How to Approach 10 Mark Questions in VCE Psychology

Ella Waldman
How to Approach 10 Mark Questions in VCE Psychology

10 mark questions can often appear intimidating. However, with the right strategies and approaches, tackling these questions can turn into an opportunity to shine. In this comprehensive guide titled "How to Approach 10 Mark Questions in VCE Psychology," we'll delve deep into proven tactics, step-by-step guides, and practical examples to boost your confidence and prepare you for this particular challenge.

Whether you're a student starting your journey in VCE Psychology, or an aspiring high-achiever gunning for those 50's, this post is a goldmine of practical knowledge. Our aim? To demystify the process of answering these 10 mark questions and provide you with tangible tips to ace your exams. So, read on, absorb the insights, and get ready to transform your examination approach.

If you're looking for VCE Psychology support (SAC marking, revision sessions, SAC preparation) from a 50-raw tutor/Premier's Award recipient, click here or contact Ella at ella@lindseyenglishtutoring.com!

Step-by-step Guide

1. Use the IDEA Acronym

Identify: Identify the psychological concepts that the question prompts you to discuss.

Define: Define all key concepts as you introduce them.

Explain: Explain concepts in as much detail as you can.

Apply: Apply the concepts to the scenario/question.

2. Consider connections between the concepts and topics that you discuss

Ten mark questions often require you to show an understanding of the links between concepts. For example, you may be asked a question about mental health, in which concepts about stress are also relevant. In this situation, it is important for you to consider how these topics connect.

3. Organise your response logically

Use subheadings to guide the examiner through your response. Usually, you can use each of the points listed in the question as a subheading to ensure that you do not miss any key aspects of the question.

4. Be aware of time

You should aim to spend 25–30 minutes on the ten mark question. I recommend completing it at the end of the exam; however, some students prefer to begin with it. Either way, ensure that the time you spend on it does not jeopardise the rest of your exam.

5. Plan effectively

Ensure that you have read through the question twice. Then, underline/highlight key sections of the scenario and question. Create a rough dot-point plan of your structure and ideas before you begin to write.

6. Consider your language

Ensure that you are writing in full sentences, rather than dot-points. You should also maintain a formal academic tone and use appropriate psychological terminology.

7. Balance accuracy and depth

Whilst you should be aiming to include a substantial amount of detail in your response, ensure that the information you provide is correct. Regarding detail, pretend that you are explaining the concepts to someone who has never heard of them before (i.e., break them down and explain them clearly).

8. Remember that 10 mark questions are marked holistically

This means that there are no exact correct or incorrect answers. Due to this, there are always multiple points that you could include in your analysis. Don’t get too caught up with trying to determine exactly which points VCAA expects you to include, as they usually accept analysis which is well-considered and relevant to the question.

Worked Example

10 Mark Question Adapted from the 2018 VCAA Exam:

Gita is a 22-year-old student in her final year of university. Gita arrived in Australia when she was 12 years old. She is from a non-English-speaking background and is the first female in her family to attend university. She has generally been able to manage her parents’ expectations, academic demands, part-time work and the usual daily irritations that have come her way.

When Gita lost her part-time job at the beginning of Semester 1, she experienced initial shock but quickly tackled this problem by drawing on her family and friendship network, which helped her find a new part-time job. However, at the end of Semester 1, her first relationship break-up proved more challenging because she found her usual supports were not enough. She used meditation and dancing classes to help her refocus. Gita developed a cold after the break-up but still managed to stay on top of things.

However, there was one point at the beginning of Semester 2 when Gita did struggle. The news that her car needed expensive repairs was a major setback that she had not budgeted for. She felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the situation but decided to keep the problem to herself, feeling that she should be able to manage it on her own.

Towards the end of Semester 2, Gita developed insomnia and headaches, and finally visited her family doctor. The doctor explained that these symptoms were stress-related and referred her to a psychologist. The psychologist was able to help Gita view her situation differently and assist her with realising that it was a temporary problem that would be resolved once she finished university and started full-time work. Gita would then be able to apply for a bank loan to fix her car.

With reference to Gita’s situation , write a detailed analysis of her biological responses and psychological responses. In your response, discuss the theories and models of stress and/or coping that are relevant to this scenario.

Detailed Plan


  • Define stress and stressors
  • Explain the psychobiological process of stress

Stress is a psychobiological process, defined as a state of physiological/biological and psychological arousal produced by internal or external stressors that are perceived as challenging an individual’s ability to cope. Stress is a subjective experience and depends on the individual’s interpretation of the stressor. It can be chronic and long-lasting, or acute and short-term. On the other hand, a stressor is any source of stress. It may be internally or externally sourced and psychological or physical in nature.

