Top teacher tips for GCSE history exam students 2018
As GCSE history students prepare to sit their next exam on Friday, we asked history teacher Dr Robert Massey to share his tips and advice on exam technique and how best to answer the questions...
I’ve been an examiner for many years. We are not looking for perfect answers without any mistakes – contrary to rumour, examiners are human! Nothing pleases an examiner more than reading some good history.
My top exam tip is to follow precisely the guidance your teachers have given you for your course for your exam board. They will have given you past paper questions and all the right techniques, so as Friday approaches a focus on these key skills will always help you.
There are some generic pieces of advice which apply to any course. The reason they are so commonly given is because they are so often ignored, sadly:
Look at the dates in the question carefully
A question about the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, for example (which came up for my students last year), did not require answers about the Bolshevik seizure of power in October. But a question about changes in aerial warfare 1939–2003 would benefit from discussion of the Second Gulf War of 2003, for example.
Allocate time in proportion to the marks available
Don’t be the student who runs out of time. Scribble down your timings before you start writing and stick to them. Final questions tend to carry the most marks, so give yourself time to excel.
Many students on Friday are tackling theme papers, for example on the very topical subject of migration and empires since medieval times, or on monarchy and democracy. For these:
Think ‘big picture’
Pick some examples from across the period in the question. If the question is about monarchs ruling by cooperation and not conflict between 1000–1750, then explaining an example from the reigns of William and Mary or Charles II will give you more of an overview than just looking at William I and Elizabeth I.
Link your factors
A question on whether religion was the main factor in causing migration since medieval times will reward you for writing also about economic reasons for moving. But your examiner will be delighted if you can explain how reasons changed, for different groups at different times, or stayed the same, or were quite varied and rarely uniform. Quote some examples from across the dates in the question.
More like this
We also asked for the advice of history teachers who follow us on Twitter and Facebook...
Answer the question you have been given... not the one you wished for! Do your best, pull out your contextual knowledge and show the examiner what a fantastic historian you are
'Show off' all of that excellent contextual knowledge - remember, you are the expert AND a real historian!
The exam is not designed to trick you – it is your opportunity to show off your knowledge and understanding to the examiner
Stay hydrated. Eat a good breakfast. Calm your mind. Take deep breaths. Wish your friends well. Be positive – everything will be OK even if it does not go how you want because life is full of new opportunities. Then and only then – apply what you learnt in class
Answer everything with love… history requires a fascinating passion. And always remember – once a historian, always one
Stay calm. Read the question more than once. Breathe. The examiner WANTS to reward you. Think about what details you can put in to show your knowledge. You're going to do great
“Knowing everything” will not lead to success. Explain cause, explain consequence, explain connections, explain justifications and use evidence to prove it all. Failing that, whatever happens, if you tried your best, stay proud.
Focus on the question and don't get carried away with a good story. Focus on your argument with a very solid conclusion at the end. With sources, remember provenance and relate to usefulness and reliability, again linking to the given question/enquiry
Refer back to the question – it helps to keep you from going too far astray
Always support your argument with relevant examples and make sure in your conclusion that you explain that your historical problem is multi-causal
I would advise jotting a rapid plan of your answer (cross it out after), it will help gather your ideas and help with structure. Refer to the question all the time. Above all, read the question paper and don’t miss any questions on the back page!
That Rosemary Sutcliff @rsutcliff world-renowned & eminent writer of historical fiction (1920-1992) did not have one GCSE or equivalent to her name, but went on to become best-selling historian.