In IB History, at both HL and SL, students are required to demonstrate their ability to use historical sources.  There are a number of historical skills that are used by professionals instantaneously and often on a daily basis.  Every time you pick up a text, read a journal article or examine a political cartoon or graph, you probably do this quickly, almost without thinking about it.  Like many other tasks, practice leads to constant improvement and you probably don’t even realizing you are doing it.

To assist students in their development of these skills you should expose them to a variety of sources, and teach them to look at them critically.  This doesn’t just mean criticizing sources, but also gaining insight into the various factors that affect the production of these sources.  They can then consider how this makes the source valuable, or not.

Paper 1 will assess students’ ability to do just that.  It is a source-based test.  Students are able to choose one section of the exam.  They then must answer all of the questions in that section.  There are 5 sections, each of which corresponds to one of the Prescribed Subjects.  Each Prescribed Subject has two case studies and you must cover both:

  • Military leaders: Richard I and Genghis Khan
  • Conquest and its impact: Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru; and end of Muslim rule in Spain
  • The move to global war: Japanese expansion in East Asia and German and Italian expansion
  • Rights and protest: Apartheid in South Africa and Civil Rights Movement in the USA
  • Conflict and intervention: Rwanda and Kosovo

All 5 sections will have identical questions that follow the same format.

Paper 1 has 4 sources, three print and one non-print (e.g., cartoon, photo, portrait, graph, table).  All 4 are used to answer 4 questions.  The questions follow the same format, regardless of Prescribed Subject of case study:

The first question is divided into two parts.  Each part asks you to show that understanding of the sources.  Examples:

1a.  According to Source A, what factors motivated the Mongol conquests?

1b.  What is the message conveyed in Source B?

The second question is an evaluation of one source.  It will always be phrased the same way.  Example:

  1. With reference to origins, purpose and content, analyze the value and limitations of Source C for a historian studying the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

The third question is a comparison of  two sources.  Example:

  1. Compare and contrast what Sources C and D reveal about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

The fourth, and final question, is a mini-essay in which the students should synthesize the sources and their own knowledge. In this question there should be a thesis and a structured the response. Example:

  1. Using these sources and your own knowledge, evaluate the role of Nelson Mandela in the South African struggle against Apartheid.

The questions progress in their sophistication, and by the time students reach the final question, they have been asked to analyze all 4 sources, so they should be able to answer the question handily.

Paper 1 lasts an hour, plus 5 minutes reading time.  While it will be a very fast hour, students should be able to answer all 4 questions within the time allotted.   For experienced IB teachers, the differences are subtle, but need to be considered.  Future blogs will look at these questions individually, so that you can get a better understanding on how to coach the students as they practice these questions.