A-level Sociology specifications (podcast)

These podcast teaching guides cover topics from our AS and A-level Sociology specifications. You can download them below.

Podcast 4: An overview of the new AS and A-level Sociology specifications

In this podcast, we’ll talk you through our specifications, provide information on some of the new content and assessment, and tell you a little bit more about the support and resources that we have available.


Hello and welcome to AQA’s sociology podcast aimed at supporting your teaching of our new AS and A-level specifications. In this podcast we’ll help you prepare to teach our specifications, provide information on some of the new content and assessment and tell you a little bit more about the support and resources that we have available.

During this podcast, you may find it useful to have a copy of the specifications and specimen assessment materials to hand. You can find these online at aqa.org.uk/sociology-resources and also on e-AQA, our secure website.

e-AQA provides information specific to your school or college through a secure website. Here you’ll find: Secure Key Materials – giving you access to the latest question papers and mark schemes, examiners’ reports, past exam papers and exemplar materials. We’ve also put a set of AS and A-level question papers and mark schemes for you to use for mocks, as students can’t access these. Talk to your Centre Administrator (who is usually your Exams Officer) about getting access if you don’t already have a login. You can find out more at aqa.org.uk/e-AQA

Due to regulatory changes from the Department for Education and Ofqual, AS and A-level Sociology have now been structured as two separate qualifications, meaning the exams taken for the AS don’t count towards the A-level. There may be many schools that wish to teach AS and the first year A-level students in the same classroom. To make planning and teaching easier we’ve made our AS subject content exactly the same as the first half of the A-level.

Both the sociology qualifications share the same integral elements and core themes as set out on page 10 and 13 of the specifications. In addition, the topics covered at AS are the same as those that need to be covered for the first year of A-level, for example, the content for the Education topic. Similarly, the content for all the optional topics in the AS is the same as the content for the same optional topics in the A-level. For further guidance about co-teaching take a look at our planning resources at aqa.org.uk/sociology-resources.

The AS requires the study of Education and Methods in Context, research methods and one topic from a choice of four, Culture and Identity; Families and Households; Health; or Work, Poverty and Welfare.

There are two exams; each exam is 1 and a half hours long and is worth 50% of the AS qualification. The question styles and format of the papers will be the same from year to year. If you have a copy of the specimen exam papers have these in front of you now.

There are two sets of specimen exam papers and mark schemes. The first set is located in the assessment section of our sociology page and as mentioned, we’ve put the second set on e-AQA so that you can use them for mocks if you choose.

You’ll notice that for both AS papers there is a mixture of short and extended answer questions. If you’ve taught our legacy specification you’ll notice the similarity in the style of some of questions. For example, the methods in context questions, question 6 on Paper 1 on the AS (7191/1) and question 5 on Paper 1 of the A-level (7192/1).

The A-level requires the study of all the content covered in the AS plus the study of Crime and deviance, Theory and methods and one other further option from a choice of four, namely, Beliefs in society; Global development; The media; and Stratification and differentiation. The A-level comprises three exams, each exam is two hours long which have an equal weighting of 33.3% towards the final A-level grade. On all three papers there is a mixture of short and extended answer questions.

In summary, the content for the AS is entirely the same for the first year of the A-level. However, if a student gains an AS in Sociology and then chooses to carry on to the second year to gain an A-level, at the end of the second year they will need to do the A-level exams in topics which they have already been examined on in the AS exams, for example, Education.

For those who are familiar with our legacy specification, all but one of the optional topics has been incorporated into the new specifications. Power and politics has been removed. However, unlike the legacy specification, Education, and Crime and deviance are now compulsory topics.

The new and legacy specifications are similar but there are some notable changes. First, you’ll notice that there are now three assessment objectives:

AO1, knowledge and understanding of sociological theories, concepts and evidence;

AO2, application of sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods to a range of issues; and AO3, analysis and evaluation of sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods in order to present arguments, make judgments and draw conclusions.

These are set out on page 19 of the specifications. The change from the previous assessment objectives is the division of application, analysis and evaluation that were previously in one assessment objective. You’ll note that the assessment grid at the back of each mark scheme provides a breakdown as to the division of assessment objectives for each question.

Second, there are some new command words. You can find these online under teaching resources. Here’s an idea for an activity that will help students to develop a sound understanding of what each command word requires them to do in an exam. Start by providing one or two exam papers and mark schemes. Ask students to work in small groups to list all the command words used in the exam papers. Then use the mark schemes to write a description of what they think they need to do if a question uses each command word in their list. Students can then check their description with that on the elaborated command word list. To further check their understanding, provide students with some student exemplar responses and ask then to say what they think the command word was in the question. By doing this, students quickly realise how important it is to select and shape material to meet the question requirements.

Third, there are some new tariff questions including a 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question type that appears on all AS and A-level papers. The biggest tariff question for the AS is now 20 marks, and for the A-level it’s 30 marks.

It’s interesting to note at this point, that there are now 10 different question types across all the AS and A-level papers. These are:

  • Define the term…(worth 2 marks)

* Using one example, briefly explain…( worth 2 marks)

* Outline two..( worth 4 marks)

* Outline three…( worth 6 marks)

* Outline and explain two…( worth 10 marks)

* Applying material from item X, analyse two…( worth 10 marks)

* Applying material from Item X and your knowledge, evaluate…(this is either a 20 or a 30 mark question)

* Methods in context question ie Applying material from Item X and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using Y to investigate Z (worth 20 marks)

* And finally: Evaluate…(worth 16 marks)

These are the only types of questions that will appear in all future papers for these specifications and they will appear in the same order as on the specimen exam papers on the website and e-AQA.

