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A-Level History

Background information about studying History

History A-level enables you to study a range of topical events varying from the Troubles in Ireland, to Russia, and to the Tudor era. There is a certain emphasis on gaining a thorough understanding of certain important events, mainly in modern History. (You can also do Early Modern History: you study Norman Conquest, Angevin Empire, The Crusades and English Civil War...is way better than modern!) Many students find themselves passionate about History and its intensity is very well respected.

How will it differ from GCSE?


Many people find the step up from GCSE to A Level relatively challenging. Some aspects of the course rely on your source skills a lot more and you need to work to build these skills up. Being an essay subject there will be a lot more writing and reading involved in it, so if you struggle with those you may find the subject challenging. You don't need to have studied History GCSE to be able to do it at A-level either, as you will build the skills up throughout the course anyway.


Required Individual Study

There is lots of Individual study you could do for History, and you should probably do some to help with your course. A lot of it is reading around the subject, it helps strengthen your knowledge. If you are passionate about History you may find you want to do as much reading as you can anyway, I just wouldn't not do any all year.

How is it assessed?


At AS for Edexcel both units are assessed by external examinations. You have two papers both 1h 20m in length and these can either be sat seperately in January and June or both in June.

-Unit 1 is broadly about studying historical themes in depth and you will be required to study two historical periods in considerable depth. The most popular option tends to be Option D: A World Divided: Communism and Democracy in the 20th Century. In this Unit you can study anything from Stalin's Russia to the United States' involvement in Asia during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. For this Unit you will have to learn a lot about facts and events during the period, as well as why and how these may have changed over time. Unit 1 also requires a specific hierarchal essay structure that you will develop through practice.

-Unit 2 is about studying a specific period of British History in depth. This is primarily a source orientated unit so the most important thing you learn is how to effectively analyse sources, right from their provenance to the inferences they make. You will also need to develop some own knowledge to assist your reading of the sources, but not as much as in Unit 1. Exam technique is very important for this unit and you will learn how to effectively write about sources, either comparing various sources or answering an essay question using sources and your own knowledge.

At A2 for Edexcel there are once again two units. Unit 3 is externally assessed through a 2 hour examination worth 60% of the A2 while Unit 4 is a coursework submission worth 40% of the A2.


For Edexcel the only coursework is one of the A2 units, which is a personal project completed throughout the year. Some centres do not offer it - instead you do a synoptic model that is stupidly tough. NOTE: This is no longer offered, as part of the new specifications all centres are required to do a coursework submission entitled 'Historical Enquiry'.


History is more of an essay subject and you wouldn't expect to do much practical work other than presentations.

Field trips and excursions

History is a subject that potentially has lots of field trips. Some schools offer the chance to go to conferences on particular subjects and others do trips to places where you are studying and museums etc. In History they help you to deepen your understanding of the subject and contextualise it, which is always helpful.

Where can I go with a History A-Level

History is a very popular A-Level choice, with over 70,000 students taking it at AS. As well as being highly respected by all universities for a variety of courses the qualification itself can prove extremely interesting, hence explaining its popularity. History is a great A-Level for progression into social science and humanities courses at university, such as History, English, Law and Economics. However it is by no means restricted to being useful for these courses alone. Indeed many leading universities also respect science students taking History as the analytical and writing skills gained from it are invaluable in any field. History is therefore also great as a 4th AS for students thinking of studying medicine or single sciences at university. Its depth, variety and challenging nature means that the skills you learn from History A-Level will remain with you no matter what you choose to study at a higher level.

User Opinions

Username: timewarp

What I like about studying this subject: I love History. For AS we do the troubles in Britain and Ireland, which although may not be as exciting as wars and other things that have happened it is still really interesting and brings it home when you think that this was next door to us and how long it went on. Also we do Russia 1881-1952 which is also incredibly interesting with the Tsars and Stalin etc. I've been lucky and got two really interesting areas for our units which is what I think helps me to enjoy it as much as I do.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Some parts of what you study are complex and can be hard to get your head around and there are lots of essays, with the source based ones being quite difficult to do but other than those things there aren't many things I dislike! :D

Username: tknight7

What I like about studying this subject: The Tudors was a great module to learn. Essay format is easy to pick up (compared to psychology anyway.....) Workload is pretty light imo, just need to read quite a bit. Links in really well social sciences - I did psych and economics, and politics at AS, and was able to cross-reference knowledge from all areas!

What I dislike about studying this subject: At my sixth form, 4 of the 6 modules were 1800's Europe, which got REALLY boring. I really struggled with my synoptic module exam - couldn't get the format right, even after a whole year of pratice, which ended costing me my place at uni for 2009 :( I came to the realisation that history just repeats itself - really depressed me :(

Username: Akbar2k7

What I like about studying this subject: History was my forth subject I have only done it at AS, however it was a great experience. History is the real big picture it shows the human systems of the past you learn about economics, politics and psychology.I am at heart a science person but history a refreshing break from facts and figures it gave a human perceptive to things and naturally added to my understanding of our world.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Well I am a science person and I found it painstakingly hard to perfect my essay technique ,it was not straightforward revising for an art. Maybe this was due to my lack of GCSE history.

Username: Chisto6

What I like about studying this subject: History happens to be my favourite subject, I love it so much that i actually just finished two ASs in it and I am planning to contine those next half term. History is such a great subject because it sort of tells you were to go and where not to go. I just generally find it so interesting!

What I dislike about studying this subject: Well, seeing as I do two, one being Ancient which had nvolved studying Sparta and Augustan Rome and Modern which involved studying Russia from 1885-1954 and India from 1900 to 1947/8. I found what I didn't like was the fact that modern wasn't as interesting as Ancient, in Ancient it seemed more about the society and lifestyle where the Modern was sort of politics which is okay but when you have loads of coverences, politicians and reforms to learn it can get a little tedious in revision.

Username: okonomiyaki

What I like about studying this subject: I like the fact that no two centres are likely to study the same topics. At AS with Edexcel, for Unit 1 we studied the latter part of the Hundred Years War and also the Black Death, which was difficult in that you have to think across decades and centuries and make really long term judgments- I usually turn my nose up at military history or history that is really gruesome, but this was really interesting. The Black Death especially, because the one thing you realise is that even hundreds of years ago, no matter how different the ways of life, people are essentially the same, toilet humour and all! For Unit 2 we studied the Changing Role of Women from the 1860s to the 1930s, which was completely different and more what I think of as "people" history- my favourite part of the course. Studying two completely different periods allowed me to develop completely different skills. History is difficult, but fascinating and absolutely worth the hard work.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Essay technique! My first few essays had rock bottom grades, but practice and practice and practice helps so much, no matter how boring it might be. I found the whole way of doing the subject to be quite a leap up from GCSE. You end up doing a lot of reading around the relevant periods in your own time, but this isn't really a bad thing at all!

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