FIRST - Mental Headspace

This tip doesn’t just apply to Modern History, it should be something you are thinking about for all your upcoming exams. Stress is a massive part of academics, particularly in Year 12. While stress can certainly be a motivating force, it is important to remember that stress does affect your brain in negative ways. It is super important that you are taking care of yourself during these next few weeks as you complete exams - eating well, drinking plenty of water and getting enough good quality sleep is CRUCIAL to doing well. Your body needs fuel and energy to produce high quality content in the exam room.

It is also important to BACK YOURSELF - remember how many hours of preparation you have put into this subject, remember every practice question and practice plan you have completed and every review of the history you have stepped through. All of this work is tucked away in your brain ready to be used - remember that, hold on to that, use that to develop confidence.

SECOND - In the Exam Room

Try and keep everything on your desk organized as possible, especially your planning paper. If you need to number your planning sheets DO SO. Not being able to find things in an exam room is a shortcut to panic town.


First step is to read through all of the questions, highlight any confusing aspects and determine exactly what each of them are asking. Now is the time to find compare/contrast questions, your usefulness/reliability questions and to figure out which questions interact with which sources. Now head over to your stimulus book, and start by marking each source with their corresponding question. Read carefully through each source, INCLUDING their context statement to get all the information. If you have time, start marking up your sources with the information you want to use from each in your responses.

Planning time can also be useful for figuring out in which order you want to answer the questions. Remember that you don’t have to respond to the question in the order they are in the exam book - if you want to get that pesky usefulness/reliability question done first - GET IT DONE!

Exams can add extra stress due to restrictions around timing and feeling rushed. 

You have two options to approaching each question:

1.    If you want to ensure you are going to get full responses down on paper for every question, jump into writing each response and leave yourself extra time at the end to edit carefully and intentionally. If you need to rewrite big sections of a response on the extra paper you can! Be sure to carefully mark that you’ve done so within the response space so the marker knows where to find your work.

2.    If you want to write the best responses you can first try, spend your extra time planning each response before you start writing them. It will probably mean you have less time for editing at the end so be aware of that! I personally prefer this second option, because editing can be stressful in the closing moments of an exam.


Writing Actual Responses

The exam is made up of FOUR questions:

The first will be a short response question, most likely asking you to define a key term or explain a key concept using just a single source. Often this question will only be worth a few marks. Your response needs to be short, sharp and TO THE POINT. Make sure you avoid taking up lines with unnecessary detail.

The second question will likely be your compare or contrast question. Compare = you need to talk about similarities AND differences. Contrast = you need to talk about differences only. Make sure you use language which indicates you are discussing sources together not individually. Even if they are really different, they are still in relationship with each other.

As a general rule - be discussing two points of similarity, two points of differences OR 3-4 points of difference

The third question will be dealing with usefulness and reliability. Use TADPOLE when you are planning this response to quickly and effectively unpack a source!

T = type (e.g. diary entry or letter)

A = author (e.g. politician or solider)

D = date (e.g. during the war or after it)

P = perspective (e.g. pro-war or anti-war)

O = opinion (e.g. is it a personal opinion or a institution’s opinion)

L = language (e.g. emotive or balanced language)

E = evidence (e.g. use of data and facts or just personal experience)

As a general rule, you need to have 2 points of reliability and 2 points of usefulness for each source. You need to read the sources (especially the context statements) to determine what aspects of TADPOLE make for the strongest evidence.

The fourth question is going to ask you to use a range of sources to come up with a HISTORICAL ARGUMENT. Basically, they want you to come up with a solid thesis based on the concepts presented in the question, and to argue it in an extended response using evidence from a range of different sources. It is really important that your argument is clear in your topic sentence for this response. Sacrifice on complex vocab and sentence structure to ensure your marker understands exactly what it is you will be arguing!

Clarity > Complexity

Hopefully this question will outline exactly what sources you have to use, but if it doesn’t I would select FOUR, ensuring that you get a range of different types (visual and written, primary and secondary).

General Tips for All Question Types

Make sure you have a topic and concluding sentence for all your responses, an easy way to ensure you get your argument across in a short amount of time, and gets you a tick on your criteria sheet.

When unpacking WRITTEN sources - make sure you are on the lookout for explicit meaning (what’s right there on the page) and implicit meaning (what is hidden between the lines). Alot of implicit meaning can be determined by understanding the motivation behind why a source was written. Start there.

When unpacking VISUAL sources - start with explicit meanings right there on the page. What is the focal point of the image? Work through where the image is SET and what FIGURES appear in the image. Remember that cartoons are often imbued with more bias than photographs.

Even if you aren’t answering a usefulness and reliability question it is a good idea to take into account those aspects of a source. If a source is unreliable it can completely change how you interact with its contents in a long response question.

Remember to be reading TITLES of sources, there can be some really important information contained within them. Titles are generally the first thing that people read when seeing a source for the first time, so the author would have been intentional with picking them. In cartoons, the title can also be a stand in for dialogue between characters in the image.

Final Prep Tips

Over the next week or so there are a few things I would encourage you to do to get your brain up to date:

Practice each question type at least once. The more you do, the better it will feel answering them in the exam. If you don’t have any practice questions you haven’t done, rewrite some of your old responses. Try and do these practises in exam conditions!! It is important getting used to having the restraints of timing and the pressure of having to get things done. Again, the more you practice that, the more normal it will feel in the exam room.

Identify any source types that you struggle analyzing and seek a few out to analyze and unpack from scratch. It is a good idea to be able to annotate and pull apart sources quickly but effectively, as that can be a time sapper in the exam room.

Go over the events of the conflict and identify key moments, figures and concepts. You can certainly give yourself a hand up in the exam if you understand the conflict well, as it will help you unpack the sources with intention. Further, your understanding will undoubtedly shine through in the way you respond to questions and interact with different concepts and sources. Usually you can find simplified timelines on google easily.

Best of luck!!