It comes as no surprise that in the current normality of ‘independent learning’ with little to no access to their teachers for guidance, many students are facing great uncertainty as to how to achieve those ever sought after top grades. I believe that regardless of your ability, the absolute key to succeeding in History is simple, study smart by studying little and often.
By putting effort into creating high quality resources for yourself, and committing to integrating these resources into your daily routine, there’s no reason that anyone can’t become an A grade History student.
Here are my five easy steps to independently becoming an A grade history student:
Creating a comprehensive and reliable set of notes will allow you to establish the vital foundation of knowledge that is required to grasp a full understanding of the period of History that you are studying. Invest in a set of coloured pens to colour code your notes with, this can be according to whatever factor makes sense to you (e.g I have chosen to allocate a colour to each Tudor monarch), which will allow you to begin to associate particular colours with their corresponding topics. File these together so that you’re always able to locate information quickly and easily.
Simply creating notes isn’t enough. After completing a set, revisit them and pick out key points of information to produce a set of flashcards, each with a singular open question on one side and the correct answer on the other. Regularly testing yourself, or asking someone else to test you using these flashcards will ensure that you are able to actively recall this information and eventually commit it to your long term memory. I’d recommend using a flashcard app to do this (I use Quizlet) as it’s much more environmentally friendly and easy to organise but if you opt to use physical flashcards, consider purchasing coloured flashcards to correspond with your notes.
A challenge commonly faced by many History students is difficulty in remembering specific dates of key events. After trying every trick under the sun, I invented ‘date cards’ myself as an almost effortless method of memorising dates which can be particularly useful for visual and kinesthetic learners.
Once you’ve completed a set of notes and flashcards, select a realistic number of key dates to memorise and boldly write them on individual pieces of card, accompanied by a simple drawing which will trigger your memory of why that date is significant. Ensure that the colour of the card also matches that of your notes on that topic- this is important as it limits the amount of information required to actually be written on the card and prevents any confusion as to which period of history the card is referring to (e.g I have five cards which all depict a crown and date but am able to identify which Tudor monarch’s coronation they refer to due to their colour). Stick these in your bedroom, or in places around your house where they will naturally catch your eye and over time, you will find that you’re able to recall the dates without use of any stimulus at all.
As a History student, it is absolutely vital to immerse yourself in the period that you’re studying and although I completely empathise with the fact that History teachers constantly pushing the importance of reading around the subject does nothing but deter students from doing so, they couldn’t be more right. If reading doesn’t appeal to you, there are however, simple ways to embed this into daily life without it feeling like a chore. Take advantage of ‘dead time’ through listening to podcasts and documentaries on apps such as Spotify, Youtube and Netflix whilst getting ready in the morning or walking somewhere. This immersion will allow you to delve further than just the prescribed content and develop a comprehensive understanding of the period that you are studying.
Ultimately your final grade will be based on your ability to write a detailed and articulate essay in a given amount of time so developing this skill is absolutely key in becoming an A grade student. Once confident in your knowledge, find some practise questions online and attempt to plan them out to consolidate your knowledge and establish a good essay structure. Then begin to write complete essays- it is best to start off without a time limit, allowing yourself to write a high quality essay and begin to introduce time limits until you reach the limit given in your exam. This is also a perfect opportunity to identify any gaps in your knowledge and write ‘open book’ (notes to hand) responses to questions that you may be less confident answering.
Continue to regularly complete practise essays, along with flashcards and wider learning as this will ensure that the knowledge is embedded into your long term memory and essay writing becomes second nature. As exam season approaches, consider compiling a list of all of the questions that could possibly be asked and just plan them out- this will not only ensure that there are no gaps in your knowledge but also that you’re not overworking yourself by writing too many extended essays close to your exams.