One question I often get from students is this — what textbooks / resources do I need to study CIE A-Level History?
This post will hopefully connect you with what you need to get going — I’ve included links to textbooks, other websites, and key posts on this website. Where relevant, I’ll add some commentary for each resource.
Do you have great resources to share or recommend? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add ’em to this list. One past student, Aisha Zaman, has kindly shared her notes below — thanks Aisha!
AS-Level History Resources
My recommended strategy for learning/revising AS subject knowledge is this:
- Look at the syllabus breakdown here. It starts on page 13. Your goal is to cover every bullet point relevant to your Option*.
- Start with the CIE-Endorsed textbook. This is your History Bible.
- Use additional textbooks / websites etc. to plug in subject knowledge areas that are lacking.
- Before your exam, you should feel comfortable answering question on every relevant bullet point in the syllabus.
*For the Source Paper (Paper 1), you need to cover everything under your Option. But for Paper 2, you only need to answer 2 out of 4 topics, so you can focus on the bullet points in your chosen two topics (e.g. for the International Option, you can focus specifically on International Relations 1933 – 1939, and China and Japan 1919 – 1945). Some study 3 or 4 topics, just in case they face a particularly tough question in one topic. It’s a trade-off between risk management and focused study. Such is life.
Those bullet points in the syllabus are an outline of what CIE expects you to know. The resources below (and on this website) are the tools you need to populate that outline.
1) CIE-Endorsed Textbooks
Do I Need This? Yes. 100%
What Does it Cover? Full coverage of subject knowledge you need. Some advice on essay structure / exam tips at the end.
I personally think the CIE textbooks could be better, but there’s no escaping them — the mark schemes for AS-Level are literally plucked from these textbooks. These textbooks cover precisely every fact and topic you need to know in the CIE syllabus… because it’s basically the textbook created for this course.
A word of advice: these textbooks are necessary, but not sufficient to score well in the exams. In other words, you need this textbook, but I don’t personally think it’s enough to give a solid grounding in the subject. CIE tends to throw questions for which the textbook can, at best, give you one or two points to argue with. You should combine insights from others resources + your teachers to get a deeper understanding — don’t just slog away on this one textbook alone.
Accessing the Resource:
You can get it from Amazon here:
You should be able to get the textbook of your option via the Amazon links I’ve found above. I managed to find a few copies at a major bookstore in my country (Malaysia) but you may have different luck elsewhere in the world. The price tag there nearly made me cry, but if you’re lucky you might find a used copy on Amazon that is cheaper.
Do I Need This? No, but it’s a great read.
What Does it Cover? Subject knowledge — goes into greater depth for the International Option. Limited use for students taking the European / American Option. Also covers A2 material for the International Option.
This doesn’t replace the textbook, but if you’re new to International History (like I was when I first took CIE History), you might appreciate the context this book provides. It intersects a lot with the CIE syllabus (covering both AS and A2 International Options), and I feel it does a slightly better job than the CIE textbook of giving a good feel of what’s going on.
Accessing the Resource:
Again, you can get it from Amazon here:
My opinions on the book were formed based on the fifth edition (linked above), but you can find really cheap copies of the fourth edition on Amazon as well. Or you can borrow it from a friend… which is what I did.
3) IGCSE Textbooks
Do I Need This? No. Some find it very helpful, but I’m indifferent.
What Does it Cover? May help you understand the subject knowledge you need, especially if you never did IGCSEs or a similar history syllabus.
I never personally relied much on IGCSE textbooks, but I had a few friends who found them better than the A-Level textbook when it comes to explaining subject knowledge. The A-Level textbook can feel a bit ‘rushed’, but (some) IGCSE textbooks move a bit slower and (oddly enough) with more detail.
If you’re completely new to International/European/American history and/or you’re willing to fork out a bit more, then you might find the IGCSE textbooks handy complements to your learning.
Accessing the Resource:
There are a couple of decent IGCSE History textbooks out there from Edexcel and CIE. I don’t have strong opinions on any particular one, but this one from CIE seems particularly promising:
4) Key Posts on History9389
Textbooks mostly cover subject knowledge, but don’t dwell much on the actual exam you’ll be sitting for. Here are a few posts on this website (if you have trouble finding them) that deal mainly with essay structure + technique for the CIE History exam:
I’ll keep adding more resources over time. It helps when students email me asking questions — so please do so! It helps me identify areas of need, and prioritise my writing of these resources accordingly. Email me at email@example.com
5) External Websites
Here are a few websites that may come in handy:
Mr. Allsop’s History: I love this guy. I read his guide to Paper 2 essays while sitting for my exams and I thought it helped tremendously.
BBC GCSE Bitesize: Decent summaries + statistics.
Active History: Good for understanding — rather than revising — the syllabus. Has a few cool interactive activities. Big downside is that it requires a login =/
A2- Level History Resources
A2 is a nightmare for most students. There’s no ‘proper’ textbook to study from. Resources are everywhere and it’s hard to even know what’s out there that you need to know. With that said, relax — here’s a game plan for you:
- Again, start with the syllabus outline here (page 22 onwards). Your goal is to cover every bullet point there in depth*.
- Use all the resources you can find to create your own notes covering each bullet point.
*For Paper 4, you only need to cover 2 themes. Unlike AS, I would actually discourage you from studying 3 or 4 themes. Each theme already has sooooo much that you need to know — it’s called a depth study for a reason!
I know — it’s not an awe-inspiring game plan and you were expecting more, but it works. Use the bullet points in the syllabus as a guide for ‘what you need to know’ make sure you cover each one in depth for your selected themes. A2 forces you to be an independent learner — no more depending on one single Bible-like-textbook to guide your learning.
(As with the other textbooks in this post, you can find textbooks below on Amazon. I’ve linked to them below in the text and images)
These are books ‘suggested’ on the CIE website. I can’t personally attest to them, but CIE can! The full list is found here, but is rather difficult to navigate so I’ve organised it here instead with links to where you can actually purchase these books.
Historiography (Paper 3) Resources
Can’t seem to find CIE-suggested resources on the British Imperialism Option. There are a few additional ‘generic’ Paper 3 resources that don’t cover specific Options – I’ve excluded them from this list.
Depth Study (Paper 4) Resources
No luck with Theme 3 (China) and Theme 4 (Middle East). There’s only one recommended CIE book for Theme 3, and it covers a completely different time period from that mentioned in the syllabus, so I’m not sure if it’s very useful. No books on Theme 4, but the Palgrave Modern World History I mentioned in the AS Resource section might come in handy (this is not CIE-suggested however).
Other Non-CIE-Suggested Resources
This was the book I used to study Cold War History. It provides a decent start for Paper 3 (Origins of the Cold War) and Paper 4 (Theme 1 Cold War 1950 – 1975, Theme 2 Cold War 1975 – 1991). Again, no single resource provides everything you need to study CIE History, but this book provides a good foundation in my opinion.
2. Key Posts on This Website
Again, textbooks cover primarily subject knowledge. In fact, for the A2 syllabus, all the textbooks are not specific to the CIE syllabus, so you won’t find any advice on answering the CIE exam in them.
This itself was a source of frustration large enough to compel me to create an entire website dedicated to covering that gap. Yes, you’re welcome. Enjoy:
There’s also a tonne of subject knowledge guides covering the Cold War themes in Paper 4:
3. Resources Shared by Students
P4 timeline – Complete Paper 4 timeline for Cold War, by Aisha Zaman
I hope you’ve found this guide useful!
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback + suggestions on good resources