Paper 1: Tips to Succeed

In IB History, at both HL and SL, students are required to demonstrate their ability to use historical sources.  There are a number of historical skills that are used by professionals instantaneously and often on a daily basis.  Every time your history teacher picks up a text, reads a journal article or examines a political cartoon or graph, s/he probably does this quickly, almost without thinking about it.  Like many other tasks, practice leads to constant improvement and your teacher probably doesn’t even realize that s/he’s doing it.

During your study of this course, you will be exposed to a number of different sources, and you should be looking at them critically.  This doesn’t just mean that you criticize the sources, but that you try to gain insight into the various factors that affect the production of these sources, and then consider how this makes the source valuable, or not.

When you take your IB exams, Paper 1 will assess your ability to do just that.  Paper 1 is a source-based test and you will choose one section of the exam and answer the questions in that section.  There are 5 sections, each of which corresponds to one of the Prescribed Subjects.  Each Prescribed Subject has two case studies and you must know both:

  • Military leaders: Richard I and Genghis Khan
  • Conquest and its impact: Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru; and end of Muslim rule in Spain
  • The move to global war: Japanese expansion in East Asia and German and Italian expansion
  • Rights and protest: Apartheid in South Africa and Civil Rights Movement in the USA
  • Conflict and intervention: Rwanda and Kosovo

All 5 sections will have identical questions that follow the same format.

You will be given 4 sources, three print and one non-print (e.g., cartoon, photo, portrait, graph, table).  You will use all 4 sources to answer 4 questions.  The questions follow the same format, regardless of Prescribed Subject of case study:

The first question is divided into two parts.  Each part asks you to show that you understand the meaning of one the sources.  Example:

1a.  According to Source A, what factors motivated the Mongol conquests?

1b.  What is the message conveyed in Source B?

The second question asks you to evaluate one source.  It will always be phrased the same way.  Example:

  1. With reference to origins, purpose and content, analyze the value and limitations of Source C for a historian studying the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

The third question asks you to compare and contrast two sources.  Example:

  1. Compare and contrast what Sources C and D reveal about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

The fourth, and final question, is a mini-essay that asks you to synthesize the sources and your own knowledge. In this question you need to have a thesis and structure the response. Example:

  1. Using these sources and your own knowledge, evaluate the role of Nelson Mandela in the South African struggle against Apartheid.

The questions progress in their sophistication, and by the time you reach the final question, you have been asked to analyze all 4 sources, so you should be able to answer the question handily.

Paper 1 lasts an hour, plus you have 5 minutes reading time.  While it will be a very fast hour, you should be able to answer all 4 questions within the time allotted.

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