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A-Level History: A Complete Guide

A-Level History: A Complete Guide

10 min Read|June 11 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


Starting your A-Level journey and thinking if History is the choice for you? You're in good company. A-Level History is a captivating subject, giving you a deep look into the past and its impact on today. Why choose History, you might ask? It's not just about dates and events; it’s about understanding the why and how behind major global happenances. Can it open doors for your future? Absolutely. In our guide, we'll explore everything from the difficulty level to the best resources, ensuring you have all the information to make an informed decision.

Is History a good A-Level to do?

Choosing A-Level History is a decision that many students ponder over. Its value isn't just academic; it equips you with skills highly regarded by universities and employers alike. According to a survey by the Russell Group universities, History is listed among the 'facilitating subjects' recommended for entry into a wide range of university courses. But what makes it such a commendable choice?

  • Critical Thinking: History teaches you to analyse sources and arguments, fostering a critical approach to information.
  • Communication Skills: You'll learn to articulate complex ideas clearly, both in writing and orally.
  • Research Abilities: Tackling historical questions requires effective research, a skill that's invaluable in any career.
  • Understanding of Contemporary Issues: By studying the past, you gain insights into current global issues, making you more informed about the world around you.

Here is what an expert A-Level History tutor has to say:

"Many of my students who've taken A-Level History have exceled in careers like law, education, journalism, and public policy. Their deep understanding of history enhanced their critical thinking, and helped their professional contributions by enabling them to solve complex issues with insight from past events."

Experts in education and career development often highlight the versatility of History A-Level. It opens doors to careers in law, journalism, politics, and education, to name a few. The analytical and evaluative skills gained are what set History students apart in the competitive job market.

Number of students who took A-Level History exams in the past 10 years

Graph showing number of students who took A-Level History exams in the past 10 years in the UK

Is it hard to pass A-level History?

A-level History is perceived by many as a challenging subject due to its in-depth analysis and extensive content and is ranked as the 7th hardest A-Level subject. However, the notion of difficulty is subjective and can vary based on a student's interests and strengths. The pass rate for A-level History has been relatively stable, indicating that with the right preparation and study habits, passing is certainly achievable. Key points to consider include:

  • Pass Rates: Data from Ofqual shows a consistent pass rate for A-level History, with recent years reporting pass rates of 98.7% in 2023, 99.2% in 2022, and 99.6% in 2021. These statistics suggest that while achieving top grades may be challenging, passing the subject is within reach for the majority of students.
  • Achieving High Grades: Obtaining an A* in A-level History is challenging and requires extensive subject knowledge, sophisticated argumentation, and a coherent writing style. The proportion of students achieving an A* has varied, with a decrease observed from 16% in 2021 to 5.5% in 2023.
  • Content Volume: A-level History is considered one of the most content-intensive A-level subjects. This means that students should be prepared for a significant amount of reading, research, and memorisation.
  • Exam Structure and Skills: Success in A-level History exams requires not only knowledge of historical facts but also the ability to critically analyse sources, construct coherent arguments, and write clearly under timed conditions.


Table showing A-level History grades distribution

While A-level History presents certain challenges, careful preparation, consistent effort, and effective study strategies can greatly increase the likelihood of not only passing but excelling in this subject.

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What topics are in History A-level?

A-Level History covers a broad and diverse range of topics, offering students the opportunity to explore various periods and events in depth. The subject matter spans across centuries and continents, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the world's history. Key areas of study typically include:

  • Modern History: Focusing on the 19th and 20th centuries, topics often cover significant global events, revolutions, and the development of modern nations.
  • British History: An essential component, with studies ranging from mediaeval times to the present day, reflecting on the social, political, and economic evolution of Britain.
  • European and World History: Encompassing a wide array of subjects such as the rise and fall of empires, the World Wars, and the Cold War era.
  • Thematic Studies: These might explore specific themes like migration, trade, religion, or science and technology across different periods and locations.

The AQA exam board, for example, offers topics such as the British Empire c1857–1967, the making of a Superpower: USA, 1865–1975, and the quest for political stability: Germany, 1871–1991. The OCR board provides over 50 topics including British period studies and non-British history, encouraging critical thinking and reflection.

