History tests usually ask questions about sources (texts or images that help to understand a historical period). Although these questions are common, they are not always easy to answer. To get a good grade, you will have to understand precisely what is being asked, know how to evaluate the historical source, and give a strong and well-crafted answer.
Part 1 of 3: Read the question
Step 1. Review the instructions carefully
A serious mistake people make with tests is to ignore the instructions given before a question. Make sure to read them carefully, as they will tell you what to do and how to answer the question.
- The instructions can recommend how long the answer should be. For example, does the question require a short answer or an extensive evaluation of the source? This will determine how much you should write.
- Instructions can also suggest how to use time. For example, they might suggest that you spend 5-10 minutes reading the sources and planning, and 20-30 minutes answering the question.
- Take into account the number of questions the test contains and the time limit.
Step 2. Read the quiz question
When you are sure how to answer, take a first look at the question. Read it carefully. This sounds simple, but you need to understand precisely what is being asked in order to give a forceful answer.
- What is the task? The question may want you to identify a source or put it in historical context. You may also be asked to answer one or more questions based on the source.
- Think of the question as a second set of instructions. It tells you what kind of information to look for when you read the source.
- Read it a second or even a third time. It won't hurt you. Make sure you understand the question.
Step 3. Think and plan
Hold the question in mind. If it helps, write short notes or underline parts of the question before going to the source. The question should guide you and may even contain clues.
- For example, a question that says "Read and identify the following passage" wants you to use your background knowledge to link the source to a particular time period, place, and perhaps an author.
- A question that says "Evaluate source A as evidence of the rise of communism" questions validity and reliability. Here you will have to identify the context and any biases of the source, as well as its limits as historical evidence.
- A question that says "What does this source say about the effect of the Civil War on the abolitionist movement?" look for additional information. You will have to evaluate the source, but also understand how it fits into the arguments about the abolition of slaves during this war.
Part 2 of 3: Evaluate the source
Step 1. Read and write down
Try a first dose of the fountain by reading it completely, slowly and thoroughly. What are your impressions? Look for any clues based on the question.
- Consider writing down the source as you read. Be sure to write down any arguments that may help you. Does the source mention events, people, dates, or places? These data are important.
- Your first impressions may be correct. Even if something seems obvious or insignificant, write it down anyway.
Step 2. Reread the source with the “five basic questions” in mind
The next step is the gist of the task and should help you craft the answer for the test. Read the source again, but this time ask yourself the following “five basic questions”: who, what, when, where and why.
- Ask yourself: who wrote the source? This is important because it can give you information about the author's place in society, their concerns, and possible biases. Ethnicity, class, age and gender are important. If something is not obvious, you may have to guess it from clues in the text.
- What is the source? It could be a newspaper entry, letter, newspaper column, or government statement. Try to find out. It can tell you what message the author was trying to convey and to whom or to whom it was addressed.
- You may or may not have an idea of the "moment." Dates can help you. If not, what kinds of events or ideas does the source mention? Can you identify a period of time with this context? Does the language seem contemporary or ancient? This can also help.
- The answers to questions like "when", "where" may or may not be obvious. Pay attention to any event, argument, or idea the source mentions.
- Why was the source written? This question may be the most difficult to solve and is just as important as factual information. A font can have a clear message; however, it may not. However, each author has their own point of view. Do you have a "hidden purpose" or interest in the matter?
Step 3. Use the “PAPER” method alternately
In addition to asking the “five basic questions,” you can also try this method. PAPER is an acronym that will guide the evaluation of sources and will cover much of the same ground mentioned above.
- "P" stands for purpose. What is the author's purpose in creating the font? Who was he and what was his place in society? Do you make a statement? What is at stake for him?
- "A" stands for argument. What is the author's argument or strategy that he uses to achieve his purpose? Who is your target audience? Is it reliable?
- "P" stands for assumptions and values. What are the values at the source? Are they different or similar to yours? Is there something that you might not agree with, but that the source's target audience would agree to?
- "E" stands for "epistemology." This word means a way of knowing something. Try to evaluate the "true content" of the source. What information does the author reveal? Do you declare that it is your own interpretation? How do you support your arguments?
