A2 Personal Study Art Essay Paper

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:
    • Introduction
    • Conclusion
    • Bibliography

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.


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This Personal Study was completed by Mary Faber, while studying A Level Art (CIE 9704) at ACG Strathallan College in 2004. A simple, yet elegant ‘book’ presentation, Mary’s Personal Study focuses upon the painting techniques, processes and compositions of New Zealand artist Russell Hollings, gaining an overall grade of 91%.

Mary began her study by completing an Outline Proposal Form. This was submitted to CIE for feedback at the end of April, once her A2 Coursework project was well underway. This meant Mary was able to clearly establish how her Personal Study might assist and link to her Coursework before she began. (It is no longer a requirement that the Personal Study relates to the Coursework project – although it can be advantageous if it does).

NOTE: Outline Proposal Forms are available through the CIE Teacher Support site, which is password protected (teachers have access to this) and can be submitted to the examiners electronically; alternatively, forms can be photocopied from the back of the 9704 syllabus booklet).

Within the Outline Proposal Form, Mary describes her intentions as:

To thoroughly analyse the painting processes and techniques of Russell Hollings, from initial preparation of a painting surface, through to final application of paint. I will discuss the effect of various marks and brushstrokes and how such a painting style conveys mood and meaning. Links will be made to well known international artists who use similar painting techniques. Finally I will discuss how these painting processes and techniques can be used in my own painting.

Presentation is a crucial aspect of the Personal Study and must be given considerable thought. Mary created a square ‘book’, bound along the left-hand edge with a black spiral bind. Pages are cut from lightweight A3 sheets of reddish-brown card. This colour was selected as it echoes the hues used throughout Russell Hollings’ paintings and thus visually links the presentation together.

Text has been printed onto high quality cream paper, which is also used as the backing mount for illustrations. This allows Mary to combine hand-crafted illustrations with computer generated text in a tidy, cohesive way.

It is not necessary to fill a Personal Study with slavish copies of paintings (this wastes time and does not always generate the rewards that more investigative or analytical illustrations can provide), however, the cover can be an ideal place to wow the examiner with a carefully imitated reproduction. Here, Mary has copied one of Russell Hollings’ works, proving immediately that she has an outstanding level of artistic skill.

A skilful, creative and articulate A Level Art student, Mary is now an exceptional typography designer.

If you would like more information about this topic, please read the Student Art Guide introduction to the A Level Art Personal Study.


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