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Success in preparing for history A-level exams hinges on mastering the technical craft of history and combining that technical craft with a reasonable level of knowledge. A history A-level requires students to read and evaluate historical evidence. Students must also be able to craft historical arguments supported by that evidence. A solid personal knowledge of the historical matters being covered is also critical, as students will need that knowledge in order to both augment and contextualize the supplied source materials.
The ability to evaluate evidence is of critical importance to a historian and is, consequently, crucial for success on a history A-level. Each piece of evidence should be evaluated both on its own merits, in response to a prompt dealing with evidence, and to determine how, exactly, it might be used to support a particular thesis for a given exam question. The bias, target audience, and agenda of the author or authors of each piece of evidence should be determined as well, as these factors are crucial in determining how much credibility to ascribe to a particular source on any given issue.
Simply because a source is biased does not mean it is useless, as the knowledge of that bias is itself a useful piece of evidence. Political propaganda, for example, cannot be taken as truth but is a very useful source when considering how the government that produced it wished to be perceived. It is especially important to consider points of difference between provided sources, as these differences must be addressed in any answer that relies on those sources for evidence.
History A-level exams also test a student’s ability to construct a useful and effective historical argument. It is critical to avoid simple summary when answering such questions. Students should, instead, take an informed position in response to the question being asked. Moderate positions, which are actually more difficult to defend effectively, and strong, but not extreme, positions are usually the best bet. A historical argument should never be a simple restatement of fact but should offer an explanation of historical events that is based on facts, and that, ideally, is disputable, as uncontroversial arguments are usually of little importance.
Knowledge of history is also a crucial component of success on history A-level exams. Students will need to have a sufficient grounding in the history of the periods covered by the exam to be able to analyze the supplied sources and to construct a meaningful historical argument. This background information will allow students to create an answer that begins with a historical argument, includes carefully vetted evidence, and concludes with a strong summation of points made.
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