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Tips on Studying History

Sources of Information

(a) Primary sources of information in history come from the period you are studying. These may be newspapers, diaries or letters written at that time. Also included as primary sources are drawings, paintings and, in later periods, photographs.

(b) Secondary sources are books, CD ROMs and Internet sources, such as this web site. The authors of history textbooks, CD ROMs and web sites use other secondary sources and primary sources of information to help them write their texts.

You will learn about history through a variety of secondary sources. Your information will mostly come from your textbooks and this web site. Many books are available in the school library, as well as encyclopaedias. You should also use other secondary information sources such as films, videos, plays, museums and visits to historical sites.


How to read

(i) You must make sure that you understand what you read. If you come across a place, person or event which you do not know about, make a note of the name and use other books to find out more.

(ii) Try to be critical about what you read. Secondary sources are only the author's interpretation of past events. Different authors have different interpretations. If you read enough secondary sources you may begin to see differences. This will help you to form you own opinions.

(iii) Try to relate the events you read about. Historical events are nearly always inter-linked. Always refer back to what you already know.


How to remember what you have read

(i) Be active in class and interested in what you are being taught. You will find it easier to remember something you are interested in!

(ii) Try to learn each lesson before the next one. This will better prepare you and help you to be interested in what you are doing in class.

(iii) Read ahead so that you go to your next lesson already prepared and with questions to ask.

(iv) Use other sources of information to build on your knowledge. Find out about how the ordinary people lived during the period you are studying. How did they travel? What technology was available? What did they eat? How did they dress? This type of information will help you get a feel for the period.


Your studies

(i) Facts: As you read through the text write down names, places, events and, of course, dates. Make a chart of the people and places involved in a particular event. Learn this information. Sometimes it helps to make up rhymes: "In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and, to remember the demise of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived".

(ii) Maps: The best way to learn a map is to draw it. Trace the outline of the map and make some photocopies. Study the original and then try to redraw it on the outline map. Continue to do this until you can reproduce the map accurately.

Note: If you really want to make sure that you have retained the information you must go over it again, in the same way, three days after you have learnt it. If you can still reproduce the information accurately, then you have retained it. If you cannot, you must re-learn it.

(iii) Essays and projects: You may be asked to write about a certain event or events. Never copy sentences or paragraphs directly from your textbook or other secondary sources without quoting the information and giving the source. To take another person's work and pretend that it is your own is plagiarism and it is illegal. You should also remember that your teacher can always tell when the words written down are not your own.

To prepare your essay or project you should read the relevant section of your textbook and take notes of names, places, events and dates. A good essay writer also makes use of the library and ICT department to research other sources of information, taking notes in the same way. (Remember to write down the books you have used - title, author and publisher - , and the URLs of any web sites. These should be given at the end of your essay.)

When you come to write your essay you should use your notes only. The sentences must be your own.

(iv) Short answer questions: You may be asked to answer a question in a few sentences. If so, the same rules apply as for writing an essay. Your teacher will be impressed if you show that you have used other sources of information apart from the textbook. This will certainly improve your grade.

(v) Research: You may be asked to research a person or event in preparation for your lesson, perhaps to give an oral presentation. Never leave this type of work to the last minute. Use your textbook and the school library and ICT department to find other sources of information. Try to find something out about the person or event that other students (and perhaps even your teacher!) are unlikely to know. This will show that you have really researched your subject.

(vi) Class tests: Learn your work as described above in (i) and (ii). Never leave learning your work until the last minute. If you know you have a test during the next lesson start to learn your work as soon as you can. The night before the test should be used for simple recall revision.

(vii) Examinations: You should always prepare a revision timetable for your examinations. This should start at least two weeks in advance of the exams and even more if you have not been learning your work on a regular basis.

Once you have a general revision timetable you should decide exactly what you intend to revise in history at each session. Work for examinations should be pure revision. In other words, you should have learnt your lessons during the term.


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