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5 tips for Writing an Amazing IB History Essay (SL & HL)

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Whether you are a standard level or higher level history student, it may seem daunting the amount of dates, facts, events and figures your history teacher has thrown your way.  You may wonder how to make sense of it all and how to organize your notes. Not only that, the exam requires you to not only memorize facts, details, and historiography, but to also utilize them in a meaningful and argumentative way. So, what do you do?

By: Rebecca Brown

Tip 1: Details, Details, Details.

When you are taking notes in class, make sure you write down the timeline and events in as precise detail as possible: What year did the event occur? Who were the major players? What happened? What was the impact?

The level of detail you’ve included in your notes will not only help you revise but the examiner will also be impressed with your level of knowledge when you write them down in your essay.

Tip 2:  Focus on the How and Why.

The focus of the history exam is to understand how the events unravel and why did it occur.  For example, common IB history exam questions will ask you to focus on the How and the Why of a particular event in history. For example: Explore the causes/impacts of Hitler’s rise to power. By focusing on the How and Why, your essay will become more analytical instead of factual- which is what the examiners are looking for! So a good way to organize your notes is to always include the How

and why when you’re sorting through your timeline. For example:


Major Players:

What happened?

Tip 3: Look for historiography (What the historians think/ are debating about)

As you are looking through your notes, always do research on the historiography (or the opinions of historians) of the particular subject you’re studying in. Often, historians have a differing point of view (For example- A Marxist historian will look at the rise of Nazism differently from other historians, as they would view the detrimental effects and failure of capitalism as the dominant reason for Hitler’s rise to power, while others may attribute the cause more to the rise of anti-Semitism). Debate and differing opinion are good. Always include multiple historians in your essay to create a more balanced essay. You should always evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, as the examiners will see that you are analyzing these historians and their debates, not just writing them down for marks. Historiography is important because it is part of the mark scheme of the exam, so it’s always good to include them in your notes as you’re revising. You may organize your notes like this:


Major Players:

What happened?

Tip 4: Come up with a thesis statement

You have finished organizing your notes, now what? You need to come up with a thesis statement. A thesis statement is 1-2 sentences, usually at the end of the first paragraph that presents an argument that addresses the exam question. It should be argumentative, which means that it allows room for debate or for others to disagree with you. It should also provide a clear road map for the rest of your essay as you use your evidence to support your point of view.

Remember, if your ‘thesis’ is something that cannot be disputed, that isn’t a thesis; you’re just stating facts, and that won’t get you a high mark on the exam.

The questions in the IB history exams will usually be argumentative, as they often follow this template: ‘To what extent is ……the cause of………..’ This allows you to come up with an opinion that answers the question.

As you’re coming up with your thesis statement, try to find the statement that is best supported by evidence, which will make your essay stronger and more persuasive.

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Tip 5: Format, Format Format!

Always format your essay so that it is clear and well organized. There are many ways to format an essay, so just find one that suits your writing style and stick to it. However, the easiest way is just to format the base of your essay on Point, Evidence, and Analysis/Evaluation.

Point: [Link your point to thesis]

Evidence: [Give details of your evidence]

Analysis/Evaluation: [Evaluate the how and why; you may also include historiography]

I hope you have found these tips helpful, and I hope you all have an amazing school year of learning about history!

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