Modern History is one of the most popular humanities subjects, that you can study for the HSC! It’s super interesting, and I’ve found that modern history students seem to be some of the most engaged, active, and keen students about! If you’re one of those students, and you’re angling for that Band 6 in Modern History, then this is the article for you!

In 2016, I came 18thin NSW for Modern History, with a mark of 96. These are my top 6 tips, to getting a Band 6!

1.   Practice, practice, practice!

I’ll say it again, practice! This is my NUMBER ONE study tip for Modern History. You want to be constantly engaging with exam style questions, and getting a feel for what that final paper is going to be like. Completing practice responses will not only give you a sense of the types of questions they can ask, but will also help you;

  • Understand where you are going wrong (if you get your responses marked, which you should!), so you can fix them before they count.

  • Understand what essay style works best for you, whether that be thematic essays or factors essays (or a mix of both!)

  • Increase your handwriting speed (if you complete some exams under timed conditions)

  • Understand your own opinions on the topic, so that you can flesh out those arguments more in future exams, and really demonstrate your historic voice.

If you’re struggling to find practice questions, because of the new syllabus, make some up yourself! Just take a syllabus dot point, stick a question mark at the end and voila! Perfect practice question!

2.   Dazzle with detail!

Detail really is what pushes those band 5’s to a band 6 (and those band 6’s to high band 6’s), but for some reason, detail is one of the most neglected aspects of Modern History when it comes to study. Most students seem to focus on the “big issues” and themes when studying, which is good, but not if it comes at the expense of detail.

Detail includes;

  • Statistics

  • Dates

  • Facts (the more obscure the better)

  • Specific terminology (e.g. using the German term Lebensraumrather than ‘Living Space’)

  • Quotes

Having a mix of these things throughout your response will increase your chances of nabbing that band 6 mark. The more specific the detail, the better, however, if you’re struggling to remember the whole thing, it’s better to more simplified detail, than none at all. For example, let’s say you can’t remember the exact date 24thAugust 1915 – saying August 1915, or even just 1915 is better than nothing!

If you’re struggling to study detail, and find that is constantly gets ignored, consider constructing a detail table. A detail table has all the syllabus dot points down one side, then one column for detail (e.g. stats, dates, etc.) and one column for quotes. It’s a great way of separating out your study, and will ensure that your remember a lot more detail going into the exam.

3.   Have a strong judgement – and keep it consistent.

Judgements are super important in Modern History, especially for the essay topics. If the question begins with ‘assess’, ‘examine’, ‘evaluate’ or ‘to what extent’, that means you must have an argument. A judgment is your perspective on the issue, what you think happened, based on the evidence that you have been presented. For example, an effective judgment for a question like ‘to what extent was Lenin the most critical factor in the Bolshevik Consolidation of Power’, might be ‘Lenin was a highly critical factor to the Bolshevik consolidation of power, as it was his ideology and leadership that underpinned all Bolshevik action to 1924’. You want your judgement to be strong and assertive – using words like ‘overall’, or ‘despite’, can allow you to incorporate a bit of nuance, while still being very assertive.

You need to make sure that you have a judgement as the first sentence of your essay (your thesis), and as the first sentence for every single one of your paragraphs. After that, then you can get into some context. I know of some teachers who mark students down for not having them as your opening sentences, so this is very important

It’s also important that this judgement remains consistent throughout the entire essay. You don’t want one paragraph to be arguing one thing, and another paragraph to argue something completely different. I find that this is something a lot of students struggle with, because history isn’t always black and white, but again, using words like “overall” can really help here. Make sure that every paragraph in some way supports your thesis.

4.   Keep it simple, stupid!

Words to live by, from the kinda smart Albert Einstein:

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it”.

Having a unique judgment/thesis is great, however remember that the more complicated and convoluted it is, the harder it is for you to sustain throughout your response, and the harder it is for your marker to understand what you are saying. It’s also a good idea to use consistent language throughout your essay – it may seem repetitive, but if you say “critical” at the beginning, it’s a good idea to let that same phrase carry through, as it avoids false accusations of a split judgment.

5.   Focus on themes!

In the exam, you won’t be asked to organise events in chronological order, or write a biography on a particular historical personality – you’ll be asked questions that will require you to analyse themes and issues – so that is what you should be focusing on during your study!

Rather than organising your notes in chronological order, organise them according to key themes that you can discuss in your essays and shorter responses, and how they relate to the major events and personalities in your study. For example, a key theme for the Core Study is the failures of democracy, the rise of nationalism and economic crises. A great way to construct your notes in this case is to construct a linking table, with the major events down the left hand side, and the key themes across the top.

A linking table allows you to identify the links between events and key themes, that can then be used in your responses. They’re also a form of active study, as you actually have to make judgements and consider the evidence while you’re studying, meaning that what you are learning will be engrained in your brain deeper!

6.   Historiography! Great, but don’t stress about it.

Quotes are great, and to be honest, most band 6 students will use them. But they are not essential to getting a band 6, so don’t stress about them too much! If you can’t remember a quote in an exam, no biggie! Paraphrasing often works just as well, if not better, as it proves to the marker that you understand what their perspective is as well.

If you are going to use a quote, make sure that the quote is going to actually add something to your argument, and it isn’t just there for quotes sake. It’s really obvious when students are just incorporating historiography to boost up their word count, or they have nothing else to say. The markers aren’t marking you on your ability to parrot the words of experts the best, they want to hear what you have to say!

However, make sure that whoever you are quoting is actually a historian. Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT, quote textbooks. I know they may seem super quotable, but you know why that is? They’re writing about HSC content, to help you answer the exact questions you are answering in that exam – of course they’re going to be quotable! NEVER. QUOTE. TEXTBOOKS.

I hope this helps! If you have any more Modern History questions, be sure to direct them to the Modern History Question Thread!