10 Tips to help you get a 9 in GCSE History

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GCSE History is considered a difficult subject amongst many students, and it’s understandable why. When I studied GCSE History, I definitely struggled in my first few practice essays. After all, it’s a very content-heavy subject that requires you to learn and memorise so many different things! However, over time, I put in as much effort as I could (without sacrificing my other GCSEs) and eventually earned a grade 9. That’s why I’ll be sharing my best advice to help you do the same.

In this article, I’ll be getting into everything you need to know about GCSE History, the exam board specifications, and my advice on how you can achieve a grade 9!

How do you get a 9 in GCSE History?

The different specifications are outlined at the end of this article. For now let’s get into how you can actually get a 9 in GCSE History. Remember, it’s pretty hard, so you have to be willing to really put in the work!

If you’d like another student’s advice on how to revise for GCSE History, I’d recommend this Think Student article. Otherwise, here are my tips on how you can achieve the top grade in your GCSE!

1. Make timelines and mind maps

Making timelines for all my exam periods was one of my best revision tools. Exam questions often single out a particular event or person in history but require you to also demonstrate knowledge of other, related events.

Having an overall knowledge of the order of events won’t leave you flustered in your exam. A timeline can also help you remember key dates.

GCSE History requires a good understanding of how historical events influence one another; the consequences of one historical event may be the cause of another. Therefore, having a timeline or a mind map will help you show your understanding of your period of study in your exam answers.

2. Practice exam questions using past papers

I know this one’s a little generic but hear me out. Practice really does make perfect, and the more practice you do for your exams the better you’ll perform in the real thing.

The way I practiced was by breaking the exam down into different time slots (e.g. 30 mins per question). Then I did 5 minutes of quick revision, before timing myself and trying to answer the question – I used the exam board specification to mark my answers.

As an example, this page of the Pearson Edexcel website has a list of all the past papers for GCSE History, including from June 2023. To find the past papers for your exam board specifically, all you need to do is search “[Exam board] GCSE History past papers”!

3. Revise for your papers in order of your timetable

You should receive your exam timetable a few months before your GCSEs begin. Once you know when your exams are happening, you can use these as your revision deadlines and set up a plan.

Revising topics in order of your papers is helpful because it means there isn’t a huge gap between your revision and your exam. For example, if you revised a topic for your last exam first out of everything, there’d be a huge gap between them and you’d forget all the information!

I wouldn’t recommend it for most students, but if cramming does work for you, then cramming can sometimes be a good strategy. However, I will emphasise that this doesn’t work for most students and you shouldn’t try to cram if it hasn’t worked for you in the past!

4. Do your own research/find your own facts

Most teachers use the information provided by the exam board, and the exam board textbooks, to teach you the information you need to know for your exams. Most students then learn the same information and just regurgitate that in their exams.

It’s fair to say that examiners get pretty tired of reading the same information over and over. A good way to mark yourself out from the crowd is to do your own research, and find supplementary facts to use alongside textbook content!

Finding your own facts not only demonstrates intuitiveness but helps prove to the examiner that you’ve made a deliberate effort to learn more about your subject. I’d recommend using reliable online resources such as JSTOR, linked for you here.

5. Complete practice exams for your teacher to mark

Although similar to my second tip, having your papers marked externally can be even more beneficial than marking them yourself. Teacher-assessed feedback is always good assurance that you’re on the right track.

Teachers are often examiners, so they’re very familiar with the exam board guidelines and can give you accurate marks. Many of my GCSE teachers told me they were happy to mark my practice answers and give me feedback.

6. Use or make flashcards

Again, flashcards are a popular revision method, but that’s because they work! Either making your own or using other people’s flashcards are a great way to test your memory.

Apps like Quizlet are useful so that you can have electronic flashcards on you at all times. I used to use Quizlet and practice with my flashcards on the bus to school each morning!

Some exam boards even make and sell their own flashcards. For example, Pearson Edexcel make their own flashcards which you can buy on Amazon here.

7. Buy a second-hand textbook

Textbooks aren’t cheap, as most students know! That’s why buying one second-hand is a good way to make sure your studies aren’t just limited to school.

Second-hand textbooks sometimes sell for over half the original price! As an example, check out this World of Books second-hand OCR GCSE History textbook. If a second-hand textbook is still out of your price range, it’s a good idea to stay behind after school when you can to use the textbooks.

8.  Get familiar with the exam board mark schemes

Just like exam boards have their own individual specifications, they also have their own mark schemes. Familiarising yourself on how you can pick up marks in the exam will help you hone your essay techniques.

All the exam boards have their mark schemes available online. As an example, this page of the AQA website has all the AQA GCSE History mark schemes, for each paper.

