Over the past couple of months, quite a few people have been emailing and PM me about modern and how to write a band 6 calibre essay. I have looked around on the forums and I can’t seem to find a Modern History essay guide. So I’m writing this one to give people an idea of what they need to do, based on what my teachers told me (both were HSC markers, one of whom has been a senior marker for 15 years).
As a general note, this guide is mainly designed for students who are struggling with essay writing. However, I have added a section with some advanced techniques for students who are looking to improve from a low band 6 to a high band 6.
Throughout the guide, I use the practice question “Assess the significance of the Eastern front to the defeat of Germany in 1945” as the basis for my examples.
Also, big thanks to LoveHateSchool for helping me edit the guide.
Never EVER write in first person - this is the cardinal sin of modern essay writing. Markers hate this and you will lose marks if you use first person.
Also, always use formal language and avoid colloquialisms. Whilst most people know this, some colloquialisms are difficult to pick up on. For example, the word “things” as in “Hence, these things demonstrate that....” is an example of colloquial language.
Pay careful attention to your grammar. Although it isn’t marked directly, good grammar adds to the clarity and readability of your response. Poor grammar on the other hand can prevent you from effectively conveying your ideas to the marker. If your response hasn’t been effectively communicated, then you will lose marks. As such, poor grammar can indirectly cost you marks.
Don’t make your arguments emotional or personal. HSC markers will not respond to bleeding heart essays. They respond to logical analysis supported by fact and historiography.
The holy grail of essay writing is balancing clarity and simplicity with a sophisticated argument. An argument which has great depth and complexity is much easier to understand if you write it clearly and in a well organised and structured manner. You don’t want the marker to have to read over your paragraphs a few times because your argument isn’t clear.
With essays, practice makes perfect. Writing practice essays can greatly help improve your essay writing skills. In year 10, essay writing was my weakest area, but by the end of year 12 it was my strongest as I constantly wrote practice essays and had them marked by my teachers.
Whilst it may seem obvious, having them marked is of vital importance, as the feedback is what helps you identify areas in need of improvement. Writing an essay and not having it marked is near useless in my view.
It is recommended that you write 1,000 words (approximately 8 pages) for sections II, III and IV of the exam.
Don’t spend all your time on one section whilst neglecting the others. Some students devote all their time to one essay and not enough on the others. It is better to get 20/25 in all sections then to get 25/25 on one section and only 15/25 for the rest.
Time management is essential with the Modern exam. You are required to write around 3,500 words in three hours which is no mean feat. You need to ensure that you are not spending more than 45 minutes on each section.
Answering the question
My teachers both told me that the most common mistake which modern students make when writing essays is that they don’t answer the question.
When writing essays, most people merely give a description of the question. For example, in the practice question, most students would describe what occurred on the Eastern Front as opposed to analysing the impacts which it had on the war. According to my modern teachers, by providing a description, you are unlikely to get above a band four for your response.
In a modern essay (and all essays for that matter) there isn’t a right or wrong argument. A marker cannot deduct marks from you simply because they disagree with your argument. What they are looking for is whether you support your arguments with strong analysis and appropriate evidence. In my example you may choose to argue that the Eastern front was of no significance in determining the outcome of the war. Although the vast majority of markers would disagree, if your answer is supported by strong evidence and analysis, you will do well.
At university, I wrote an essay for criminal law and the marker dedicated a whole page in his comments to saying how much he disagreed with my argument. However, when giving me my marks he stated "Even though I vehemently disagree with your thesis, this is irrelevant for the purpose of determining your marks"
Another important point is that you should NEVER take a pre-prepared or memorised essay into the exam. Unlike english or SOR, its near impossible to mold your essay to the exam question (unless the topics are very similar, which is unlikely). For example, if you memorise a response on the Conflict in Europe regarding the North Africa campaign, and the questions ask for the Eastern Front and Appeasement, your memorised response will be useless. Moreover, even if your pre-prepared response is from the same syllabus point as a question on the exam, it will still be difficult to mold your response unless the questions are asking you to do virtually the same thing.
