How to get a 9 in GCSE History

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October 19th, 2022Last updated: March 26th, 2024

As a part of our continuing series focused on GCSE subjects, we are pleased to present Chloe's guide for students aiming to achieve a Grade 9 in History.

How do I get a 9 in GCSE History?

Choosing History for GSCE is a great decision.

History is an interesting and varied subject that not only provides you with knowledge of past events, but also gives you a multitude of transferable skills. Studying History will improve your ability to prioritise information, form critical opinions of events and analyse sources- all of these skills are vital for any subject and will be things colleges and universities will be particularly seeking.

Part of the draw of History is the chance to go in depth into topics ranging from the Cold War to American Independence, however this creates the challenge of not only having to learn a large volume of information, but also having to apply it in a relevant, analytical and critical way, including key dates and events to back up your argument.

Being able to achieve this will set you well on the way to getting a 9.

According to the Department for Education: ‘To achieve grade 9, students’ evidence will show that they have securely met all the statements within the grade 8 descriptor, with stronger performance in most or all aspects of the grade 8 statements. You should therefore make sure you are familiar with these grade descriptors!

So, here are our 6 top tips to help you achieve a Grade 9!

Tip 1 – Mocks Matter

Use your mocks.

Your mocks are a practice for the actual exam.

They are an unmissable opportunity to get an idea of what grades you are on track to get. Revising for your mocks in the way you intend to revise for the actual exam will show you what areas you need to work on, and can help you create useful targets.

It’s always tempting to look at your total mark or grade when you get your test papers back from your teacher. Really, though, this is of secondary importance. What’s most important is looking closely at those areas where your teacher (or tutor) has given you specific, targeted points to address. 

Understanding where you can improve means you can then try to ensure you include this on the next attempt and the result should be an improvement. It might take time (and your grades may go backwards before they go forwards), but it’s an essential part of being a student. 

If you are unsure on a point of feedback, try and make time to speak with your teacher to ensure you really understand where you need to improve, and crucially, how to do it.

Tip 2: Know it, don’t wing it

History is one of the most knowledge-intensive subjects, so make sure you dedicate time to really understand and know the content and context of your period.

Due to the large amount of content, you will need to make sure you are consistently reviewing the content to ensure it does not become hazy or vague.

To achieve a 9 in GCSE History you need to demonstrate to the examiner you have an excellent understanding of your course. Rudimentary or simple errors repeated throughout an essay, are likely to bring an assessment’s total marks down, rather than up. The odd error is probably fine, but an important date or evaluative point, which just seems out of place, will limit your chances of consistently being rewarded with the highest marks.

Tip 3: Excellent Essay Structure is Essential

Hone your essay structure.

At GCSE, having good essay technique goes a long way. It allows you to make sure you have included everything you need to produce a substantial answer, and it makes it clear and easy for the examiner to read and mark. Having an essay that is all over the place and lacks flow will mean the examiner is more likely to miss the point you are making.

A good structure to stick to is PEEL:

Point: What is the point you are making? e.g On the one hand, the Battle of Stalingrad was the most important event of the Second World War.

Example/Evidence: What knowledge have you got that backs up this point? Are there any key events or dates you can include. e.g For example, the Hitler Youth indoctrinated children into believing Nazi ideologies.

Explanation: What does your evidence/ example show? Normally by physically writing this shows… or this suggests…. you will be explaining! e.g This suggests that Germany was frustrated with the Treaty of Versailles as they blamed the Weimar Government for being too weak….

Link: Here you need to make sure the paragraph you have written ties in with the question. and links to your next point. It is almost a mini conclusion for your paragraph. A lot of the essays you need to write will be along the lines of ‘to what extent do you agree…’. For this type of question, you need to decide what your line of reasoning is. It is a good idea to have an opinion either way, but also include some counter arguments. In other words, you want to have a balanced argument, but it still be clear what your opinion is. Make sure you include a conclusion that sums up your essay and highlights your view.

As you develop as a historian you might be able to use PEEL in a more flexible and naturalistic way, but you should always ensure the same content, balancing evaluation and explanation, remains.

