How to get the best marks in your essays
Writing essay-answers in Religious Studies, whether as part of an exam, coursework or just weekly assignments, is challenging. In your essays you are expected to:
• select appropriate and accurate information in order to answer the question in a full and thorough way.
• organise and communicate your answer effectively, making your answer clear and engaging.
• demonstrate sound knowledge of how scholars have responded to the issue in the past, including reference to their specific writings.
• demonstrate an understanding of different points of view and the reasons for them.
• develop your own argument, supported by reasons and evidence, and explained in relation to the arguments put forward by other scholars.
• keep within the rules of the required academic style of presentation, including the use of an accurate word-count, succinct footnotes and a full, well organised bibliography.
Watch Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, answer the question: "Why study the philosophy of religion?"
Examination boards, and most teachers, assess your work according to three broad attainment objectives (AOs). Work is "level-marked" - i.e. you don't get a mark for every valid point you make or lose marks for mistakes; you get marks in relation to the level you have reached in each attainment objective.
AO1 KNOWLEDGE Candidate selects appropriate information, organises and communicates it effectively and uses full-range of appropriate subject-specific vocabulary.
A02 UNDERSTANDING Candidate shows awareness of how the issue has been handled in the past, including how different points of view have emerged and been articulated.
AO3 EVALUATION Candidate is able to analyse arguments and develop their own line of argument, explained in relation to the arguments of others and supported with appropriate reasons, evidence and examples.
To earn top marks in each attainment objective, you will be expected to address all the requirements and show that you have command of the subject matter, are able to think clearly and independently and form an original and reasoned point of view. You will not get high marks for a one-sided essay which starts "I think" or for toeing the party line or just expressing a particular point of view without exploring alternative views.
The higher the level of your course the more marks will be awarded to Attainment Objectives 2 and 3. It is considered more difficult to demonstrate understanding and evaluative ability than just knowledge. For example, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland GCSE examinations award 40% for A01, 35% for AO2 and 25% for A03 wheras A2 examinations award just 40% for AO1/2 and 60% for AO3.
10 top tips for doing well in RS
1. Know the topic really well and have access to accurate and specific facts, names, quotations, terminology and so on, ideally from memory. To get you started there are handy quotes by most of the main subjects in the Student Zone, which also offers recommended Tablet articles and other websites and books for further reading.
2. Spend time planning your answer, preferably on paper.
• Consider carefully how your essay will begin – the opening paragraph sets the tone for your essay and first impressions count with examiners – how each of your middle paragraphs contribute to your answering the question and how your conclusion will argue your answer clearly, succinctly and effectively.
• Each paragraph needs to be a unit of argument, it should contain a Point, some Evidence and should then be related back to the Argument (PEA). Take, for example, this paragraph from an essay entitled "Can any version of the teleological argument be convincing after Auschwitz?"
• William Paley put forward the most famous version of the teleological argument in his book Natural theology (1802) [which was required reading for all undergraduates at Cambridge University for over a century]. An argument from analogy, it asked the reader to accept that there are similarities between a watch and the universe. [POINT]
A watch has signs of order and purpose, its cogs and wheels fit together in a complex but predictable way which together serve to turn the hands of the watch and so to tell the time. For Paley the universe also has complex processes which work together in order to support life. As he put it: "Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design which existed in the watch exists also in the works of nature." [EVIDENCE]
The argument stands or falls by the analogy. If it is held to be invalid then the a posteriori conclusion, that the universe must have a designer to explain evidence of order and purpose and this is what everybody calls God, does not stand up. Is the universe ordered and purposeful like a watch? The existence of gratuitous evil and suffering, that which cannot be explained as giving us an opportunity to learn or to better appreciate the good, suggests that the universe is at least ill-designed and, as Hume put it, that any designer might be suspected of being senile or working as part of a committee. [ARGUMENT]
• The conclusion should refer back to the argument made through the body of the essay and then explain your view, stating the reasons you have for holding it, the evidence that you have found convincing and how your would respond to those with different views who might criticise you. For example, the conclusion from the same essay:
• It is clear that traditional teleological arguments such as that put forward by Paley are shown to be simplistic, even crass, by the experience of the twentieth century. Nevertheless there are more subtle teleological arguments which modern believers find compelling despite a universe which seems mysterious, even malign in parts. The aesthetic argument put forward by Tennant speaks to people even in the depths of suffering – prisoners speak of the beauty of jasmine flowers and keep faith despite the logical challenge of defending God against charges of being responsible for the lime-pits. No teleological argument can conclusively rebut those like Mackie who ask why it had to be this way, why a perfect God could not have created another world better than this one. Yet proponents of 'intelligent design' today do not look to win such academic arguments. Most scholars who are engaged in the business of developing teleological arguments come from a position of pre-existing non-propositional faith, they are reformed epistemologists seeking only to show that believing is not irrational. In answer to the question it seems that teleological arguments may not be exactly convincing - but they can at least offer support to faith after Auschwitz.