  • Link back to Gita’s scenario by briefly listing/categorising some of her sources of stress

Gita is experiencing a range of external stressors originating from her physical environment. These include a relationship break-up, losing her part-time job, and needing car repairs. Due to the presence of multiple stressors over an extended time period, Gita appears to be experiencing chronic stress.

Biological Responses

1. The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

Define the GAS model

Hans Selye’s GAS model proposes that stress is non-specific, meaning that all organisms follow a similar biological response pattern when dealing in stress. Overall, it suggests that prolonged stress, like that experienced by Gita, can be harmful to the body. This can be observed in Gita’s case, where she develops a cold, headaches, and insomnia after dealing with chronic stress.

Define/explain stage 1 (alarm reaction) and apply it to Gita’s scenario

The first stage of the GAS model is alarm reaction. Here, the organism goes into a temporary state of shock. During shock, their ability to deal with a stressor falls below its normal level and the body physiologically reacts as if it were injured (e.g., blood pressure and body temperature drop, and a temporary loss of muscle tone is experienced). Gita would have experienced shock when she lost her part-time job. When Gita was able to quickly tackle this shock, processes involved in countershock would have been involved. During countershock, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to the release of adrenalin (from the adrenal medulla) and noradrenalin (from the amygdala). These hormones circulate in the bloodstream and activate the muscles, organs and glands to deal with the threat. A number of bodily changes follow, including dilated pupils, accelerated heartbeat, inhibited digestion, relaxed bladder, and liver glucose release simulation. Here, Gita may have experienced an involuntary fight-flight-freeze response, in which she was mobilised to fight the stressor. Indeed, she drew upon her family and friends to fight the stressor. This is an adaptive response which aims to enhance her survival. Moreover, during countershock Gita would have experienced the release of cortisol from her HPA axis (involving communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenal cortex). Cortisol is a stress hormone which energises the body in response to a stressor. It is released as adrenalin and noradrenalin, which are not long lasting, therefore the body needs extra physiological resources to deal with long term stress. These physiological changes would have caused Gita’s resistance to the stress to rise, assisting her to quickly tackle the problem.

Define/explain stage 2 (resistance) and apply it to Gita’s scenario

Next, Gita would have entered the resistance stage of the GAS, which occurs if stress is not dealt with immediately. In this stage, the body’s resistance to the stressor rises above normal (as the individual tries to cope/adapt). Cortisol continues to be released at an elevated level to energise the body and unnecessary physiological processes (e.g., digestion, growth, sex drive, menstruation, sperm production) are suppressed so that the body’s energy is directed towards dealing with the stressor. Gita would have entered the resistance stage after her relationship break-up at the end of Semester 1, as she developed a cold but still managed to stay on top of her stress. Here, the prolonged high levels of cortisol in the body suppresses the immune system, to ensure that energy available to deal with the stressor is maximised. This leads to vulnerability to disease, explaining why Gita developed a cold.

Define/explain stage 3 (exhaustion) and apply it Gita’s scenario

If one’s stress is not dealt with successfully during the resistance stage (i.e., if stress continues) the organism reaches stage 3 of the GAS model: exhaustion. In this stage, they may experience extreme fatigue and vulnerability to physical disorders (e.g., hypertension, ulcers) and mental disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, nightmares, dysfunction). Signs of the alarm reaction stage may reappear, but the effects of the stressor can no longer be dealt with (resources have been depleted). Gita would have reached exhaustion towards the end of Semester 2, when she developed insomnia and headaches. Here, her body is depleted and unable to maintain the increased levels of arousal.

Optional extra: Discuss the strengths and limitations on the GAS model


  • Provided evidence on physiological processes
  • Made connection between prolonged stress and disease
  • Based in experimental research


  • Does not consider the psychological perspective of stress
  • Research on rats may not be able to be generalised to humans
  • Does not explain individual differences in responses to stressors

Psychological Responses

1. Lazarus and Folkman’s Transactional Model of Stress and Coping

Define the transactional model

Lazarus and Folkman’s Transactional Model of Stress and Coping suggests that stress involves a transaction/encounter between the individual and the external environment. Moreover, it proposes that one’s stress response depends on their subjective interpretation/appraisal of the stressor and their own ability to cope with it.

Define/explain primary appraisal and apply it to Gita’s scenario

In primary appraisal, an individual judges the significance of the situation. First, an individual judges the situation as either stressful, irrelevant, or benign-positive. If stressful, they make additional appraisals to judge whether the stressor is a threat, challenge, or has caused harm/loss. Gita’s loss of her part-time job at the beginning of Semester 1 could have been perceived as stressful and a challenge, as it provided her with an opportunity to find a better job. Gita’s loss of a significant relationship and the expensive car repairs might have been initially appraised as stressful and causing harm/loss, as they caused her to lose her partner and the use of her car. Additionally, Gita could have perceived the loss of her part-time job at the beginning of Semester 1 as stressful and a threat to her finances and her ability to pay bills.

