As anticipated, we’ve had a notable increase in queries about coursework and titles submitted for approval over the last few weeks. So I thought it would be a good idea to post a reminder of a couple of key documents about the unit: you can access the official teacher guide which has advice on what makes a good title and a good essay, as well as explaining the mark scheme and including an example of marked work.
The coursework in our new specification is a much more ‘university-style’ essay – driven by knowledge and argument, though still using sources critically (both primary and secondary), rather than the source-evaluation exercise (worthy as that is) that constitutes the legacy coursework. Some students may therefore find the Independent Study Guide, produced by Leif Jerram at the University of Manchester, useful.
Picking a topic
You can approach coursework in a number of different ways: one approach is to base titles on topics studied elsewhere in the course. The only prohibition of content is the unit 3 depth studies. Or you can pick a different, fourth topic, which will help diversify the content of the course and enable you to capitalise on resources you have built up for legacy specifications. With either of those options students must still have choice of titles. Or, students can research a topic of their own interest – already so far we have had proposals on the Barbarians, Vlad the Impaler, Franco’s dictatorship, and modern Japan.
If you feel that this free choice is appropriate for your students then the process could really benefit them. But equally, you must bear in mind that some students on less familiar ground may struggle to keep the relevance and tight argument for 3-4000 words. And you can be fully confident that it is just as possible to reach the higher bands of the mark scheme with more traditional questions – a balance of what is going to work for you and your students is necessary.
Finalising a question
Given the emphasis of marks for AO1 (knowledge, understanding, use of second order concepts, and judgment), the questions your students settle on need to set up a judgment, rather than a narrative, and they need to allow analysis using second concepts (one or more of change, continuity, cause, consequence, similarity, difference, significance). This will drive the essay, but your students need to be able to access a range (say 10-15 in total) of primary and secondary sources, which they’ll use critically as part of their essay. Primary sources can be visual or written; secondary sources – interpretations – must be later deliberate constructs but needn’t be whole academic history books.
There have to be different interpretations (not necessarily diametrically opposed views) to be considered and weighed up for their value, and primary sources: a good tip is, if your student wants to investigate a question you’re not sure about – tell them to present you with 6 or 7 primary sources and some historians’ views relevant to the question, if they can’t do that, they may need to rethink. The mark scheme does require evaluation of both primary sources and interpretations so this is good practice.
Getting titles approved
You may end up with several students choosing to do the same question. This is fine, there is no limit on the number of students who do this. It’s also fine if they end up using many of the same books as each other. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is to give them the sources that they must use.
Remember, all titles must be approved through our text and task approval service.
This is, however, just an approval service. You’ll just get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This might be off putting if you get titles rejected, but if you do and you’re not sure why, email email@example.com and we’ll help to explain. Common reasons for questions not getting approved are closed question stems, too close to the unit 3 depth studies, moral or ethical dilemmas rather than historical ones, and manageability in 3-4000 words. A lot of our new centres are used to setting coursework in the context of 100 years – although this can work, there is no reason to do so.
We very much hope your students enjoy their coursework and that it sets them up with an interest in history, and ability to research and tackle problems, which will serve them well.
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.