CIE A-Level History Syllabus

The CIE A-Level History syllabus offers an extensive study of key historical events and figures, fostering critical analysis and evaluation skills. It prepares students to understand and interpret complex narratives, crucial for navigating today’s information-rich world.

AS LevelPaper 1 & 2European optionFrance 1774–1814, The Industrial Revolution in Britain 1750–1850, Liberalism and nationalism in Germany 1815–71, The Russian Revolution 1894–1921
AS LevelPaper 1 & 2American optionThe origins of the Civil War 1820–61, Civil War and Reconstruction 1861–77, The Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1870s to 1920, The Great Crash, The Great Depression, and the New Deal policies 1920–41
AS LevelPaper 1 & 2International optionEmpire and the emergence of world powers 1870–1919, The League of Nations and international relations in the 1920s and 1930s, China and Japan 1912–45
A-LevelPaper 3-The origins of the First World War, The Holocaust, The origins and development of the Cold War
A-LevelPaper 4European optionMussolini’s Italy 1919–41, Stalin’s Russia 1924–41, Hitler’s Germany 1929–41, Britain 1919–39
A-LevelPaper 4American optionThe late 1940s and 1950s, The 1960s and the 1970s, The 1980s and early 1990s, Foreign policy 1944–92
A-LevelPaper 4International optionUS–Soviet relations during the Cold War 1950–91, The spread of communism in East and Southeast Asia 1945–91, Decolonisation, the Cold War, and the UN in Sub-Saharan Africa 1950–92, Conflict in the Middle East 1948–91

Table showing CIE A-Level History syllabus

Note: AS Level topics rotate between papers 1 and 2 year-on-year. The prescribed topic for Paper 1 in any given year is not used for Paper 2.

AQA A-Level History Syllabus

The AQA A-Level History syllabus delves into diverse historical themes and periods, enhancing students' ability to critically evaluate sources and arguments. It sharpens analytical skills, preparing them to tackle complex issues and understand their historical context in today’s world.

ComponentTopic No.Time PeriodTopic
1. Breadth Study1Ac1071–1204The Age of the Crusades
1. Breadth Study1B1469–1598Spain in the Age of Discovery
1. Breadth Study1C1485–1603The Tudors: England
1. Breadth Study1D1603–1702Stuart Britain and the Crisis of Monarchy
1. Breadth Study1E1682–1796Russia in the Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment
1. Breadth Study1Fc1783–1885Industrialisation and the people: Britain
1. Breadth Study1Gc1851–1964Challenge and transformation: Britain
1. Breadth Study1H1855–1964Tsarist and Communist Russia
1. Breadth Study1Jc1857–1967The British Empire
1. Breadth Study1K1865–1975The making of a Superpower: USA
1. Breadth Study1L1871–1991The quest for political stability: Germany
2. Depth Study2A1154–1216Royal Authority and the Angevin Kings
2. Depth Study2B1450–1499The Wars of the Roses
2. Depth Study2Cc1500–1564The Reformation in Europe
2. Depth Study2Dc1529–c1570Religious conflict and the Church in England
2. Depth Study2E1625–1660The English Revolution
2. Depth Study2F1643–1715The Sun King: Louis XIV, France and Europe
2. Depth Study2G1760–1801The Birth of the USA
2. Depth Study2H1774–1815France in Revolution
2. Depth Study2Jc1845–1877America: A Nation Divided
2. Depth Study2Kc1890–1941International Relations and Global Conflict
2. Depth Study2Lc1900–1945Italy and Fascism
2. Depth Study2M1906–1957Wars and Welfare: Britain in Transition
2. Depth Study2N1917–1953Revolution and dictatorship: Russia
2. Depth Study2O1918–1945Democracy and Nazism: Germany
2. Depth Study2P1936–1997The Transformation of China
2. Depth Study2Q1945–1980The American Dream: reality and illusion
2. Depth Study2Rc1945–1991The Cold War
2. Depth Study2S1951–2007The Making of Modern Britain
2. Depth Study2T1953–2000 The Crisis of Communism: The USSR and the Soviet Empire
3. Historical Investigation --A personal study based on a topic of student's choice

