A2 Art students are required to produce a detailed Personal Study (previously known as the Related Study for CIE students). The Personal Study is a critical and visual appraisal or theoretical study of any aspect of the visual arts. It is usually an analysis of art or design that focuses on one or both of the following:
- Process and materials (the way an artist or group of artists use/s media);
- Subject or theme (the way an artist approaches a similar topic, generally with reference to composition, technique and the visual elements – line, texture, space, colour etc).
It may or may not relate to your AS or A2 Coursework, although a link between the two can be helpful. (This is a new requirement – it used to be that the Personal Study had to relate to Coursework).
Whatever topic is chosen, students must have first-hand access to at least some of the art or design work analysed in their study. It is also beneficial to have access to sketches, planning, incomplete and finished works, so that students are able to understand and illustrate the art-making process. Please read how to select a great A2 Art Personal Study topic for more guidance with this.
Students are required to submit:
- 1 x Personal Study (max 3,500 words, maximum size A1). It may be presented in any appropriate written and/or practical format, including an illustrated formal essay; a structured sequence of annotated art or design work; a presentation of slides; VHS video footage; digital or multimedia presentation (these must be backed up by hardcopy). The Personal Study must include an:
Prior to beginning the Personal Study, students should submit a Outline Proposal Form, which details: intentions (the focus of the Study); sources for first-hand study; sources of other information; bibliography; and your teacher’s comments.
A2 Personal Study assessment
The A2 Personal Study is worth 40% of your A2 Art course and 20% of your final A Level Art grade. It is externally assessed (i.e. marked by CIE examiners). Most countries send the Personal Study to Cambridge University to be moderated; other counties, like New Zealand, are lucky enough to have the examiners travel to them.
The Personal Study is given a single mark out of 100, using the following criteria:
Personal Study presentation ideas
CIE gives the following recommendations:
If a balance of visual and written analysis is presented it should not exceed 3500 words. Alternatively, a carefully structured sequence of annotated drawings, paintings, photographs, prints or three-dimensional objects may be presented in any appropriate format. A carefully-ordered slide, tape or video presentation or any combination of written or recorded analysis with any possibility of graphic presentation is also permissible. An introduction, a conclusion and a bibliography are expected to be included in each type of presentation.
In other words, virtually any format is acceptable. Formats that have not been specifically mentioned above include a mounted display or an onscreen presentation, such as a PowerPoint, blog page or vlog (as long as examiners travel to your school for assessment and there are facilities for setting up computers in the moderation and assessment area when the examiners arrive). If you are contemplating a digitally displayed presentation, it is best to seek advice from the examiners prior to beginning your study.
The best personal studies are those that are visually appealing; show artistic and literary skill; communicate a message clearly; and visually complement the artist/s or designer/s studied.
The Personal Study is a substantial project, which cannot be completed at the last minute. Every aspect of the study should be carefully researched and organised. Students must plan and consider the content, order and structure of their study, as well as the presentation methods, including, for example, how they will integrate text and image, as well as selection of font style and colour (the examiners must be able to read the text clearly – if there is any doubt about this, send a typed copy of the text with your submission), text alignment, page format, paper colour and weight, column widths and so on. Illustrations should be exceptionally high quality, relevant to the topic and selected carefully. It is advisable that many of these are hand-crafted or photographed by the student themselves, rather than the majority being second hand images sourced from the internet. Tactile, textured paintings are likely to be better displayed in the flesh, whereas photographic or graphic work may suit a digitally created presentation. Those who are able to create beautiful video footage of an artist working might consider making a DVD. It is worth noting here that while the presentation should be exciting, beautiful and visually interesting, a wildly unusual presentation style is not always necessary – a beautifully composed ‘book’ presentation is more than capable of achieving 100%.
Image (above right) sourced from Tom Wood.
A Level Art Personal Study examples
Below are some examples of some ordinarily presented (yet beautiful) sketchbook layouts, as well as some more creative Personal Studies. I am actively looking to illustrate a wider range here. If you have or know anyone who would be willing to share their work on this website then please read our Featured Art Project submission guidelines.
An A2 Painting / Fine Art Personal Study by Jennifer Neeve from William de Ferrers School:
An A2 Painting / Fine Art Personal Study by Nikau Hindin of ACG Parnell College:
A CIE A Level Art Personal Study by Tirion Jenkins from YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College:
An A Level Art Personal Study by Elizabeth Nicholson from William de Ferrers School:
A Personal Study by Scott Robinson from William de Ferrers School:
A Personal Study by Yantra Scott from William de Ferrers School:
Digital presentation (below right) by Martyn Littlewood:
Note: This article relates to the A2 Personal Study, Component 4, CIE 9704 A Level Art and Design – the International version of A Levels, assessed by the University of Cambridge. Information is sourced from the CIE A Level Art and Design syllabus. It is hoped that the examples of student work will also be of value to students studying A Level Art under other examination boards.