3. Your work should refer to a variety of different sources (never just one textbook or website) and must specifically attribute these through footnotes and bibliography. Be very careful about this as teachers and exam boards are rightly sensitive about any copying (plagiarism) and have now got sophisticated digital tools to check whether your work is original. Any sentence which matches another sentence in a book, article, website or previously submitted coursework essay and so on without attribution will be flagged up by the computer and could mean you getting disqualified from sitting public exams. Handwritten exam-scripts and coursework essays are now routinely scanned into computers before being marked.
4. Take care with spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you must use abbreviations, write them out in full the first time (e.g. Santity of Life (henceforth SOL)). The use of fluent written English is a key skill in RS and you will lose marks either directly or indirectly for sloppy communication.
5. If this is a piece of coursework or a weekly assignment try to draft and re-draft your work. Using a computer helps. Often by re-reading an essay it becomes obvious where the balance of the argument is wrong, which paragraph is irrelevant or where more detail is needed. Practice makes perfect – having written a few good essays by drafting and redrafting eventually helps you to plan and write good essays under exam conditions.
6. Try to get used to assessing your own work. Get hold of a copy of the mark-scheme your teacher or the examiner will use and then apply it to a piece of your own work. Be honest – what are your strengths and weaknesses? How could you improve your work? You might know that better than your teacher! You might also try marking a friend's work and getting them to mark yours - this gives you access to more regular feedback than would otherwise be possible.
7. For exams, preparation is everything. You must make time to learn facts, vocabulary, scholars and quotations if you want to get the top marks. Use flash-cards or even record notes onto your iPod. Practise past exam questions under timed conditions and get used to planning your response to unseen questions in a couple of minutes. If time is short get a friend to set you three essay questions and give yourself 15 minutes to brainstorm an essay plan for each onto scrap paper. It is this process of selecting and organising information appropriately when under pressure that is most difficult to acquire.
8. Be ruthless, reflect on your own performance and set yourself some very specific targets. Don't just say "I must do well in this exam" say "I must make sure to read all the questions thoroughly before starting to write" or "I must not include irrelevant information in my answers". Tell somebody what your targets are or write them down and then, straight after the exam, at least you can celebrate meeting your targets.
9. Remember that your examiner (or teacher) is human. Nobody likes to be presented with indecipherable handwriting and nobody is really psychic. Be clear about what you mean and you will get credit – don't assume that examiners will have the time or patience to work out what you were probably referring to and give you the benefit of the doubt. If you have time, underline key terminology so that it is obvious that you have used it and that you have planned your work carefully.
10. Sometimes writing frames or guides can help when you are nervous. A good way of making sure you produced a balanced answer was to use the guide FACY - argument For, argument Against, a Christian point of view, Your view. Your teacher probably has lots of these tips relevant to the board and exam you are sitting. Remember the key word in RS is because. Never be satisfied with saying, "X thinks" or "I think"; explain why.
Check what your exam board requires
Religious Studies encompasses many different areas. Most formal courses focus on just one or two of these. Some of the most popular areas, usually offered as part of school examination courses in England, Wales, N Ireland, Scotland, Eire, Australia and New Zealand, include:
• the philosophy of religion
• science and religion
• the study of religions (particularly Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism)
• the study of religious texts
• religion and culture
There are, of course, many other areas of study which cannot be covered here. If you are taking Religious Studies as part of an examined course and would like to find out exactly what the examination board expects you to study and how you will be assessed, please follow the links below.
In England, Wales and N Ireland
AS and A2 courses for 16-19 year old students are offered by the examination boards AQA, EdExcel, OCR, WJEC and CCEA. The specifications and sample assessment materials may be found here for AQA, here for EdExcel, here for OCR, herefor WJEC andhere for CCEA. GCSE courses are offered by the same boards, though there are several specifications offered by each board to cater for different religious denominations and interests.
A Scottish Higher course in Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies is offered by SQA and the specification can be found here. A Scottish Standard course in is also offered by SQA and the specification can be found here.
The State Examinations Commission offers Ordinary and Higher Level options for the Leaving Certificate in Religious Education. A sample Ordinary Level paper may be found here. A sample Higher Level paper may be found here.
Independent schools often set their own schemes of work and assessments for Religious Education, but state boards of education typically offer studies of religion as an option for the Higher School Certificate. The specification offered by the New South Wales Board of Education, which is typical, may be found here.