Table showing AQA A-Level History syllabus

Further instructions are provided by AQA for the A-Level History exam:

Prohibited Combinations

Students must study a British history option for either Component 1 or Component 2. If a British history option is chosen for Component 1, it must be combined with a non-British option for Component 2. If a British history option is chosen for Component 2, it must be combined with a non-British option for Component 1. Any British option may be combined with any non-British option, other than the following:

  • 1C The Tudors may not be combined with 2C The Reformation in Europe
  • 1D Stuart Britain and the Crisis of Monarchy may not be combined with 2F The Sun King: Louis XIV, France and Europe

This is because there is a strong conceptual emphasis which runs across both breadth and depth options which would result in a narrowing of the student’s experience.

The following are designated British history options:

Component 1

  • 1C The Tudors: England, 1485–1603
  • 1D Stuart Britain and the Crisis of Monarchy, 1603–1702
  • 1F Industrialisation and the People: Britain, c1783–1885
  • 1G Challenge and Transformation: Britain, c1851–1964
  • 1J The British Empire, c1857–1967

Component 2

  • 2A Royal Authority and the Angevin Kings, 1154–1216
  • 2B The Wars of the Roses, 1450–1499
  • 2D Religious Conflict and the Church in England, c1529–c1570
  • 2E The English Revolution, 1625–1660
  • 2M Wars and Welfare: Britain in Transition, 1906–1957
  • 2S The Making of Modern Britain, 1951–2007

Edexcel A-Level History Syllabus

The Edexcel A-Level History syllabus emphasizes detailed studies of specific eras, cultivating students' abilities to analyse and debate historical evidence and perspectives. This prepares them for informed critical thinking and engagement with current and historical debates.

Topic No.Time PeriodTopic
1Ac1095–1204The crusades
1B1509–1603England: authority, nation and religion
1C1625–1701Britain: conflict, revolution and settlement
1Dc1785–c1870Britain: democracy, protest and reform
1E1917–91Russia: from Lenin to Yeltsin
1Fc1917–96In search of the American Dream: the USA
1G1918–89Germany and West Germany
1H1918–97Britain transformed
2A.1c1053–1106Anglo-Saxon England and the Anglo-Norman Kingdom
2A.21154–89England and the Angevin Empire in the reign of Henry II
2B.1c1515–55Luther and the German Reformation
2B.2c1563–1609The Dutch Revolt
2C.11774–99France in revolution
2C.21894–1924Russia in revolution
2D.1 c1830–70The unification of Italy
2D.2c1840–71The unification of Germany
2E.11949–76Mao’s China
2E.21949–90The German Democratic Republic
2F.1c1914–48India: the road to independence
2F.21948–94South Africa: from apartheid state to ‘rainbow nation’
2G.1c1911–46The rise and fall of fascism in Italy
2G.21930–78Spain: republicanism, Francoism and the re-establishment of democracy
2H.1c1920–55The USA: boom, bust and recovery
2H.21955–92The USA: conformity and challenge
301399–1509Lancastrians, Yorkists and Henry VII
311485–1603Rebellion and disorder under the Tudors
321474–1598the Golden Age of Spain
33c1580–c1750The witch craze in Britain, Europe and North America
34.1 1759–1928Industrialisation and social change in Britain: forging a new society
34.2c1780–1939Poverty, public health and the state in Britain
35.11763–1914Britain: losing and gaining an empire
35.2c1790–1918The British experience of warfare
36.1c1780–1928Protest, agitation and parliamentary reform in Britain
36.2 c1774–1923Ireland and the Union
37.11859–1991The changing nature of warfare
37.21871–1990Germany: united, divided and reunited
38.1 1855–1991The making of modern Russia
38.21860–1997The making of modern China
39.11850–2009Civil rights and race relations in the USA
39.21882–2004Mass media and social change in Britain

Table showing Edexcel A-Level History syllabus

Note: Students take one option each from the following:

  • 1A to 1H
  • 2A.1 to 2H.2
  • 30 to 39.2

This sums up to be a total of 3 for 3 papers. It is discussed in depth in the exam structure section.

