How to answer a 20 or 30 mark question

You will find a 20 mark question on all three papers of the A-Level exam, however, Methods in context question will be dealt with separately.

20 mark questions are essay style questions and should be answered in continuous prose and paragraphs. You should take around 25 – 30 minutes to answer these questions and contain between 3 and 4 paragraphs as well as an introduction and conclusion.

30 Mark Questions only appear on paper 1 nad 3 for both Education and Crime and Deviance. 30 Mark questions are to be approached in the same way as the 20 markers, however, you ware expected to show a deeper level of knowledge and understanding (4-5 points), analysis and evaluation.


The introduction should give an overview to the examiner of what it is you are going to write about in the essay. It is also there to show the examiner that you understand the question and what it is asking you to do.

The introduction should contain three elements:


This is the background information on the question and can come in three forms:

  • Definition of key sociological terms.
  • Trends in statistical subjects.
  • Background of the theory or topic.


In this part of the introduction you show the examiner that you have interpreted the question correctly by explaining the key points that you are going to cover in the essay.

For an argument essay this will be both the arguments for and against the view in the question. Whereas for a relative importance question this will be the reasons, factors or explanations you are going to discuss.


This a a single sentence which either states that you are going to argue for or against the view in the question, or which reason, factor or explanation is the most important.

Main Body

The main body of the essay should be around 3 or 4 paragraphs for a 20 marker and 4 or 5 paragraphs in length for a 30 marker, meaning that there should be 4 or 5 points that come from both the item that you have been given as well as your own knowledge.

Each paragraph should follow the PEAEL structure:

Point: Why or What

The first sentence of your paragraph should answer the question set. If it is an argument essay then this should be where you give a reason why you have come to your answer. For a relative importance question it is where you identify the reason, factor or explanation you are going to discuss.

Explain / Apply:

 I have put these two together as they often intertwine. Explain means that you have to explain why the point you make answers the question, the application element is the use of the item, studies, and thinkers to illustrate your point.


The evaluation section of the paragraph is where you show your understanding of the opposing argument to your answer or explain why the factor is the most important or not. The evaluation should directly link to the point that you are making at the start of your paragraph.


Reiterate your answer to the question


The conclusion should be about 2 or 3 sentences long and needs to answer the question directly, however, it should still remain in the third person and should not introduce any new information.

Editable Resources

10 thoughts on “How to answer a 20 or 30 mark question

Add yours

  1. Thank you so much for all of your amazing resources!
    So clearly explained and beautifully presented. I think there’s a nation of sociology teachers out there thankful.

    Kim Baker – Bristol


  2. thank you for this! my sociology teacher always says to add an extra point in the conclusion, should i listen to him?


    1. I have always taught never to add new information in the conclusion. If it isn’t in the main body of your essay, it shouldn’t be in your conclusion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, I was wondering how much evaluation we needed to add? I thought I was doing enough but my teacher says I should be doing more.


    1. Every main body paragraph should have an evaluation of the point being made. This should be around 2 -3 sentences [shorter than your explanation] which identifies the evaluation and then explains why it is an evaluation point.


      1. Thank you very much! I wrote upwards of 6 sentences and it was still said that I need to write more, I am very lost about how to improve my marks as the criticisms seem to be rather strange. Thank you for this content, it was very helpful!


  4. how explicitly do i need to use the item in a 30 marker. if i use quotes from it without putting as stated in the Item is that okay?


    1. You can quote but higher-level analysis would be to paraphrase, but the important thing is that you use the term “The item…” to indicate that you are taking information from the item.


      1. Not necessarily, if the examiner can clearly see you have used the item you will still get credit. I just tell my students to be explicit and obvious with it to make it easier for the examiner.


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