Friday, 21 February 2014

Tackling Essay Questions at AS

Essay questions more than any other are designed to test your ability to USE and APPLY what you have learnt to the question, not simply regurgitate it and give a long description with no discussion or assessment.

Remember that these questions are level marked, each level shows a higher level of understanding, knowledge and ability than the previous one. Let’s look at this more closely with an example from the AQA AS topic 'Health Issues'…

“An infectious disease has a greater impact on economic development than a non-communicable disease.” To what extent do you agree with this view? (15 marks)

You will get level 1 (up to 6 marks) if you..
·       Describe/list the economic impacts of 1 or 2 diseases
·       Use only general points that could refer to any disease
·       Write a very brief answer (half a side or less) with no structure (e.g. no introduction or conclusion)

You will get level 2 (up to 12 marks) if you..
·       Give some specific information about at least one disease
·       Structure your answer with an introduction and conclusion
·       Compare one disease with the other
·       Say which disease has a bigger economic impact

You will get level 3 (up to 15 marks) if you..
·       Really focus on the question
·   Say whether you agree with the statement or not and how much you agree
·      Justify your opinions with evidence and facts

Here are some extracts from answers to these questions. Which level would you give them and why?

Infectious diseases have lots of economic impacts. For example leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by the female sand fly. There are 3 types of leishmaniasis, 2 of them mainly cause scars and deformities but the other one can kill you. Most people who catch it are very poor and can’t afford medical treatment, e.g. in Bangladesh. They also feel too sick to work so their income is lower. It can also slow down economic development like in the Amazon where everyone caught it so the development project had to be stopped. Coronary heart disease is a non-communicable disease but it also has lots of economic impacts. For example, money has to be spent on providing health care. Also people might have to miss work so they might not earn as much money. If people are not working they are also not paying taxes so the government has less money to spend on other things like development.’

‘Leishmaniasis (the world’s worst parasitic disease second only to malaria) and coronary heart disease (the biggest cause of death in the world) both have severe economic impacts on individuals, communities and countries, which can seriously hinder development. 
However, in my opinion the extent of these impacts varies not due to the method of disease transmission but due to other factors such as the level of development of the country in which the disease is found, the prevalence of the disease in the population, the types of people affected, the case-mortality rate and severity of heath and lifestyle impacts of that disease. To say that an infectious disease has a greater impact than a non-communicable one is a very generalised and sweeping statement, which may or may not be true depending on the specific disease. Coronary heart disease for example, exists on a much wider scale than leishmaniasis, with the former causing 7 million deaths worldwide in 2011, compared to only 70 000 per year from the latter. Obviously, with 100 times more deaths one would expect CHD to have a greater economic impact, and overall, on a large scale it probably does. However, most people affected by this disease are able to afford treatment whereas leishmaniasis thrives on poverty and victims may have to sell their home to pay for treatment, which in Bangladesh is approximately 1.2x the per capita annual income..."

The first answer is not bad, it talks about the impacts of each disease, including the impacts on different scales and in different ways. However, this is implied rather than explicitly stated. There is no direct comparison but rather the candidate has simply written about one and then the other.

In the second question however, the candidate is fully focused on the question and addresses it straight away. They have been bold to state their opinion straight away instead of leaving it to the conclusion, but they have then continued to explain and justify their opinion, using explicit comparisons and specific facts to do so. This clearly shows a higher level of understanding.

Please leave me some comments if you have any questions or disagree!

Here is the mark scheme for this question to give you some more ideas on how to get top marks.

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