OCR A-Level History Syllabus

The OCR A-Level History syllabus enhances critical thinking through deep analysis of historical events and interpretations, equipping students with the skills to evaluate evidence and construct coherent arguments, vital for academic and professional success.

Unit Group 1British period study and enquiryLearners study one of the 13 units available, each of which constitutes a substantial and coherent element of British History.
Unit Group 2Non-British period studyLearners study one of the 24 units available, each of which constitutes a coherent period of non-British History.
Unit Group 3Thematic study and historical interpretationsLearners study one of the 21 units available. Each unit comprises a thematic study over a period of at least 100 years, and three in-depth studies of events, individuals or issues that are key parts of the theme
Unit Y100Topic based essayLearners will complete a 3000–4000 word essay on a topic of their choice, which may arise out of content studied elsewhere in the course. This is an internally assessed unit group. A Title(s) Proposal Form must be submitted to OCR using the Title(s) Proposal tool.

Table showing OCR A-Level History syllabus

Each exam board has its own set of modules and topics, allowing schools to choose those most relevant or interesting to their students. This flexibility means that students can engage with a variety of historical perspectives and methodologies, preparing them for further education or careers where analytical and evaluative skills are essential.

What is the A-Level History exam structure?

The A-Level History exam structure is designed to assess students' understanding, analytical skills, and ability to engage with historical evidence and debates. While the specific format of key questions can vary between exam boards, the general structure across AQA, OCR, and Edexcel includes:

  • Written Examinations: These form the core of the assessment and are typically divided into several papers, focusing on different periods or themes.
  • Breadth Study: Examines a broad period of history, assessing understanding of long-term changes and continuities.
  • Depth Study: Focuses on a shorter, more detailed timeframe, requiring in-depth knowledge and analysis.
  • Historical Investigation: A component that involves coursework or a written project on a chosen topic, contributing to the final grade for some exam boards.

Key features include:

  • Essay Questions: Require students to construct coherent arguments, supported by historical evidence.
  • Source Analysis: Students analyse primary and secondary sources to interpret perspectives and biases.
  • Comparative Questions: Involve comparing different historical periods, events, or figures.

The exams are typically held at the end of the two-year A-Level course. The exact duration and number of questions can differ, but exams usually last between 1.5 to 3 hours. The coursework element, where applicable, allows students to explore a historical topic of their choice in depth, demonstrating research skills and critical analysis.

CIE A-Level History Exam Structure

The CIE A-Level History exam structure includes detailed essays, source analysis, and thematic studies, designed to test students' knowledge, analytical abilities, and understanding of historical context and perspectives, ensuring a comprehensive assessment of their grasp of the subject.

Paper No.1234
NameDocument questionOutline studyInterpretations questionDepth study
Time1 hr 15 min1 hr 45 min1 hr 15 min1 hr 45 min
Total Marks40604060
AssessmentCandidates answer one two-part document question on one of the options givenCandidates answer two two-part questions from three on one of the options givenCandidates answer one interpretations question on one of the options given in the syllabusCandidates answer two questions on their chosen depth study.
% of the A Level20%30%20%30%

Table showing CIE A-Level History exam structure

AQA A-Level History Exam Structure

The AQA A-Level History exam structure features a mix of source-based questions and essay writing, assessing students' ability to critically evaluate evidence and present coherent arguments. It includes breadth and depth studies, ensuring a well-rounded evaluation of students' historical understanding and analytical skills.

ComponentComponent 1Component 2Component 3
NameBreadth studyDepth studyHistorical investigation
Time2 hr 30 min2 hr 30 min-
Total Marks808040
SyllabusThe study of significant historical developments over a period of around 100 years and associated interpretations.The study in depth of a period of major historical change or development and associated primary evidence.A personal study based on a topic of student's choice. This should take the form of a question in the context of approximately 100 years. It must not duplicate the content of options chosen for Components 1 and 2.
QuestionsEssays and question linked to historical interpretationsEssays and question linked to primary sources or sources contemporary to the period3500–4500 words and marked by teachers; moderated by AQA
% of the A Level40%40%20%

Table showing AQA A-Level History exam structure

Note: Through the topics studied in Components 1, 2 and 3 (Historical investigation), A-level students must cover a chronological range of at least 200 years.

