Historical Concepts and National Examinations: Have O-Level Structured-Essay Questions Encouraged the Teaching of Historical Concepts?, pp. 2 of 10

Each of these questions warrants real discussion and deliberation, but this article intends to add to a meaningful discussion of question number 5 above.  While it is beyond the scope of this article to link classroom practices that develop second-order concepts in history to student results on the O-Level examinations, an analysis of the Structured Essay Questions (SEQs) in Section B may be useful in suggesting which of the second-order historical concepts have traditionally been assessed in Elective History examinations at O-Level between 2002-2012[i]

In order to carry out the analysis described above, the three question-set options that appeared on each of the examinations were examined, and each question was classified according to the specific second-order historical concept implicit in the question.  The classification system framing the analysis was based on the eight historical concepts detailed in the Upper Secondary History Teaching and Learning Guide (TLG) (the detailed classification of the individual questions appears in Appendix A).  Building on the preliminary analysis of individual questions, the Assessment Objectives from the O-Level History syllabi from 2001, 2007, and 2013 were examined to explain past changes in the types of questions asked, as well as to suggest ways teachers could use questions to encourage the teaching and learning of second-order historical concepts.

There are two main goals for this article:

  1. To contribute to the conversation on the extent to which SEQs in the national examinations may point to the importance of students understanding second-order historical concepts.
  2. To propose ways to construct SEQs with historical concepts in mind, so that students are given the opportunity to respond to a variety of questions that focus on different historical concepts.

What are the Historical Concepts?

The new Upper Secondary TLG published by CPDD articulated “eight historical concepts that underpin the study of History” (MOE, 2012, p. 35).  These eight historical concepts, drawn primarily from the works of British history education researchers such as Peter Lee, Rosalyn Ashby, and Alaric Dickinson, “help students understand how historians work and how historical knowledge is constructed” (MOE, 2012, p. 35).  It is noted that a strong understanding of these concepts enables students to “develop good disciplinary understanding that exemplifies the Qualities of  a History Learner” introduced in the O-Level History syllabus implemented in 2013 (MOE, 2012, p. 35).

The eight historical concepts described in the TLG are listed below with a brief explanation of each.  These definitions were summarised from the TLG, and more complete definitions can be found in the TLG[ii]:

  1. Chronology

    1. Chronology is fundamentally an overview of events over time.
    2. A strong grasp of the concept of chronology enables students to identify and understand timeframes, changes and continuities, and causal links of factors and events.
  2. Evidence

    1. Sources are traces of the past that can provide potential evidence to explain events that happened; these sources and traces only become evidence when questioned and evaluated by historians.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!