Understanding Psychology at A level and GCSE: 16: Describing and Evaluating Studies


Here is the 16th in our new series of Psychology blogs – useful for anyone revising for exams or thinking about taking up Psychology as a new subject at A level or GCSE.

Describing and Evaluating Studies

When answering exam questions, you will often find questions that ask you to describe and evaluate a study.

If you describe a study, this means that you put the: –

  • Aims
  • Hypothesis
  • Method
  • Results
  • Conclusion

Usually there are four or five marks for this type of question. You don’t have to go into great detail – e.g. 93% gave 7 words in a memory test, 4% gave 4 words and so on. It would be sufficient to say the majority gave above 5 words etc.

If you are asked to evaluate a study, you should consider the positives and negatives of how the study was carried out. For example: –

  • Is the study realistic? Does it have ecological validity? Say you wanted to study non-verbal communication in students. You might decide to watch students in a cafe for an hour a day at lunch time and count how many times they touch each other. This would be realistic, as you are watching real life interactions. If you asked twenty students to come to a laboratory, then watched how many times they touched each other, this would not be so realistic. They would be in an unnatural setting and would know they were being observed, so their behaviour might not be so natural. So ecological validity is important.
  • You might consider how many people were studied. If only ten people were in a study, we might wonder if it could be generalised to the rest of the population.
  • What if only one group of people was studied e.g. white, middle class, Americans? Could the results then be generalised to other groups, such as Black people, working class people, British people, Asian people etc?
  • Could the type of experiment affect the results? For example, a repeated measures study on memory could have practice effects (see blog no. 10 if you are unsure about repeated measures).
  • The way that participants were selected could also affect results. Was a random sample used? Or opportunity sampling?
  • When was the research carried out? For example, Milgram’s research on conformity was carried out in America at a time when conformity was very high among Americans due to fears of Marxism, which could have affected the results found.
  • What do other researchers/experimenters say about the same topic?

It is not necessary to cover all of these, but if you are asked to evaluate an experiment try to consider at least one issue.

Tracey Jones

Tutor

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