International School History - Skills - Sourcework

The source paper for the European Baccalaureate

What type of questions will be set?

Question 1 asks you to explain in your own words the meaning or message of one of the sources or selected parts of it

Question 2 asks you to compare and contrast the message or view of two or three sources,

Question 3 asks you to assess the value and limitations of one or two sources with reference to the source's origins and purpose

Question 4 asks you to use your own knowledge and the sources to construct an argument in answer to a question about the prescribed subject

Advice on answering questions

• Write in complete sentences. Use the mark allocation for each question to determine how long you spend on each question. In particular, give yourself enough time to do justice to Question 4 as it's worth 20 marks out of the total of 50.

•  Remember to judge each individual source on its merits or weaknesses; avoid generalisations like "Source A is a secondary source and so is unreliable because the author will not know exactly what happened". Both primary and secondary sources can be reliable or unreliable. Also just because a source is biased does not mean it is of no use to an historian; e.g. a Soviet propaganda poster produced in the 1940s might not provide the historian with accurate information but it might tell us something very useful about the sort of image that Stalin's regime wanted to project to the Soviet public and the world.

•  In answering the comprehension type of question (Question 1), you need to remember to use both the source and your own knowledge to help understand it. In this type of question the examiners are testing your understanding of the source. It is better if you keep direct quotations from the passage brief and avoid quoting back whole chunks of the passage at the examiner. If you need to make longer references to the text, paraphrase (put it in your own words).

  In comparison questions (Question 2), where you are asked to "compare and contrast" two or three sources or evaluate "to what extent" two or three of the sources agree, don't forget to indicate both points of similarity and points of difference between the sources.

•  In answering questions which ask you to evaluate the usefulness of particular sources (Question 3), keep focused on the sources' origins - who produced them, when were they produced etc - and purpose - why and for whom were they produced - and ensure that you identify both the sources' value and limitations, otherwise you will be unable to score more than just over half marks for your answer. What is meant by value and limitations? - value means what the sources are useful for, what they tell us about the issue that the question is asking about; limitation means what aspects of the issue referred to in the question the sources do not tell us about, and, the extent to which the sources may not be reliable or accurate.

• In answering the type of question (Question 4) that asks you to use your own knowledge and the sources to assess a statement about a particular area of the prescribed subject or to evaluate a feature of it, the examiners will expect you to produce a short essay. Do make sure that you use both the sources and your own knowledge otherwise you will not be able to score more than just over half marks. In terms of approach, you will probably find it much more effective and time efficient to integrate the sources and your own knowledge, rather than running through what the sources have to contribute and then using your own knowledge. Equally, aim to take a thematic approach or a ‘for and against’ approach in using the sources and your own knowledge, rather than going through each of the sources in turn.


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