Paper 1 Exam Technique: How to structure your answers and use your time!


As you only have 60 minutes, plus 5 minutes reading time, to complete an exam paper which is worth 20% of your final History grade it is vital that you are completely aware of what this exam demands of you, and of the best way to approach answering the questions.


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Tip number one, which you will need to follow for this and all of your exams, is to have a watch of some sort with you in the exam room to keep track of time!

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Tip number two: use the 5 minutes reading time as effectively as possible to read through all of the sources carefully and familiarize yourself with the questions. You should also be able to start planning your answers to the first comprehension question, 1 a), in this time as well - that way you can start writing your response as soon as the exam starts. Don't waste this time!

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Tip number three: revise, learn and internalize the points below about how to structure your answer to each question, and how much time to spend on completing each of these. As the format of this exam is entirely predictable, being well prepared to deal with it is the best way to guarantee a good grade here!

Answering each question:


Question 1 a): worth 3 marks, spend max 5 minutes on. Understanding historical sources - reading comprehension.

For 3 marks, give at least 3 clear points from the source (you can write four in case, to be on the safe side). Paraphrase from the source - i.e. put things in your own words (you can quote but you don't have to do so, and you should avoid just copying large parts of the source).

How to write the answer?

"The first reason given by the source is .......The second reason given by the source is ........ The third reason given by the source is .........."

Question 1 b): worth 2 marks, spend max 5 minutes on. Understanding historical sources - political cartoon/image analysis.

For 2 marks, give two clear (and separate) points about the 'message' conveyed in the source, supporting each point with evidence from the source.

If it is a cartoon you are analysing, make sure you have fully understood the key figures and symbols before you start to write about its messages!

How to write the answer?

"One message conveyed by the source is that ..........., because the source shows. A second message conveyed by the source is that ....... because the source shows."

Question 2: worth 6 marks, spend max 13 - 14 minutes on. Compare and contrast sources - source contents.

For 6 marks, you need to write two paragraphs that include a running comparison/contrast of the two sources, carefully supported by quotes. Make sure that you focus on answering the terms of the question - ie. it might be asking you to compare/contrast in relation to a very specific topic, not just the sources in general.

Ideally you will be able to find two clear points of comparison and two clear points of contrast, but don't worry if you end up having two of one and one of the other - it depends a little on the sources you are given to compare! Write the first paragraph on points of comparison, and the second on points of contrast.

Before writing your answer read through the sources carefully and underline key quotes you plan to use. If needs be, you can use the scrap paper given to jot down briefly what your key points will be - even it is just key words, this might help you when it comes to writing the answer!

How to write the answer?

Two separate paragraphs: "Both sources agree that ..... Source C says that ......... and Source D says that ....The sources also agree that ...... Source C says that ......... and Source D says that ....

"The sources contrast in .......... While Source C says .........., Source D says ............."

Question 3: worth 6 marks, spend max 13 - 14 minutes on. Source evaluation: OPVL.

Evaluate the sources separately, with one paragraph for each explaining their origin (if a primary source has been reprinted in another book, look at the original source not where it was re-printed!) and purpose (of the source as a whole, not just the specific extract) and what values and limitations these provide for a historian studying the given topic.

Before writing your answer read through the sources carefully, paying particular attention to the italicized 'origin' text above the source. Though your answer should focus on the provenance of the source (O,P) not its content, look carefully at what the source is saying and see if there are any signs of emotional language, etc, that might be useful in your response.

Ideally you will find two clear values and two clear limitations per source, but it might turn out you find two values but only one limitation - don't worry if this happens, it is determined by the sources you are given, Indeed, make sure that you concentrate on giving values and limitations that are specific to the sources and not general comments (i.e. it is useful as it is a primary source; it is limited as it is a secondary source and the author wasn't there, etc etc.)

How to write the answer?

Two separate paragraphs, each following this structure:

"The origin of this source is ....... (what, who, when, where - take from the source details) The purpose of this source is ...... (why it was made, for whom). The source is valuable because ...........(refer to origin). The source is also valuable because ......... (refer to purpose). The source is limited because ...........(refer to origin). The source is also limited because ......... (refer to purpose)."


Question 4: worth 8 marks, spend all the time left on this, at least 22 minutes. Mini-essay, using a synthesis of all sources and own knowledge!

This is the most challenging question, and the one worth the most marks, which is why you need to allow enough time to produce a decent answer here. Crucial to remember is that you must, must, must use both all the sources and your own detailed and specific knowledge in your answer - if you use only the sources (and no own knowledge), or only own knowledge (and no sources), the maximum you can score is 5 marks. You must use a synthesis of sources and own knowledge to produce a clear response to the question! In this sense, it is just like a full essay: you need to focus on clearly addressing the question, developing a clear argument, and challenging any assumptions in the question if you can.

How to approach this mini-essay?

Spend a couple of minutes re-reading the sources and planning your argument. As this question often asks you how far you agree with a particular statement, I recommend that you might want to draw a quick chart structuring how you are going to use all the sources and include your own knowledge. Obviously, you do not want to spend a lot of time doing this, and how you order it depends on the question given, but it can be a useful planning tool to help you write your answer. An example is as follows:

Agrees with statement
Disagrees with statement
Both agrees and disagrees
Sources
A, E
B, D
C
Own knowledge
Nasser shuts canal
etc
etc

When it comes to writing your answer, you may include a brief introduction to define the question, but you do not need to do so - it can be a waste of words and time. It is therefore ok to go straight into your first paragraph, which should include a clear point directed at answering the question, which is then supported by QUOTES from the sources ("as Source A states......") and your own detailed knowledge ("from background knowledge I know that .......).

Have a second paragraph which uses sources and own knowledge to present the other side of the argument, according to the same model as above, and don't forget that when discussing different sources and interpretations you can show an awareness of the source evaluation (OPVL) you carried out in Q3 - i.e. "Source B argues that Israel was completely responsible for the 1967 conflict, but of course this is written from an Egyptian perspective..... etc etc". On the other hand, do not let this distract you from the main task of ANSWERING THE QUESTION! If you have time, and the sources allow it, there might be scope for a third paragraph as well, but it depends a little on the particulars of the exam.

When you have finished your main body, write a clear conclusion that offers a balanced response to the essay question. Remember that challenging the question in the conclusion can be about disagreeing with particularly loaded words in the question statement - i.e. "brutal", "overwhelming", "mainly", "to a large extent" etc etc. If you run out of time before you manage to complete your answer to this question - :( - you can try and get your points down in bullet points in the last minute or so to see if you might be capable of getting some credit for your ideas from the examiner.


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