Did you find this article helpful? You might be interested in reading:
Why the fear of writing essays:
Once students have produced an art and design essay they usually appreciate the effort they have made to really understand an artist and designer or a particular piece of work, but there are a few issues to consider before starting.
There are many reasons why art and design students may prefer not to write essays. Some compare the practice of writing with practical production and find that written work looks physically smaller and less significant. Others might not be able to see the impact and relevance to their practical work.
Most students focus on the length of the work and are daunted by the scale, such as 1,000+ words for a personal study in an art and design GCE. At the outset they find it difficult to break up the essay into manageable pieces and confront each as a bite size component. Being able to do this is a particular kind of study skill, which a lot of students haven’t had the chance to develop.
Breaking up the task into components:
Essays in art and design education can have different expectations, so the first thing you need to do is identify the components the essay is expected to cover. A typical essay for a GCE Art & Design Special Study is frequently set in order to provide students with an in depth view into an artist or designer’s work. Below is an outline of components that would support in depth analysis and articulation of viewpoints for an art and design essay on a single artist or designer:
- Details of the artist’s life and career
- A Picture of the work and other relevant pictures
- Reason for choosing the work
- Social/Cultural influences on the work
- Political influences on the work
- How a specific development in art may have affected the work
- Artistic influences on the work
- Quotations about the work by other writers and your opinions of them
- Visual analysis of the work
- Personal interpretation of the work
Variation in art and design essays:
It is important to realise that not all of the above elements will always have an impact on an art and design essay. It clearly depends on the artist or subject area.
For example, some artists and art movements are clearly impacted greatly by world politics. As such, you need to look at political influences on the work. Yet other artists are more affected by the economy and will need more exploration in relation to social and economic impacts on the work.
The outline provided, of components for essay writing, is flexible, which means that you need to have an overview of the components and be able to decide which elements should be included. If you go through the different sections above and reflect on how important they are, you will quickly be able to identify which ones you will need to include.
You could do this in mind-map form or just making a simple list. Try researching each of the sections in the library and online. Some will give much more information than others. This will help you determine the weight to give to each section.
Some essay topics will be set as a hypothesis, which is essentially a question format. The beauty of this kind of essay structure is there will be no right or wrong answer. The hypothesis will also enable you to steer the essay more clearly and be more selective about the kinds of research you do.
Remember to keep going back to the original question. Ask yourself: “am I sticking with the point.” As it is easy to get engrossed in information, especially if you are really passionate about the artist’s work and want to know more about it.
Having a hypothesis within an essay can actually really help you progress, so you may consider putting a hypothesis whenever you write about an artist’s work.
This is one of the easiest kinds of written pieces to undertake. Essentially, take two artists and compare their work. You can be quite critical about each, but do need to remember to have a balanced argument. Keep your own personal opinions to the end and justify them in the conclusion.
A simple way of structuring the comparison is to keep it quite logical. You could almost have a paragraph covering each artist one after the other.
This is the first thing people will read, it sets up the scene and helps determine if the reader is clear or not as to the content of the rest of the essay. Getting it right can be tricky, many students find it really useful to write a draft introduction and then go back to it at the end of the essay and re-write it. You may have changed your opinions or found something really new that you want to include in the introduction.
A good introduction sets out exactly what you are going to cover. It does this by explaining the aim or purpose of the essay. There is no harm in including a sentence like: “The aim of this essay is to…” Moreover, because there will be different methods of interpreting any kind of art, it is really useful to indicate the kinds of methods you will use. Will you be looking at the cultural impact on the work or comparing the art to another artist?
While the conclusion is your opportunity to put in your own opinions, it is really easy to forget about the essay and jump to something completely new. The essay as a whole should be aimed at finding out something, discovering and clarifying your thoughts. It should serve a purpose for you personally, giving you a new insight or helping you to answer questions about the art you have investigated. It is these very answers that you should be including in the conclusion.
Don’t think you have to make a formal black and white document. Adding personality to your writing makes it even more interesting. It is not uncommon for art and design students to write their essays in Word to get all of the spelling correct and then have a printed copy and a creative copy. The images above represent essays that have tried to break the mould, but still have critical content.