Define/explain secondary appraisal and apply it to Gita’s scenario

In secondary appraisal, an individual evaluates their coping options and the internal (willpower, inner strength)/external (family support, professional health) resources available to them. If the demands of the stressor are greater than the resources stress persists, whereas, if the individual believes they have adequate resources stress is minimised.

After losing her part-time job Gita drew on her family and friendship network, which helped her find a new part-time job. Here, she appraised her external resources as adequate and used problem-focused coping (strategies to manage or change the cause of the problem) to minimise her stress. However, her first relationship break-up proved more challenging because she appraised her usual supports as not enough. Here, stress persisted and Gita was required to search for new coping strategies. After implementing the emotion-focused strategies (strategies aimed at changing the way one thinks or feels about a stressful situation) of meditation and dancing Gita appraised her resources as being adequate to help her refocus. Moreover, after the news of her car needing repairs Gita appraised her coping resources as being inadequate, keeping the problem to herself. This prolonged her stress and caused her to seek new strategies. After implementing the problem-focused strategies of seeking help from a doctor and psychologist Gita appraised her resources as being adequate to help her apply for a loan, and her stress was reduced.

Optional extra: Discuss the strengths and limitations on the transactional model


  • Focuses on the individuality/subjectivity of stress response
  • Views stress as an interaction with the environment in which the individual has an active role
  • Proposes different methods for managing psychological responses to stressors


  • Difficult to test through experimental research (highly subjective)

  • Debate over whether conscious appraisal is required to experience stress (person could feel “on edge” well before consciously thinking about a stressor)
  • Overlooks physiological responses

2. Theories of Coping

Define coping

To deal with stress people engage in coping, which are attempts to effectively manage the stressor. For instance, they may use coping strategies, which are specific methods to manage or reduce stress.

Define context-specific effectiveness and apply it to Gita’s scenario

Context-specific effectiveness is the degree to which a coping strategy is successful in a situation. Gita’s strategy showed context-specific effectiveness when she sought support from family and friends, which worked well when she lost her part-time job at the beginning of Semester 1.

Define coping flexibility and apply it to Gita’s scenario

Coping flexibility is the ability to modify one’s coping strategy according to the demands of different stressors in order to be more effective in reducing stress. It involves recognising when a strategy is unsuccessful, selecting a strategy that suits the situation, and producing an alternative strategy and discontinuing the ineffective one. Towards the end of Semester 1, when Gita’s previously successful strategy of seeking assistance from family and friends did not work, she showed coping flexibility by engaging in meditation and dancing.

Define approach and avoidance strategies, and apply them to Gita’s scenario

Approach strategies involve making an effort to confront the stressor and deal directly with its effects. They are generally more adaptive than avoidance strategies, as they can eliminate/minimise a stressor to prevent it from becoming chronic. However, they do lead to a short term increase in stress levels as the individual directly interacts with the stressor. Gita used approach strategies when seeking support from a psychologist and applying for a bank loan, as such approaches directly addressed her car repairs.

On the other hand, avoidance strategies involve efforts to prevent any contact with the stressor by dealing indirectly with its effects and causes. They allow for conservation of energy and may be effective in the short term or situations where nothing can be done. However, delaying dealing with the stressor may have negative effects when action is needed, as it allows the stressor to become chronic. Gita used an avoidance strategy following the news that her car needed expensive repairs, as she decided to keep the problem to herself. Indeed, this prolonged her stress. She also used avoidance strategies when using meditation and dancing classes after her break-up. Here, such strategies allowed her to cope with a scenario in which nothing could be done.

Define/explain exercise and apply it to Gita’s scenario

Gita also utilised aerobic exercise, in the form of dancing, as an avoidance strategy to help her refocus after her relationship break-up. Exercise has a number of benefits, including reducing the risk of serious disease associated with stress, using up stress hormones and consequently helping the body return to normal functioning sooner, reducing muscle tension, and prompting the release of beta-endorphins and other chemical changes that improve physiological health and cause feelings of pleasure. Gita experienced short term psychological benefits, such as refocusing and relaxation. It may have also provided her with an opportunity for distraction and social interaction.

Suggested Activities

1. Write up a full response to this question (closed book and in your own words). Make sure to time yourself and remember to define all the terminology you introduce.

2. Apply the skills that you have learnt from this blog to the 10 mark question below.

10 Mark Question Adapted from the 2019 VCAA Exam:

The multi-store model of memory was first proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968). Current textbooks portray the model using a simplified diagram similar to the one above.

Discuss how the Atkinson-Shiffrin multi-store model of memory and other concepts, theories and/or evidence can be used together to explain the formation and retrieval of the memories of a person’s first day at secondary school.

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