A fourth change to notice is that there has been a reduction in subject content from the legacy specification. For example, in relation to the topic Crime and deviance, the study of suicide and the social distribution of crime and deviance by age and locality have been removed, and there is no methods and context question. We appreciate that some teachers do use the study of ‘suicide’ to exemplify different research methods in the classroom, which is a practice that can still continue under the new specifications.

Another change to note is that in addition to the reduction of content from the legacy specification, content has been updated in some areas. For example, globalisation now appears in all topics. We’ve created separate podcast regarding ‘globalisation’ which considers this change in more detail.

Another update is the specific reference to the sociology of personal life in the Families and households topic. If this interests you we have a separate podcast available on this topic. Further updates to the specifications include the topic of identity and privatisation in the Education topic; in Crime and deviance, the addition of surveillance; and in Work, poverty and welfare, the incorporation of ‘work’.

Privatisation and identity in the Education topic is not entirely new but instead builds upon the existing content. In identity the emphasis is on how the experience of schooling impacts upon pupils’ self-concept, notably terms of their class, gender and/or ethnic identity. This has been a focus of educational research for decades for example Paul Willis on class, Sue Sharpe on gender, Mairtin Mac an Ghaill on class and gender and Mary Fuller on gender and ethnicity. There is existing and new research to explore when considering this topic.

The focus on privatisation is a development of the debates surrounding the impact of educational policies, especially those of the present government. It’s worth considering the reduction of the role of local authorities in running schools and the opportunity for private companies to obtain work in or with schools. You could also explore the increasing role of private companies such as Serco and Capita in education.

With regard to the ‘New Media’ – this was a bullet point in the legacy specification that has now been integrated into the other sections. This reflects the dramatic changes and evolution of media. An example of this is the debate concerning the ownership and control of the media which has been altered by the proliferation of media outlets and the selection and presentation of news. Additionally, it will be necessary to consider the rise of citizen journalism and the use of social media as a source of news stories. Debates about media representations also need to include the impact that new media has on either reinforcing or challenging stereotyping.

The addition of surveillance to the topic of Crime and deviance builds on the existing area of social control and also the debates surrounding crime prevention and the role of agents of social control.

There is a considerable body of research on this and guidance can be found in our online resource bank, available under teaching resources. A starting point is often the work of Foucault and his book ‘Discipline and Punish’ (published in 1977) where he talks about the notion of self-surveillance. Clearly the debate has widened to consider the role of CCTV, identity cards, electronic surveillance and more. This links in to other sections of this topic such as State crime and cybercrime. A pre-eminent writer in this field is David Lyon who discusses the global dimension to surveillance; he also notes that as social media has expanded we find a loss of personal data.

As much of the content in the specifications is similar to the legacy specification, many of your current resources will still be useable. We’ve also created some new resources to help you deliver the new specifications. You can find our resources at aqa.or.uk/sociology-resources. We’ve helpfully split them into planning, teaching and assessment resources so that you can find what you’re looking for quickly and easily.

Of course our specifications are the starting point. It’s important that students are taught by reference to those specifications. Our team of senior examiners have provided further guidance to the content that should be covered in the delivery of the specifications – this can be located in the teaching guide available in our teaching resources. This guide breaks down the bullet points in the specifications with some indicative studies identified for each area. However, these sources are neither obligatory nor exhaustive; they merely indicate easily accessible studies. The specifications allow you to use any available sources, allowing the choice of research which suits the needs of your students.

We’ve also worked with the publishers Polity, Collins and Hodder Education and have approved textbooks to support the new AS and A-level Sociology specifications. Using an 'AQA approved' textbook which has been revised by our subject experts ensures that it provides good support for the specifications. The AQA approved textbooks can be ordered direct from the publishers, although please note that the purchase of these books is not considered essential to deliver the new specifications. You can find out more at aqa.org.uk/sociology-textbooks

There are two schemes of work available on the website - one for the AS and first year of the A-level; and another for the second year of the A-level. The scheme of work for the AS and first year of the A-level includes Families and households, Education, Research methods and an introduction to Theory (for A-level only). The scheme of work for the second year of the A-level includes Beliefs in society, Crime and deviance, Theory and methods and revision from the first year. The schemes of work highlight new content and AS and A-level exam techniques. The scheme of work provides key words to use to access information online that can be used to support the delivery of the specification. These have been prepared by a leading teaching practitioner, with a great track record of delivering engaging sociology lessons and getting students the results they deserve. The scheme of work breaks down the delivery of the specifications lesson by lesson with inspiring ideas for activities that can be used in the classroom. We’ve also developed a resource bank to support the scheme of work which is also available under teaching resources. We offer a separate podcast bringing the scheme of work to life focusing on the delivery of positivism and interpretivism.

As mentioned earlier, there are two sets of specimen assessment materials, one set of these question papers and mark schemes are located on the website and another on e-AQA. The ones on e-AQA can be used as a mock exam as they are not accessible by students.

There are also marked students answers for the first set of specimen assessment materials on the website. In addition, there are some marked student answers to the second set of specimen question papers on e-AQA.

Thank you for listening to this instalment of AQA’s series of sociology podcasts. We hope that this has given you an effective overview of the new specifications. If you have any questions feel free to contact us by phone on 01483 477 822 or email us at sociology@aqa.org.uk. Thank you and goodbye.

Specifications that use this resource: