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If you get into the habit of thinking about the key issues in your course, rather than just absorbing whatever you are told or read, you will probably find you’ve already considered whatever issues examiners pinpoint in exams.
You have to think and think hard – and then you should think again, trying to find loopholes in your reasoning.
Eventually you will almost certainly become confused.
If, for instance, you are asked why Hitler came to power, you must define what this process of coming to power consisted of.
Is there any specific event that marks his achievement of power?
First of all we ought to ask, What constitutes a good history essay?
Probably no two people will completely agree, if only for the very good reason that quality is in the eye – and reflects the intellectual state – of the reader.You can of course follow the herd and repeat the interpretation given in your textbook. First, what is to distinguish your work from that of everybody else? But even here, you should take time out to do some thinking.Second, it’s very unlikely that your school text has grappled with the precise question you have been set. Examiners look for quality rather than quantity, and brevity makes relevance doubly important.Be certain to avoid the besetting sin of those weaker students who, fatally, answer the question the examiners should have set – but unfortunately didn’t.Take your time, look carefully at the wording of the question, and be certain in your own mind that you have thoroughly understood all its terms.Or if you are asked to explain the successes of a particular individual, again avoid writing the first thing that comes into your head. In so doing, you will automatically be presented with the problem of defining ‘success’. Do we have to consider short-term and long-term successes?If the person benefits from extraordinary good luck, is that still a success?But unfortunately there’s no substitute if you want to get the top grade.So think as hard as you can about the meaning of the question, about the issues it raises and the ways you can answer it.Philip Larkin once said that the modern novel consists of a beginning, a and an end.The same is, alas, all too true of many history essays.