9. Using online resources

I’ve already mentioned Quizlet in this article, but there are plenty of other resources out there! Some of my personal favourites are YouTube and Seneca.

You may have already used Seneca at school – I used it for multiple subjects, including GCSE Geography. It’s a great free resource for easy revision. I’ve linked the Seneca website for you here.

Similarly, there are lots of good resources on YouTube. Personally, I like the channel OverSimplified – I wouldn’t recommend it as a revision resource, but it’s good if you don’t really understand a particular series of events.

10. Break down each paper into the major topics

Trying to revise all the content for one paper at once just doesn’t work. I tried to do just that when I first started revising, but I burned out almost immediately!

In their specifications, exam boards usually break down their content to make it easier to digest. As an example, here is the WJEC Eduqas GCSE History specification for you to look at.

Using these breakdowns, try to split up your own revision. Since most papers across the exam boards are split into sections, revising each section instead of each paper means you won’t burn out or procrastinate revising, since the task is much more manageable.

How hard is it to get a 9 in GCSE History?

Getting a 9 in any GCSE is pretty difficult. Naturally, it’s the highest grade, so you’ll have to put in the maximum effort to get the results – but it isn’t impossible!

Since GCSE History is an essay subject (unlike scientific subjects like GCSE Maths), marking for the exams can often be subjective. Marks are based on your reasoning skills: my History teacher once told me that as long as you can argue it well, it doesn’t matter which conclusion you reach.

If you don’t get a 9, don’t be too hard on yourself. This Think Student article ranked History as one of the hardest GCSE subjects for 2024, and you can check out the full list!

What do you have to study for GCSE History?

As you may already know, there are 4 major exam boards, regulated by Ofqual, in England and Wales. These are AQA, OCR, Edexcel, and WJEC Eduqas.

These four exam boards have their own unique specifications, and while there may be overlap between them, they set their own modules and mark schemes. Schools choose one module (i.e., period of history) from a range per paper, and that’s what you study for your GCSE!

Below, I’ll be briefly breaking down each of the exam boards’ GCSE History specifications for you.

AQA GCSE History specification: a breakdown

AQA GCSE History is split into 2 papers. Both papers are 2 hours long, 84 marks in total (+4 marks for SPaG), and are worth 50% of the GCSE.

Paper 1 is ‘Understanding the Modern World’. It is split into 2 sections; Section A is ‘Period studies’, and Section B is ‘Wider world depth studies’.

Paper 2 is ‘Shaping the nation’. It is also split into 2 sections; Section A is ‘Thematic studies’, and Section B is ‘British depth studies including the historic environment’.

To check out the full specification, you can consult the AQA website, linked here.

OCR GCSE History specification: a breakdown

OCR GCSE History A is split into 3 papers. OCR also offers GCSE History B, but I’ll only be covering A in this article. You can read the full specification for GCSE History B on this page of the OCR website.

Paper 1 is ‘Period study and non-British depth study’. It is 1hr 45mins long, 105 marks in total (5 for SPaG), and is worth 50% of the GCSE.

Paper 2 is ‘British Thematic study’. It is 1hr long, 50 marks in total, and is worth 25% of the GCSE.

Paper 3 is ‘British depth study and a study of the historic environment’. It is 1hr 15mins long, 55 marks in total (5 for SPaG), and worth 25% of the GCSE.

To check out the full specification, you can consult the OCR website, linked here.

Edexcel GCSE History specification: a breakdown

Pearson Edexcel GCSE History is split into 3 papers. They are each split into 2 sections; Sections A and B for Papers 1 and 3, and Booklets P and B for Paper 2.

Paper 1 is ‘Thematic study and historic environment’. It is 1hr 15 mins long, 52 marks in total (16 for Section A and 36 for Section B), and is worth 30% of the GCSE.

Paper 2 is ‘Period study and British depth study’. It is 1hr 45mins long, 64 marks in total (32 per booklet), and worth 40% of the GCSE.

Paper 3 is ‘Modern depth study’. It is 1hr 20 mins long, 52 marks in total, and is worth 30% of the GCSE.

To check out the full specification, you can consult the Edexcel website, linked here.

WJEC Eduqas GCSE History specification: a breakdown

WJEC Eduqas is made up of 2 components – Component 1 is ‘Studies in Depth’, and Component 2 is ‘Studies in Breadth’. It is further broken down into 4 papers.

The 2 papers in Component 1 are each 1hr long, and worth 50% of the qualification in total. Paper 1 covers a British depth study, and Paper 2 covers a non-British depth study.

The 2 papers in Component 2 are 45mins and 1hr 15mins respectively, and are worth 50% of the qualification in total. Paper 3 covers a Period Study, and Paper 4 covers a Thematic Study.

To check out the full specification, you can consult the WJEC Eduqas website, linked here.

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