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Following on from my last blog post, Five key things to remember for A Level historical themes, I highlighted some key aspects to remember for the thematic essays within the unit 3 exam, where students are required to write two thematic essays and we advise they spend about 45 minutes on each. And in this blog posts I’d like to share some tips with you which will be useful for students when preparing for this part of the exam.
Here are five key points that are useful for you to remember:
1) The depth studies share content with the themes
The principle of detailed knowledge of a particular issue or event being embedded in a longer study was championed by HE representatives when we consulted on the structure of the new A Level. It’s entirely up to you whether you teach the thematic content first and go back and revisit the depth studies, or whether you embed them in your teaching. Some teachers prefer to treat them separately as they form separate sections of the exam; others find the coherence of embedding them beneficial. The particular topic you’ve chosen may suit a particular approach.
We’re often asked how detailed students’ knowledge needs to be for the depth studies. The straightforward answer is that no greater depth of knowledge than that found in a standard A Level textbook is expected. But the crucial point is, as always, how this knowledge is used.
The depth study should be giving students the historical context to understand why it is possible for depth study elements to be interpreted in different ways. It is useful to turn the specification content into a series of debates.
To take the depth study on Malcolm X and Black Power as an example, the specified content is:
Malcolm X as a civil rights leader:
So the debates that this content raises, relating back to the themes, could be:
If students can use their knowledge flexibly to engage with these issues, they will be prepared for the examination. Remember, questions can be set on one depth study aspect (eg the impact of the Black Power movement on women’s rights) or more than one aspect (eg the impact of the Black Power movement on all four groups).
2) History not historiography
In the exam, students will always be presented with two passages giving different views on an issue. They’ll be asked to evaluate the interpretations and explain which are more convincing in explanation of a particular issue by applying their contextual knowledge. This is not a historiography paper, and no analysis of the passages’ provenance is required. For example, it may be true that Historian X “was writing in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War and was a Marxist, and worked at Berkeley, and supported the sit-ins, and campaigned for Bobby Kennedy, and was an underground resistance group member.” but that alone does not make their interpretation any more or less valid or convincing.
It is purely the content of the passages that should be evaluated; there is no need to know the names of individual historians.
3) Building on earlier units
These skills are a development of the interpretation question at AS, but even if your students did not sit the AS exam, there is consistency of approach with Unit 1 where primary sources are evaluated for what they say about an issue. Thus a sound structure would be:
Para 1: explain the interpretations in the passages and place them in a wider context
Para 2: apply knowledge to test Interpretation A, showing its strengths and weaknesses
Para 3: apply knowledge to Interpretation B, showing its strengths and weaknesses
Para 4: reach a supported and balanced judgement about which view you find more convincing
In order to do this effectively, it is really important that students...
4) Develop an evaluative vocabulary
Students – and sometimes teachers – can be reluctant to criticise historians. But they’ll need to for this part of the exam: evaluation, by definition, means attaching a value, and if they use appropriate knowledge to justify their evaluation (rather than asserting), an evaluative vocabulary will be invaluable. Get students used to justifying why this interpretation is:
It’s a good idea to go through the sample answers available from OCR highlighting evaluative words with students. Also, this will greatly help students to:
5) Reach a conclusion
Ultimately students need to say which passage is more convincing, and following the advice above should lead them to do so. The absolute key thing is that we’re interested in which passage they think is more convincing about the issue in the question not just the more convincing per se.
A full INSET programme is available, including sample answers, on the OCR CPD website.
In our next A Level History blog, we’ll look at what constitutes good synthesis in more detail. If you have any questions you can always get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @OCR_History
Mike Goddard - Subject Specialist - History
Mike is a history subject specialist and has worked at OCR on the history portfolio since 2007. Previously he has held roles at Cambridge International Examinations and for an educational publisher. Mike has a degree in Economic and Social History from the University of York and a Masters in Modern History from UCL. In his spare time he enjoys crosswords and snooker.