Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highs and Lows

The results are in, now it is time to put the examiner’s mouth to the marks…how did they arrive at these?

The examiners note how the majority of responses follow ‘fairly well – worn tracks.’ Well I felt the same about their comments. On the whole I feel that the examiners are expecting more than these 18 year olds, with three 2 hour exams and 32 topics to remember, are capable of. Does it matter if they follow ‘well worn’ tracks as this is a new cohort with different pressures? Or maybe we should teach it differently (better)?

General comments:

  • Showed knowledge from other topics (synoptic links) suggesting an understanding of the holistic nature of the A level
  • 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
  • Few students showed signs of having undertaken research. What do they expect? How are students meant to cover the already dense spec in the short time provided and do further research and remember it all including the main parts needed? – Very unfair expectation in my view!
  • Comparing scholars is not evaluation – this is simply comparing viewpoints. Students need to justify which perspective works in relation to the Q.


1. ‘The best approach to understanding religious language is through the cataphatic way.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Good use of Aquinas’ analogy of attribution and proportion, Ramsey’s Models and Qualifiers, alongside own examples or those of Aquinas’ bull/urine or Hegel’s faithful dog
  • Close comparison (and therefore analysis) between the cataphatic and apophatic ways
  • Symbol used effectively

Bad points:

  • Description of examples with no link back to the Q
  • Demonstrated more knowledge on apophatic way
  • Symbol confused with myth (no longer on spec)

2. To what extent does Hume successfully argue that observation does not prove the existence of God?

Good points:

  • 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 Tennet’s anthropic principle when used in relation to Hume.
  • Analysed Hume’s criticisms, weighing up how successful they are.

Bad points:

  • 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.

3. Assess Boethius’ view that divine eternity does not limit human free will.

Least popular and least well done- insufficient knowledge of key theory.

Good points:

  • Explain in detail Boethius’ reasoning including simple and conditional necessity.
  • Effective use of Aquinas’ lofty peak and comparisons to Swinburne’s everlasting ideas.

Bad points:

  • 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.

4. ‘Corporate religious experiences are less reliable than individual religious experiences.’ Discuss

Produced the most generic religious experiences responses.

Good points:

  • Many examples used, most commonly Toronto Blessing and Saul’s conversion.
  • Good application of William James’ criteria to both types of RE, aiding the argument for/against reliability.
  • Useful inclusions of psychological studies and Swinburne’s principles when used in line with argument/ reasoning.

Bad points:

  • Less successful examples: miracles or near-death experiences.
  • Did not focus on exact wording of question.


Interestingly a general comment made was that requiring three essays in two hours was quite challenging…This is very different from the Philosophy paper which said that ‘most were able to write three full essays, the time spread evenly across the paper.’ Now logically you would have thought that the first exam students sat, would have been the problem paper not the middle one. Were the questions too vague? Were the students less prepared? Or were the examiners expecting too much?

  1. Evaluate Aquinas’ theological approach to conscience.

Good points:

  • Effective discussion of: ratio, synderesis, conscientia, vincible and invincible ignorance and Aquinas’ focus on reason and how this makes his view on conscience different to others.
  • Good synoptic links to Augustine and the Fall to challenge Aquinas’ optimistic ideas of synderesis.

Bad points:

  • Misconception that conscience is the voice of God according to Aquinas.
  • Analysis of Aquinas was limited to his assertions being religious and old fashioned.
  • Candidates wrote at length about material from the old spec often at the expense of more relevant material. (Now this puzzled me a bit. Yes students need to focus on the question and yes any other names added need to be linked to Aquinas in order for it to be relevant but when the spec says wider reading/ research/ scholarly views…isn’t this what students are trying to do? Yes they might be old spec materials but wouldn’t they now class as wider understanding?)

2. ‘”Good” is meaningful.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Good understanding of: Bradley and Foot for Naturalism, is – out fallacy and Moore’s intuition.
  • Links between Ayer’s verification principle and emotivism were often used well and how morality is neither analytic nor synthetic.

Bad points:

  • Linking ‘good’ to normative theories often produced superficial answers
  • Not focusing on the term ‘good’ as a technical term direct from the spec
  • Common misunderstandings surrounding emotivism.

3. Assess the view that natural law is of no help with regard to the issue of euthanasia.

Good points:

  • Detailed understanding of: primary and secondary precepts, use of reason, real and apparent goods, double effect.
  • Effective use of case studies to illustrate a point.
  • Good use of how NL protects the vulnerable but does not give adequate focus on Quality of Life.