Edexcel A-Level History Exam Structure

The Edexcel A-Level History exam consists of thematic studies and breadth with source evaluations, focusing on depth studies and historical interpretations. This structure assesses students’ comprehension, analytical skills, and ability to engage critically with historical themes and evidence, fostering a detailed understanding of specific periods.

Paper No.123-
NameBreadth study with interpretationsDepth studyThemes in breadth with aspects in depthCoursework
Time2 hr 15 min1 hr 30 min2 hr 15 min-
Total Marks604060-
AssessmentOne option from 1A to 1HOne option from 2A.1 to 2H.2One option from 30 to 39.2Internally assessed, externally moderated: Students complete a single assignment on a question set by the centre. The assignment will assess the ability to carry out a historical enquiry, analysing and evaluating historical interpretations, and organising and communicating the findings
% of the A Level30%20%30%20%

Table showing Edexcel A-Level History exam structure

OCR A-Level History Exam Structure

The OCR A-Level History exam structure combines thematic studies, source evaluations, and period studies to assess students' analytical skills, understanding of historical context, and ability to construct well-supported arguments. It's designed to test a comprehensive range of historical knowledge and critical thinking abilities.

UnitUnit Group 1Unit Group 2Unit Group 33000–4000 word essay*
AssessmentBritish period study and enquiryNon-British period studyThematic study and historical interpretationsNon exam assessment
Time1 hr 30 min1 hr2 hr 30 min-
Total Marks50308040
SyllabusLearners study one of the 13 units available, each of which constitutes a substantial and coherent element of British HistoryLearners study one of the 24 units available, each of which constitutes a coherent period of non-British HistoryLearners study one of the 21 units available. Each unit comprises a thematic study over a period of at least 100 years, and three in-depth studies of events, individuals or issues that are key parts of the themeLearners will complete a 3000–4000 word essay on a topic of their choice, which may arise out of content studied elsewhere in the course
% of the A Level25%15%40%20%

Table showing OCR A-Level History exam structure

*Learners who are retaking a qualification can choose either to retake the non exam assessment unit or to carry forward their mark for that unit. See Section 4d of OCR A-Level History specification for more details.

*Also includes synoptic assessment.

This structured approach ensures that students not only memorise historical facts but also develop the ability to critically evaluate information and present reasoned arguments, skills that are valuable in many fields beyond history.

Choosing the Right Exam Board

Selecting the appropriate exam board for A-Level History is crucial as it can influence the topics studied, the exam format, and the assessment criteria. In the UK, the main exam boards offering A-Level History are CIE, AQA, Edexcel and OCR. Each has its own focus and approach to history, making the choice significant for teachers and students alike. Key considerations include:

  • CIE: Known for its international perspective, CIE attracts the most applicants globally, offering a wide range of historical themes with a global outlook.
  • AQA: With 20,964 candidates in the UK in 2023, AQA is popular for its comprehensive coverage of British and modern European history.
  • Edexcel: Attracting 13,272 applicants in the UK in 2023, Edexcel is favoured for its structured approach and detailed study options, including coursework.
  • OCR: With 10,388 candidates in the UK in 2023, OCR offers unique topics that often include British history, making it a choice for those interested in a deep dive into the history of the UK.

When choosing an exam board, consider:

  • Content and Topics: Which periods or themes are you most interested in?
  • Assessment Method: Do you prefer coursework or solely exam-based assessment?
  • Resources and Support: Which exam board offers the best resources and support for your learning style?

Deciding on an exam board is a decision that should be based on your interests, strengths, and future aspirations. Discussing with teachers and researching each board's specifications can help make an informed choice that aligns with your academic goals.

How do you get an A* in A-Level History?

