AQA Paper 3 Extended Essay: Tips, Mark-schemes and Past Essay Titles

I have been working with some tutees to improve their approach to the AQA Paper 3 Extended Essay - so here are a few tips, and all of the essay titles (and markschemes) since 2007.

A Few Points Raised By The Exam Boards Feedback

The essay is designed to assess whether you can bring together material from a range of topics to illustrate and explain an important concept or idea.

The essay is not just a memory test of what a student knows – it is also a test of whether they have some understanding of what they have learnt and can apply what they know.

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The essay is marked using a levels of response system. The demands for scientific content, breadth, relevance and scientific terminology are now found within each level.

It is a synoptic exercise – you are required to recall appropriate factual material from different parts of the specification (AO1), you should  identify an underlying theme or idea in an essay title – it will be a ‘big idea’, not a minor topic.

You need to select five or six different examples that you can use to illustrate the theme or idea.

Selecting the topic areas is a challenge to many students.

I suggest that they think about an example that illustrates the theme from topic in each of five kingdoms (OK - protists do supply a challenge).

And then to go up in complexity from a molecule - macromolecule - organelle - cells - tissue - organ - organ system - individual - populations - community - ecosystem. 

So this technique should give you breadth and depth

Write a reasonable paragraph about each example (using appropriate A-level terminology) pointing out how it illustrates the theme or idea. And use it to illustrate/explain a biological concept/idea – the ‘theme’ of an essay title (AO2)  - often the ‘importance of’.

ITS NOT

‘Think of every possible thing that relates to the title and write as much as you can about it, with no thought of the main theme/idea’. This would make it just a memory test (AO1).

DONT

‘Write at a very high level (above A-level) about one or two topics’. This is not a synoptic approach. We do not wish to encourage learning of rote answers involving one or two important topics which might apply across many titles – eg respiration.

TAKE CARE TO

Extension material has to be at least of A-level standard and accurately described using appropriate scientific terminology.

Appropriate terminology was often poorly used or absent. For example, many students wrote about ‘signals’ and ‘messages’ rather than impulses/action potentials. The use of ‘levels’ and ‘amounts’ for concentration was also very common.

The essay is supposed to be written using appropriate terminology, at a level to be expected after two years of A-level study.

Content has to be of A-level standard to score highly – this includes terminology and the explanation of ‘importance’

Any plan is purely for the student’s use, The essay is a prose exercise – unless a plan is written as a series of sentences (i.e. as an essay), it won’t add to the mark for the essay. The same applies to diagrams/drawings – they would have to be very heavily annotated to count

No introduction or conclusion required - they waste time that could be used for more content

Content from ‘several’ topic areas required – AQA have defined 4 as the minimum for ‘several’ – 5 or 6 might be safer, since best content affects level

A topic area is a topic area in the specification – a numbered sub-section

A-level detail required – though not necessarily all the detail of a topic

A-level terminology required and more important than grammar – this is an exercise concerned with Biology, not English

GCSE-level material only makes possible between 1 and 5 marks

If asked about the importance of something, factual detail and explanation of importance have to be at A-level standard to score above 15 marks

An example not in the specification (for the highest band) has to be at (or above) A-level standard – not GCSE, or what anyone who hasn’t studied A-level Biology would know.  Example – quite a few students made reference to cystic fibrosis– relatively few made accurate links to this condition and chloride ion channel protein, diffusion and/or water potentials and osmosis.

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