Exam Preparation

What You Need to Know - OCR Specification

Each of the faiths studied will be examined according to the issues specified below. Candidates should be able to explore the significance and impact of religions and support their answers with reference to the teachings, sacred texts, beliefs and attitudes of the faiths where appropriate.

In this unit candidates should reflect on the idea that religions have different approaches and attitudes and that there is diversity within each faith, its understanding of texts and its philosophy.

They should consider these issues in relation to the particular religion itself and to its impact on individuals, communities and societies, locally, nationally and globally whilst realising that these particular aspects may vary in significance between religions and communities.

They should also consider the extent to which the particular religion and belief being studied contributes to community cohesion.

Although the large variety of different philosophical and ethical views are not specified for each unit and whereas it would be too demanding for candidates to study a wide range of different views at this level, nevertheless they should be aware that there is diversity of belief and opinion within each faith.

The final part of each question gives candidates the opportunity to express not only their personal views but also their understanding of other religions and beliefs including Humanism, Bahai, Jain and Zoroastrianism.

The Purpose of GCSE Religious Studies

The purpose of studying for a GCSE in Religious Studies (RS) is twofold:

Firstly, it introduces a whole range of thinking about various issues that concern us all. These religious approaches are based on the collective learning of billions of people over thousands of years. They have been the responsible for much of the great architecture and art ever produced and its traditions have helped countless people gain a sense of identity and helped them to answer all sorts of questions about the meaning of and how they should live their lives best. However, no religious tradition is without fault and each of the religions studied at RS has been the cause of suffering on a great scale and to this day makes conclusions about how people should live that have a profound effect upon how we live in our society. Both the good and bad found in religion is worthy of exploring and questioning so that each individual can make up their own fully reasoned mind about a wide range of issues such as relationships, medicine, life and death, and war.

Secondly, in order to be successful in the exam you build up a series of very useful skills such as listening, presenting, thinking, reading and writing as well as learning to work collaboratively and independently. These are transferable skills which means that you can use them in other subjects and more importantly they are skills that you can use as a part of your continued learning when you leave school.

Whilst the book makes reference to various religions it focuses on Christianity. This is for the simple reason that the majority of schools and therefore students will also be focusing on Christianity. Nonetheless, whilst the content will differ in parts the skills used will be exactly the same, therefore if you studying a different religion there is still enough material here to help you get your A* grade.

Choosing the right questions to answer

The OCR Religious Studies GCSE offers a wide range of choice for the teacher and student to pick from. There are four one hour exams, two Philosophy, two Ethics. Each exam looks at three different areas and you have to answer questions about two of the three areas. Each area can be looked at from one of six different religious perspectives, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism. Over the whole course you can look at up to three different religious perspectives, however you can look at any number of different perspectives for the (e) evaluation questions (even views not included in the six perspectives stated above).

It is possible to study one area from one religious perspective and another from a different religious perspective - so you might consider Human Relationships from a Muslim perspective and Medical Ethics from a Christian perspective in the same Ethics 1 exam. The benefit of this is that schools can decide to arrange their course according to the background of the students who come to that school. So if a school has a large Hindu population then it would make sense to look at the course from a Hindu perspective. However, a word of warning, we would suggest that you don't consider more than two different religious perspectives over the whole course - it can be hard enough remembering and explaining the differences within a religion, let alone then trying to remember and explain the differences between a number of religions.

There are three main areas per exam. If you are taught about each of these areas then you have the advantage of choosing from two of the three sets of questions. However, we would argue this is not much of an advantage. Firstly, in the exam you have very little time to spend deciding which are the best questions to answer, if you are trying to get an A or A* grade you will need to spend almost all of the allotted time writing. Secondly, in order to get full marks in the evaluation section of the exam you need to go into quite some depth, therefore it makes sense to look at fewer areas but learn them really well and in lots of detail. Therefore, even if you have gone through all of the areas of study with your teacher we would suggest that you pick two from each exam and spend more time on these than on the third area.


There are a number of key skills that you need to master in order to do well in your RS GCSE. We will go through these in more detail later in the book, but below you will find a basic explanation of the skills you will need to develop.

First and foremost there is a lot of content to cover in the four exams so you need to have a good system in place for remembering all the content. We would suggest creating revision material as you go alone, as you finish each area of study you produce your own summaries that you can use to test yourself when you get closer to the exams.

Each chapter in the book provides a link to the OCR specification related to it. From this you will be able to a checklist of the areas of study that you have created revision material for, and what you still need to work on. Use the website and the book to get a better idea of what you should be revising.

In order to be successful you need to know a lot of technical religious language. You will use this language in every type of question in the exam so developing your knowledge and understanding of these words is the backbone of your learning.

