Panic “My Exam is Tomorrow!” Must Read for Ethics (First and Second Year)

08e2657614ca71a5004366998fa92b2aRound Two…Ethics.

Students often find Ethics a bit easier to get their heads around than Philosophy, maybe because it links more with everyday life or because there is just less of it. Either way when it comes to the exam you need to be sharp with your structure, keep your application answers under control and suppress your need to write like a GCSE student (especially when it comes to euthanasia …your body is God’s temple snore!!)

So this blog is structured to support with: the style of ethics questions, structure of essays, tips per topic, application discussion themes, final tips and top three mistakes.

Question Style:

Ethics questions roughly follow four styles:

  1. Specific topic – application open (Natural Law is useful when dealing with moral decisions)
  2. Specific topic with specific application (Kantian ethics is helpful when dealing with issues surrounding business ethics)
  3. Specific topic alone (There are no strengths with the Natural Law theory)
  4. Application (The religious concept of sanctity of life is outdated)

Don’t forget:

  1. Natural Law and Situation Ethics go together with Euthanasia
  2. Kantian Ethics and Utilitarianism go together with Business
  3. All four go with Sex Ethics (2nd year)

This means if the question is worded like Q1 (above) you need to know which ethical issues to link to the topic in the question. For example Kant is only applied to business not euthanasia.

If the question implies that a certain topic is the ‘ best approach’ you might want to compare it with the other topic from that section. So “Utilitarianism is the best approach to business ethics” you might wish to compare to Kant (see: “Utilitarianism is more useful than Kantian Ethics when dealing with ethical dilemmas” Discuss: Student’s Work to help.)

Structure of essays:

The best way to answer any ethics questions is via paragraph themes. I promote finding 5 themes within each topic and use these as the themes of your paragraphs (see The Five Paragraph Rule to help).

I think it is easier to use the topic as the structure rather than the application. So Q1, Q2 or Q3 (above) I would structure with the topic mentioned first in the question throughout, rather than starting different paragraphs with different topics/ application. (see: “What would Aquinas say about Euthanasia?” Tackling the Application Essays for a more detail on structuring answers.)

So one paragraph might be themed on Bentham’s principle of utility and that is the theme of that paragraph. That theme is then linked to business and then evaluated in relation to the question.

Theme – outline – link to issue – evaluate – [compare if necessary]

Next paragraph might be on Hedonic calculus …

Tips per Topic:

Natural Law: You must know your 5 primary precepts. Make sure if you give an application example e.g. euthanasia you link this to a secondary precept not primary. Issues are always secondary application. A quote from a Pope/ links to Catholic Church always work well.

Situation Ethics: Know your 6 premises and 4 propositions

Kant: Don’t disregard the three postulates. A postulate is a solution to a problem. The problem is ‘why follow duty and CI?’ solution: because the world is wicked must be an afterlife, God to ensure it and we must have freewill to choose to follow duty otherwise not worth rewarding.

Utilitarianism: Know the difference between Bentham (Act) and Mill (Rule) – be able to make comparisons between them.

Meta Ethics (2nd year): Do not disregard Meta Ethics, this is not often a popular topic but if you can be sharp on who says what and how the different thinkers are similar/ different you will do very well.

Conscience (2nd year): This topic has been seriously reduced from the old spec with only Aquinas and Freud. This means you must know your extra details (e.g. quotes), key words and have your evaluation and comparisons ready. There is nowhere to hide if you mess this one up.

Application topics: approach with caution. In the past (old spec) examiners mark these harshly because they expect specific examples, focused detail but also a strong grasp of the topic you are relating them to. Application questions are the hardest as you have to consider not just the topic (e.g. NL) but how it applies as well.

Application Discussion Themes:

You also need to talk about specific issues within the application topic. It is not enough just talking vaguely about euthanasia, business or sex. You must mention and discuss themes (these might be called issues, dilemmas, problems in your exam). So…

Euthanasia (maybe consider the Tony Nicklinson case or Tracy Lattimore):

  • Personhood
  • Quality of Life
  • Sanctity of life
  • Voluntary vs non voluntary

Business Ethics:

  • Sweat shops (E.g. case of Rana Plaza or Apple)
  • Employees vs employers
  • CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility: including a company’s responsibility to protect environment, it’s shareholders – people who have invested their money into a business, stakeholders – people who have something at stake such as jobs or clean environment)
  • Whistle-blowers
  • Globalisation (companies becoming global so year long produce and cheap labour but taking money from small businesses within these economies so they struggle to become economically viable)

Sex Ethics (2nd year only):

  • Homosexuality
  • Extra Marital Sex
  • Pre Marital Sex

(Check out: “Sssshhh we can’t talk about Sex!” Pointers to discuss in A2 Application Questions for discussion themes within these areas.)

Final Tips:

1. Work out your point of view immediately (are you going to argue for or against the question?)

2. ANSWER THE QUESTION -Use the words in the question throughout your answer.

3. Evaluate throughout – argue and question every point you make. The more you criticise the better you will do. Don’t forget to defend arguments and use critical words. Ask rhetorical questions. Take apart your own evaluation.

4. Look on the BBC news for examples or exact cases to reference.

5. Use ‘therefore’ to summarize argument at end of a big point.

6. 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

  • Situation Ethics – Conscience. (Fletcher’s ideas of conscience as a verb are similar to Aquinas’ conscientia)

Top three mistakes in Ethics:

1. Not focusing on answering the question instead just adding as many names as possible. Stick to just a few names that you explore/ criticise/ compare in detail.

2. Not evaluating/ questioning everything

3. Application questions – make sure if you criticise the topic in the question (e.g. Kant) with another theory (e.g Util) that the comparison to Util is short/ effective and only evaluative as otherwise not relevant to Q. Make sure you look at actual ISSUES to do with the application area (e.g. different cultural views on homosexuality)

Note: 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.

*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):

ethics        rev eth


To support your revision there are Revision Podcasts on YouTube. For support with writing an Application Essay also see my Tips from a Tired Teacher:

Good Luck!

2017 Year One Questions (For my comments check out: Examiner’s Report 2017: What can we learn?)


For Ethics predictions go to: Predictions for Ethics (First and Second Year) .

For support with Philosophy see Panic “My Exam is Tomorrow!” Must Read for Philosophy (1st and 2nd Year)



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