‘History…it’s just one bloomin’ thing after another.’ Sadly, that witty quip from The History Boys won’t go very far in getting you a top grade. But this blog could help do just that! Read on…
It’s not interesting. No one ever said it was interesting. In fact, learning dates is one of the more tedious things you will do over the course of your education. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It is – very important. Especially for history. Knowing the key dates for whichever topics you’ve covered is key to getting a good grade, as it demonstrates:
- a) that you know the timeline of how and why events unfolded
- b) that you’ve bothered to put in the revision time.
A general ‘this happened, then this happened, and a bit later this happened’ does not scream ‘I really know my stuff’ to someone who has to mark 50 similar papers that day.
Find the way that works for you (flashcards, post-its, waterproof notes bluetacked to your shower), and have those dates down for one exam day comes around.
INTERROGATE YOUR SOURCES. Explicitly state why you do/don’t trust them, and how much value they have to you as a modern day historian. Of course, your teacher has drilled this into you over the last two years, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant now.
If you’re not sure what to make of a source, that’s ok: just do your best. Try and analyse it, and you can even bring in the reasons that you don’t think it’s confusing, or don’t find it particularly useful, as part of your answer. DON’T just ignore it, or waffle – that’s a guaranteed strategy for failure.
A really good answer to source questions will balance your own knowledge with what can be gleaned from the source, so make sure you focus on both, and don’t either ignore the source, or read so far into it that you forget to add anything else.
Generic, waffley answers won’t get you very far in history (or in life, for that matter). The best answers will ‘analyse, evaluate and make substantiated judgments about interpretations (including how and why interpretations may differ) in the context of historical events studied’ – from the AQA specification.
Make the flow of your argument clear, and back up your claims with the relevant knowledge and evidence. Writing with the classic P-E-E (point-evidence-explanation) formula is fine, as long as you are doing it accurately and convincingly.
Referring to concepts such as ‘continuity, change, cause, consequence, significance, similarity and difference’ (again, thanks AQA) will also make your answers sparkle, adding a level of depth and understanding that many candidates will lack.
As I said in my Guide to GCSE English, writing essays at this level doesn’t need to be rocket science (or even rocket engineering, which is apparently much more complicated).
All you need is clarity of expression (and technical terms where necessary), a sensible structure, a reasonable flow of ideas and a detailed essay that supports the ‘thesis statement’ in your introduction. This means starting the essay with an idea of how it will finish, so spending a few minutes to plan is a generally a good idea.
Don’t worry about original insight, or how long the essay should be, just focus on including the important information, and presenting it convincingly.
Well…duh. It’s all well and good writing a well-structured essay, knowing the dates and analysing effectively, but if you don’t know the material well enough, the whole plan comes crumbling down.
Whether that means revision videos, past papers, online resources, condensing your notes, revising with a friend or visiting the Imperial War Museum, make sure you have a good grasp of the material, so you can apply the rest of your skills effectively.
If you’re looking for a tutor to help out with some extra History revision before the exams, or for any other subject, don’t hesitate to call Minerva on 0208 819 3276, or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
By David Bard
David is a tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.
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