A Level Politics Revision Tips | Essay Answers

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

Our brand new A Level Politics series starts with advice on how to revise for essays.

“In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia."
George Orwell

Trump’s triumph, Brexit bamboozlement, resurgent Russia, and a controlling China – we are in an age of complete political upheaval and change. If you ever wanted the chance to change the world, now just might be your opening!


In all sincerity, when I was sitting my Politics A Level, I could not be happier with the level of political change happening – it provides excellent fodder and examples for your essays! Such contemporary references are highly rewarded and admired by examiners. That’s my first tip of this article – and I hope there are many to come!


How to write an A Level Politics essay

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”
Plato

As I mentioned in my Philosophy A Level article (which is not so far off from Politics and political thought), you must state your argument at the beginning of your essays. Of course, your essay will need to weigh up the different perspectives of topics and show the pros and cons – but, a key part of the A Level mark scheme is ‘judgement’. The examiner is looking for your argument and opinion to shine through in the introduction and conclusion of your essays.


Think of a path winding through the essay body

Treat your argument like a path that winds through the body of your essay – without it, the examiner will get lost, and wonder what its all for. As with most things, three is the magic number; in all your essays you must:


1. Say what you are going to say (in your introduction write, ‘this essay will argue that [xyz]’).


2. Say what you said you were going to say (the body of your essay should be consistent with what you outlined in the introduction).


3. Say what you have just said (in your conclusion you need to summarise your points, and finish with a judgement which is in line with your introduction; ‘this essay, after deliberation, concludes that [xyz]’).


Think about writing your Politics essay like it was a brief for a think tank – you want to be clear, put forward a proposal, and back it up with evidence.


Achieving clarity in your A Level Politics essay

“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all.”
Pericles

Clarity is one of the most important things when it comes to Politics. Yes, the irony of this statement in the context of the current political discourse is not lost on me; however, do not let the jargon and jibe filled PMQ sessions set an example for you.


It is no secret that Politics is filled with jargon, especially when it comes to political thought. Terms like...


- Liberalism

- Constructivism

- Realism

- Gaia Theory

- Bicameral


...and so on, are vague and often are not straightforward (trust me, it took a while for me to wrap my head around constructivism!). So, the key is 1) do your revision – make sure you know the terms inside out, and have quotes from the respective thinkers, 2) write this out clearly in your essays – use your introduction as a bit of a glossary: you can define your key terms here and show off to the examiner that you definitely know your content!


In addition to defining the key terms that you will deploy in your essay – make sure you define the key terms of the question! Always think to yourself, ‘why am I being asked this question?’. I know this seems silly, but put yourself in the mind of the examiner – what are they trying to test you on? What knowledge do they want to spot in your answers?


Here’s an example taken from a 2015 Global Politics past paper that I did for my revision:


"What is ‘hard power’? How significant has it been in recent years?"


Without cheating and reading further, try and pull out some of the key terms and write them down.



Got them? Okay, here they are:


1. Hard power

2. Significant

3. Recent years


The examiner is looking to test whether you know what ‘hard power’ is. This is straightforward content knowledge – should you have done your revision, this is simple!


Next, the examiner is looking to see whether you have the analytical ability to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of arguments. This is where the term ‘significant’ comes into play – the examiner wants you to make a judgement based on the relevance and magnitude of arguments.


Finally, but importantly: ‘recent years’. It is no good having archaic examples, this question is demanding contemporary knowledge! For these answers, you need to have examples that relate to the last 5 years or so. I would warn against going beyond 10 years into the past. By all means reference older examples, but then you must relate it to the current climate.


So, in your essay answers, make sure you spot these key terms, and explicitly discuss them – the examiner can’t read your mind, so make it easy for them to give you the marks you deserve!


Contemporary modern knowledge

“Modernity consists in a revolt against the prevailing style, an unyielding rage against the official order.”
Irving Howe

You’ve got a cracking structure, you’re clear, and you’re analysing all the key terms in the question, and in your answer. But now comes the real money makers – contemporary modern knowledge.


In the business world, they call this ‘commercial awareness’ – I, and my Politics teacher, liked to call it ‘reading the newspaper’. Remember, examiners get paid only a couple of quid per paper they mark, they really want to whip through their stack of exam booklets as fast as possible. This means that they will inevitably be reading the same kinds of essays and arguments over, and over, and over again. You’ve already made the examiner’s life easy by being clear in your writing, but now, make your writing interesting and innovative!


A tip that I deployed when writing my actual Politics exam essays was to start off with a quote. It’s an attention grabber, displays contemporary knowledge, and enthuses the examiner – they think, ‘finally, something with some flair!’. Some of my favourite attention-grabbing quotes are:


All power to the people’ – Black Panthers


Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one’ – George Orwell


Globalisation feels like a runaway train, out of control’ – Gordon Brown


But it is not just quoting that you’ll need for a top-notch essay. Hyper-contemporary knowledge is really impressive and is a sure-fire way to get full marks, as you’ll be backing up theory with realistic examples that are unique. A little tip from me: sign up to ‘Finimize’ – although its mostly economic news (useful for Economics students!), it has strong ties to the Political climate. Other good sites include ‘Tutor2U’, ‘The Economist’, and, of course, ‘BBC News’. During my A Level revision period, I set my default internet homepage to be BBC News, so that every day I was forced to catch up on daily political happenings!


Films for A Level Politics Revision

“Modernity consists in a revolt against the prevailing style, an unyielding rage against the official order.”
Irving Howe

I hope that these tips, tricks, and bits of advice have helped you in your Politics revision. I know that this period of exams can feel rather strenuous, and, especially when studying Politics, futile. Do make sure you keep yourself engaged with the content – Politics is a fascinating area of study, so don’t let the rubric crush your passion for it! (Although, if you do need a bit of revision on the respective rubrics – check out our Politics subject page).


With that in mind, just to round this rather revision heavy article off – here are some films (tangentially related to Politics) that you can watch in between your essays:


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

- ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (a fantastic comedy about nuclear proliferation and US/Russia relations)


- UK House of Cards (technically a TV show, but a fantastic look into the conniving underbelly of British Politics)


- Yes Prime/Minister (a brilliant sitcom looking at the Civil Service, UK ministers, and the role of the Prime Minister)


If Theresa May can survive Brexit, if Trump can be elected, and Liverpool can make a 4-goal comeback in 2019, then you too can defy all expectations! I shall leave you with one of George W. Bush’s greatest gaffs:


"To those of you who received honours, awards, and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States."
George W. Bush

Blog Post Crafted by Neville

Neville is currently working towards his BA in Philosophy at Warwick University, having bagged three A* grades at A Level.


He has entered the Times Advocacy Competition three times, and each time was shortlisted into the top ~20 candidates in the country. In his free time he writes his own scripts, as well as other fictional and non-fictional works.

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