How to answer 12 Mark Question on Paper 3 US and UK Comparative Politics

This structure and advice  has been informed by a Politics Review article by Nick da Souza.

There are two types of 12 mark question that you would be expected to answer and both appear in paper three. These questions require you to compare the way government and politics work in the UK with that of the US.

In section A of the paper, you have to answer one 12 mark question from a choice of two. The command word in section A is examine so these are not evaluative questions so you do not need AO3 skills to come up with an answer.

You also do not need to use  comparative theories for these questions.

You have to compare both the US and UK in every paragraph in these questions. I suggest three mini paragraphs and since it is only worth 12 marks you should only spend 15 minutes on the question. So five minutes per paragraph.

 Now in section B, you also have a 12 mark question to answer. But in this question, you have no choice of question. You just have to answer what you see on the paper. Again, you have to compare both the US and the UK in every paragraph.

But in this section, the command word is analyse. So the first word of the question will always be analyse in section B. All this means is that you have to use comparative theories.

I will go through what structural, rational and cultural theories mean a little later. Essentially, the two 12 mark questions you have to answer, the one in section A, the one in section B are virtually the same in form and approach saved for the use of these theories in section B

 You should try to write three paragraphs  covering three similarities or three differences between the two countries, depending on what the question is asking you to focus on. Each paragraph should take a different theme that relates to what you're being asked to compare.

Some examples are from 2022

a)Examine the differences in the checks and balances on the US Congress and the UK Parliament.


b) Examine the ways in which the methods used by US interest groups and UK pressure groups differ.


 The 2022 a)  question is about the two legislatures  the UK Parliament and the US Congress. This question is also a good example of way you need to be careful when reading the question, because it is asking you to compare checks and balances ‘on’ Congress and Parliament, so it would be very easy to write more generally about checks and balance which might led you to include checks by Parliament and Congress on the other branches. So to be clear: this checks on the legislatures.




The first paragraph might focus on the way  the executives can exert control over the legislatures.

The second paragraph could be centred on the checks imposed by elections e.g unelected Lords lacking legitimacy and a House elected every two years to very conscious of re-election pressure.

The third paragraph  could cover the courts ability to check the legislature e.g ultra vires.

So, each paragraph should have a theme that is relevant to the question.

It’s important to use comparative language. For similarities use word such as ‘similarly’ and ‘likewise’ If you're being asked to compare the differences, use words such as, ‘by contrast’  ‘on the other hand’ and ‘on the contrary’ or ‘unsimilar’ or ‘differently’.

For example you might write:

In the US presidents have few checks on Congress, although they can veto bills this can be overridden for example of President Trump’s 10 vetoes one was overridden but vetoes remain rare in comparison to the number so bills passed, this is very different in the UK where between 2019 and 2022 the Johnson government suffered no legislative defeats.

You are being asked to compare both countries so you must make these comparisons in each paragraph directly. Don’t say something about Parliament then something else about Congress in different paragraphs.

Equally, you should give examples for both the US and the UK.

There are also marks for analysis AO2 so you have to explain why

the US and UK are different or similar. The example above only explained how they are similar.

You  must explain why.


 So  you must go beyond simply noting the similarities or differences, which is required for A01, and explain why these similarities and differences exist.

For example with the above question.

The US Congress has considerably more ability to act independently  than the UK Parliament because of the separation of powers in the constitution which means the executive has limited control and no ability to promote members of Congress to the Cabinet, whereas in the UK the legislative and executive branch are fused which means the government has considerable control through the use of patronage and the ‘carrot and stick’ by the whips.


Notice how the words ‘Because’  and ‘which means’ are  used. Other phrases such as ‘due to’ and ‘owing to’ will show that you are explaining the reasons for similarities or differences as opposed to just simply listing them. These words or phrases will help you get the highest levels for A02.


You won't usually be asked to compare similarities and differences in the same question. So if the question is examine the similarities in the power of the UK Prime Minister and US President, you only need to write about the similarities, not the differences.

You may get a bland question that doesn't specifically require similarities or differences,

For example 2021

Examine the features of the US and UK Supreme Courts designed to ensure independence from political influence

·   Similar: security of tenure- judges are difficult to sack.

·   Similar: doctrine of the ‘rule of law’

·   Different: While in the UK and USA appointments are not made by the executive in the US politicians make the appointments  whereas in the UK an independent commission appoints.


In this case you could use both similarities and differences, but you’re not expected to evaluate how far they are similar or different. There are no AO3 marks in these questions so you do not need to provide counter arguments. A good tip is don’t use the word ‘however’ since this is a word that naturally leads to a counter argument that isn't required in these questions. The word however, is an essential word for 30 mark questions that require balance, require two-sided arguments.  And so you do not have to come to a decision like you do in  longer 30 mark  essays. You do not have to reach a judgment unlike in every other type of question that you have to answer in papers one, two and three.

 There is no need for an introduction or a conclusion. You don't have time either. Remember, it's just 15 minutes that you should spend on these questions, 15 minutes for section A, 12 mark question, 15 minutes for the section B, 12 mark questions.


Section B questions start with the word analyse, which means you will be expected to use comparative theories.

These are theories that help explain why a similarity or difference exists between the US and the UK.. There are three of them.

 First, the structural theory refers to the processes, the practices and the institutions that affect the actions taken, that affect the outcome. In other words the political setup of a country, for example, if there is a codified constitution or an uncodified constitution, affects how things work, affects the outcomes.



And then number two, you have the rational theory. Now, what this means or what this refers to are the actions of individuals motivated by self-interest. In other words it means politicians are essentially selfish and try to further their own careers, their own electoral fortunes.


Finally there is the cultural theory. And this refers to the shared ideologies of groups within a political system or wider community. In other words it means a country's culture or a faction of a political party that affects party policies.

You only need to choose one theory in your 12 mark question for section B. You can just refer to structural all the way through if you want to and you can get 12 out of 12. You can use more if you want, if you feel it's appropriate. But this theory must be applied to both countries. Ideally, you would mention the theory in each of the three paragraphs you write. So for the section B questions, you probably want one extra sentence compared with the section A questions. The best way to do this is to simply mention the theory at the end of each paragraph you write using the following sentence starter.

‘This similarity, stroke difference, is most commonly explained by the (name of theory) theory because in the UK, …………. whereas in the US,…………. ‘

Now, let's apply this sentence starter to the same question on the checks and balances in the legislature

The greater power exercised by Congress over legislation is most easily explained by this structural theory because in the USA, the constitution is codified and describes a separation of powers whereas in the UK the legislature and executive branches are fused which means the legislative process is controlled by the government.

Don’t worry about which theory to choose as long as you explain why you chose it. Remember that the word ‘because’ is your friend, keep using it. For example

The greater power exercised by Congress over legislation is most commonly explained by the rational theory because in the US, it makes more sense for members of Congress to follow the interests of their constituents since the president cannot use patronage to exercise control unlike in the UK where an the PM can rely on an MP’s seeing their rational best interests being in party loyalty .


Using them allows you access to the highest level when examiners award marks. So if you fail to mention a theory, you can still get, in theory, nine out of 12 marks for a really good answer. Indeed, it is important to put 12 mark questions in their appropriate context taken together. They represent only 24 out of the 84 marks for paper three. That's just 29% of the marks for paper three. So make sure you spend far more time and revision on the two 30 mark questions that you'll have to answer for that paper.