International School History - European Schools - S7 2hr option

S7 History Last update - 07 May 2023 Official European School History S7 Syllabus: English, French, German
Bac Oral - World history 1945-1995 - Revision Advice

The most important thing you need to do is learn what the questions are asking you to do.

To make life easier for you, I have used exactly the same form of question throughout each of the 20 exam papers that you may choose. The format is derived from the Bac written exam and I have used them in your B tests throughout the last year. There will be three questions:

Question 1: you will be asked one question about the two sources you have been given to study.  You either have to look for similarities and differences between the sources (compare and contrast) or evaluate the usefulness of the sources (value and limitations).  In reality you can probably combine both approaches in you oral, i.e. when asked to compare and contrast you might also refer to usefulness and vice versa.

Typically students seem to rush this question. Take your time and begin by summarising what the sources mean to you. This should also help to calm your nerves.

If asked to ‘compare and contrast’ make sure you identify similarities and differences. Try to refer to precise details in the sources when making your point.  Similarly, if asked about value and limitations make sure you explain why the source might be good ‘useful’ and not so good or ‘limited’.

Review carefully the lessons we did on usefulness.  Students typically acclaim or dismiss a source as biased and subjective/ balanced and objective without explaining why.  Remember that usefulness means more than just reliability.

Usefulness always depends on what questions you ask of the source.  For example, a propaganda poster during the Cultural Revolution is unreliable evidence about how peasants viewed the policy but it is fantastic evidence about how the state tried to convince peasants of how wonderful the Cultural Revolution was. A newspaper cartoon is unlikely to give you a detailed objective view of event but it provides an excellent insight into how newspaper readers (public opinion) felt about an event.

This highlights the importance of when a source is produced. 

Sources produced some time after an event (typically by historians) have the advantage of hindsight. Hindsight means to be able to see events in a broader context of not only what happened before but also what happened after. By their very nature they are interpretative. Sources produced a long time after have the benefit of calm, objective reflection, the writings and research of others and access to archives of declassified documents. This last point is particularly important in the recent history of the Cold War, where since 1991 much previously sensitive secret information has become available.

In contrast, sources produced at the time of event have the benefit of first hand experience – the eyewitness, the newspaper, the declassified government policy document, the politician’s speech – and as such are what the past has left behind. This is the raw material of history and without we could not claim to know anything.  Their value can sometimes simply be expressed through their acute relevance to an event we are studying. A politician’s memoirs, a secret government memo or an interview with a war veteran provide information that might be rare or even unique. They are usually less objective and can be quite emotional, but just think about how our interpretation would change if the politician had decided not to write, if the memo had not been declassified or if no one had spoken to the war veteran.

This highlights the subjective/objective issue that often presents problems for students. Students often conclude that objective = good, subjective = bad. But once again it depends on what you’re interested in and what questions you ask of the sources. If you want to know why something happened or what the consequences were, then ask an historian or a good documentary film maker.  They should be able to give you an objective account of the event, a list of carefully weighed-up reasons, judiciously supported by facts approved by history’s professional community.

But if you want to know what it was like; what the experience of actually living in the past meant to those who lived through it – what we call empathy – then go for subjectivity.  Read the first hand accounts, the poetry and art, speak to the eye-witnesses and get emotionally involved.  This second version of understanding the past requires imagination and sensitivity, just as much as the first version requires reason and accuracy.

So if in the exam you get a source that is objective, its weakness is that it’s not subjective enough to allow us to empathize.  If you get a source that is subjective, its weakness is that it is just one person’s point of view. In preparation think about the range of different types of sources you might expect: cartoons, newspapers, documentary films, speeches etc. and consider in general why these sources maybe valuable and limited.

Final point about usefulness, don’t forget to mention the obvious things. Look out for the purpose of the source, whether it was private or public, the reliability of the author, the language of the source (emotive or rational), whether it is supported (corroborated) by other information you know etc.

The usefulness of sources

This section of the website provides a detailed examination of the usefulness of the most popular types of source found in examination. It also available as a simplified PowerPoint presentation.

Question 2: you will be asked to explain something. Typically you will be asked to explain the cause or consequences of something. Look at the list of 24 topics I have asked you to prepare for the exam and you will see that most of them are ‘why? ‘questions.  Make sure you prepare them all. Identify four or five big points or reasons or consequences and provide some factual support for these points. A typical student weakness is an inability to actually give some factual information to support the points they made. However, do not make this an excuse to go away and play Fling the Teacher for the next week.

Question 3: you will be asked to evaluate an historical problem. This exactly the same as Question 2 except that here you are also expected to reach a judgement. The questions will be worded ‘how far’ or ‘to what extent’ etc.  And your job is to explain how much you agree with what ever is being suggested in the question. The main student weakness with this type of question is that they fail to see it as an opportunity to discuss factors beyond that mentioned in the question.  ‘How important was the invasion of CZSK by the USSR in 1968 as a cause of détente?’ is not an invitation for you to say everything you know about the event.  In fact, if you do not think that the invasion was a very important cause you might say very little about it at all. Instead, you should concentrate on the things that in your view really brought about détente, such as:  economic priorities, Vietnam, Ostpolitik, China etc. Te point is whatever you think was the most important cause you need to be able to explain why it was most important or at least why it was more important than the factor you have been given to consider (i.e. in this case CZSK)


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