As we enter October many of you may be feeling a bit of anxiety about your essay-writing skills. If you are a first year History student, you are wondering about how much higher the expectations are for IB students and if you are a second year IB student you are wondering how prepared for the IB examinations you are – especially if you are in the Southern Hemisphere and the IB exams are looming. Given all of these circumstances I thought it would be useful to go over the main components of a history essay.
When you write an essay for IB history there are 3 components:
This is the roadmap for the essay, so you want to:
- Provide historical context to show an understanding of the question
- Answer the question as explicitly as is possible, given the question
- This may take the form of a thesis
- Explain to the reader the issues you will raise or arguments you will present to answer your question
If you have been successful, the reader (i.e., your teacher of the examiner) will have a good sense of how your essay will progress and will feel that you have focused on the question.
Supporting arguments -which constitute the body
Here you want to develop the arguments that you have presented in the introduction
Each supporting argument constitutes a one-paragraph mini-essay: a handy tool to ensure that you completed each argument is the acronym PEEL:
- POINT: This is your topic sentence and you will present a mini-thesis that is the idea you are trying to prove
- EVIDENCE: Here you provide the factual knowledge that is needed to prove your point
- EXPLANATION: You analyze the evidence, showing its relevance and support
- LINKAGE: Link the argument back to the overall question or thesis you presented; in a relatively short, timed essay this may feel a bit repetitive but it is effective in showing that you understand the demands of the question and have maintained your focus.
There is a lot of debate around how many arguments you should present; it is going to depend on the question itself and the number of arguments you have. It is certainly true that one or two arguments will be insufficient to go higher than the 9-11 markband, but other than that, it is dependent upon the depth of knowledge and level of explanation that you provide
Very simply put:
- Restate your thesis or answer your question
- Highlight relevant issues that you raised in the body
- Take the essay topic back to its larger context
If your introduction and body are clear and easily followed, 2-3 sentences is satisfactory here, and it is largely superfluous. If, however, your essay lacks critical commentary, this can become an important section where you have made the prior discussions relevant.
This is just one approach to writing history essays – if you are doing well with your current method, keep things as they are. However, there may be some of you looking for fixes for your essays. If your teacher asks you to integrate more analysis – look at the explanation component of the body. If your teacher writes that the point of your essay is not clear, stating an explicit answer to the question (and possibly underlining that answer) will help you clarify your points. Use as much or as little of this method as you like.