With modern and all essays in general, structure is extremely important. However, most students don’t use it at all. As my modern teacher used to say, even an essay with strong analysis and factual evidence will struggle to get a band 5 if it is poorly structured. Generally speaking, an essay should be structured like this:
• Body Paragraphs
For the introduction, you state what position you are taking in relation to the question (otherwise known as your thesis statement) i.e. “The Eastern front had a significant impact on the defeat of Germany”.
You should also state the reasons/points for your position (for example, “The Russian front had a significant and detrimental impact on German supplies, manpower and moral. Furthermore, Germany’s defeat in the campaign also had several strategic ramifications which harmed them greatly in the later stages of the war”).
These points will form the basis for each section in the body of the essay.
In a modern essay on the HSC, you should aim to have around 3 to 4 points/reasons (5 is excessive, however if you can get enough detail in then it will probably benefit you)
In the body, you discuss in detail the reasons/points which support your argument. You devote each section (usually a single paragraph) of the body to dealing with ONE point/reason. For example, in the Russian Front essay, you would dedicate one section (paragraph) to discussing the impacts which the defeat had on Germany’s manpower, then another section on supplies, etc.
Your paragraphs in the body of the essay should have topic/linking sentences. A topic sentence goes at the beginning of each paragraph when you are introducing a new point/reason. It should give the marker a preview of what you are going to discuss in that paragraph. For example “Germany’s defeat on the Eastern Front greatly depleted their manpower, which was a significant factor behind the Allied Victory of 1945”
Linking sentences on the other hand go at the end of a paragraph where you are concluding a point/reason. They need to link your ideas in a paragraph back to the question, for example “Hence, the loss of manpower on the Russian front and at Stalingrad crippled the German war machine and greatly precipitated Germany’s downfall in 1945.” You will notice that linking sentences are similar to topic sentences. That’s because a paragraph/section is meant to be somewhat circular in nature, as it begins and ends with one point which supports your argument.
These sentences are really easy to add to your essays, and can boost your marks significantly. My modern teacher told my mate that they would have added 3-4 marks to his trial essays, as he didn’t include them.
One good method of structuring internal body paragraphs is the PEEEL method. There are a few different variations of this method out there, but most are extremely similar. This is how it was taught to me:
P - Point (Topic sentence)
E - Explain (Explain your point with fact)
E - Elaborate (Elaborate on your facts to form an analysis)
E - Example (Provide an example to support your explanation and elaboration. Usually in modern, this is where you might use historiography)
L - Link (Linking sentence)
It is important to note that this is just one method of structuring body paragraphs – you don’t have to use this method. Personally, I rarely ever used this technique, as I preferred a more free flowing design for my paragraphs. However, it is an excellent method to employ if you are struggling to put body paragraphs together, which is a common problem for many people.
In the conclusion, you sum up your argument. You restate your thesis and your points/reasons in order to show the marker that you have proved your argument, e.g. “Thus, in summation, the Eastern Front proved to be a decisive factor behind Germany’s defeat in WW2. The loss of manpower, supplies and morale along with the strategic ramifications of the defeat proved to be too difficult for the previously undefeated German’s to overcome and ultimately led to their demise at the hands of the Allies in May 1945.”
It is important to note that no new ideas should be introduced at this point in your essay.
Historiography is often poorly understood by most students and it is often not used properly or effectively. This has been noted on multiple occasions in the Notes from the Modern History marking centre which are released yearly following the final HSC exams.
One of the main issues with this aspect of Modern essay writing is that many students often believe that historiography only includes quotes from historians. Whilst quotes are one aspect of historiography, it can also include the opinions of a specific historian, or a general viewpoint overall.
For example, a statement such as “Many historians believe that Speer lied at Nuremburg and had far more knowledge of Nazi war crimes than what he stated in his testimony” is an example of historiography.
Another key issue with historiography is that students often use it ineffectively to the point where it becomes counterproductive. People often overload their essays with pointless quotes, which reduces the quality and effectiveness of their essays. Remember, if your essay is a pastiche of quotes, then you aren’t providing the markers with your own analysis.
