Whether you are taking A-level Psychology or studying IB Psychology, you will need to be able to evaluate a theory.
When a question asks you to evaluate or discuss a theory there are several questions that you need to ask yourself.
What is the theory?
A crucial step is explaining the theory. You can not do this if you do not fully understand the theory yourself. As you come across theories in your course make sure you take good notes, create mind-maps, record yourself retell the theory to yourself... presenting the theory in as many ways as possible will help you remember it fully for when you are in your exam.
Where is the supporting evidence from other studies?
This is where good note-taking comes in handy! As you complete your studies your notes must contain a section that deals with a theory followed by a section that deals with the studies that support or contradict the theory. The two go together and should be learnt together and revised together. For this question, you are not only identifying the study but describing it and explaining why is supports or contradicts the theory.
What are the strengths/ limitations of the evidence?
Here you are evaluating the studies, not the theory. Think about the methodology used, and whether the study gives strong or weak support. We will look at evaluating studies in a later post.
Is the theory applicable?
Can the theory explain behaviour? Can it explain it in all situations? This is important because this is the role of theories to explain and predict behaviours. Here you are also considering biases, is the theory androcentric or ethnocentric for example?
Can you think of alternative explanations/theories?
A theory that can't be given an alternative is sound and can be considered a strong one. However, often theories can be critiqued by pointing to other theories that are trying to explain the same behaviour or different perspectives of analysis e.g. a biological explanation may be challenged by a sociological explanation.
One possible way to evaluate a theory is to use the TEACUP acronym. When faced with an evaluation or discussion of a theory question, whether it is a short answer response or an essay question, begin by jotting down this acronym. If you have been using the advice here during your studies then you should immediately begin to remember the questions you need to ask yourself. Next to each of the letters make short notes on what you could include for each point. Next, jot down a quick outline for the answer e.g. introduction, paragraph 1...
and place the relevant TEACUP points into the structure. You do not have to mention something for each of the TEACUP areas but mention at least four.
Below is a poster you can print out about TEACUP. Print it out add it to your folder or stick it on your study wall and use it to structure your answers. Over time this type of analysis will become second nature and you will not need to use the sheet.