In New Zealand
Independent schools set their own schemes of work and assessments for Religious Education. The NZQA offers national standards at levels 1, 2 and 3 in Religious Studies for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement which can be found here. Within Catholic Schools there is a common framework that may be adopted to structure teaching across the age-range which may be found (along with a selection of New-Zealand selected resources) here.
Examine the main ideas and strengths of the design argument for the existence of God
The Design argument is often called an inductive, teleological argument which is most commonly associated with William Paley and Richard Swinburne. The DA is concerned with the search for a meaning or purpose in the world. The DA is a posteriori proof argument; which is an argument made after knowledge is assembled, using your own experience as reasons to argue. The DA often called the teleological argument comes from the Greek word 'telos' which means 'purpose' it focuses on the observation that something has been created for a purpose. Everything in the world appears to have been designed by a designer and fulfil a function. Another idea of the design argument is that there is evidence of design in the universe around us, everything appears to have been designed to fulfil a function this is called Design qua purpose. Design qua regularity is the basis of the argument that the universe appears to behave according to some rule, however as some DA's differ some argue that the universe's starting point was because of there being regularity in the universe whereas others argue there is evidence of the universe being designed for a purpose. The DA is an inductive argument which is insisting the ultimate explanation for design is a designer or God.
A classical example the DA is William Paley's, his argument includes several ideas one of this is uses an analogy of a watch and comparing it to the universe in his book called Natural Theology. The analogy explains that if a person found a watch, even though they had never seen one before they would know it had been designed therefore just as the existence of a watch indicates a watchmaker – implying it is clearly designed and the same is with a universe implying that God has created the Universe, this part of Paley’s argument links in with design qua regularity. In addition to this, the human eye is too complicated to be created by chance there must be a purpose for its existence this is called design qua purpose. The main side of the argument is that everything that has been designed needs a designer therefore by analogy the world must have a designer. Paley explained "every manifestation on design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature" he is suggesting here that this could not have happened by chance, and the designer of the universe must be God who is above all designers.
Moreover, a strength of the argument is that the use of the analogy (watchmaker) in the argument makes it easy for us to understand as it moves from something within our experience to try to explain something behind (the creation of the universe) the argument is straightforward but the use of the analogy makes it clear to us that that examples that are as complex as the watchmaker is showing us that God is the only logical explanation for the universe's design as the universe is so complex.
Another strength of the argument is that the argument is reasonable and therefore more people are likely to believe. It is not impossible for God to exist and create the Universe and as we have evidence in the Bible as God said "let there be light" shows that God has the power to create a universe like this. The Bible preaches the truth and God is evidently the only explanation as we have proof from the bible. The argument is a reasonable interpretation of experience.
Another example of the design argument comes from a philosopher called Richard Swinburne who clarifies the modern version of the DA which is called the Anthropic Argument, from this argument the idea he argues is that the universe functions by rules e.g. each day has 24 hours and this is not by chance it has been designed to have 24 hours, and the most probable explanation is God. He argues that God the only possible reason for the occurrence of these laws. Although science can explain a reason behind these laws occurring, it cannot confirm the presence of these laws and so God is the most logical explanation for this as he is above human power.
Furthermore, another strength of the argument that proves the existence of God is that the world has been so perfectly built and you cannot fault it. It's amazing creation clearly shows that no one but God could be the explanation because the world is so intricately structured that only an omnipotent God could create it and it is clearly designed e.g. The world has four seasons - this could not be happen by chance some thought has gone into creating the universe, therefore there is evidence everywhere in the world today that it is has been created and because it is so complex the only logical explanation behind the design of the universe is God.
Another attribute of the DA comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, an idea from his argument includes the beneficial order in the universe which he observes I.e. There are things in the universe that work towards an end or purpose. He argues that the world is like an arrow shot from an archers bow - it has direction purpose. God is the archer and the world is the arrow. God is controlling the world and as he is the reason behind why it is been created. Aquinas then goes on to say the world works because the designer is God because things in nature are ordered and their apparent purpose e.g. Trees give us oxygen
An idea that has been put forward by F.R. Tennant is that beauty exists in world, his argument is called the Aesthetic argument. Tennant points out that beauty exists within the world e.g. Nature, he explains further that beauty cannot be derived through natural selection and it provides no survival benefit to species and therefore beauty has to have a designer. He argues that the universe was designed explicitly for human life. Tenant concludes his argument by stating that the designer must be God. God is omnipotent and only someone as great as him would have the power to great such as the universe.