Within any essay, historiography should primarily be used to SUPPORT your answer and analysis. As my modern teacher told us, one strong quote backing up your analysis is worth more than five just thrown into a paragraph.
Part B of the personality section
This part of Section III is widely regarded as being the most difficult question on the exam paper, especially when the question involves a quote. However, with practice and a proper approach, it can be mastered.
Answering the question
The main mistake that students make with this section is that they fail to address the issue in the question, as they simply provide the life story of their personality. In my view, the key to avoiding this is through proper structuring and careful thought before writing your response.
When faced with a quote for this question, I often found it easiest to go chronologically. In order to do that, I broke down my personality’s life into several sections. For Albert Speer, I looked at his early life/rise to prominence, his time as arms minister and Nuremburg/later life in the vast majority of my essays
When you are looking at each stage of their life, make sure that you don’t give the marker the personality’s life story. This isn’t answering the question. You need to assess how the question applies to your personality.
For example, with the question “do people shape events or do events shape people” you need to look across the personality’s life and see which part of the statement is true. For example, in Speer’s early life/rise to prominence, events shaped him. So in this paragraph/section of your response, you would explain and discuss how events shaped him.
This structure can radically improve your ability to effectively answer the question, especially if you struggle with this section as much as I did initially.
HOWEVER, this structure is not absolute and there are many other methods which can be employed to answer this question. Whilst I used it for most questions, I also used other methods in certain situations (such as when a quote was not used for the question).
Length of the response
Another key issue with this section is the amount which you are supposed to write for parts A and B. The recommended limit is 1000 words (8 pages). Going off the marks allocated, you should spend 400 words on A and 600 on B.
However, this isn’t absolute. As is sometimes the case, section B will require a lot more detail then A. In that case, you could do 300 on A and 700 on B. However, 300 words is the minimum amount you should be spending on A.
Advanced essay writing techniques
In order to access the higher marks (i.e. 23+/25); you need to show the markers a highly sophisticated and well sustained argument. In order to do this, there are a variety of techniques which can be employed. Two techniques which can be used will be discussed further below.
In my view, achieving a 24 or 25 in an essay is extremely difficult and requires a high level of proficiency in both the course content and essay writing.
As such, writing practice responses and having them marked is highly important in developing the level of proficiency needed to achieve these marks in an essay.
A counter argument refers to a technique where a writer includes and discusses evidence/opinions which disagree with their thesis and then shows why they are deficient or incorrect.
For example “According to the Historian X, Albert Speer was a good Nazi because of Y. However, this view is deficient because it fails to consider Z”. Obviously, this is a highly simplified example and you would probably need a little bit more detail in an essay.
The use of this technique adds a great deal of sophistication to an essay and can make your essays stand out to the markers. This is because it demonstrates that you have highly developed analytical skills and a strong understanding of the course, as you are able to identify flaws in certain arguments and counter them.
Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis
This refers to a technique where two contradictory views are examined in detail. Following this, the writer will then suggest a new point which combines both these views.
For example “Historian X states that the policy of appeasement was the most important factor in causing the start of WW2. However, Historian Y contends that it was the German and Italian Dictators who were responsible for the war. Hence, when analysing both of these views, it can be argued that both were key factors in precipitating the war”. Again, this is a highly simplified example and you would need a far greater deal of sophistication in a real essay.
Similar to the use of counter-arguments, this technique can also make your essays stand out to a marker. This is because it demonstrates that you have a deep enough understanding of the course to be able to form your own view from two separate and distinct arguments.
If anyone has any questions about this guide, modern essay writing or the subject in general, please feel free to send me a PM or make a post in this thread (I'll try to check it regularly). Also, if anyone thinks that I've missed anything or wants to add something, feel free to post your suggestions.
Он посмотрелся в зеркало. Вид был такой, будто он не переставая рыдал несколько дней подряд. Беккер вытер лицо рукавом пиджака, и тут его осенило.