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 these essay styles and where to use them.
You don’t really need an introduction for the source questions. In the exam you will be pressed for time so it is sensible to just start with your analysis of extract A. However, for the essay questions you will need a short, clear introduction that references the question and states your line of argument.
The most helpful tip I can give you is this; write the introduction last. Why do I advise this? Because if you state your line of argument and what you intend to include, you then have to make sure your whole essay and conclusion matches your introduction. Obviously you should have a plan to follow but it is far, far easier to write the body of your essay and your conclusion, then make the introduction fit the essay you have just written. It makes writing the introduction a breeze because you will know exactly what you have argued, which evidence you have used, the order you have presented your material and what you have concluded.
Remember there should be no surprises for your marker or examiner in history. You are not writing a best seller where you build up the tension and then do a dramatic ‘ta da’ reveal. That will only confuse your examiner and lose you marks – potentially a lot of marks. What we want is a nice, clear format where we can see exactly what you are arguing, exactly what evidence you are using, and exactly what you have concluded. Importantly, we want to know this at the start of the essay. If you make your marker or examiner keep stopping, re-reading chunks, and going back and forth to try and understand your argument, you’ll just end up with an unhappy and frustrated reader. And this is the person who is going to award your marks! Be clear. Be concise. Get to the point quickly. Give evidence to back up your points. Reach a judgement.
For AQA you use these for the extract questions; the two sources for AS and the three sources for A level. You write the essay in blocks of text which are focused on one area.
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 a clear assessment 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 need to assess the sources. Keep doing that all the way through. Assess each source as you write the block and do a mini summary at the end of each section. 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. 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) 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.
Point-by-Point essays are much trickier to master but are well worth the effort as, done properly, they tend 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.
Imagine it like a tennis match
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. 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. That’s your opening shot.
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.
To do this really well it is usually better to put up the side of your argument that you will oppose first. You outline the ‘other’ side of the argument and show 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 analogy; 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.
You must conclude in line with the most persuasive and convincing evidence you have included in your plan. This sounds really obvious, but I have lost count of how many A-level history essays I have marked that argue effectively for one point of view, but then conclude in favour of the other side. The most common reason for this happening is that the student has moved off their plan when writing up the essay. Follow your plan!
At the end of the essay your conclusion should sum up all the main points of argument and then should reach a judgement. Don’t sit on the fence, no matter how tempting it is. You need to make a 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.