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Stage 3: focusing on exam performance

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Stage 3: focusing on exam performance

Practice producing some essay plans so that you get into the habit of structuring answers to questions and using your knowledge strategically.

Write some timed essays (which I will be happy to look at).
Remember that examiners are assessing the quality of your historical understanding, the extent to which you have fulfilled the objective of writing a sophisticated and coherent argument well-supported by relevant evidence. (See the History Department Undergraduate Handbook for detailed programme objectives and for a breakdown of what each classification means.)

In particular, when writing essays in exam conditions make sure that you:

1. FULFIL THE RUBRIC (i.e. in this case answer THREE questions).

  • A short or non-existent third essay will bring down your mark sharply. Do the maths: two essays each of which get a mark of 60 but no third essay gets you a lower score than three essays each of which get 55. Time yourself strictly so that you spend no more than 60 minutes on each essay.


  • Do not present a collection of facts about a topic but organise your answer so that it provides a focused and coherent answer to the specific question set. It follows from this that narrative detail gets you no credit at all unless you explain why it is relevant.

  • So: always pause before you start writing. Plan your essay first and make sure that you understand what the question is really getting at: try to explain and define ambiguous phrases or words.


  • Don’t waste valuable time with an introduction that ‘provides some background’. Don’t digress. Don’t include material merely because it’s interesting (include it only if it’s pertinent.)

  • But at the same time, make connections clear. Explain WHY something is important or relevant. Remember that the examiners are looking for a coherent and informed analysis. You will not be marked down for coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusions, only for NOT MAKING AN ARGUMENT AT ALL. (Or for making an argument that is not supported by evidence and that reveals a lack of knowledge of the literature.)

  • STRUCTURE your answers clearly, with each paragraph making a point that clearly relates to the question.

  • Remember that all history essays are also historiographical essays. You should be explicit about different historical interpretations and evaluate them.

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