Of course you can!

Of course you can!

Raymond, Roger

Do’s and Don’ts of AQA A Level Business Studies Coursework

The following list is my attempt to provide some helpful advice to those of you out there (and first-timers especially) who are either going to be requiring your students to produce coursework or who are considering it and could do with some advice on what this decision would mean for you. I have confined myself to seven Do’s and seven Don’ts.


1. Start early. I start coursework with my students after the exams in June/July of the first year. This part of the year is usually disrupted by various events and so it is a good time for teaching some of the Unit 4 topics that students might use in their coursework eg sales forecasting, and also for organising trips to visit companies or major libraries so that initial market research can be completed.

The idea, of course, is to lay the foundations of the coursework so that things like primary research or visits to contact companies can be completed over the summer. Optimistic, perhaps, but if you include a check at the end of September on whether students have completed their primary research as a homework you will find that a significant proportion of the students are further along than you ever thought likely.

2. Build checkpoints into your scheme of work to keep them on track. This has worked well for my department this year. We go for Unit 4 in January, and this makes the Autumn term for the second year students very busy. It is all too easy as a result for the coursework to get pushed to one side by both staff and students. Placing regular checkpoints in the Scheme of Work has forced us to monitor students’ progress. By making a check in the January we know which students have responded and which ones need urgent attention.

3. Use a good contact. Student contacts at the company they are using are vital. The position of the contact in the hierarchy and the relationship they have with this person are the crucial features. Boyfriend’s brother etc are poor choices as these relationships are in danger of disappearing and the contact lost. The best contacts come from students’ friends and families or their own jobs if they have worked there long enough to build a solid relationship with the person in question. The contact must also be sufficiently senior to have easy access to the data your student will need eg Owner, Branch Manager or Head of the department being look investigated.

4. Try to give students access to a big library to obtain some secondary data on the company’s trading market. Background data from Mintel or Keynote reports add a great deal to coursework. From this information the reader gets a feel for the environment in which the company trades. Is it highly competitive? Is the market growing? If so, how fast? The sort of data that can be collected provides a framework of reference within which the student can make his/her final recommendations. An example might be that the student acknowledges that although the company may be lined up to make a small profit, a decision not to go ahead might be made if, from an analysis of primary and secondary data sources, the level of risk is judged to be too high.

5. Use appropriate numerical techniques. Numerical techniques help students both to analyse their findings and to evaluate their decisions. Numbers can provide a valuable measuring device in a wide variety of situations, whether it be completing ratio analysis or investment appraisal or analysing the personnel performance indicators of a business.

Sheer quantity of data, dare I say it, is not the important thing here. The point of using numerical techniques is not about volume but about usefulness. Students should choose the techniques that will aid their specific analysis and allow them to make judgements. Superfluous number crunching is easily spotted and not creditworthy. It is always possible to bring in some appropriate technique (even small calculations) and should be encouraged not only for the information that it adds but also because without any numerical analysis the most a student can achieve for analysis is 8 marks out of 16.

6. Encourage students to consider wider themes in their evaluation. Wider themes are where students consider their recommendations for the business in relation to its specific situation. For example, the students could consider the likelihood of the predicted success occurring given the company’s internal or external/market conditions. Wider themes should therefore come out of the student’s own analysis of the company’s situation and so getting a good contact and decent background market data is important.

7. Standardise your marking. If there is more than one person responsible for the marking at your centre you will have to standardise. This process is crucial. The two most important elements in marking coursework are accuracy and consistency.

For help with accuracy, try to attend one of the support meetings arranged by the board, and provide feedback to your centre. Consistency is, however, more important then accuracy. If you tend to be a harsh marker, or always over-generous on evaluation, at least be consistent about it. Standardisation will ensure that different teachers at the same centre are marking to the same standard. If any inaccuracies exist they will be common to all markers at the centre. Moderators will pick up any inaccuracy in the sample of work you send, and will recommend an adjustment to your marks. If your marking has not been standardised across the markers then no adjustment can be made and all the coursework will have to be remarked. If you are a large centre, this will mean sending all the coursework to the moderator. Just as important, disagreements regarding the standard of work with colleagues may confuse or worry your students.


1. Don’t let students bite off more than they can chew. Your students might want to study a famous entrepreneur or base their coursework on a multinational company. This is usually a bad idea, as the student probably doesn’t have a contact at the company at all. As a result, obtaining anything except very general information will be impossible. The issue that the student is thinking to investigate is also likely to be too much for a 17/18 year old with few resources, eg How can Marks & Spencer pic improve its profitability? This sort of question baffled successive Chief Executives!

As I mentioned earlier, the contact the student uses needs to be senior enough to have access to the level of data the student will require. So, using the branch manager at a Marks & Spencer store as a contact for tackling a local issue would be just fine.

2. Don’t let students include pages of unnecessary analysis. The most common scenario involves students completing an interview or questionnaire and then including a huge section that does nothing more than describe their results (perhaps accompanied by a graph for each). Students need to be selective. When designing questionnaires or interviews, students must consider why they are asking that question. How will it help them? They should, therefore, try to include questions that will have a ‘decision-making payoff ie only ask questions whose results will be used in the analysis. Once the results are in, the approach should not be one of trotting through each question in turn but rather to have a section in their coursework dedicated to a specific issue eg sales forecasting. The student should then select and analyse only the questions asked which will help this process.

3. Don’t include unnecessary numerical techniques. This follows along the same lines as not including unnecessary analysis of research that will not be used. Numerical techniques should be selected because the data that will be provided is going to aid the analysis of the data collected and help a final judgement to be made. If this is not going to occur, then the technique will be exposed as just padding and the coursework may not reach the higher marks available for synthesis.

4. Don’t let students plagiarise. If students are to gain marks for knowledge and comprehension, they do not need to copy out chunks from a textbook. The best way for them to score on this descriptor is for them to use business terminology accurately and appropriately throughout the body of their report in relation to the objectives they set themselves in the title. This will demonstrate to any reader that their grasp of subject knowledge is sound.

5. Don’t forget the mark scheme. When marking students work, it is important to remember that the work must cover all the points outlined in the mark scheme for any particular level to be awarded. For example for Level 3 ‘Application of Knowledge/Methodology’ there must be clear evidence of both primary and secondary sources.

6. Don’t forget about preparing students for the written alternative available for Unit 5. I make it a policy to tell my students that they are doing the coursework option. I try not to mention the exam alternative. My thinking behind this is that I don’t want students who are not doing the coursework to undermine the efforts of my other students who will be working very hard at times, and whose resolve may be slipping. However, it is inevitable that some students will either produce a poor piece of work or will find that their coursework collapses for some other reason, such as their contact leaving the company. As a result these students must be prepared for the written exam. This exam requires a great deal of technique to be applied and so time must be allocated for this ‘training’ to take place.

7. Don’t forget to explain why you gave the marks you awarded. On the back of the sheets used to record student marks there is space to include a comment as to why you gave the marks that you awarded. This is the place to record any information that might help the moderator understand your thinking.

If in the course of your own preparation of candidates you come across any other matters that you feel deserve elevation to the status of a key Do or Don’t, then I am sure that the Journal editor would be very pleased to hear from you.

Roger Raymond is Head of Rusiness Studies, Economics and Accounting at Farnham College, and Senior Moderator and Coupsewopk Advisor for coursework for AQA.

Copyright Economics and Business Education Association Summer 2003

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