how to answer history questions

How to answer gcse history questions

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Question Type 1 – ‘What can you learn’

—6 marks available

Level 1- Copying out sentences from the source = 1 mark

Level 2- Unsupported inference = This is the hard bit – you are figuring out the deeper meaning of the evidence, rather than just changing a few words around like a level 1 answer would.

 2 marks for 1 inference/ 3 marks for 2 inferences

Level 3- Supported Inference- This is the easy bit if you have found your two inferences for level 2 – all you need to do is support them with an example from the source.

 4-5 marks for 1 supported inference/   5-6 marks for 2 supported inferences


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Question Type 2 - Purpose

8 marks available

Level 1 Basic - General statements/copying from source (1-2 marks)

Level 2 Message – Explains the message /idea of the evidence and supports with an example from the source. (3-5 marks)

Level 3 Message + Purpose - Explains what the source was intended to make people think or do and supports the explanation with examples from the source and your own knowledge.  (6-8 marks)

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Question Type 3: do the souces agree

10 marks

      In Question 3 you will need to compare the evidence from three pieces if evidence and explain the similarities and differences between their views on the event.

       Remember to look carefully at each source - often they have evidence which can be used for both sides of the question.

       You will also need to comment on how reliable the three pieces of evidence are on the event. e.g when was it written? Who by? For what purpose? Can you detect a ‘tone’ to the writing? Were these views/opinions popular or a minority opinion of the event?

       Finally link back to the question and summarise – how far do the sources differ from each other? E.g “ In conclusion there appears to be… strong support; some support; little support…..”

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Question Type 4: how useful/ reliable

10 marks

Utility – this is asking whether the source is useful – what value it has as evidence.

Reliability – this is asking whether the source can be trusted, not whether it is useful or not.

•      You need to comment on the ‘5 W’s’ – Who, what where, when and why. These are also known as ‘Nature, Origin and Purpose (NOP)’

•      You also need to comment on why each of the two sources is useful/reliable and what limitations the evidence has.

•      Using your own knowledge will help you to make a better judgement on whether the source is typical/representative or reliable on the event.

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Question Type 5: hypothesis

16 marks

However, it is straightforward if you can organise yourself before you begin your answer.

·         Try to divide the evidence into points which agree with the question and points which disagree with the question

 ·         Using your own knowledge will help you to make a better judgement as you can add in some extra contextual knowledge on the events.

·         You also need to comment on whether the evidence can be trusted (reliability).

·         Finally, you need to come to a clear judgement on whether the evidence provided combined with your own knowledge agrees or disagrees with the hypothesis of the question.


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Sophie Hill

Sorry to be thick but what is inference?!

vicky coleman

no its fine i didnt know what it ment for ages! but its like a statement or point you make about a piece of text


This was extremely helpful as I didn't know how to structure my answers but I knew all of the info. This really did help me :D

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