Achieving an A* in A-Level History requires a combination of depth of knowledge, analytical skills, and effective revision and examination strategies. Given the rigorous nature of the subject, students need to go beyond the basic requirements to stand out. Key strategies include:

  • Comprehensive Understanding: Master the breadth and depth of your chosen topics, ensuring you have a thorough grasp of the key events, figures, and trends.
  • Critical Analysis: Develop the ability to critically evaluate historical sources and arguments. This involves recognising bias, analysing different interpretations, and forming your own reasoned conclusions.
  • Essay Writing Skills: Practise structuring coherent and persuasive essays that are well-supported with evidence. High marks are awarded for clear, analytical writing that directly addresses the question.
  • Effective Revision: Utilise a variety of revision techniques, including study notes, mind maps, and flashcards to reinforce your memory and understanding of complex topics.
  • Tutoring: Consider engaging with an A-Level tutor who can provide personalised feedback, help refine your exam technique, and deepen your understanding of challenging material.
  • Utilisation of Past Papers: Regularly practise with past exam papers and questions to familiarise yourself with the exam format and improve your time management skills.
Grades distribution of A-Level History in UK 2021-2023

Graph showing grades distribution of A-Level History in UK 2021-2023

Consistent effort and utilisation of available resources is very important. This can include school-provided materials, online resources, and study groups, alongside tutoring. Balancing broad factual knowledge with sharp analytical acumen and refined exam strategies is key to achieving the top grade in A-Level History.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of A-Level History Study Notes developed by expert A-Level teachers and examiners!

How do you write A-Level History essays?

Writing an A-Level History essay involves several key steps to ensure it is well-structured, insightful, and evidently supported:

1. Understand the Question: Identify key terms and what the question is asking you to do (e.g., analyse, compare, review, evaluate).

2. Plan Your Answer: Organise your thoughts and structure your essay into a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph should focus on a single point or argument.

3. Use Evidence: Support your arguments with relevant historical evidence, including primary and secondary sources. Be sure to analyse the evidence, not just describe it.

4. Critical Analysis: Evaluate the significance of the evidence and different historians' interpretations. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these viewpoints.

5. Conclusion: Summarise your main points and clearly state your conclusion, ensuring it directly answers the specific question above.

6. Proofread: Check for clarity, coherence, and any grammatical or spelling errors.

Focus on presenting a coherent argument supported by evidence, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and your ability to critically engage with historical material.

What are the best A-Levels to take with History?

Selecting A levels that complement History can enhance your understanding, offer interdisciplinary skills, and broaden your future academic and career options. The best A levels to take with History are those that develop critical thinking, analytical skills, and written communication. Complementary A levels include:

  • A-Level English Literature: Enhances your ability to analyse texts and understand historical contexts, improving essay-writing skills.
  • A-Level Politics: Offers insights into governmental systems and political theories, relevant to historical study.
  • A-Level Geography: Provides knowledge of how historical events have shaped landscapes and human societies.
  • A-Level Modern Foreign Languages: Improves understanding of other cultures, which can be beneficial for studying international history.
  • A-Level Economics: Gives an understanding of economic principles and historical economic trends.

Experts recommend choosing subjects that not only complement History but also match your interests and career aspirations. Universities often value the combination of History with subjects that demonstrate strong literacy skills and the ability to critically analyse information. This combination can prepare students for a range of degrees and career paths in law, journalism, education, and beyond.

Best A-Level History Resources

Identifying top-quality resources is essential for excelling in A-Level History. The right materials can deepen your understanding of complex historical events and themes, enhancing your ability to analyse and evaluate sources critically. Here are some of the best resources for A-Level History students, tailored to various exam boards:

  • Official Textbooks: Textbooks from official exam board sources provide the best study material required to ace the exam. Such can be found at the CIE resources page.
  • Tutoring: Personalised support can help clarify complex topics and refine exam techniques.
  • Study Notes: Customised study notes, particularly from services like TutorChase, and A-Level History Q&A Revision Notes are invaluable for revision.
  • Online Resources: Platforms such as BBC Bitesize, History Learning Site, and the Khan Academy offer a wealth of free content, including articles, video lessons, and quizzes.
  • Past Papers and Mark Schemes: Engaging with past exam papers and understanding mark schemes are crucial for exam success, providing insights into the types of questions asked and how to structure high-scoring answers.

Combining these resources with dedicated study can significantly enhance your performance in A-Level History, providing a solid foundation for both exams and coursework.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

A-Level History students often face several challenges throughout their course, but with effective strategies and practice, these obstacles can be overcome.