- "R" stands for relationship. Finally, match the source with what you know about the larger context. How does it fit into what you know about the period and history?
Step 4. Check the veracity of the source
All sources have purposes that, apart from facts, can give us the views of one person or group of people. That said, they also have blind spots, agendas, and limitations. The last thing you should do is evaluate the source based on the purposes and limitations.
- You have identified the author, the context, the motive and the message. Now you have to use this data to ask a bigger question "So what?" What is the most important meaning of the font?
- Ask yourself what the source says about the context. Does it confirm or contradict what you know about your period? Is it related to some important political debate, for example? Does it show the perspective of a certain group of people?
- Imagine, for example, that the source is a newspaper article about slavery. What does it reflect on the abolition and debates on slavery at the time of the Civil War? Is it written from the perspective of someone who supports or disagrees with slavery? A newspaper article can provide clues about the nature of the society or it can be propaganda.
- Imagine that the source is a government statement from the 1960s. Does it help to understand what was going on at that time, perhaps about Vietnam or the Cold War? Does the source of the information agree or conflict with the known information for that time period? If the statement was not intended to be released, it can provide objective and reliable data. If it was meant to be disclosed, it could be written to manipulate the public.
Part 3 of 3: Give a Strong Answer
Step 1. Answer the question directly
Another key to writing a good response is to be direct. Don't waste time with words that are irrelevant. Start with something that goes to the heart of the question (a grade earned, well done!).
- Start with a sentence that addresses the question. If you must identify the source, you can start by typing “This source is the work of…”.
- If you are asked to assess the validity of a source, you can start with something like “This source shows that…” or “This source is valid because it shows that…”.
- Keep the answer focused. Adding as much material as you can will not always get you the best grade. In fact, unrelated or irrelevant events can cause you to lose points.
Step 2. Find documentation to support your answer
You should always be ready to back up your arguments with evidence from the source, be it a direct quote, fact or description, or part of the image, if the source is visual.
- Why do you have to submit documentation? Because the teacher is not just looking for a correct answer, but also to check that you understand the answer. This is what the documentation shows.
- To corroborate an argument, you can say something like "To prove it, the source shows …" or "This is clear because the source says that …".
- Be as specific as you can when submitting the documentation. Focus on specific facts, arguments, and ideas.
- After presenting an example or two, you can move on to the next argument. For example, "This source also suggests that …".
Step 3. Start with the strongest evidence
Try to plan your answer in order of importance (that is, start with the most important material). Usually this is the main argument or thesis statement, which is the central idea of the answer to the question. Minor supporting arguments follow below.
- A good structure for simple identifications is to indicate (in two or three sentences) who, what, when, where, and why. Finish the answer with a broader meaning of the source, that is, "It is important because it shows us that …".
- You will have to try to elaborate for the essays, maybe a few paragraphs. A good structure for this case is to start with a thesis and then add a paragraph for each supporting argument. Make sure to follow the initial instructions regarding the extension.
Step 4. Explain why the source is important or valuable
A good short answer or a good essay, including evaluating a historical source, is more than facts. The teacher wants to see that you can demonstrate your understanding of the facts and, at the same time, put them in a broader perspective.
- Think about it like this: the who, what, where, when and why questions are important. However, the most important thing is to address the "so what?" Explain why and how the facts influence. Shows the importance of the source in question.
- For example, how does the font highlight major historical debates or events? Does it contribute to the knowledge of these events? Does it change them? How?
Step 5. Make good use of time
Keep in mind that you may only have a limited time to take the test. You will have to look at the clock. Try not to put too much effort into a question from the source or even an individual part of a question.
- You can set a time limit for each question. Be aware of this time. Otherwise, you may not be able to finish with other questions or the exam itself.
- Don't write more than you should and don't be afraid to continue. Again, manage the time and effort so that you can finish the rest of the exam.
- Try not to worry too much about style. Teachers generally do not examine grammar and style during an exam. Don't worry about your choice of words and only rewrite the passages if you have time to spare.
- Read the instructions to find out how much to write.
- Pay attention to the clock.