What can we learn from the 2019 AQA GCSE History examiner reports?

Exam insights 2019

AQA has released its examiner reports for the 2019 AQA GCSE History exams. Overall, students are generally seeming more confident with the requirements of the exam questions. We have summarised the key issues that the examiners found students needed to improve, and collated some free content that address these issues.

Key issues:

1. Timing: A significant number of students are still spending too long writing lengthy answers to low mark questions, such as Questions 1, 2 and 4 of Paper 1, Part A (Period Studies).  Although the exam duration is now 2 hours, AQA’s advice remains that students should spend around 5 minutes for every 4 marks available.  They recommend that the additional time be spent reading through interpretations and sources, planning and checking responses.

2. Interpretation questions (Paper 1, Part A, Period Studies): Students at times wrote less effective answers because they didn’t focus on the skills required for each of the three interpretation questions:

  • Question 1 is all about content, with students needing to show they can make inferences from the sources.  They should support their ideas with evidence from the interpretations, but not rely too heavily on quoting or paraphrasing what they say.
  • Question 2 is focussed on provenance, with students using information in the caption to explain why (not how) the interpretations differ.  The report notes that the most successful approach to this question is often to consider the purpose of the interpretation and connect this to contextual knowledge.
  • Question 3 asks students to decide which interpretation they find more convincing.  The report states that the most successful answers often examined the overall argument raised in each interpretation, then used their contextual knowledge to decide which was most ‘typical’ or most widely accepted. Remember that either interpretation can be the more convincing one, as long as students explain and support their argument well.

3.  Focus on the question: A very common error that stops students from getting higher marks comes from not reading the entire question.  For example, on Paper 2, Part A (Thematic Studies), students often fail to grasp that the question is about significance; students should be prepared with a deeper understanding of what this means. 

4. Use of supporting evidence: In order to achieve higher marks on any question, students need to support their ideas with precise and relevant supporting detail. This could be detail from a source or interpretation, or the use of contextual knowledge, but students often paraphrase a whole source/interpretation rather than select evidence carefully, which leads to a description of the content rather than an analysis.  Where contextual knowledge is needed (for example, in the essay questions), students often confuse the level of detail required: in Period and Depth Studies, students should provide detailed facts and figures, since they are required to study the specifics of a narrow period of time/place. However, in a Thematic Study, the evidence provided can be more generalised, but students should try to show knowledge from across different parts of the specification if asked in a question (especially the similarity/difference question, and the essay questions). 

On Question 4 of Paper Two, Part B (British Depth Studies), it is clear that more schools are now using AQA’s Historical Environment Resource Pack, and this is encouraging the use of precise and relevant supporting evidence.  However, some students were still using wider evidence, for example describing sites other than the one specified in the exam, which was of less relevance in a question about a specific site.

5. Changes to the 2020 examination: AQA recently made some changes to questions stems based on teacher feedback, to make the demands of the questions clearer for all students. Changes to next year’s paper:

Q. Old example of question from 2019: New format for 2020 (using the example from 2019): Focus of change:
Paper Part A
Period Studies
1 How does Interpretation B differ from Interpretation A about Prohibition? How does Interpretation B differ from Interpretation A about the Prohibition? Encourage students not to rely too heavily on what the interpretations say (e.g. A say they are bad, but B says they are good), but instead to infer differences supported by the interpretations.
  Explain your answer using Interpretations A and B. Explain your answer based on what it says in Interpretations A and B.
2 No changes
3 Which interpretation do you find more convincing about the Stresemann era (1924–1929)? Which interpretation gives the more convincing opinion about the Stresemann era (1924–1929)? Encourage students to use their contextual knowledge to assess which of the two interpretations is the more convincing, rather than using the content of the interpretations too heavily.
  Explain your answer using Interpretations A and B and your contextual knowledge. Explain your answer based on your contextual knowledge and what it says in Interpretations A and B.
4 No changes.    
5 No changes.  
6 No changes.    
Paper Part B
Wider World Studies
1 No changes.    
2 No changes.    
3 No changes.    
4 No changes.    
Paper Part B
Thematic studies
1 No changes.    
2 No changes.    
3 Compare the work of Louis Pasteur with that of Alexander Fleming. In what ways were they similar? Explain your answer with reference to both individuals. Explain two ways in which Louis Pasteur and Alexander Fleming were similar. Question simplified in order to focus on the need to explain more than one factor. The new format focuses more on the similarities (or differences) in order to encourage students to identify and explain these, rather than write a narrative of each individual/factor/event etc.
4 No changes.    
Paper Part B
British depth studies
1 How convincing is Interpretation A about the Elizabethan Court? How convincing is Interpretation A about the Elizabethan Court? Emphasis is now more clearly on the use of contextual knowledge.  Students need to use their own knowledge to explain what the interpretation is about.
  Explain your answer using Interpretation A and your contextual knowledge. Explain your answer based on your contextual knowledge and what it says in Interpretation A.
2 No changes  
3 No changes  
4 No changes    

You can use these free resources to help address the key issues that came up in the last exams:

  • Improve your students’ timing with this excerpt from Oxford AQA GCSE History: Britain: Health and the People c1000-Present Day Revision Guide (9-1), part of the AQA GCSE History Revision Guide series.
  • Practise directly answering the question with this sample Activities and Examiner Tip excerpt, taken from Germany 1890-1945 Democracy and Dictatorship Revision Guide, part of the Oxford AQA GCSE History Revision Guides series.
  • To find out more about the new AQA question stems, look at the AQA website with information on this here

Visit the website to find out more about the Oxford AQA GCSE History series

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