Historical Concepts and National Examinations: Have O-Level Structured-Essay Questions Encouraged the Teaching of Historical Concepts?, pp. 8 of 10

The absence of certain second-order historical concepts in the Assessment Objectives could be explained by the following note in the TLG: “Amongst these skills are familiar terms drawn from the ‘Assessment Objectives’ of the examination syllabus.  It must be noted that the ‘Assessment Objectives’ are crafted to test a sample from the range of historical skills that are integral to the discipline” (MOE, 2012, p. 24).  This suggests that the O-Level examination will NOT assess students on all the second-order historical concepts, but rather only those that have been explicitly mentioned in the Assessment Objectives – that is, causation, change and continuity, significance, and evidence. What Does All This Mean for Second-Order Historical Concepts and National Examinations?

The current trend of assessing students using “cause and effect” and “consequence” questions has led students to have a relatively strong understanding of causation, but it has left them with an underdeveloped understanding of the other second-order historical concepts[iv].  The implication of this is that many students would have shallow understandings of history and the past[v].  To a student who has been drilled extensively about causation, history as a subject might only be the study of causes and effects of historical events.  This of course would neglect the fact that history as a discipline is about much more than that – it is about selecting appropriate sources to find evidence to answer historical questions, understanding why different historians produce different accounts of the same event, understanding why certain events are accorded historical significance,  and so on. 

It is possible this shallow understanding of history will change in the coming years if the assessment questions change.  Given the explicit mention of assessment requirements in the 2013 History syllabus that stipulates demonstration of some key historical concepts, indications are that these expectations will lead to a possible shift in the trend of assessing causation and consequence – one that may be characterised by questions that test students for their understanding of historical concepts other than causation.  As noted previously, Assessment Objective 2 of the syllabus makes it clear that students must be able to demonstrate an understanding of causation, consequence, continuity, change and significance.  This could very well mean that the SEQs in Section B will take on unfamiliar forms that may buck the trend established from 2002 to 2012.

What might some of these new questions look like?  The table below showcases some possible examples of questions that target the historical concepts detailed in AO2. (Note: these questions are formulated based on syllabus topics from the 2013 syllabus.  A brief explanation of how the question targets the historical concept is also included).

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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