Another strength of the DA that proves God is the designer is that the universe has order, benefit, purpose and suitability and something cannot exist without these four quantities. For example in order for something to have purpose something needs to be created therefore the world has been created as its purpose is for humans to live in it. The next quantity is benefit, by the world existing the benefit is gets is from humans to live it and do actions justly e.g. Feed the poor there are many more benefits for the world existing. The third quantity is order - the world is ordered exactly and evidence has clearly shown us that the universe has been created with thought e.g. the earth is at an exact existence away from the sun I.e. so it's not too hot or cold, which is clearly showing how complex the universe is. The last quantity is suitability, which backs up the argument of the world being too complex to have just happened by chance e.g. Scientists believe that the Big Bang Theory was the reason behind design but it is not a clear explanation because the world is too complex to have happened with a bang, careful thought has gone into the creation.
In conclusion, the DA is an a posteriori which is based on our knowledge of the world and design. The world is far too complex to appear by chance there has to be a logical explanation for its design and it's designer; the world presents regularity e.g. The consistency of having 4 seasons throughout 1 year and purpose e.g. The purpose of the human eye is to see it cannot be created by chance as it is far too complex, consequently the universe must be designed and as everything designed needs a designer there must be a designer behind the creation of the universe. A watch cannot be made by itself even though all the pieces are there to make the watch, the same goes for the universe (or life) could not have made itself even though all the 'pieces' were there. There has to be a designer and as the DA is a inductive argument - God is the most likely the answer to the formation of the universe
Comment on the view that the weaknesses are overcome by the strengths of the argument
A strength of the design argument is that it is simple to understand and is reasonable therefore many people will adjust to the reason behind why the universe has been created. For example every human knows that one day they are going to die and by the theory that we have all be created by God and he is 'in charge' of us dying or living - it all fits in together people understand gods existence and therefore they will believe that god is the only logical explanation for the reason of the creation of the universe. It is impossible for any human to create a universe like this as it is far too complex to begin with and the fact that we have 24 hours in the day and have day and night relates to qua regularity showing that the universe is here but its here because of a extremely intelligent designer which is God. However a weakness of the argument that overcomes the strength is if god is the designer and he is omnipotent, benevolent and omniscient then why is the world full of evil? The design argument is focused on the positives but is failing to realise that there is so many things going wrong in the world today. There are illnesses, huge destruction, pain, torturing and much more but if god was omniscient he'd know those things were happening and be ready to stop them as he is a benevolent god. If god is omnipotent then he would have the power to stop all the evil occurring in the world but he isn’t. As humans we have never met god and we personally don not know what he is like. A point made by john Stuart mill is "why would a benevolent god let such things happen? Or why would an omnipotent god create a world where such things happen?" Therefore as we don't god intentions we cannot trust the theory that god has created the world as we don't know his intentions.
Conversely, another strength of the argument is that the conditions of the world are so perfect for us to live in for example how we have trees that provide us with oxygen - this shows that behind every creation within the world there is a reason behind why it's been created. When we jump our eyes are still and don't move around, with our human eyes we have the ability to see under water thus the universe must have been designed in order for humans to live in it. Evidence is everywhere. Paley’s watchmaker theory supports this strength: William Paley explains that if you find a watch you don't assume it is there by accident you know that there is a reason behind it, you know someone has made it as it is so intricate which is the same with the world. On the other hand, Hume has made criticisms of the DA and believes that you cannot be born with the fact that the world has been designed by god. It is not innate knowledge, you have to of have some sort of experience and by humans having no experience of the world being built how we can possibly say that god is the reason behind it. Hume goes on to explain that if a watch is made by many as it is so complex, the universe must be made by many gods and not just one therefore there isn’t the one powerful god. He also goes on to explain that we shouldn't stop at god when asking for explanations. Another criticism from Hume is he compares the world to a machine that didn't work. He explains that the universe is more like a vegetable that grows of its own accord "so the vegetable the world or this planetary system, produces within itself certain seeds which being scattered into the surrounding chaos vegetate into new worlds". Hume Is saying that the world has grown on its own and the analogy between the products of human design and the works of nature is remote and weak.
Overall, the weaknesses overcome the strengths for the DA because the suffering that goes on in the world shows how dysfunctional the universe is - everything designed needs to work in order. Mill supports this point and argues that the universe cannot be ordered and the result of intelligent design. Hume thought that the argument cannot be supported by a Christian god as Christians believe that god is omnipotent, benevolent and omniscient. Although the argument is easy to understand, the fact that the world isn’t ordered overcomes the logician explanation. Fundamentally, the strengths of the argument are arguable, the DA will depend on your belief - if you're a theist God will be you're explanation however ultimately the Weaknesses of the DA have weighed out the strengths because of the natural disasters that occur in the world such as tornados evidently showing God is not omnibenevolent as he would stop these from happening but he hasn't so we cannot say he created the world due to the fact he doesn't stop evil in the world ultimately the Weaknesses overcome the strengths