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History Blog

How to revise for OCR A GCSE History – Explaining the Modern World
By Catherine Priggs (nee Flaherty)
02 Mar
To succeed in the OCR A specification students need a range of skills. As for any GCSE History exam they’ll need to work with source material, recall factual knowledge, and demonstrate conceptual understanding of the past.
However there are also some specific challenges in the OCR A spec. This blog gives your students three practical ways to revise or prepare for some of these specific question types.
1. Use flashcards to prepare for explanation questions

If you’re studying the Germany 1925–1955 Depth Study students may face questions like this:
  • How did the Nazis deal with opposition between 1933-34?
  • Why were the Nazis elected in 1933?
  • To what extent did the Nazis consolidate their power by using force and coercion?
The first thing for them to remember in planning their explanation is that they won’t need to use all their knowledge on particular topics. There will be way too much. They need to select.
So rather than trying to cram as much as possible into their head when they revise, they need to revise in the way they will need to write in the exam by always thinking of how this particularly piece of information will be useful to explain something.
A practical way to do this is using flashcards.
  1. They write each piece of information they learn on a flashcard: a one word or phrase summary on one side and two or three details on the other. Create a set of flashcards on each key topic.
  2. You will give them a range of practice questions (from the textbook or Revision Guide or the exam board website).
  3. Their revision strategy as they work through each question is simply to select the flashcards they’ll need to answer them. Put a limit on it. ‘You can only use three. Which will you choose?’
  4. You could go further and ask them to identify a specific bit of evidence on a flashcard - this will encourage them to be really focused and precise.
2. Create issue timelines to prepare for change and continuity questions
In the thematic units, students will be asked big questions that span more than one period. For example:
‘From c.1000 to 1707 the power of the monarch gradually decreased.’ How far do you agree with this statement? 
The challenge is similar to the explanation question – how to select and focus. But here it is even more so – there will be dozens of things they could use.
This issue timeline strategy helps students focus their revision on the big ideas and makes selection more manageable.
  1. Identify the focus of the question - in this case it’s the power of the monarch.
  2. And the issue – in this case did it increase or decrease over time?
  3. And the date range – 1000 -1707. Be sure to understand the significance of the start and end date (eg 1706-7 saw the Acts of Union.
  4. Create a timeline as below then map examples of power increasing or decreasing over this period.
  1. The shape of the graph will help students come to a conclusion. This is going to be their argument. Do they agree or disagree.
  2. Then select ie decide which bits of evidence to use. The selection needs to:
    1. Cover the full date range (don’t bunch evidence at the start or end of the range);
    2. Support the line of argument;
    3. Allow a balanced argument (argue both for and against the view in the question).
3. Four steps to answer the interpretation question in the period study

Here’s an example of an interpretations question:
Study Interpretation A. Do you think this is a fair comment on the policies of Neville Chamberlain in the period 1937–1939? Use your knowledge and other interpretations of the events of 1937–1939 to support your answer.

Interpretation questions require students to:
  • Understand and outline the nature of a given interpretation
  • Recall and explain differing interpretations
  • Support your analysis with factual evidence
  • Contextualise interpretations and account for the view given
Thinking logically and in steps is essential. This flow chart approach helps you.


Remember the four steps:
  • Outline
  • Challenge
  • Evidence
  • Evaluate

Catherine Priggs (nee Flaherty)

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