How to structure AQA A-level History Essays

For AQA History, at both AS and A level, you need to know how to write two types of essay – a block essay and a point-by-point essay.  To be able to structure AQA history essays you’ll need to know what are these essay styles and where to use them.

Related: History Essay: How to write an A-Grade Essay

A block essay does what it says on the tin

You write the essay in blocks of text which are focused on one area. For AQA you use these for the source questions; the two sources for AS and the three sources for A level.

For the source questions you don’t need to get too clever with hopping back and forth between sources and points. Decide and plan what you need to say and then write it clearly, with assessment of the value of each source, in big chunks of work. Do not worry about an introduction– just get straight into the analysis. First address Source A in a block, then Source B in another block and (for A level) Source C in a final block.

Remember that you do not have to compare the sources in the answer, so it can be written in a very straightforward manner. You can then bring the sources together in a very short conclusion at the end (no more than a couple of lines) where you can summarise your convincing/valuable assessment of the sources. The conclusion is optional, because the 2017 examiner’s reports for some history topics stated it was not expected. However, it is very important that you make a clear judgement for each source, as that is what the question asks you to do.

By the way, when we talk about blocks it does not mean you have to cram everything into one enormous paragraph. If you have plenty to say (and hopefully you will at A level standard) you should use a sensible paragraph structure. The reason it is called a block essay is that you deal with one section completely, in this case each source, before moving on to the next section.

A point-by-point essay can be a little trickier

To master but is well worth the effort as, done properly, it tends to achieve higher marks. For AQA you can use this style for everything that is not a source question. The key to an excellent point-by-point essay is all in the planning; it will only come out well in the writing if you know exactly what you are going to argue and the order in which you are going to introduce evidence and points. So it is crucial that you make yourself a good plan!

Essentially, all the AQA essay questions at both AS and A level ask you to argue ‘for or against’ a hypothesis. They will look something like this:

‘Victorian governments in the years 1867 to 1886 had little interest in social reform.’ Explain why you agree or disagree with this view.


‘Henry VII had successfully established monarchical authority by 1509.’ Assess the validity of this view.

Your job, therefore, is to find evidence from your course for both sides of the argument i.e. both ‘for’ and ‘against’ the hypothesis. You absolutely must have evidence for both sides – not just one side. The evidence goes down on your plan, divided into ‘for’ and ‘against’ the hypothesis. Whichever side you end with more evidence for, or more convincing evidence for, that is the side you will conclude is most persuasive.

Tip – this is a methodical, logical process

You must conclude in line with the most persuasive and convincing evidence you have included in your plan.

To write the essay, begin with a short introduction outlining what you are going to examine in your essay and indicate which way you are going to conclude. Then begin with one of the points from your plan, either for or against the hypothesis. Deal with the point in detail, using clear examples as evidence and linking it firmly to the question.

Next, pop straight over to the opposing view and deal with that point, again using clear examples and linking to the question. Repeat this ‘back and forth’ technique until you have covered all the points and evidence in your plan. Imagine it like a tennis match, where the ball starts on one side of the tennis court, is played and then sails over to the opposing side. A point-by-point argument is like this – it is oppositional, with two opposing sides. You should aim to bounce back and forth between the points and the two sides of the argument.

To do this really well it is usually better to put the side of your argument that you will oppose and conclude against, up first. You outline the ‘other’ side of the argument and show your marker that you understand the opposing view. Then you switch over to the other side of the hypothesis, i.e. ‘your’ argument, and use powerful evidence to back it up. Remember this is all about argument and analysis. Back to our tennis match; the ball is your argument, which bounces back and forth between the players, but you need ‘your’ side to end each point with the big shot – the one that wins the game.

The Conclusion

At the end of the essay your conclusion should sum up all the main points of argument and then should reach a firm judgement. The conclusion should mirror your introduction and the main points of argument in the body of the essay, so the work ends up as a coherent, clear argument from introduction to conclusion.

The point-by-point essay takes practice, so it will help if you can get some feedback from your teacher or tutor, or even a parent who will be able to tell you if your argument is clear and makes sense to the reader. Do persevere, however, because when you get the technique right it will gain you more marks in the end.

Related: History Exams – How to avoid being narrative & How to use Provenance in History Exams

About Dr Rose

Dr Janet Rose is an international tutor who teaches English and History for The Tutor Team. See her profile here

Janet also manages The Tutor Team Facebook page, where you can get study tips, educational videos, and posts every week.

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