As H.G Wells is attributed with saying, History is a race between education and catastrophe. This could be interpreted as a rather dystopian take on human nature or the belief that by trying to understand what has happened before us, we can take greater care in the way in which we build our future. Because you have chosen to take history as a subject, you are choosing education. Exams can be daunting but they do have a point, to see what knowledge you have retained and your ability to articulate what you understand. With the end of the year approaching, it can be a challenging time.

Feeling a bit anxious about your history exam? Wanting to do well but not sure how to study? Looking for a different way to revise? Then using past history exam papers are a great tool to add to your belt. History exams require quite a bit of revision and practice, as the knowledge you have gained over the year is put to test. Being prepared is a great way to ensure you get the best results and helps to relieve some of the exam stress you may experience from doing multiple exams. Your brain is being crammed with a variety of knowledge in a short space of time, so here are some ways past history exam papers can help prepare you.

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History exams are available in English and Te Reo Māori.
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How can past history exam papers help me?

History is a writing subject, so you have a lot of writing to do in a small space of time. Using past exam papers can help to de-mystify the process. You can see how the questions are formatted, what the booklets will look like, and get a rough idea of how long each section may take you. It also provides a chance to look at the sources resource booklet. The questions and the resource booklets will not be the same as the ones you will receive in the exam. So they are a great practising tool, but there is no need to try to memorise the questions. The history exam is available in Te Reo Māori and English, so choose the language that suits your needs and what you have been registered in.

The questions will have a similar structure to previous years and are designed to be open. Questions that are open do not have one correct answer, but there are certain skills in your writing, reasoning, and ability to justify, that you will need to demonstrate. The questions usually have a theme and your teacher will know it in advance. They can be a bit intimidating as you do not have a prescribed event to know about given by the NZQA, however, your history teacher would have provided different historical events that fit with this theme. You do not need to learn something from scratch, just revise what you have already learnt. A majority of the questions are based on a certain theme, such as colonialism, and there are many historical events that fall under this category. If you are thinking about doing a scholarship exam in history, we have a guide to help you set up for success.

Road map
Create a road map to help you navigate the history exam

What is the best way to use past history exam papers?

The best way to use past exam papers is to practice breaking down the questions and creating writing plans. Writing plans are essentially a bullet-pointed list of the main ideas in your essay. They provide a road map for you to make sure you have answered the question completely (usually there are two questions in one) and provide a structure for you to follow so you can articulate yourself well. It also provides space for you to dump whatever is in your brain. This is super helpful for writing down evidence before you forget, such as names, dates, events, etc. By having it written down you can then organise it and choose where the supporting evidence best fits without having to try to do it all in your head.

It is also helpful to look at the sources booklet if you are doing level 1 or level 2 history. The question attached to this standard is not an essay but a detailed paragraph. You can practice justifying your position or statements, which can be a tricky skill to get the hang of. Read the question related to this standard then read ALL of the sources. As you read through them, identify areas in which you believe help answer the question. Like the essay, there isn’t really a wrong answer, just an unsupported one. Exam specifications change over time, so be picky about the past exam papers you choose to use.  Anything more than 4 years old loses its reliability as NZQA modernises the exams every couple of years. One thing to be mindful of any years that really don’t suit the norm (2020 exams for example). While they can be helpful, be aware that the format may have been altered due to unprecedented events (earthquakes or covid perhaps?).

Another great resource to look for are exemplars. They can be found among past papers and give real-life examples of what achieved, merit, and excellence look like and explain HOW they got that mark. Unfortunately, the exemplars at this stage are only in English, but the skills needed to pass are the same and they hold value even if you are sitting the exam in Te Reo Māori. The exemplars are very clear in what the student did well in, and why they received the mark they did. Have a read through a recent exemplar to give yourself an idea of what the examiners are looking for. Like past papers, stick to recent exemplars to avoid any issues of using outdated information. Read our guide on exam revision tips for more information on how to revise exam questions.

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History NCEA past papers can be found online

Where do I find past exam papers?

They can be a little tricky to find as you navigate the NZQA website. The site is more geared towards teachers so there is a lot of educational jargon. Don’t be put off though. Once you get a hang of navigating the site, you can access multiple years of past exam papers. When searching the database, check you are on the right level of NCEA, the exams are specifically designed for each level, so doing the level above you won’t give you an advantage because you have different marking criteria and skills you need to demonstrate. It may seem a bit strange to be able to access these past papers, but it is 100% there to help you. 

Anyone can access these papers if they know where to look, you can even just type it into Google (the search results are more miss than hit, so going to the actual site and searching from there is easier). To set you off in the right direction, click the link to have a look at past papers for NCEA level 1 history. When you are choosing a past paper, you are looking for the word external to be attached to the standard. There are three external papers for NCEA level 1, level 2, and level 3. Check the details before you start using them to revise.

Still unsure about using past exam papers?

Finding a revision buddy is a good idea to help you shift through the revision work. You need to be revising what you have already learned in class so having someone to talk with is helpful. If you are finding revision a bit overwhelming or wanting to improve your skills. Superprof has a wide range of tutors available that can help support your goals. You can find tutors that can work around your time constraints, for short or long periods of time, and have reviews from real students. Find your perfect tutor with Superprof today.

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