What content is covered in A Level Psychology?

A Level Psychology is a comprehensive study of human behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. The course typically involves a combination of theoretical knowledge, research studies, practical applications, and critical evaluation of psychological theories and concepts.

If you study A Level Psychology, you will learn about biopsychology, the branch of psychology that explores the biological basis of behaviour, focusing on the nervous system, brain structure, and the influence of genetics. You will examine the ways in which individuals are shaped and influenced by social contexts through in-depth studies on topics like conformity and obedience.

Memory, attachment theory, and psychopathology are also key components of the course. You will study core memory processes and factors influencing memory retention and recall, the formation of early emotional bonds between infants and caregivers, and psychological disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

Ethical considerations in research, cultural and gender biases, and debates like nature versus nurture, constitute another essential dimension of the A Level Psychology curriculum.

A Level Psychology student learning about the anatomy and structure of the human brain.

How is A Level Psychology assessed?

A Level Psychology is typically assessed through 3× written exam papers at the end of two years of study. Each of these papers comprises a mix of question types, including multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions, extended essay-style questions, and data analysis tasks.

For example, for AQA’s A Level Psychology course, the examinations are divided into three papers, each assessing different areas of the curriculum:

  • Paper 1 (Introductory Topics in Psychology) assesses social influence, memory, attachment, and psychopathology.
  • Paper 2 (Psychology in Context) assesses approaches in psychology, research methods, and biopsychology.
  • Paper 3 (Issues and Options in Psychology) focuses on issues and debates in psychology. It also contains questions specifically related to in-depth ‘option’ topics that students have studied.

The optional topics that you study will vary depending on the exam board and specific curriculum offered by your sixth form or college.

Is A Level Psychology hard?

How difficult you find A Level Psychology will depend on your individual strengths, interests, and study habits. A Level courses, including Psychology, typically demand critical thinking, analytical skills, and a solid grasp of theoretical concepts.

Psychology A Level might be considered challenging due to the need to understand and apply psychological theories, research methods, andconcepts. Some students find topics like research methodologies or specific psychological theories more complex than others.

Another aspect of psychology that may pose a challenge is statistics. Understanding statistical concepts, such as hypothesis testing or measures of central tendency, and interpreting statistical data can be unfamiliar terrain for some students, particularly those who do not study A Level Maths.

Teacher reviewing mock exam paper with student one-to-one.

Whilst 95.5% of students passed A Level Psychology in 2023, a smaller percentage of students achieved the top grades compared to all A Level subjects. 19.1% of students achieved a grade A or A* compared to 27.2% for all subjects. This indicates that Psychology is a more challenging subject, and higher grades require a deeper understanding of the material.

However, with consistent practice, a solid understanding of statistical methods, and thorough revision of the required case studies, many students successfully navigate A Level Psychology. Engaging with resources, seeking clarification from teachers, and practising past papers can help you achieve success!

Do you need GCSE Psychology to take it at A Level?

No, GCSE Psychology is not mandatory for A Level, but it is recommended as it provides a strong foundation in the basics of psychology.

What grades do you need to do A Level Psychology?

To take A Level Psychology, a minimum of five GCSEs graded 4 or higher, including english language, maths, and a science subject is typically required.

It’s essential to check the entry requirements of the institution where you plan to study A Level Psychology, as these criteria can differ between sixth forms and colleges. These requirements are usually outlined on their website or in their prospectus.

A Level Psychology student making notes.

What skills will you develop when studying A Level Psychology?

Studying A Level Psychology cultivates various skills:

  • Analytical skills – You will develop the ability to critically analyse theories, research studies, and their implications on human behaviour and cognition.
  • Research skills – You will learn to design and conduct experiments, surveys, and observational studies.
  • Critical thinking – A Level Psychology encourages students to evaluate evidence, form arguments, and assess the validity of different perspectives.
  • Communication – You will learn to explain complex psychological concepts, theories, and findings through written and verbal communication.
  • Problem-solving – The course challenges students to apply psychological principles to real-world situations, fostering problem-solving skills.
  • Statistical literacy – You will learn to carry out various statistical analyses and interpret and draw conclusions from data.
  • Self-reflection – A Level Psychology often requires students to reflect on personal biases, assumptions, and perspectives, fostering self-awareness.

These skills are not only beneficial for further studies in psychology but also have practical applications in various professions, such as research, counselling, education, and marketing.

Top tips for studying A Level Psychology

  • Active engagement – Actively participate in class discussions, debates, and activities. Engaging with the subject will help you better understand and retain the material.
  • Regular review and revision – A Level Psychology involves a significant amount of content. Regularly review class notes, the textbook, and supplementary learning materials. You can find helpful A Level Psychology revision notes, factsheets, and informational videos on Physics & Maths Tutor. Create your own concise summaries or flashcards for effective revision.
  • Make use of visual aids – Visual aids like mind maps, diagrams, or flowcharts can simplify complex theories and aid memory retention.
  • Practice essay writing – A Level Psychology exams involve long essay-style questions. Practice structuring essays, providing clear arguments, and integrating research findings to support your points.
  • Ethical considerations – Develop a good understanding of ethical considerations in psychological research. Be prepared to critically evaluate research methodologies and their ethical implications.
  • Test yourself – Regularly test your understanding through quizzes and past paper questions. This will help you identify areas of the syllabus that need more focus. You can find a bank of Psychology A Level past papers on Physics & Maths Tutor.

Where can A Level Psychology lead you?

A Level Psychology is an excellent foundation for pursuing undergraduate degrees in psychology. You could pursue a psychology degree in areas such as:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Occupational psychology
  • Social psychology

A Level Psychology can also support studies in related fields, including:

  • Sociology
  • Criminology
  • Neuroscience
  • Counselling
  • Education
  • Anthropology
  • Behavioural economics
Psychology A Level could lead to a career in counselling.

Beyond higher education, A Level Psychology lays a strong foundation for pursuing careers in psychology and other fields that require an understanding of human behaviour, critical thinking, and analytical skills:

  • Psychologist (including clinical, counselling, forensic, health, and educational)
  • Academic researcher
  • Mental health support worker
  • Social worker
  • Occupational therapist
  • Market research analyst
  • Human resources officer
  • Criminal profiler
  • Victim support worker
  • Probation officer
  • Special Education Needs (SEN) coordinator

What subjects go well with A Level Psychology?

A Level Psychology is most commonly taken alongside biology and chemistry. This is because these science subjects can provide a better understanding of the biological and chemical foundations of behaviour and mental health.

Another popular combination is psychology, sociology, and english literature. A Level Sociology and English Literature offer insight into the social and cultural factors shaping human behaviour.

The key is to select subjects that align with your interests and career aspirations and complement your study of psychology.

Do you need to study A Level Maths alongside A Level Psychology?

Although having a background in maths can be advantageous, especially in topics involving data interpretation and analytical skills, it is not mandatory for pursuing A Level Psychology. In fact, the subject’s curriculum is designed to accommodate students without an A Level Maths background.

If you are planning on taking A Level Psychology without A Level Maths, you could consider pursuing a Free Standing Maths Qualification (FSMQ) to make sure you’re prepared for the mathematical requirements of your course. Additionally, there are books tailored for psychologists who don’t take A Level Maths, such as CGP’s ‘Essential Maths Skills for A Level Psychology’.