In History, Papers 1 and 2 are identical at HL and SL.  The curricular difference between the two is that HL students do an additional area of content – the Regional Option.  The assessment difference is that HL students do another essay test – Paper 3.  More on that in the next post….

Paper 2 is an essay test. Students should be prepared in two of five content areas. The 5 content areas are:

  • Wars
  • Democratic States
  • Single Party States
  • Decolonization
  • Cold War

To demonstrate their knowledge of the material that they covered, students must write two essays on two different topic areas.  If they answer two questions from one  topic area they will only receive credit for one essay.  That means the highest mark they can receive out of 40 is 20 – and that is highly unlikely.  So, students really need to understand the demands of this exam or they could inadvertently end up in serious trouble despite their content knowledge.

In Paper 2 students are assessed holistically on certain core concepts:

  • The level of focus on the question asked
    • It is surprising how many students do not answer the question they are asked.  Sometimes they answer the question they wish they had been asked and sometimes they go off topic.
    • One way to help students focus their essay is to have them provide a thesis or direct answer to the question they were asked in the introduction.
    • Another way is to coach students to link each argument of the body back to the question asked.
    • Finally, the conclusion should explicitly answer the question asked, even if the thesis already did this in the introduction.
  • The structure of the essay
    • Students are often afraid of losing time; they have 90 minutes total, or 45 minutes per essay and that never feels like enough time. As a result they often start writing without thinking things through and there is not a clearly recognizable structure to the essay.  Alternatively, they just tell us the story or describe the situation, many times in chronological order.
    • One key to a well-structured essay is taking some time and outlining their essay.  It doesn’t have to be a formal, Roman-numeral essay – bullet points, spiders and Venn diagrams can all be helpful.
    • Presenting the reader with a roadmap in the introduction also demonstrates their ability to structure it.  This is as simple as listing the arguments that will be discussed in the essay.
    • Clear topic sentences that provide the assertion for that argument also help here.  Considering each argument as a mini-essay and each topic sentence as a thesis is a solid way of presenting a well-structured response.
  • The amount of accurate, relevant and well-selected detail
    • How many times are we asked if they need to know names and dates?  As I always say, no one asks if numbers are needed in Mathematics!
    • Some students are astute analysts who provide little factual support, usually because they didn’t study enough to know the historical details.  They will pass but will not do well.
    • Students need to know the material.
    • Selecting information, rather than telling everything they know, is difficult for students who have studied really hard and want to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject.
    • The outline or planning should help them with this.
    • Students will lose time by writing everything, and should be reminded of this.
  • The ability to analyze the evidence they present
    • Analysis or critical commentary is where students relate the evidence to the essay question and provide a reasoned, supported perspective that reinforces their thesis
    • The critical commentary should be integrated into the essay consistently.
    • Students struggle with compare and contrast questions.  Rather than provide a running comparison they tend to write about one case and then the next and put their explanation of  similarities and differences in the conclusion.  A simple rearrangement of information where they discuss similarities and differences of specific aspects of their examples is much more effective.
    • Although an excellent essay doesn’t have to include historiography the best essays often do.  But students need to use it well; memorizing quotations can muddle an argument because students insist on including them whether they are relevant tIo the argument or not.  It is better to understand a historian’s perspective and use it as part of the critical commentary
  • The coherence of the argument and conclusion presented
    • This is not a mystery novel -the examiner does not need to wait until the  last page to find out how the essay ends, and there should not be a shocking twist.
    • If the essay includes links back to the question throughout, the essay should be driving to a logical ending; the thesis can show nuanced understanding and reflect different views, especially when asked about successful regimes or policies, but the essay must be consistent with itself.  Otherwise, the reader is confused.
    • The conclusion should not be lengthy.  If a student has consistently analyzed evidence throughout the essay this is not necessary.  Long conclusions often occur when students have narrative responses and save their analysis for the end.
    • A crisp, 3-4 sentence conclusion which answers the question explicitly and links it to a bigger, broader picture will suffice.

The markbands reflect this and thus it is helpful for students to be familiar with the markbands and how they are used by the examiners.  A student will be awarded the mark that best fits their response.  One way in students internalize the IB expectations is to have them mark their own tests using the IB rubric.  This can be time consuming to do well, but it is well worth the effort as they will gain an understanding of the grading process.  They probably also develop some empathy for teachers – marking one exam is difficult enough, they often think, imagine a whole cohort of IB history essays!