  • Vast Amount of Content: The comprehensive syllabus can seem daunting. To manage this, create a structured revision timetable that breaks down the content into manageable segments, ensuring all topics are covered systematically.
  • Analysing Sources: Interpreting a variety of sources is essential but can be complex. Improve this skill by practising with a wide range of source materials and seeking feedback on your analyses to understand different perspectives and biases.
  • Essay Writing: The ability to write cohesive, argument-driven essays under exam conditions is critical. Enhance this skill by practising essay planning under timed conditions, focusing on structuring your arguments clearly and supporting them with relevant evidence.
  • Retention of Information: Remembering key dates, figures, and events is challenging. Employ active recall techniques such as flashcards, mind maps, and quiz-based revision apps to aid memory retention and make revising more interactive and engaging.

Employing these strategies can significantly alleviate the common hurdles faced by A-Level History students, leading to a more comprehensive understanding and better performance in exams.

Past Papers and Practise Questions

Utilising past papers and practise questions is a proven method for improving exam performance in A-Level History. These resources are invaluable for understanding the exam format, the types of test questions asked, and for honing your time management skills during the exam. Benefits include:

  • Familiarity with Exam Format: Regular practise with past papers helps students become accustomed to the structure and timing of the actual exam.
  • Identification of Weak Areas: Engaging with a wide range of questions allows students to identify areas where they need further study or understanding.
  • Application of Knowledge: Practise questions provide an opportunity to apply knowledge in an exam context, reinforcing learning and improving recall under pressure.
  • Improvement of Essay Writing Skills: Writing timed essays in response to past paper questions can significantly enhance the ability to construct coherent and persuasive arguments quickly.

Experts recommend beginning to work with past papers and practise questions well before the exam period. This should be integrated into your revision plan, with time set aside for reviewing answers and understanding mark schemes. Resources are available through exam board websites, educational platforms, and tutoring services, offering a wealth of questions for practise across all topics covered in the A-Level History syllabus.

Opportunities with A-Level History

A-Level History opens a wide array of opportunities, laying a strong foundation for further education and a variety of career paths. This qualification not only deepens understanding of historical events and processes but also hones analytical, research, and writing skills that are highly valued in many fields.

Gender distribution across A-Level History

Pie chart showing gender distribution across A-Level History

Majors in Higher Education:

  • History and Related Disciplines: Direct progression to degrees in history, politics, archaeology, and international relations.
  • Law: Equips students with critical thinking and analytical skills necessary for legal studies.
  • Journalism and Media: Develops skills in research, analysis, and communication, essential for careers in writing, reporting, and broadcasting.

Career Paths:

  • Historian: Engaging with archives, museums, and educational institutions to research, interpret, and present history.
  • Lawyer or Barrister: Utilising analytical skills and an understanding of historical contexts in legal practice.
  • Journalist or Writer: Crafting compelling narratives based on thorough research and analysis.
  • Education: Teaching history or social sciences at various levels, from secondary education to university professorship.
  • Public Sector and Policy Making: Analysing historical data to inform policy decisions and government strategies.

Skills Development:

  • Critical Analysis: The ability to evaluate sources and arguments critically.
  • Research Skills: Proficiency in conducting thorough and effective research.
  • Communication: Articulating complex ideas clearly and persuasively in both written and oral form.
  • Problem-Solving: Approaching challenges with a strategic and analytical mindset.

Pursuing A-Level History not only paves the way for academic pursuits in a range of humanities and social science subjects but also equips students with a versatile skill set applicable in numerous professional sectors, including education, law, public administration, and the media. This breadth of opportunities highlights the value of history in fostering a well-rounded and adaptable skill set.

Conclusion on A-Level History

A-Level History stands out as a rigorous and enriching subject that offers students a profound understanding of the past and its impact on the present and future. Through the study of a wide range of periods and themes, students develop a comprehensive skill set, including critical analysis, research, and communication, which are highly valued in both higher education and the workplace. It is a subject that challenges students to think critically about the past, understand its complexities, and apply these insights to the challenges of the modern world.


Can I study A-Level History without a GCSE in History?

Yes, you can study A-Level History without having a GCSE in the subject. Many schools and colleges understand that students may develop an interest in history later on or may not have had the opportunity to study it at GCSE level. However, it's important to demonstrate strong reading and writing skills, as these are crucial for success in A-Level History. It would be beneficial to discuss your interest and academic background with your teachers, as they can provide guidance and support to help bridge any knowledge gaps.

