H2 History at GCE ‘A’ Level is no longer an exercise in factual recall. Essay writing at this level requires candidates to demonstrate an understanding of historical concepts, construct question-focused arguments in relation to their thesis, and substantiate them with relevant and purposeful evidence. For Paper 2, given the range of Southeast Asian countries under study, candidates also need to deploy at least three different countries for the purpose of their essays.
How do these requirements manifest themselves in an essay?
Consider the following question:
To what extent was the rise of authoritarian governments in Southeast Asia due to the weaknesses of plural political structures?
To do well in essay writing, one needs to analyse the question to identify its assumptions and requirements so that the response would be more question-focused rather than topic focused. The technique of question analysis is based on identifying the question, topic and key words. The question words in this case are ‘to what extent’, which indicates the degree to which this development was caused by the particular circumstance stated as well as others. The topic words here are ‘the rise of authoritarian governments’ while the key words are ‘due to the weaknesses of plural political structures’. The assumption in the question is that the emergence of authoritarian governments was linked to the failings of an existing form of political system. This also means candidates need to choose only countries where there was a transition from one form of government to the other. To respond to the question, candidates need to outline what these weaknesses were, identify other explanations and establish possible links between them. In addition, an awareness of historical concepts would reveal that this is a cause and effect question with the need to demonstrate diversity since certain conditions may not necessarily be observed in other countries.
Writing The Introduction
In this part of the essay, candidates need to provide the context for the question, outline the arguments and provide a thesis statement with justification. An essay would not do well if the thesis statement is unclear or missing. A possible thesis could be:
“While the conditions of the Cold War and rise of the military as a political actor contributed to the emergence of authoritarian governments, these developments were predicated on existing instability of plural political structures, thereby providing justification for change.”
Notice how the stand takes into account possible counter arguments and frame these in relation to the given assumption. In this case, the essay is arguing for the case that the given assumption in the question was the most compelling explanation for this observation.
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