Bad points:

  • Limited to applying only preservation of life.
  • Unable to contrast to SE effectively.
  • Dominated by lengthy case studies without clear argument.

4. ‘Kantian ethics provides the best approach to Business Ethics.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Effective use of ‘means to an end’ linking to various scenarios.
  • Good understanding of Business Ethics concepts: CSR, whistleblowing and globalisation.
  • Examples and case studies used well to advance argument.
  • Clever exploration of how Kant would probably have opposed Milton Friedman.
  • When compared to Utilitarianism, best answers made good use of Mill’s harm principle.

Bad points:

  • Basic coverage of duty/ telling the truth without full exploration.
  • Comparisons to Utilitarianism just focusing on pleasure or what most people want.
  • Analysis stated but not explored or justified and no judgment reached.

Christian Thought:

I read this section of the examiner’s report with my mouth wide open! I think some of the expectations of what the students were meant to understand in relation to these questions is degree level. From reading the comments, I do not feel that it has been taken into consideration that there are 12 new DCT topic, covering a massive range of views and arguments with quite limited A02 in parts and even less time to cover them all! I will show you what I mean…

  1. ‘Bonhoeffer’s theology is still relevant today.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Good use of: discipleship and solidarity – tied in with liberation theology and civil disobedience. Also how recent suffering can be linked to Bonhoeffer to show that Christians have a duty to act.
  • A few mentioned Religionless Christianity, no rusty swords and the western void (if I’m honest I’ve not come across these…certainly not in the text books!)

Bad points:

  • Cheap and costly grace frequently misunderstood

2. To what extent was Jesus a political liberator?

Good points:

  • Demonstrating understanding of: Jesus wishing to challenge the ruling authorities and aiming for wholesale reform of society.
  • Effective use of comparisons to Jesus as Messiah, teacher of wisdom, social liberator and Son of God.
  • Well developed Biblical evidence and scholarship from Hick, Lewis, Brandon, Sanders and Aslan (which OCR resource are these all in?).
  • Distinguish between Jesus’ role as a social liberator vs a political one, acknowledging that being one does not necessarily imply being the other too (with effective use of biblical examples to support). 

Bad points:

  • Over emphasis on other parts of the topic: Jesus as a Zealot, liberator, Messiah, wisdom and Son of God without links to the specific question.

3. Assess the view that Mary Daly’s theology proves that Christianity is sexist.

Good points:

  • Concept of ‘proof’ was interestingly addressed, including evidential examples of how Christianity is and is not sexist.
  • Insightful references to Daly’s own bias and how this clouds her judgement affecting her theological views. 
  • Acknowledged how the writing, collation and revelation of the Bible were patriarchal and therefore inescapably sexist (despite Jesus’ efforts).
  • Students who showed greater awareness of hermeneutics, exegesis and eisegesis were better able to analyse the extent to which Daly proves that Christianity is sexist (is it just me or do you teach students about these areas? I covered these ideas at degree level! When this topic is already so dense in information and detail, is it fair to expect students to have a degree level understanding of complex ideas such as hermeneutics as well?)

Bad points:

  • Ruether was overused.
  • Discussing the extent to which Christianity is sexist in general.
  • Use of Unholy Trinity but often ideas not unpicked in full and what these mean for women in practice.
  • Many candidates fell into the trap of criticising Daly ad hominem rather than the details of her theology. This means that students often criticised Daly for hating men rather than what they stand for/ practice.
  • Not being able to apply knowledge of Daly effectively to the Q.

4. ‘Secularism does not pose a threat to Christianity.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Analysis of the differences between programmatic and procedural secularism were useful, provided that there was a genuine understanding of the relationship between the State and Church. (This seems a very high expectation, that students have a genuine understanding between Church and State- considering the time allocated to cover topics and the amount of content to cover – do we really have time to explore the depth of the relationship between State and Church as well? Doesn’t this require students having a historical or sociological understanding too, in order to have any hope of exploring these ideas properly?).
  • Good examples were used of how the UK is becoming more secular, comparing the UK to other places such as France and USA and also the debate around multi faith schools.

Bad points:

  • Some thought the question focused on pluralism not secularism (often merging the two).
  • Freud and Dawkins extensively used but not often applied to Q itself (those that acknowledged such ideas do not represent a threat to Christianity in isolation did better).

If you have any thoughts or comments please get in touch 🙂

If you would like to access a breakdown of the national Main Results Tables and Other Results Information please click: JCQ

Check out this video summarising the examiner’s feedback:


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