This first blog post is going to attempt to answer your most requested topic - how to revise for exams. Or alternatively what you are really asking is, ‘what do and don’t I need to revise and how can I do this with as little effort as possible?’. Well, it’s a fair point. History is a very fact heavy subject with many events, topics, themes and exam papers to revise for. There doesn’t seem to be many revision shortcuts and it certainly seems daunting. But there are certain things you can focus on in revision to make your task, and life, easier.
1. Identify what to revise
The first and most obvious point to make is be absolutely clear about what topics, themes and events you need to revise for each exam paper. If you don’t know then pay attention. You are going to need to know exactly what to revise and expect for each paper. The IB publish to teachers what to cover and what could be examined in the ‘specification’ for each subject. These are often only broad outlines of themes and topics, and it is up to students to select specific events to study. Luckily, i’ve created revision checklists for each topic. Please find them and the IB specifications below. As a general rule, if it isn’t on the specification, then you don’t need to revise it!
2. Make notes on each unit, topic, and event
Exams are designed to test your knowledge and whether you understand the history. The first step to understanding the history is to put it into your own words. For each topic and lesson studied in history, you should be making continual notes on the key events, themes, arguments, and perspectives discussed. These notes might come from lesson lectures and presentations, textbook activities, discussion debates, further reading and research, and even your own reflections - use the revision checklists above to help you spot gaps in your note-taking.
There’s many different methods for note-taking. I personally just use the bullet-point feature on google docs to make simple timelines for each topic, then use tables to summarise causes, effects, significance and perspectives for each topic. I usually have a box called ‘my opinion’ where I summarise my own perspective and arguments on each topic. This helps me think of thesis statements quickly in my revision. Other note taking methods include:
At the very least, you should have kept or made a timeline for each unit, with key details about each event listed such as date, what happened, causes, and effects. Ideally, you should have also made notes on the significance of events, relevant perspectives and viewpoints, or even any controversies.
Don’t forget to check out the library folder for access to books on each topic and videos.
3. Organise your notes - Reduce, Reword, Reorganise
By the end of Y13, you should have countless files of notes from your two years. Part of the revision process is therefore to condense these notes down, making briefer notes from existing notes, and breaking these down into smaller, and smaller chunks - eventually summarising each topic in 1-2 pages. Don’t just copy and paste - reduce, reorganise and re-word your notes again - writing aides memory retention!
Using the revision checklists above, reduce your notes down to a 1-2 page fact sheet for each major topic from each paper - like in this example. However don’t just list events! Organise the notes on this fact sheet thematically and use sub-themes to organise events. Revising by using themes such as SPERM will help you to spot connections between events.
In the end, you should have about ten fact sheets per exam paper. Rote learning of these fact sheets and simple knowledge tests can definitely help commit these facts to memory, but this should only take up about 40% of your revision time. Essay planning and writing should take up the other 60%.
4. Practice essay planning
Once you’ve consolidated your notes, it's time to start deploying them. Practicing essay planning is probably the most useful revision activity to practice. You need to be able to quickly plan an argument in response to the essay question, and what supporting points and evidence you might use to prove that argument. Don’t forget that all IBDP History essay questions will use one of these Command Terms - ensure you understand the demands of each type of question and think about how your essay plans might change for each term.
A basic essay plan should contain:
You can quickly essay plan on a blank piece of paper and you should eventually aim to plan an essay in 2-4 minutes. To start with, try using this essay planner to help structure your plans. Try essay planning for as many essay questions from past papers as you can. All IB official past paper essay questions can be found on the following pages:
5. Practice essay writing
In the real exams you will have to write essays quickly. Paper 1 is one hour and you have to answer four questions and an essay. Paper 2 is one hour thirty minutes and requires you to write two essays. Paper 3 is two hours thirty minutes and you have to write three essays! So you need to aim to be able to write an essay in 45 minutes. Regular timed essay practice is essential to achieve this.
Yes, you are not going to have time to write essays on ALL prior exam questions. So pick out topics from your revision checklists that you know you are weak at or start with topics that you are confident with. Aim to write at least four main paragraphs plus an introduction and conclusion - two to two and half pages of A4 should suffice.
Use the links from step four to find essay questions and don’t forget to use the P2/P3 mark scheme here to help mark your work after. Always remember to check back over your past essays and teacher comments to work out what you need to focus on, and try marking each others’ essays to become more familiar with the mark scheme.
Conclusion - Repeat regularly!
The last thing to say is that you should start your history revision early and repeat often, once or twice a week. Most of the course should be finished by about Chinese New Year, so remember to create a revision timetable. Finish consolidating all your notes first, then start essay planning for 2-3 questions per week and try to write at least one practice essay per week.
This all sounds like a lot! But remember, higher grades are an achievement that requires consistent application of effort. Man/woman up in other words and get on with it!