Hodder History Expert Blog

Avoiding common pitfalls in Edexcel A-level History Coursework
By Oliver Bullock
15 Jun
The first round of entries for the coursework element of Edexcel A-level History have shown that real success is achievable when students have a clear and manageable route through its demands. Analysis of the performance of this first cohort has shown that a number of common pitfalls have emerged. Based on this analysis, below are some of the solutions offered in my new  Coursework Workbook published by Hodder Education.

Choosing a title
Students may choose a title that is either too broad or too narrow, is restricted in the number of interpretations available or is too complex for students to grasp.
Solution: When choosing a title, students should bear in mind the following.
  • Is there a debate? If there is an obvious answer with little room for discussion, the title will not work.
  • Are there enough interpretations? If it is a question that is particularly obscure, students might not be able to compile enough resources to answer the question sufficiently.
  • Can I answer the question within the word count? If the question was ‘What is your view about the significance of the European Renaissance?’, the answer would require significantly more than 4000 words. ‘What is your view about the importance of Florence in the development of the Renaissance?’ would be more manageable.
Finding resources
Pitfall: However interesting a question, if students cannot access enough evidence they will not be able to meet the requirements of the mark scheme.
Solution: When compiling resources, students could consider the following advice.
  • It is important that chosen works are of article or chapter length, although supplementary reading (used to support and challenge the works) can be shorter than this.
  • Popular or TV historians can be used as long as they provide an interpretation that is based on detailed research. One tell-tale sign of quality historical scholarship is the use of references. Does the author reference the work of other historians and research in the course of their work?
  • Using Google might provide some useful material, but it would be more valuable to use academic search engines such as base-search.net, jurn.org and Google Scholar.
Working with interpretations
Pitfall: Mastering the skills required to evaluate interpretations is one of the most difficult to acquire at A-level. Students often find it challenging to ascertain why historians form contrasting opinions and evaluate which works are more persuasive than others.
Solution: Using appropriate criteria to explain the differences between works and their persuasiveness is key here.
  • Historians may form different views on the same question because they have a different research focus, ask different questions of the evidence, use different chronologies or use different primary evidence. For example, one historian may look at statistical records to measure the success of Hitler’s economic policies and another may look at narrative sources such as letters and diaries. It is highly likely in this case that the historians will come up with contrasting interpretations.
  • Students should judge the relative merits of their chosen works by applying criteria. For example, if a student chose the question ‘What is your view about how far ordinary Germans supported the Holocaust?’, sensible criteria might include whether the historian has researched a broad cross-section of society rather than a few individuals, whether they have used accounts from ordinary Germans and whether other available evidence supports the findings of the historian. If the chosen work fulfils this criteria, there is a higher chance that it could be viewed as persuasive.
  • What is vital to remember is that the criteria used will not be the same for every question or even for two students answering the same question. What is crucial is that students are consistent in their application of criteria and that all three chosen works are given equal treatment and evaluation.
The Coursework Workbook contains advice on choosing a title, compiling resources, working with interpretations and writing up the essay, as well as examples of model paragraphs. It is divided into manageable chunks with opportunities for students to record their progress at each stage in order to aid their planning. This has helped to make students feel less daunted and more in command of what is a demanding independent study project.

The Edexcel A-level History Coursework Workbook, written by Oliver Bullock, is available now. You can find out more and order your copies here.
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