History Exam Technique (SL)

SL history students need to prepare for two exams: paper 1 and paper 2. While a large part of history is memorisation, and having large amounts of knowledge on historical events, it is important to have exam technique in order to maximise your grades. In fact, many students struggle with the format of the exams, and so we have outlined some tips on how to approach each exam.

Paper 1 (the sources paper)

Number of marks awarded for each question:

  • Question 9a = [3]

  • Give only the three main points

  • Question 9b = [2]

  • Explore the message of the source in relation to historical context

  • Question 12 = [9]


  • 5 mins on question 9a and 9b 

  • 10 mins on 10

  • 15 mins on 11

  • 30 mins on question 12

  • Include own knowledge when it is possible and pertinent to do so

  • For a total of 1 hour in the exam 

How to answer Question 12 (the last question): 

  • It is a mini essay, so include an introduction and conclusion with context

  • Take 5 mins to summarise the sources and outline your response

  • Write a plan on the paper and put a line through it so it is not considered

  • Answer the question and link it to all the sources

  • Integrate quotes from the sources

  • Be sure to evaluate and not just state

  • Use OPVL when necessary to do so

  • Use expressions that indicate degrees of certainty or uncertainty

Example of a source that could come up on Paper 1, which shows American propaganda demonising Germany and Japan

Paper 2 (answer 1 question -- the essay)

  • Start off by giving the names of which authoritarian states you’re using, with regions if necessary

  • Then make sure to contextualise, give key dates and names and give the main information which is necessary for the proper comprehension of your essay

  • This can include a definition of the key terms in the question

  • Lay out a plan with structured and thematic paragraphs, each paragraph being about a specific topic and with facts to back it up (policies, events, dates)

  • Be careful: do not be too factual, need to evaluate and have an explanation - why did it happen? What was the impact and causes? What is the significance of it?

  • Should still include facts

  • Need to assess to an extent, give a valued comment at the end

  • Events need to be placed in their historical context

  • Keep in mind the big themes: causes and effects, continuity and change, and perspective

  • Make effective links and comparisons

  • Need critical analysis that is clear and coherent

  • Need awareness and evaluation of different perspectives -- use historiographical perspectives, don’t need to name particular historians but just demonstrate awareness

Good luck on your history exams!