Tip 4: Revise in the Right Way

Get your revision right.

Although getting a 9 is more than just regurgitating information onto your page, you’re going to struggle to reach for that grade if you don’t have breadth and depth in your knowledge. There is a lot to remember, so effective revision is key.

Here are some ideas:

  • Condensing your notes– to do this you need to read through your notes and summarise each section into a couple of sentences. This ensures that you have read and taken in the information, and then thought about what it means in a way that you can simplify it. Once you’ve done this, try going through the condensed version and condense it further.
  • Flash cards – put key dates, places, people and facts on flashcards with a short description on the back and get someone to test you, or test yourself.
  • Mind maps- write a topic in the middle of the page, and then brainstorm everything you can remember without looking at your books on the page. Then go back with a different colour and using your book, add the things you missed. When you revise next time, start with the topics you forgot to include.
  • Make your own exam questions and answers- this is effective because it is getting in the head of the examiner. Go through your notes and think about possible questions for each section of information. Write these down, then in a few weeks have a go at answering them.
  • Past papers- if you really want a 9, going through every past paper you can find, and then looking at the mark scheme or getting your teacher to mark it will help you understand where you need to improve.

Tip 5: Work Consistently

You need to do your best.

Getting a 9 takes a lot of work. It is designed to be the highest grade and reward only the select few. You need to really want it and be willing to put in the effort to get there. Deciding you want a 9 two months before your exams, when you’re predicted a 5 is going to be tricky to make happen.

But if you’re in your first year of GCSEs and you’re already predicted 6+, then a 9 is potentially within your reach.

Planning a schedule early can make a huge difference and ensure that you go can consolidate older content in time for the exams. It’s also important to give yourself some downtime so you can approach your studies well rested and motivated.

Tip 6: Use the Exam Board’s Resources

How do different exam boards differ?

Whilst all of the exam boards expect a similar standard and cover similar content, there are some key differences between them, depending on the themes and concepts

AQA History Papers

AQA loosely splits the exams into a paper on Britain and a paper on the wider world. For paper 1, students have the opportunity to study Russian communism, Independence in the USA and Germany through the world wars. Paper 2 has a focus on Britain, looking at the Normans, Elizabethans and the British empire. Past Papers: AQA | GCSE | History | Assessment resources

OCR History Papers

OCR has three papers. Paper 1 looks at International relations in Britain, then there is a choice of studying China, Russia, Poland, USA or South Africa in more depth. Paper 2 focuses on the theme of War and Power in Britain. Paper 3 looks at the impact of the empire and reformation on Britain. Past papers: GCSE – History B (Schools History Project) (9-1) – J411 (from 2016) – OCR

Edexcel History Papers

This is split into Paper 1, which is a British thematic study looking at medicine, crime and punishment and war. Paper 2 looks at Russia, Germany, China or the USA.

Past papers: Edexcel GCSE History (2016) | Pearson qualifications

Grade boundaries for History GCSE

These vary depending on the year, the exam board and the specific paper. Here is a guideline based on the 2022 papers: Grade 9: 73% Grade 8: 67% Grade 7: 60% Grade 6: 52% Grade 5: 44% Grade 4: 38% Grade 3: 27% Grade 2: 16% Grade 1: 8%

Bonus Tip: Have an Opinion!

If there is one thing human beings are good at, it’s having opinions.

The difference between a great essay and a piece of technical explanation, is an opinion. The examiner will want to see not only that you know things and that you can evaluate them, but that you also have an opinion of them! 

‘Balanced’ pieces that use the term ‘I both agree and disagree’ don’t really tell us much and when you think about it, don’t really make sense. You should opt for one side over the other while still presenting the other side’s position in a fair manner. You should then show why that position is wrong and answer the question throughout!

Final Thoughts

 Overall, getting a 9 in History is difficult but not impossible. It is definitely achievable if you have been successful at KS3, enjoy History as a subject, and are willing to put lots of consistent work in. With effective revision and practice, you’ll likely be able to achieve the grade you’re hoping for!

Good luck!

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