Published in March 2009 in the Irish Independent
I’m going to be honest and say that I was a straight D history student throughout 5th year.`I was so hopeless that I dropped the subject completely at the start of 6th year and took up accounting instead. Unfortunately at the end of November I realised that numbers were even more effort then I was facing before and so I was forced back into the hotseat.
The trick with history is to learn the quotes, years and dates. Especially with a huge subject like this, it’s so easy to convince yourself that it’s too difficult, but once you sit down, stop procrastinating and actually start memorising it gets easier and easier.
Essays and timelines were what I used for learning the course. You can sit staring at your notes with a highlighter all day and not get anywhere. Essays especially are so important. I’d write a few a week as it came closer to the exams, and was incredibly lucky to have a teacher who would correct anything, and be blatantly obvious about how dreadful it was. Your structure and style are vital, as they count for 40%, and so nothing beats practice. You also have to be so careful that your essay deals with exactly what the examiner is looking for – note the start and end times and the subject referred to. After I finished the essays I’d then write out all the key facts in a timeline – dates, events and quotes – and learn these off. I’d always get someone (usually my parents) to test me on them, and even to listen to me recounting whole stories.
For leaving cert history there is nothing I used more than Wikipedia. No matter how well written I found that the textbooks alone were not enough. Any extra information you can find adds to your essay, and gives the examiner the impression that you really know what you’re talking about, even if it has come straight off the internet!
When you get into the exam – don’t panic. Timing is everything. Some teachers will advise you to write essay plans before you begin, but if you’ve done a fair few essays before you really shouldn’t need to. You shouldn’t even stop writing for the entire exam, horrific though that is. Sticking to the 40 minutes per question is important. Start on your strongest question and work down to your weakest – you can’t get marks for it if it’s not on paper. A good tip my teacher also gave me is to do the document question 2nd or 3rd because this will give your hand a small bit of recovery time. If you remember bits of information about the essay after you’ve finished it do write it in a note at the end, and leave space for doing so. Every extra fact will get you an extra mark. Keep your paragraphs short and to the point and have a lot of them as your marks are allocated per paragraph and examiners are loath to give full marks. And don’t leave early. There’s always something you can add.
The final issue in leaving cert history is that it is a big course. It’s a supermassive course in fact. You don’t need to cover every single topic, as long as the ones you do cover you cover well, and you learn enough that you won’t be stuck. It’s easy to complain about history, but actually an A is achieveable. You don’t need to understand anything, you don’t need to recognise formulas or use exact definitions. It’s a fascinating subject, completely learning based and therefore a good grade is possible for anyone.