History fills us in on things that have come to be, while at the same time informing the decisions we make about our future. If you are considering taking history as an option or deciding whether or not to continue, the answer is to take it. Not only is it important to understand how and why laws, social movements, war, and other events have come to pass, but it also provides real-world skills you need as an engaged citizen. 

These skills are transferable across a wide range of sectors as you analyse data, review and critique various information, are able to critically engage with the works of others, evaluate the reliability of different media, and become insanely helpful in team Quiz challenges. History provides an avenue to observe and understand how different societies and people behaved and this can be used to inform decisions made now for future generations. If the end of year external NCEA history exams are giving you a sense of unease or doubt, we have revision tips to see you through.

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Break the exam question down

For level 1 you will have three standards, each worth 4 credits. Before you start panicking, only one requires a conventional essay format. The important fact about essays is that it is quality over quantity. Obviously, one paragraph is not going to be enough in this case, but having a clear plan will set you off in the right direction. A brainstorm will help you clear your mind and by having it on paper, you relieve some of the stress on your brain to remember, organise, and articulate.

Once you have it down on paper, you can begin to organise your ideas. Choose three main points that relate to the question. In bullet points arrange into the following sequence; the main point, explanation, evidence, your judgement. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to create a solid plan, it will make writing the history essay a lot easier and quicker.

What do you need to prepare for NCEA Hisory exams? (Unsplash)

What happens next?  Let’s start with the introduction. When you are writing an essay in history, there are to be no surprises, your introduction will inform the examiner of your main points. This isn’t too difficult as you can re-word the question to help you. Describe the causes and consequences of an historical event. So how would we re-word it? A cause and consequence of (historical event) was (a brief sentence on a cause and/or a consequence). Make sure you read the question properly as it asks for multiple causes and consequences from one historical event. Check on the exam guidelines for more information on the exam papers.

A good rule of thumb is to provide three, as the examiners only want 3-4 pages. One paragraph should be about one cause and/or consequence. Within your paragraph layout you will want to follow the same layout as your plan; topic sentence, main point cause and/or consequence, explain the impact it had, add in evidence, and add your judgement about why this particular cause and/or consequence is worth mentioning in relation to the historical event. This paragraph structure also works for the other two assessments.

For level 2 and 3 you have two essay questions. The level of detail required increases so for level 2 it is about 5 pages and level 3, 6. While the length may not be the same, the same process can be applied to your writing. Break it down, plan it, write it. Practice breaking down exam questions. Have a read of our guide on past history exam papers to get the most out of your revision time.

Plan the plan

As you prepare for your history exams, short notes or bullet points are easier for your brain to remember. If you have already experienced level 1 exams, the format of the questions are similar in level 2, but the expectation on how you write has changed. As there is no set topic you have to write about, in theory, you could write one and memorise it. However, it wouldn’t be in your best interest. Trying to remember an 800 word essay does not sound like a good idea, more like a headache.

For levels 2 and 3, you are expected to write two essays plus a detailed response in 3 hours. The best way to approach this is to perfect your planning skills. Be methodical and as detailed as you can be during your revision time. When looking over the work you have done through the year, choose a historical event that you enjoyed studying. If there is enjoyment, it becomes less of a burden to write about. Now you can think about the causes and consequences.

People planning on computers
Planning is a key step in NCEA history revision.

The stakes have been raised, and for level 2 you will also need to explain how the causes and consequences contributed to the significance of the historical event you have chosen. For level 3 you will need to analyse a limited number of causes OR consequences of your chosen significant historical event. Here it is very clear that causes and consequences need to be discussed separately for level 3. You can also see the change in keywords, for level 2 you explain, for level 3 you analyse.

That is a lot of things you need to remember; dates, names, locations, events, consequences, significance. Remember bullet points are your friend. Colour coding dates, names and locations to their corresponding cause or consequence, helps your brain to retain information. The planning sheet is what you want to memorise. Try to keep it as short and as sharp as possible.

Critique those history sources

For the level 1 and level 2 history exams, you will be given a booklet of primary and secondary sources for you to break down. With level 1, the keyword is interpret. For level 2, it is examine. These keywords are very important, as they help shape your response. Just like you did for the essay questions, you are going to break down the question. One of the first things to do is to establish if it is a primary or secondary source. Look for the date it was published and who wrote the source. If there isn’t any information given, don’t panic, you can point out that it is an unreliable source because we don’t know who wrote it and when.

Highlighters are handy for self-study
Highlighters are great tools for NCEA history revision.

The next step is to critique the actual writing. What is the exam question asking me to do? Once you have figured it out, read through the sources and underline or highlight sections that relate to the question. When you are highlighting or underlining, add a bullet point or three about why or how you think it connects to the question. Some good questions to keep in mind are; what is it, what is the function, what is the effect they are aiming for. For example, is it a newspaper extract or a letter? What is the point of this source? Who are they writing to? Is there an aim to the source, if so, what is it? Are they informing, or trying to influence others?

Looking for more NCEA history help?

Writing essays can be tricky and require practice. Like all skills, the more you practice, the better you get at it. It can get a bit tricky when integrating evidence into your writing, using linking phrases such as for example…, as it is highlighted ..., connecting to that idea… help link your writing together. If you are looking to get the best tips in order to bring out your inner historian, Superprof has the people for you. With a wide range of experienced and knowledgeable tutors, you can find the right person for you. Have a look through our website to find your tutor today.

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