IB History Exams – Top Tips!

Timothy Hoffmann

One of our most experienced History tutors, Graham Lacey, is on hand to give you his top tops for conquering the (notoriously) most difficult IB subject of them all – History!

In the thirty years in which Graham has been in the teaching profession, the IB has been the driving force behind his work: He has not only continually taught History HL and SL throughout his career, but during his time as Deputy Head Academic at Sevenoaks School in the UK he helped to develop the programme and establish the school’s reputation as one of the top IB schools in the world. For all his commitment to managing and developing the IB programme, Graham remains deeply committed to teaching History, his passion for which he successfully infects his students.

Exam tips for IB History candidates 

Paper 1 

  1. Ensure you answer the document questions on the subject for which you have been prepared for this paper.
  2. First, in addition to the allocated five minutes of reading time, spend ten minutes reading through all the documents, absorbing the contents of each document and taking careful note of the author and date of each.
  3. Do not spend too long, or write more than two or three lines for each of part (a) and (b), on the first of the four questions.
  4. Note the distinction between the words ‘value’ and ‘limitations’ in the third question.
  5. In Question 3, for ‘compare and contrast’ read ‘identify the similarities and differences’.
  6. Allow yourself 15 minutes of the hour to answer the last question, and to read through all your answers. Note that no less than half of your last answer should make references to the set documents; in the second half you should refer to ‘your own knowledge’.

Paper 2 

  1. Note that you have 45 minutes to devote to each of the two questions, each of which must be taken from a different ‘topic’.
  2. Do not be frightened by the number of questions that you cannot answer, and consider most closely those questions from the topics which you have covered most i.e. Topic 10 (Authoritarian states: 20th century); Topic 11
    (Causes and effects of 20th century wars); and Topic 12 (The Cold War).
  3. As a rule, go for the most straightforward, least complex, questions. If you do not, make sure you answer all parts of the question you are being asked.
  4. Be aware of the danger of answering questions of a very general nature (e.g. ‘Why were there so many civil wars in the twentieth century?’). These are difficult to plan and answer fully in the 45 minutes available.
  5. Do not overshoot on time when completing the first of your two essays.
  6. Remember that, when considering answering a question that asks you to write on two different regions Russia is part of Europe – as far as this exam is concerned.

Paper 3 

  1. Again, do not be frightened by the number of questions you cannot answer.
  2. Devote no more than 50 minutes to planning and writing each of the three essays.
  3. When selecting questions, do not forget to consider that one or more might come up on topics (e.g. The Cold War) that you have associated more with Paper Two.
  4. Look for questions on the old favourites (e.g. the Russian Revolution).
  5. Particularly for this paper which requires full concentration and physical effort throughout the two and a half hours, pace yourself physically and mentally.

General Tips 

  1. Do not attempt to answer a question on a topic that you have not been taught.
  2. In the conditions of the exam do not forget to maintain the essay writing disciplines and skills you have developed during the course.
  3. In particular: devote sufficient time to plan your answers on paper before starting to write each essay; remember the importance of the introduction and conclusion in an essay; dissect the wording of each question to determine what it is driving at.
  4. Especially those for whom legibility of handwriting has been an issue, maintain high standards of presentation.
  5. Ensure you spell – particularly proper nouns (e.g. Khrushchev) – correctly, and do not abbreviate (e.g. WW1, for World War One).