The Big Picture: Breaking Down AS History

Written by Aaron

Disclaimer: I have stopped working on this post and have moved over to churning out A2 resources. You can still find some advice for answering the source paper, but most materials recently are for A2.

Let’s get to business.

As you venture through the world of AS History, this website is going to be your ultimate resource.

I have two aims:
• Reduce your success to a function of your hard work, rather than luck (teachers, access to resources etc.)
• Squeeze out the menial work involved in finding, compiling and presenting resources, so instead, you get to see History as the amazing subject it is.

So what does it mean to study AS History? Most people just fling themselves at the subject – read the textbook here and there, write an essay etc. so they can feel as if they’re making progress.

This approach of:


…usually results in a lot of hard work and a lot of disappointment (which is also why all your AS Physics friends think you’re an idiot).

There are actually five areas you need to focus on if you want to get better at history:


Step 1: Get a rough idea of stuff

Also known as the stuff you’ll actually remember after finishing AS History. This is all about getting a feel of an event. This is done waaay before the exam – at this stage you don’t need to remember the years or stats or anything of that sort. No memorisation – just understanding the gist of things.

This part is super important – later on when you begin studying in earnest, having a good feel of what’s going on makes revision way easier. This is why it’s kind of important to try and engage in discussion during class, or to put in extra focus when reading an event for the first time. Not a lot of it is going to stick, but the stuff that does comes in pretty handy.

So let’s say you’re learning about the Great Depression.

Level 0 is like knowing actually has generally gone down.

Level 1 is knowing that stuff has gone down + countries are facing huge domestic pressures and home-grown extremism due to this (i.e. making the ‘stuff’ more vivid)

Level 2 is being able to attach those feelings to other feelings – the rise of dictators, decisions to invade places (i.e. linking your impressions to surrounding events).

When you first encounter a topic, try to get yourself to Level 2. That requires some deep thought and genuine interest in the subject.

Links: (in progress)

Understanding Post WW1 till the Great Depression
Understanding the Build Up to WW2
Understanding the League of Nations

Step 2: Work on your essay structure/style

Also to be done waaay before the exam. Most people focus too much on facts and reading, but really, history is also about making you into a better writer. This is a much better investment of your time than reading facts (you’ll forget it before the exam, read it again, then forget it after the exam).

Links: (in progress)

Structuring a Paper 1 Question (Source Paper) Part A
Structuring a Paper 1 Question (Source Paper) Part B
Structuring a Paper 2 Question (Outline Study) Part A
Structuring a Paper 2 Question (Outline Study) Part B

Step 3: List down what you actually need to remember

Now we’re getting closer to the exam. We don’t need to remember everything. There’s a lot of noise when studying history – but all we need is to hone in on the tune. Sometime before the exam, you should have a list of the actual facts and figures you need to remember.

The whole memorisation thing in history can be overwhelming, until you list down what you actually need to commit to memory. Then you notice it isn’t as much as you thought it was.

Links: (in progress)

Memorising Post WW1 till the Great Depression
Memorising the Build Up to WW2
Memorising the League of Nations

Step 4: Go over exam technique

Now, in an ideal education system, exactly 0% of our effort would be devoted to learning to exam and exactly 100% of our effort would be spent on learning to history.

We don’t live in that world.

So suck it up, get your timing right, and know your game plan the moment you open that question paper. In a time-pressured exam like history, the importance of exam technique is amplified.

Links: (in progress)

Exam Technique Paper 1 (Source Paper)
Exam Technique Paper 2 (Outline Study)

Step 5: Do some practice

This is intermingled with the other steps, notably Step 2, but as the exam nears you’ll be doing a bit more practice than usual (ideally, rather than memorising facts). If your plan is to practice and magically become better, you’re deluding yourself. There are good ways to practice, and there are bad ways to practice.

Links: (in progress)

How to Not Screw Up Your History Practice