Another key skill is illustrating points using examples. In some cases you will be asked to just state an example that is relevant to a particular concept, for example, exchanging of rings is an example of a ritual that occurs in a Christian wedding service. However, in explanation and evaluation questions just stating an example is not enough, you also need to justify your reasons for using that example. So if you were asked to explain the importance of sanctity of life for Christians you may state that in the book of Genesis it says that God created humans in his own image. This is a good point but needs more justification, for instance you might go on to say that,

"The example of God creating humans in his own image shows that Christians believe that human life is linked to God in a way that does not occur with the rest of his creation. This sets human life above other life, showing that it is more important and there is something special about it.

Illustrating a point with examples is part of the wider skill of explaining, the purpose of which in RS is to explain how or explain why. In the book we go through the different types of explain questions that can occur in the exam. The important thing to remember is that you are not describing,this is a different skill and involves stating something as it is, whereas explaining involves going into a lot more detail about how something works or why it might be important.

Analyse also involves looking at something in great detail, but for the sake of the RS exam you will be analysing the strengths and weaknesses of particular beliefs or behaviours that religious followers have. For instance, you could be asked whether Christians should support contraception. As a part of your response you may consider the Roman Catholic approach to contraception. Once you have explained their teachings, which concludes that people should not use contraception because it undermines the sanctity of human life, you would then highlight some strengths and weakness of this approach.

For example, you might say that a benefit of this position is that it maintains the intrinsic value of all human life, even potential human life, whereas a problem with this approach is that it suggests people should not use contraceptives like condoms that help to manage the risks of sexually transmitted infections and of falling pregnant in people who decide they want to have sex with each other.

The final skill you need to master is that of evaluation. Once you have produced your analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of an approach you then need to establish whether, overall, it is a good or bad approach to follow. This is a final answer (conclusion) that clearly justifies why you reason it to be a good or bad approach. This does not mean summarising what you have already said but instead weighing up all of the evidence in front of you and establishing why you have come to this final answer.

Defining the group you are talking about

Religious Studies is about learning about and understanding different religious groups without falling into the trap of making sweeping statements about them. This means using the right language to speak about a particular group – so rather than saying 'Muslims believe ...' it would be better to say that 'Some Muslims believe ... '

Every religion is made up of a large number of different groups who interpret their religious texts and teachings in a specific ways that are based on historical and cultural development. In Christianity there are over thirty thousand different denominations (groups of believers) who have specific traditions and identify themselves in particular ways. You would not be expected to know all of these groups, nor a deep historical understanding of any particular group – however it is useful to know something of the context of a group as this will help you to understand why they hold certain beliefs and act in certain ways. So it is a good idea to know about the Great Schism between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, and also a bit about the later Reformation between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Churches. By understanding these splits one can recognise why for instance the Orthodox Churches put their emphasis on tradition, the Roman Catholics on the scholarly teachings of the Church hierarchy, whilst the Protestant Churches put an emphasis on reading and interpreting Scripture. In this way you are able to illustrate how different religious groups identify themselves.

The difference within a religion is something emphasised by OCR in its Teachers Handbook

"... candidates are likely to gain higher marks if they are able to demonstrate, for a particular topic, not only the commonality of viewpoint within a religion but also to give examples of diversity within that religion together with reasons for this difference in interpretation. (For example, within Christianity, The Roman Catholic Churches teaching about contraception differs markedly from the Anglican churches teaching. Within Islam there are differences in interpretation of key verses of the Qur’an which relate to attitudes towards war and self defence.)"

Therefore, you would do well to show some recognition of this difference that exists within each group. The way some teachers deal with this is by highlighting three political movements that have an effect on most denominations, namely; conservatives, liberals and fundamentalists.

  • CONSERVATIVES - tend to focus on trying to maintain the best of the past whilst recognising that religious texts may need to be interpreted to work in a modern contemporary context. Conservatives tend to hold the view that tradition is very important and there is a lot that each new generation can learn from the experiences of past generations. Large parts of the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church tend to be conservative.
  • LIBERALS - work on the idea that each individual should be free to interpret religious texts and they should try to understand them within the context of changes that have happened in the modern world. For example, Liberals might revise teachings that may have originally seemed sexist because it is considered unacceptable to treat women as second class citizens. A big part of the Church of England is liberal, as well as some other Protestant groups like the Quakers and Methodists, there is a revisionist part of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in South America, but this only represents a small part of this Church and it has little influence at the moment.
  • FUNDAMENTALISTS - tend to state that religious texts are the direct teachings from the divine and should therefore be followed as closely as possible with little deviation. The idea is to interpret teachings as little as possible so that they are not corrupted in any way, this is not always possible, but where there are direct commands it is believed that these should be followed. In Christianity, fundamentalists are also known as Evangelicals.
  • EVANGELICALS - believe that they have a duty to spread the teachings of scripture to non-believers. There are many Protestant Churches that are largely evangelical, for instance, Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there is also a growing number of evangelists within the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church.

