How to answer a source question Edexcel UK politics, papers 1 and 2

Examiners' Advice Edexcel

Some did not discuss the source content sufficiently which is not ideal, as the source content needs to be the basis of the answer.

• Students should be more explicit in their use of the source so examiners can be sure that they are basing their answer on the source.

• Better responses cited the source regularly, making effective use of quotes to guide the direction of the discussion.

• At the lower end of the scale were students who did little more than use the source as a comprehension exercise, explaining both sides of the arguments.

  • Some students simply agreed with one side in the contested source debate and failed to provide evaluation to reject the opposing view.

• Candidates were unable to offer a clear line of argument throughout, instead just summarising both sides of the argument, and suffered accordingly with their A03 marks.

• So the key weakness here (and across all 30-mark answers) was a failure to commit to one side and say why that side was the stronger.

• Where candidates did try to contrast arguments from the source, quite often they were unrelated arguments, so the comparison was hard to assess.

Better responses compared the opposing arguments directly, rather than in separate halves of the essay.

• The best answers were able to consider opposing arguments in conjunction with one another before reaching a judgement as to which was the stronger argument.

• These responses also made evaluative judgements throughout their essay with sustained evaluation throughout, so their concluding paragraph flowed from what had been argued throughout, but this was rare.

The source provided in the exam question must be at the heart of your answer — it is not just a prompt. Some students see the topic in the source and ignore the specific content. For example, if the source is on referendums, the student may decide to write a pre-planned essay on the subject, with little or no reference to the source. Even if this essay is excellent, such an approach will be disastrous in terms of receiving marks.

With two highlighter pens, pick out the arguments for and against the view suggested in the question. Then decide which argument you find most convincing. If you are not sure, pick the one you think will be the easiest to justify. Next, see if you can connect the arguments for and against in a logical way in your plan. It is unwise to start writing your answer without doing this.

Source questions can be frustrating, as you need to expand and explain the arguments in the source, rather than adding from your own knowledge. For example, in an essay on referendums, if the source does not mention the issue of public understanding/lack of education but you think this is a major drawback, you should not introduce this issue unless you can link it to a point in the source (for example, by using it to contradict a point on how referendums widen participation), or your point will get little or no credit.

Note that all questions include the line ‘only using the information presented’. Using short quotes from the source will help you stay focused on it, so make sure there are some in each paragraph. If you are studying A-level history, you will be used to source analysis and can use some of the same evaluative skills. However, you do not need to examine provenance, origin or purpose.

Awareness of assessment objectives (AOs)


This is your starting point: if you do not have good knowledge and understanding, then it is difficult to move on to receive a high mark in the other AOs. You need to make sure you have learnt the facts and figures: the key arguments, with supporting examples such as election result statistics, how a particular voting system works, or party policies.


Analysis — this is where you explain and develop your points and add examples. What is the significance of something? What does it show? In a source question, what is the writer suggesting?


Evaluation (reaching a judgement) is arguably the most difficult area, particularly when you first start to study politics. AO3 is all about weighing up arguments, deciding and clearly stating which argument you find most convincing and why (don’t expect the examiner to ‘read between the lines’). If you don’t have a strong view, pretend that you do! To get a high mark for AO3 you need to think about essay structure. If you write the first half of your essay arguing for the claim in the question and the second half arguing against it, and then tell the examiner in the conclusion which side you agree with, there will only be AO3 in the conclusion. This is not enough: you need to show it in every paragraph, and that means having a debate within each section of your essay.

Essay structure and planning

Here is an example of an exam-style question:

Evaluate the view that first-past-the-post is no longer fit for purpose. 30

· First, write your plan: four arguments in favour of first-past-the-post (FPTP) and four against.

· Next, see if you can match each for argument to an against argument in a logical way. Now you have four paragraphs to write. Once you add your introduction and conclusion that makes six paragraphs.

· Start each paragraph with the argument you find less convincing. Then around halfway through, challenge this argument with the stronger view, using wording such as However, this view is limited because… Finish each paragraph by stating which point is the strongest, e.g. The argument that FPTP is unrepresentative because it favours larger parties is clearly more convincing, because election statistics show how smaller parties with a geographically spread vote always receive a much lower percentage of seats than votes.

· This essay structure can be used for both source and essay questions.

