Introduction to psychology/Psy102/Assessment/Essay

Psychology 102 Essay Writing Guide

In theory, everything you need to know (including the marking criteria) about writing the Psychology 102 essay can be found in this guide! In practice, of course, that may or may not be true. So, if you can't find what you want, post to the Essay discussion forum. Also see the essay section on Moodle.

Download: APA style template and cover sheet

Ready to submit? Use the essay drop-box

  1. Weighting: 45% of your final mark for this unit.
  2. Topic: Address one of the listed topics.
  3. Style: APA style
Word count
  1. Maximum: 1,500 words plus 10% (i.e., 1,650 words). There is no minimum word count, but it is unlikely that short essays will succeed in answering the question(s).
  2. The word count is for the body of the essay - i.e., it does not include the Cover Sheet, Title Page, Abstract or the list of References. To work out your word count, highlight everything from the end of the Abstract to the start of the References (thus, yes, in-text citations are part of the word count).
  3. A penalty of 10% (of the total possible essay mark) per 200 words over the maximum limit may be applied.
  1. Drop-box: Submit a single file electronically via the unit's Moodle website. If you do not know how to submit your essay electronically, please seek help from Moodle support or Library services.
  2. Due date: 5pm Monday 21 September 2009 (Week 10) - Extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
  3. Include the unit’s official assignment coversheet as page 1-2; this includes a declaration of originality. Download the APA style essay template with cover sheet
  4. Acceptable file formats: .rtf, .doc, or .docx format
  5. Only submit an electronic copy - do NOT submit a hard copy.
  6. Late submission penalty: Late submissions (without an approved extension) will incur a 5% penalty per day (7 days/week), i.e., after 20 days no marks are available.
  7. File name: Name the file Firstname Surname Topic.doc (or .docx or .rtf) e.g., Kevin Rudd Dreaming.doc
Marking and feedback
  1. You will receive feedback via Moodle.
  2. Feedback and marking of essays submitted on time will be returned via Moodle approximately 4-5 weeks after submission.
  3. Essays submitted after the due date, regardless of whether an extension was granted, will be returned at a later date than those submitted on time. This may mean that students submitting a late essay will not have their essay results before the final examination.

List of essay topics
Topic Question Category
1 How can behaviour modification be used to break a habit? Explain with reference to psychological theories and research. Learning
2 What are "smart drugs" (also see "cosmetic neurology")? Do smart drugs "work" and if so, how and for what types of tasks and people? What are the risks? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Neuroscience, Learning
3 Why do we dream? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Consciousness
4 What are the short and longer-term psychological effects of physical exercise and what causes these effects? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Therapies, Sport psychology
5 What are the human psychological effects of contact with animals? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Therapies, Environmental psychology
6 What is pain? What psychological treatments are recommended for physical pain management and how effective are they? Discuss with reference to psychological theories and research. Therapies, Physiological psychology
7 What are the effects of "sensory deprivation"? Discuss sensory deprivation research in relation to sensation and perception theories. Sensation and perception

Marking criteria (100%)

Your essay will be marked according to the following weightings and marking criteria:

Abstract & title (10%)
  1. A unique, descriptive title which accurately indicates the content of your essay - should appear on the Title Page
  2. Abstract effectively summarises the essay
  3. 150 words maximum

Argument (20%)
  1. Answers all parts of the question
  2. Clearly states argument and main points
  3. Logical argument, with progression of ideas
  4. Draws essay together in a sound and concise conclusion

Theory (20%)
  1. Argument of essay is supported by theory
  2. Relevant psychological theories are summarised in appropriate detail
  3. Critically evaluated cited theories

Research (20%)
  1. Argument of essay is supported by research
  2. Relevant psychological research is summarised in appropriate detail
  3. Critically evaluated cited research

Referencing (10%)
  1. References are cited in appropriate places using APA style
  2. Reference list is presented in APA style
  3. Appropriate reference material is used (see tips below)
  4. For further information, see the recommended text (Smyth, 2004) or the 5th edition of the APA Publication Manual (available in the library)

Referencing tips

The core content of the essay should be based on peer-reviewed journal articles and/or edited book chapters. Remember, you should be striving to demonstrate that you've accessed and used the highest quality academic material in relation to the essay question.

