Messages from Above: OCR Updates

With tight budgets, it is not always possible to attend a lot of conferences, courses and training but I always keep an eye on the OCR CPD feedback sessions, especially when they are more local to Scarbados (e.g. Leeds – London or Manchester make it a very long day!). So I couldn’t wait to attend the session run by Hugh Campbell on ‘Understanding the Assessment’ and really get into the minds of the examiners…until my train was delayed by nearly two hours and my body was finally shutting down with every bug going. I ended up in bed. Worry not though, as a very kind colleague of mine sent me all the information in the post!

The Headlines:

  • Better responses showed a holistic approach – wide ranging knowledge from the whole course (synoptic links are good but make sure they are linked back to the argument/ question).
  • Effort was made to read around the course material and demonstrated assessment of primary sources (I use a few primary sources and often have students take a quote or snippet of information from them but assessment of these or wider reading…who has the time with such a full spec?).
  • Still evidence of ‘Blue Peter’ answers – problem with showing model answers (is there an alternative for demonstrating essay technique?)
  • Prevalence of ‘comparing’ rather than evaluating/ assessing (I think this is a really good point. I think sometimes students think that comparing thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle equates to evaluating, when actually they are just comparing A to B. Assesment needs to take place as to why A is more convincing than B etc).
  • Still issues of asserting rather than assessing – X says this Y says that and therefore X is right with no sense of why X is right (again I think this is a really valid point. Students often state the views of thinkers and if the view of that thinker is negative e.g. Dawkins this means it counts as evaluation. In fact all you are doing is asserting the view of someone else. Assessing means weighing up why their view works or does not work.)
  • Better responses sustained a line of reasoning. Thread the argument from paragraph to paragraph – building from one point to the next.

Overall Tips:

Continue reading “Messages from Above: OCR Updates”


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.

Continue reading “Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highs and Lows”

Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights

Whilst travelling down to the NATRE conference in Cheshire on the train, what better than the examiner’s report from 2018 to keep me busy? No huge surprises (but a few concerns) from the first year Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought reports. So here is a summary of the best bits or the bits you need to know if you haven’t had chance to read them:

General comments:

  • A significant number of essays had little to no evaluation
  • Distinct lack of scholarly views
  • Make sure examiners can read your handwriting!!


1. “Conversion experiences do not provide a basis for belief in God.” Discuss

Good points:

  • Clear focus on conversion
  • Developed evaluation of the effects
  • Effective use of William James, Swinburne and Freud

Bad points:

  • Long descriptive accounts of conversion, mostly St. Paul and Nicky Cruz
  • Thinking that St Paul was an atheist before his conversion
  • Not applying Swinburne’s principles to answering the question.

2. Critically discuss Aristotle’s understanding of reality.

Good points:

  • Very good accounts of Aristotle’s empiricism, explanation of four causes and prime mover (who draws things to him in a disinterested manner).
  • Used Plato in an evaluative way in relation to Aristotle scored higher bands

Bad points:

  • Confusion between efficient and formal causes (note: this has been an issue throughout the legacy papers as well)
  • Wrote all they knew about Plato and only compared with Aristotle in the final paragraph.

3. To what extent does Kant successfully criticise the ontological argument?

This section stopped me in my tracks. The report starts by saying “while a popular question, candidates struggled to produce good responses and very few recognised that Kant is critiquing the Cartesian version of the ontological argument.”

Now this annoyed me slightly. I cover Descartes in passing as I think he presents interesting links to the concept of predicate, using his example of the triangle and valley (I often find it helps students understand the concepts further). However Descartes has been completely removed from the spec and makes absolutely no appearance in the new spec (not even in the discussion pointers or recommended books).

So if you are new to the spec and don’t realise Kant’s links to Descartes and/or do not cover Descartes at all and closely follow the specific wording of the spec (as time does not allow us to cover all and everything!) then the examiners were expecting something not made clear and marked according to (I think) an old spec mark scheme not a new one. When I teach Kant I explain his views on predicates and get the students to link back to Anselm (who is on the spec) with Descartes links as a passing activity/ mention. I think the question is fine, I think the examiners marking/ report is way off!