Therefore, if you are trying to get A and A* grades it is important for you to have some understanding of how these different groups identify themselves so you are able to explain how they react to the various different issues highlighted in the exam specification. So if you know that Conservative Roman Catholics and Fundamentalist Evangelical Churches put a particular emphasis on the principle of the sanctity of human life, then you will be able to explain how they both come to similar conclusions about issues surrounding abortion and euthanasia. However, they will come to these conclusions in different ways, with Conservative Roman Catholics focusing on the importance of scholarly saints like St Thomas Aquinas and his theory of Natural Law, whilst Fundamentalist Evangelical Churches will refer directly to parts of the Bible that state that life is given as a gift from God.

Beliefs, Attitudes, Teachings and Behaviour

When answering questions that ask you to explain, analyse or evaluate it is important to be able to refer to how beliefs and teachings can lead people to behave in particular ways. Whether someone identifies themselves as religious or not, all people show behaviour that is directly affected by beliefs they hold and those beliefs are strengthened or weakened by teachings they follow.

If someone has prejudiced beliefs against someone of a different colour skin to them and then acts upon these beliefs then they are being discriminatory and racist. There may be many reasons why they hold these beliefs, for example they could have been brought up being taught that one should be prejudiced against particular groups of people or they may have had negative experiences with a few individuals that they then associate with a whole group of people.

Many beliefs are informed by teachings, in this case they may have been taught by their family or friends to hold these views or they may have been informed by their experiences. If this person then takes these taught beliefs and then treats someone differently, perhaps not serving them in a shop or not employing them, then we can say that they acting in a discriminatory way and being racist. However, beliefs are not always set and will often come into conflict with other beliefs.

For example, the racist person described above may live in the UK, where there are religious and non-religious reasons for believing that racism is wrong. For instance, the Bible has a number of sections that teach that you should treat everyone equity (equally), for example in Galatians it says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." This would teach a Christian that from God’s perspective all humans are equal, and that they should try to act as Jesus would and most Christian Churches teach that all people should be accepted within the Christian community whatever their ethnicity.

Similarly, in the UK there are laws that protect the rights of all people who are entitled to live here whatever their ethnicity, this has developed over a long period of time by philosophers who believed in freedom for all people, like John Locke and John Stuart Mill. We have developed a society which believes that individuals should have the freedom to do as they wish so long as they do not harm others, therefore we have created laws that protect people so that they should not feel threatened or be attacked, have an equal chance of employment, get equal pay for the same job as someone else, have a right to follow any religion (or no religion) they wish and cannot be refused goods or services. There are therefore many religious and non-religious reasons why it can be argued that someone should not act in a discriminatory way even if they hold some prejudiced views, and it would be hoped (from both a religious and non-religious perspective) that the individual would over time become less and less prejudiced.

Below is a table that highlights some of the ways that these three concepts relate to each other.

Belief/Attitude Teaching Behaviour
Prejudice Upbringing Discrimination
All are equal (Christian view) Galatians 2:28 All accepted into Church, end to Slave Trade, non-white and female Church leaders
All are equal (non-religious view) Locke – all men are born equal. Mill – freedom for the individual will further progress and happiness of all. Government creates laws that reinforce the equal right of all people. Protests against racist groups, such as Anti-Racist Alliance.

Command Words

You will be pleased to hear that there are only certain things that the examiners can set questions on and they are limited by what is in the exam specification. This means that all you need to do is make sure you know the content of the specification and then there can be no nasty surprises when you come to take the exam. So, in order to prepare you for what is to come we will look in detail at what is in the exam specification. The book will cover what you need to revise and the website will show you which parts of the specification are covered.

By analysing the specification it is possible to come up with a list of keywords, concepts and command words that you would need to know for the exam (Be aware - this is not an exhaustive list, OCR refuse to give a list of words that covers everything they may ask, so treat this as a basic list that you should definitely know off by heart). The purpose of coming up with these lists is threefold:

  1. So that you can understand what is being asked of you in exam questions
  2. You will be able to answer many definition questions
  3. Being able to use religious and philosophical language is an important part of getting the highest marks in the explain and evaluation questions


  • Teachings
  • Relationship between
  • Attitude to
  • Principle of
  • Influence
  • Representation
  • Educate
  • Responses to
  • Reasons
  • Significance
  • Purpose
  • Concept
  • Support
  • Approaches
  • Importance
  • Emphasise
  • Reflect
  • Issues
  • Put into practice
  • Impact
  • Causes
  • Treatment

This list of key words/concepts should be useful whatever areas you have studied:

  • God
  • Arguments
  • Miracles
  • Jesus
  • Christ/Messiah
  • Holy Spirit
  • Soul
  • Heaven
  • Hell
  • Salvation
  • Redemption
  • Suffering
  • Moral behaviour
  • Resurrection
  • Good
  • Evil
  • Symbolism
  • Prayer
  • Faith
  • Revelation
  • Bible
  • Conscience
  • Sacred
  • Sacred Text
  • Humanity
  • Christian Church (denomination)
  • Christian church (building)
  • Charity
  • Moral
  • Immoral
  • Evangelism
  • Forgiveness
  • Believers
  • Belief
  • Reconciliation
Get More Help with GCSE Religious Studies for OCR B
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