How I planned and wrote my History Extension essays: a student’s story

By Katie Rinos in HSC
5th of February 2018
history extension

How I planned and wrote my History Extension essays!

I remember being shown some History Extension past papers my first ever class and they looked really scary. The historians in the sources seemed difficult and hard to understand at times and the essay itself seemed challenging. But don’t worry – it isn’t that bad!! You can definitely write a great extension essay and improve throughout the year!

Reading time:

You have 5 minutes reading time during the exams. It is strictly only reading, which can be annoying as you can’t even use a highlighter on the source. During my reading time, I read the question first and then read over the source a few times so that I began understanding it and extracting the main points. After reading time, I would spend at least 10 minutes planning so that I would be answering the question with the source correctly.

What is history? – Section One Essay

This section has a longer source of usually around 1-1 1/2 pages and therefore planning is good to break down the source to answer the question well. I would usually plan on the question/source page.

How I planned these essays:
1. Highlight the important points/arguments that were relevant to the question. I would try to find at least 3-4 main points I could talk about.
2. Write these points in my own words.
3. State if I agree/disagree with the point.
4. Link historians to the points and very briefly explain why.
5. Number the order I wanted to address my points.
6. Write a thesis sentence on the page that would be the first sentence of my introduction.

This is a fairly messy plan that a wrote for one of my practice History Extension essays (2015 HSC):

Case Study-Section two essay:

The sources for this section are normally a lot smaller (sometimes only 1 or 2 sentences) so it is easier to plan. This essay is more like an ancient/modern essay.

To plan I:
1.   Read the quote and rewrote it in my own words.
2.   Choose an area of debate from my case study.
3.   Do each of the schools of history reflect this view? Yes/No? How?

Essay Tips

⁃   My section one essay had a longer introduction than a history essay, which set out the main arguments and referenced the source throughout. I then had around 3 main paragraphs (with historians supporting the ideas) and a conclusion that summarised all of my points. My section two essay had a slightly longer intro/conclusion and had body paragraphs on the historian’s context/methodology and linked this to their interpretations of the events. However, this essay can also be done thematically as well.

⁃   No memorised essays: Although you can get away with memorising essays for English you can’t with Extension History. You must have explicit references to the source and its arguments presented in both questions. The question is also usually very different each year and cannot be predicted. Therefore, you should be prepared with quite a few debates, issues and historians.

⁃   No chronological essays (e.g Herotodus then Von Ranke then Carr,etc.): This is because the essay must have strong links to the source. It is also harder to incorporate your own historical voice and easier to write a history of history rather than a historiographical essay. Therefore, it is better to aim to write thematically to receive an E3/4.

⁃   History extension essays are analytical essays which means that you must make a strong critical judgement/opinion of the arguments in the source. For each historian that you talk about be explicit about why their approach to history was positive/negative. A way I tried to do this was by mentioning both sides of the argument and criticising the one that is incorrect by analysing factors such as their methodology, selective use of evidence, bias/prejudices and ideologies. You can use the History Extension debate thread  to test out your perspectives on historiographical issues and learn to ‘develop your voice’.

– Know the historians and key historiographical debates very well! You should know many different historians and their quotes to support your arguments and complement those from the source. Debates can include: is history a science/literature, can history be objective, academic v. popular history, is history fiction, who owns history?

– PRACTISE!! You don’t need to always write full essays, even essay plans can be very helpful. You will improve and find it easier after doing a few practice essays. I started open book (with my flashcards in front of me) and then moved to more proper exam conditions.


Want to ask Katie some questions? Head to the original thread here and ask!

Are you considering picking up History Extension? If so, see what Susie has to say about the course structure here.