A level Retake Advice: History

The first step is to take an honest and critical look at why you have not achieved the grades you hoped for. A good way to do this is to get your exam scripts back and go through them with one of our teachers.

History at A Level requires a unique combination of deep knowledge retention and complex skill application and is therefore a difficult but highly valued and rewarding subject to study. There are many reasons for underperforming in your A Level History exams. Lack of effort, poor quality (or too little) revision, teaching that didn’t ‘click’ with your learning style, difficulty learning the sheer depth of knowledge required. All of these are reasons for poor performance and it is likely that some or all of these played some part, and should be addressed in your retake year. However, the area in which students most regularly fall down on is their exam technique.

There are different techniques required for different exam boards, papers and even questions. However, technique all relies on the way you respond to the assessment objectives for History. There are four assessment objectives which fall into two sets of two related requirements:

AO1a: Recall, select and deploy historical knowledge appropriately, and communicate knowledge and understanding of history in a clear and effective manner.

A01b: Demonstrate understanding of the past though explanation, analysis and arriving at substantiated judgements of:

Key concepts such as causation, consequence, continuity, change and significance within a historical context.

The relationships between key features and characteristics of the periods studied.

AO2a: As part of a historical enquiry, analyse and evaluate a range of appropriate source material with discrimination.

AO2b: Analyse and evaluate, in relation to the historical context, how aspects of the past have been interpreted and represented in different ways.

Ultimately, AO1 relates to your broad historical knowledge and understanding; your ability to recall knowledge and to analyse and evaluate arguments in your writing. AO2 relates to your ability to comprehend and analyse primary sources and historians’ interpretations of the past – historical skills. The assessment objectives will be combined differently on different exam boards and for different units but all provide a good chunk of the grades over the entire A Level so you will need to engage with and apply the skills for them all. All these skills can be learnt; it only takes time, practice, and a bit of guidance. We will work closely with you on your exam technique as this is the simplest and quickest way to significantly improve your marks.

When retaking A Level History, you will need to think about how many and which units you should retake; this is something we can discuss with you if you pop in to see us. This choice will depend on your circumstances and exam marks but as a general rule, you should avoid only retaking one unit except in extreme circumstances as this concentrates your risk. Under the current A Level system, you study four units: two at AS and two at A2. As AS exams are generally taken at the end of year 12, they are assessed at a lower level. It is therefore often wise to retake one or both AS exams, even if you have done well in them. You may be able to pick up essential marks here that will help push you over the grade boundary. Taking new units that you haven’t studied before may seem daunting but is often the best route to getting the best grades out of your retake year.

Deciding whether to retake your coursework is often one of the most difficult choices to make when retaking History. You will have put a lot of time and effort into your research and writing and will not want to lose that. Fortunately in most cases you don’t have to. As long as your task fits within the board-set requirements, you can build on what you have already written. The coursework unit is often the easiest way to improve your marks significantly – with a close focus on the skills required to get the marks and some extra research you can go into the exam with marks in the bag. Sometimes it will be easier and more valuable to start again on a new task and we can advise you on this but, unlike many schools with much larger classes, we will make this decision based on what is best for you, rather than what is easiest for us.

Finally, see this as an opportunity. It can be a horribly demotivating experience to not reach the grades you have aimed for but this is your chance to look at your learning style, technique, and relationship to your studies and build new and better approaches which will put you in a stronger position for your university courses. At Rochester Independent College we work closely with you to develop these skills, while building the independent study skills you will need to succeed at university. Our small class sizes and flexible approach means we can find out exactly what you need to work on and our regular assessment helps you to work on it and get regular feedback on your development.

Missing your A Level grade may just turn out to be the best thing you’ve done in education so far.

retake a level historyIan Pay, Head of History, Rochester Independent College

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