Introductions and conclusions

In your introduction, define any terms — this will help you focus your mind and make sure you understand the question. If you realise that you don’t really understand the term, it may be wise to change to the other option. You should put your line of argument into the introduction to show your AO3 skills. Instead of explaining that there are arguments for and against the view in the question, simply state your view. In your conclusion, return to your line of argument. There should be no surprises here — the examiner should be able to guess what is coming.


Don’t get worried about synopticity — it just means that you need to refer to Paper 1 topics in Paper 2 UK politics answers (not in the political ideas question). So in an essay comparing the Lords and the Commons, you can discuss the democratic deficit and lack of legitimacy of the peers (Paper 1 democracy), or the significance of FPTP (Paper 1 elections) on the make-up of the Commons. You must stay focused on the question and avoid being sidetracked by synopticity. It is not necessary to state In Paper 1 or A synoptic point is…. When revising, make a list that links Paper 1 and Paper 2 topics.

Using examples

You need to be as up to date as possible with your examples. Inevitably, your textbook will not be completely current. This shows the great importance of keeping up with current affairs. For example, in a question on the significance of opinion polls, writing about the accuracy of the exit poll in the 2019 general election could significantly improve the quality of your essay. Examples should be relevant and explained, but not too long.


Be aware of spending too long on the source question — do not use up more than 45 minutes of exam time on it, as it is not worth more marks than the second question. However, that does not mean that you should not write a plan, as this is always something worth doing.

Practice Question

Using the source, evaluate the view that the outcomes of general elections are stable and predictable.

1(a) The source below considers the factors which deliver success for political parties in general elections it reflects on whether the outcomes of general elections are predictable or whether the electorate can spring surprises, making the results more unpredictable.


Some people claim that success in a general election for a political party depends on stable and predictable farces. Few seats change hands in a general election and voting patterns are predictable and constant. In studies of voting behaviour factors such as an individual’s class and family background combined with the area in which they live all merge together to provide a clear indication of the way an individual will vote. On this basis, opinion polls accurately indicate the outcome of a general election. When many people are asked, they readily identify with both a specific class and endorse the policies of a major political party. The dice is loaded from the start and outcomes of general elections are all too predictable and fixed.

However, many now doubt the idea of predictability and the assumptions on which it is based. Instead of predictability they infer unpredictability and volatility with an inability to forecast accurately the outcome of how the public will vote. In fact in 2015 111 seats changed hands and in 2017, 70. General elections and success in them is built around capturing ideas and having media support. What the political parties say in new policies and their manifestos matters greatly. Opinion polls, as the general election in 2017 showed, are no longer good indicators of the outcome. If anything, the 201 7 general election illustrated the importance of age and education as indicators of how people vote. The media can make and break a political party.

Riding the wave of media attacks, a political party must have a good leader who can weather any storm and connect with the masses. This is what Blair and Thatcher did and was the basis of their success. Policies and leaders are the crucial factors and, as such, they are the leading indicators for success at the polls.

Student introduction

This introduction directly addresses the sources and sums up the arguments. Tip Use 'This source argues.... According to the source......'

It also shows the direction or view the answer will be that elections are more unpredictable. This will earn AO3 marks from the beginning rather than leaving it until the conclusion. Show you are making a judgement- use

'Nevertheless ......Therefore.......

However the concept of social factors dictating how people vote is no longer a convincing concept due to the fact that according to the source that new factors are taking over and finding new way to influence voting. This is partly to do with the the idea that the country is going through a period of partisan dealignment giving way for factors such as 'capturing ideas and having media support' as well as '2017 illustrating the importance of age and education' these variable factors which are less stable and predictable. However a limitation of this argument in the source is the fact that 2015 General Election saw 111 seat changes and 2017 had 70. 111 is over 1 sixth of the seats in the House of Commons. This massive change was mainly due to the Scottish National Party acquiring 56 out of 59 seats. This statistic clearly shows the weakness of the argument that voting patterns are predictable and constant, therefore decreasing the validity of the view at hand. This is given further emphasis by the source stating that 2017 showed that opinion polls 'are no longer good indicators'.

This and example of a counter-point paragraph where the student shows that they are using the source effectively by referencing it to illustrate their point. Also, the student is considering the different opinion of social factors (comparative analysis – AO2). to the view they considered in the first paragraph (not shown). Additionally, in the opening sentence they add an AO3 judgement. Tip- use 'However....' to begin counter points. Also remember that counter augments are in agreement with the overall argument of your essay, so you are showing a critical response to the points you consider weak.