How many hours should I study for A-Level History weekly?

For A-Level History, aiming for around 4-5 hours of independent study per week, in addition to your class time, is a good guideline. This allows you to thoroughly cover the syllabus content, develop your essay-writing skills, and engage with primary and secondary sources. Remember, quality over quantity is key; focused, uninterrupted study sessions are more effective than longer, less productive ones. Tailor your study time to suit your learning pace and adjust as needed, especially before exams or when working on coursework.

Are there any recommended documentaries for A-Level History students?

Certainly! Documentaries can offer engaging insights into historical events, figures, and periods, complementing your A-Level History studies. Here are a few recommendations:

  • "The World at War" - An in-depth series on World War II.
  • "The Civil War" by Ken Burns - A comprehensive look at the American Civil War.
  • "The Vietnam War" also by Ken Burns - Explores the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives.
  • "The Ascent of Civilisations" - Examines the history of civilisations around the globe.
  • "Russia's History Revealed" - Delves into the complex history of Russia.

These documentaries can provide a broader historical context for the specific topics you're studying, making historical events more relatable and easier to understand.

Can A-Level History be combined with Science A-Levels?

Absolutely, A-Level History can be effectively combined with Science A-Levels. This combination offers a well-rounded education, enhancing both your analytical and empirical skills. History develops critical thinking, argumentation, and essay-writing abilities, which complement the logical, problem-solving skills fostered by Science subjects. This interdisciplinary approach can open up diverse pathways for higher education and careers, ranging from law and journalism to science and engineering. It demonstrates to universities and employers that you have a broad skill set and are adaptable to various challenges.

What is AO2 in history A-level?

In A-Level History, AO2 refers to the assessment objective focused on "Analysis and Evaluation." This objective assesses your ability to analyse historical events, periods, and concepts critically. It involves evaluating different interpretations of history, including contrasting opinions and historiographies, and making informed judgments. Excelling in AO2 requires you to not only present facts but also to engage with them critically, discussing their significance, the reliability of sources, and the perspectives of historians. This skill is vital for constructing well-argued essays and achieving high marks.

What are the most popular history topics?

The most popular history topics at A-Level often include those that cover significant events, periods, and movements that have shaped the modern world. These typically involve:

  • The World Wars: Examining the causes, major battles, and consequences of World Wars I and II.
  • The Cold War: Exploring the geopolitical tension between the Eastern and Western blocs.
  • The Tudors: Delving into the reigns and impacts of Tudor monarchs on England.
  • The Civil Rights Movement in the USA: Studying the struggle for racial equality in the 20th century.
  • The French Revolution: Understanding the causes, key events, and outcomes of the revolution.

These topics are popular due to their profound impact on contemporary society and politics, offering students a deep insight into the complexities of historical change and continuity.

What are easy history topics?

While "easy" can be subjective, depending on individual interests and strengths, some history topics are considered more accessible due to their straightforward narrative and abundance of resources. These might include:

  • The Industrial Revolution: Focused on technological advancements and their societal impacts, with clear cause-and-effect relationships.
  • The Elizabethan Era: Centred around Queen Elizabeth I's reign, this period is well-documented, making it easier to study.
  • The American Revolution: Offers a clear storyline of the struggle for independence from Britain, with defined events and figures.
  • Ancient Civilisations: Such as Ancient Egypt or Rome, where the focus is often on culture, society, and innovations, which can be more straightforward to understand.
  • The Suffragette Movement: A specific social change movement with a wealth of sources and a clear narrative of progress and impact.

These topics often have extensive resources available, including textbooks, documentaries, and online materials, making them more accessible for students.

How many paragraphs are in a level history?

An A-Level History essay typically consists of an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The number of body paragraphs depends on the essay's length and complexity but usually ranges from three to six. Each paragraph should focus on a single main idea or argument, supported by evidence and analysis. This structure ensures a clear and logical progression of ideas, helping to articulate a coherent response to the essay question. The key is to ensure each paragraph contributes effectively to your overall argument.

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Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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