However non-peer-reviewed articles and textbooks may be used as supplementary references. Supplementary references (e.g., non-peer reviewed references, secondary sources) provide adjunct support for your argument, but your main conjectures should preferably be supported by the citation of peer-reviewed, primary references.

Can the textbook be cited? Yes, but remember that the textbook is not a primary source, i.e., it summarises primary sources (such as journal articles and edited book chapters). Access and cite primary references as much as possible, but you can use the textbook as a supplementary reference.

There is no age restriction for references in Psychology 102. What matters primarily is the relevance and quality of the references used. However, it would also be desirable for meeting the theory and research requirements that you demonstrate familiarity with recent/current literature.

How many references should be used? What really matters is not the number of references, but rather their quality and also how well they are used to help address the topic / answer the question. A relatively small number of number of high quality references (e.g., references that are directly related to the topic, are relatively recent, and are based on theory and/or research from peer-reviewed sources) which are used to support support the essay's claims would be far preferable to a relatively large number of somewhat tangential or low quality references which are dumped into the essay rather than integrated into the argument. For those who want a more precise rule of thumb - probably each paragraph should include one or more references and/or roughly use at least one reference per 150 words.

Presentation (20%)
  1. Overall impression
    • Neatness
    • Layout
    • Minimal use of quotes
    • Written in third person (not I/me/my/us/we/our/you/your)
  2. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  3. Paragraph construction and quality of written expression
  4. Followed APA style


  1. Extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Extensions will not be granted on the grounds of:
    1. Academic or employment workload.
    2. Computing problems (e.g., hard drive failure). It is strongly recommended that you keep multiple backups of your essay drafts and material.
  2. Requests will require appropriate documentary evidence e.g.,
    1. Medical: A medical certificate signed by a registered medical, dental, or health practitioner, with:
      1. The registered provider number
      2. Provider’s contact details
      3. Duration of the student’s incapacity to study, and
      4. Date(s) of consultation; or
    2. Compassionate: A bereavement notice, letter from employer, statutory declaration, or copy of accident report
  3. Extension requests can be submitted in either of two forms:
    1. Via email message to the unit convener. The email must include:
      1. Student Name and ID and Unit name
      2. Student contact details: Email and phone
      3. Reason for requested extension
      4. Length of requested extension
      5. Attached documentary evidence (e.g., scanned medical certificate)
    2. Via a hard copy "Request for Extension" form
      1. Obtain this form from the Centre for Applied Psychology administrative assistant (Room 3B25).
      2. Fill out the form, attach documentary evidence and place it in the unit convener’s mailbox.
  4. You will receive an email reply to indicate whether or not your request is approved.
  5. Lecturers may grant an extension beyond the end of the semester only until the first day of the examination period. The Head of Centre must approve all extensions beyond this date. Such extensions will be granted only in very exceptional circumstances.


See also: Essay discussion forum

Can I focus on an example?

Use some examples - but be selective - the examples should be chosen so as to illustrate the essay's main points.

If done well, this can be an interesting and effective way of addressing the essay question. However, be warned - do not overly indulge in examples to the detriment of addressing the broader aspects of the essay. The #1 mistake in undergraduate essays is not addressing the question - and overly focusing on examples is one way the essay question is sometimes avoided. If the question doesn't ask you to focus specifically on one example, then a more general answer is probably expected (with some illustrative examples along the way).

1,500 words isn't enough

Be (carefully) selective - aim to focus only on the key points and main features of the related research and theory literature. Writing a 1,500 word essay is, in many ways, harder than writing a 3,000 word essay. Choosing what to focus on (and what not to focus on) is really important.

Whose my audience?

Imagine the target audience is 1st year psychology students - e.g., aim your essay as a new section in an introductory psychology textbook. What would you want to read? I would like a concise overview of the issue/topic, an explanation of the main theory and research in the area and the conclusions that can be drawn, with referencing along the way to the key primary sources and perhaps some examples where they help to explain key points.

I can't access some articles

If you identify possible references that you can't access through the university library, send the details to the convener who will arrange to get the article or chapter added to e-Reserve.

How to get help proofreading

The unit convener and tutors are not available for proofreading draft essays. You may be able to discuss and get general advice from the convener and tutors about your approach to the essay and/or you may wish to ask more specific questions. If you would like to get your essay proofread, then several possible options exist, including but not limited to:

  1. The Health Learning Resource Centre
  2. The Academic Skills Program
  3. A fellow student / study buddy