Historical Concepts and National Examinations: Have O-Level Structured-Essay Questions Encouraged the Teaching of Historical Concepts?, pp. 7 of 10

Interestingly, the assessment expectations (skills) for sub-question (a) increased for the O-Level examinations from the year 2008 onwards.  This was in line with the new assessment expectation that students were supposed to be able to “explain, analyse and make judgements” for each of the two sub-questions in Section B (SEAB, 2013, p. 4).  In 2008, sub-question (a) began to require students to explain AND come to a judgement in order to answer the question.  For example, question 4a of the 2009 examination read as follows: “Was the Depression the main reason Japan attacked Manchuria in 1931?  Explain your answer.” (SEAB, 2012a, p. 32).  This question required students not only to explain why the Great Depression influenced Japan to attack Manchuria in 1931, but also to come to a judgement on whether this was the main reason for the Japanese attack on Manchuria. This was in contrast to sub-question (a) from previous exams where students were simply asked to explain why some action was made or why an event occurred.

It seems that the expectations for sub-question (a) have changed again with the 2013 syllabus.  The TLG noted that sub-question (a) “requires candidates to explain and analyse” (MOE, 2012, p. 248).  Noticeably absent was the “judgement” expectation that appeared in the 2007 syllabus.  Based on this description, it would seem that students will no longer be expected to answer questions such as sub-question 2a from the 2010 paper; the question read as follows: “Was there a complete absence of international conflict during the 1920s?  Explain your answer.” (Appendix A).  This question expected students to come to a judgement as to whether there was a “complete absence” of international conflict beyond merely explaining whether or not international conflicts occurred in the 1920s.  It is possible that this change was made in order to differentiate the skill expectations between sub-questions (a) and (b) as sub-question (b) will continue to require “candidates to evaluate and make a judgement” (MOE, 2012, p. 248).

Just as it seems the target skill for sub-question (a) will change slightly, it will be interesting to see if the concepts targeted by the questions change on the 2014 O-Level examination.  The 2014 examination will be the first national assessment of students based on the new History (2013) syllabus, and the new assessment objectives that accompany this syllabus are more explicit in mentioning second-order historical concepts.  Assessment Objective 2 (AO2) – which is assessed by the SEQs of Section B – from the newly implemented syllabus reads as follows:

Objective 2: Constructing Explanation and Communicating Historical Knowledge

Candidates should be able to demonstrate:

  • their understanding of the past through explanation and analysis of

    • key concepts: causation, consequence, continuity, change and significance within a historical context; and
    • key features and characteristics of the periods studied and the relationship between them;
  • their ability to evaluate causation and historical significance to arrive at a reasoned conclusion. (MOE, 2012, p. 220)

Based on what is written as AO2 above, it appears that causation, change and continuity, and significance will all be assessed through the SEQs.  These historical concepts comprised three of the eight second-order concepts detailed in the TLG.  An understanding of chronology is important in historical study, and thus, teachers are likely to have to teach students about the overview of events over time even if there is no mention that the concept will be explicitly assessed.  Since ‘Evidence’, and to a certain extent ‘Accounts’, are assessed using the questions in the Source-Based Case Study (Section A), that leaves only ‘Empathy’ and ‘Diversity’ that do not seem to be suggested by the new assessment objectives.

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

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