Skip to main content

How to succeed in A-Level History

When Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motors, said that "history is more or less bunk", it's pretty obvious he hadn't looked at any A-Level History exam questions in a while.

In fact, A-Level History is a challenging subject demanding lots of different skills. Luckily though, help is at hand for anyone worrying about their History revision. Here are five tips for tackling a History exam question with confidence.

1) Use your History revision wisely

As Marge Simpson once put it, "History is like an amusement park, except instead of rides, you have dates to memorise." Of course, that might sound rather boring, but the good news is that if you start every topic by making yourself a time-line of important events and memorising them, you instantly give your A-Level History revision a massive boost.

2) Work on past exam questions

Looking at past exam questions is crucial. This will help you to feel comfortable with the format of the papers you take - how many questions do you have to answer in your History exam? What sort of thing do they tend to ask? Trying out some timed exam questions is fantastic preparation. Working with a History tutor could be a great advantage as it's not easy to mark your own work. History tutors can help to pinpoint your weaknesses and how to deal with them.

3) Learn how to strike a balance

A key part of History revision will be learning what different historians think about the topic you are studying but you do need some way of deciding between them. A good answer to a History exam question shows that:

  • You understand different views and possible interpretations. You have shown an awareness of them.
  • You think that some views are better than others and can argue for your own interpretation.

Balancing the above is not always easy and again a History tutor might provide you with some fantastic support. Do remember that dodgy candidates either ignore other opinions completely or don't give an opinion of their own at all. A good way to go about this is to outline a view that you disagree with and explain why you think it's wrong. Then offer your own original explanation instead.

4) Master those source skills

Your A-Level History will probably include at least one source paper. Some people love sources while others despise them. Either way, remember your W's: what, who, when, where and why? These precious W's are the building blocks of any good source answer. It can help to summarise every source you find in one sentence before you start working on your answer.

5) Let a History tutor build your confidence

No matter how well you go about your History revision, there is really no substitute for one-to-one History tutoring to provide you with an extra boost. History tutors are very familiar with past exam papers and will often know what topics are the most popular in exam papers.

The crucial issue is to learn to love yourself a little and trust your own skills. After all, learning skills is what studying A-Level History is really all about. If the examiners have thrown you a question you haven't thought about before, so what? Don't be afraid of being flexible and thinking creatively.

Quite frankly, exam stress should be history...