Hints and Tips - 7 minute read
Ewan Brady, OCR Religious Studies Subject Advisor
In this blog I’ll be discussing the GCSE Religious Studies (RS) exams, the different types of questions you’ll face and sharing some tips for students who’ll be sitting exams in the autumn or next summer.
You’ll be sitting two different types of exams for GCSE (9-1) Religious Studies (three exams in total):
The Beliefs and teachings & Practices exams are each one hour long. You’ll sit the two exams back to back. In each exam, you’ll answer two questions (1-2) each made up of five sub questions (from a-e).
The religion, philosophy and ethics exams are two hours long. You’ll answer four questions on four different themes (1-4) each made up of four sub questions (from a-d).
Your answers will be marked using two different assessment objectives:
The table below show how the marks are awarded by assessment objective for each sub question.
There are two questions, each made up of five sub questions:
There are four questions on four different themes, each made up of four sub questions:
Command words give you guidance as to what you’re expected to do in the exam. The exact response expected to a command word will depend on the context. You must read the full question carefully to see exactly what you are expected to do.
Different command words are used for the different types of questions across the two different types of exam paper:
AO1 - knowledge and understanding
AO2 - analysis and evolution
This is used to direct a candidate to respond with the correct name of something. Nothing else is required in the response. This command word is often used when asking for knowledge of three things.
Name the three poisons. (J625/04)
The answer needs to be clear and concise. This command word is often used when asking for knowledge of three things.
State three aspects of G-d’s nature. (J625/03)
This word is used as an alternative to State. Single word or very short answers are needed.
Give three types of religious experience. (J625/06)
The answer needs to be brief but focussed. It must concentrate on the most important aspects of a topic. It can be used when the question asks for knowledge of more the one aspect.
Outline the meaning of the term ‘cyclical universe’. (J625/06)
The answer needs to be a concise account of the topic in the question. It can be used in the same way as Outline.
Describe the role of Brahma in the Trimurti. (J625/06)
Sometimes, to make things clearer to candidates, the actual command word will be missed out.
Why do Jews observe Shavout? (J625/03)
(Rather than, ‘Describe why Jews observe Shabout.’)
The answer should be a detailed factual response showing knowledge and understanding of the topic in relation to the question.
Describe how prayer can benefit Christians. (J625/01)
The answer should focus on the key aspects of the topic in the question. The topic could be covered in a 15-mark question but for 6 marks all that is needed is knowledge and understanding of the main points expressed concisely.
Outline the importance of the Hajj pilgrimage for Muslims. (J625/02)
Command words in 6-mark AO2 questions
The question is looking for an in-depth examination of the topic and probably an analysis of different approaches. Answers need to unpack the topic of the question and show understanding through analysis. Viewpoints about the topic of the question will need to be analysed, referring where appropriate to sources of wisdom and authority which underpin the viewpoints.
Explain why Christians differ in their support for social justice. (J625/06)
Answers should focus on the reasons for differences about the topic of the question. Comparison needs analysis of the topic and an explanation of the reasons for differences referring where necessary to sources of wisdom and authority which underpin the viewpoints.
Compare the attitude of different Christian groups towards religious experience. (J625/06)
For the 15-mark questions on both types of paper, examiners are looking for a discursive response from candidates. This means that in answering the question you need to use sources of wisdom and authority, discuss different viewpoints within the religion and reach a balanced judgement. You don’t need to give a unique, personal viewpoint. You must remember to focus on and keep to the question.
On our website we have a range of resources that are designed for teachers, but students can also use them to help in preparing for their exams.
The specification explains the aims and learning outcomes of the qualification. It details what students should know, understand and be able to do. The specification lists the content in detail and provides suggested sources of wisdom and authority.
Assessment materials include past question papers and mark schemes, examiners reports and candidate answers with commentaries from senior examiners. Students can access the materials from the 2018 exam series.
This blog is based on Assessment story: Exploring our question papers. There is also a command words resource that you may find useful. You could also check out my blog about last year’s (2019) exams.
All the best with your studies.
If you have any questions about any aspects of this blog tell us in the comments section below. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us @OCR_RS.
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Ewan Brady, OCR Subject Advisor
Ewan Brady joined OCR as a subject specialist in June 2014. Since joining OCR Ewan has been responsible for a number of subjects including law, government and politics and sociology. Ewan led the redevelopment of our new AS and A Levels in Law for first teaching in 2017. He took over responsibility for religious studies as Subject Advisor in 2017.
Ewan taught for 16 years in Scotland and England and has eight years of leadership experience in humanities, teaching subjects including history, law, politics, citizenship and religious studies.