Based on anecdotal evidence (how many students answer questions on Paper 2) Single Party States is the most popular of the 20th century world history topics. Today, a student asked me if it was possible to simply study one facet of SPS – rise, domestic policies or maintenance of power. I was thinking about it and came to the conclusion that, yes, a student could do that so long as they covered enough leaders/states from enough regions. Is this what we want them to do?

In late February most of us are still covering new material but also looking ahead to the IB exams and strategies that students could use. In fact, I thought to myself, it m ight be less onerous on a student to study 4-5 SPS if they concentrated on comparing narrow aspects of the topic and the responses produced might well be more thorough and comparative in nature.

Is that what we want?

There is a constant tension between exam prep and content coverage. In history, where numerous posts on the OCC point to a low average compare to other group 3 subjects, the temptation is there to try to ‘spot’ questions and prepare students accordingly. This could be a good strategy but does it teach them teh history they want them to see?

I just finished a unit on Fascist Italy and at the end asked the students if they thought the regime was a success. Interestingly, the majority of my students felt that the regime was largely successful even though a majority of the policies failed. Their responses were supported by diverse evidence and consideratoin of the goals of fascism. Without studying all of Fasicst Italy I don’t think their responses to my question would have been so nuanced and I left feeling that they really understood the intricacies and contradictions in Fascist Italy. Such responses are difficult to articulate and even more difficult to write and lead to weak responses on essays, but I have no doubt that these young people have an understanding of the subject they wouldn’t otherwise possess.

Had I simply focused on domestec policies – and had the student only been exposed to that, it would have been very easy for them to mark fascism an abject failure. The responses would be focused and detailed but I doubt there would be the ambivalence in responses that marks a good historical mind.

So that raises the question – is History Paper 2 an effective paper for Single Party States? I know many will simply reply that it is what we have and there’s no point in resonding but I think that asking such questions can prompt revisions in the system when curriculum review takes place.

I would ask that people consider the nature of Paper 2 questions and decide if they are effective teaching tools. After all, an exam is only good if it is an effective culminatiopn of the work done. If it is not, in your opinion, you should propose another model – a world-lit type assignment (although that’s going away) that’s student generated and externally assessed for example.

Just some food for thought as the May exams draw near …