Continue reading “Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights”

Warning: Doctrines of Christian Thought Exam Approaching!!

The questions you will not be asked Monday afternoon are:

May 2017 First Year Paper:


May 2018 First Year Paper:


This means that a question on each of the areas of the first year spec has been asked. What this means (and following the pattern of the previous two A2 exams) is that there could be two questions on AS and two on A2. This means that the same topic might be asked again, just not the question areas already asked above. I have a feeling you may get asked three Q from A2 because there are so many question areas that could be asked from the second year and the AS has been covered quite efficiently over the last two AS exams.

Difficult to predict this one, so based on my gut feeling (the main thing my gut has been doing over the past few weeks of exams is flip flops!) I think the Q areas are going to be:

  • Pluralism and Theology – worded around exclusivism
  • Gender – worded around the church’s teachings/ traditional views/ where it fits into today’s society
  • Secularization – faith/ scripture so you could link in natural and revealed and moral principles from AS
  • Person of Jesus – liberator or divine vs human.

I think because the two topics within Pluralism and the two topics within Gender overlap and are very similar ( in that you could easily interchange the information between them) therefore I think any questions on these areas will be quite open (potentially quite vague, hopefully not too obscure like the Philosophy questions).


  1. Make sure you know Ephesians,  Acts and Mulieris Dignitatem.
  2. Be prepared that the questions might be quite open. Remember that a lot of these topics link together, so it is about answering the question in the most efficient way which could include different texts, names and elements from a range of topics.

Note: You need to revise all areas. These predictions could be completely wrong, so you do not want to be caught out in your last exam.

Also check out: Predictions for Christian Thought (First and Second Year) and Panic “My Exam is Tomorrow!” Must Read for Christian Thought (1st and 2nd Year)

Good Luck

This is your last opportunity to shine and show the examiners what you have learnt!!

Warning: Philosophy Exam Approaching!!

The questions you will not be asked tomorrow are:

May 2017 First Year Paper:


May 2018 First Year Paper:


This means that:

  • Soul, Mind, Body
  • Cosmo
  • PoE
  • RE
  • Aristotle
  • Onto

Have all been asked. All that is missing is:

  • Plato
  • Teleo

You could still get asked a question from any topic area, including areas already been asked above. The only thing we can be pretty certain of is that similar Q’s will not arise.

So last minute advice:

  1. Check out BBC for moral evil examples and recent events/ stats with the volcano eruption (natural evil)
  2. If you get a question on ‘Religious Language is meaningless’ do NOT talk about Falsification. The exam board has made it very clear that Flew never uses the word meaningless (only ‘vacuous’ yet in my book they pretty much imply the same thing) but still we follow the exam board!! I recommend Verification vs Language Games for a Q like this.
  3. Any RE question mention WJ’s four even just in passing
  4. Avoid numinous as an example, unless the question asks or if you have a specific case to draw upon, otherwise your answers will just be vague.
  5. Make sure you read questions carefully: psychology vs physiology could cost you dearly!
  6. If a comparison Q is asked e.g Plato vs Ari make sure you compare in every paragraph using language like: whereas, both, differing, similarly etc
  7. Whatever is mentioned specifically in Q, that is the start of every paragraph. So if mentioned ‘a priori is better than a post’ structure with Onto throughout.
  8. If Q on God’s attributes, focus on Q throughout, do not get side-lined on long rambling content.

Make sure you read: Panic “My Exam is Tomorrow!” Must Read for Philosophy (1st and 2nd Year) and Predictions for Philosophy (First and Second Year). Don’t forget last minute support with Revision Podcasts on YouTube: Revision Podcasts

Finally the more links to specific wording in the question and the more you argue, argue, argue, the better you will do! Get off the fence, raise discussion points, pass judgements and criticisms, defend arguments and evaluate everything. Control your content and need to regurgitate information, it is not how much you write/ remember it is what you do with it!

Good Luck

I will be thinking about you all tomorrow. First A Level exam for new spec – let’s make it a good one!!