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The ultimate guide to HSC Modern History

By Lauren Condon on 17 October 2017NSWblogSubject advice

Modern History is definitely one of those subjects that you kind of regret choosing at one stage or another… Don’t get us wrong, it’s a great subject with super interesting topics but there is just so much content and so many skills you have to perfect. But before you freak out too much, we spoke to our resident Modern History expert who gave us some killer tips on how to nail this subject. Here are the big four:

1. Create smart summaries to manage all the content

It’s no secret that there’s a sh** tonne of content in Modern History. I mean, each topic is big enough to be a subject on it’s own but you have to do four of them in one exam 😱 . That means it’s super important to find the best way to condense all that information and really pinpoint what is most important.

So when you’re writing your notes, you’re going to need to just keep writing summaries and super summaries of your notes. The more times you go over them, the more you will be able to pick out the most crucial bits of information and arrange all the content into a really punchy, memorable and useful summary that will actually get you through an exam. When you’re making these summaries, always keep the exam in your mind and ask yourself ‘What will I be using this information for?’ ‘How would I answer a question on this topic?’ or ‘How would I use this information to answer a question?’. You’ll be able to cut through a lot of the bull and end up with a really good grasp on each topic.

2. Focus on interpretation as much as memorisation

So yeah there’s a lot of content to memorise but of course, there’s a lot more to Modern History than just names, dates and facts (even though it doesn’t always feel like it!). So when you’re studying and doing practice exams, remember that you’re going to make judgements and propose explanations and assess the value of what you know. Don’t be afraid to draw on the ideas of some prominent historians or even have a go at putting your own opinion forward if you can back it up with some solid evidence and analysis!

When you finally get into that exam, you’ve got to think to yourself ‘Here are the facts… now, what are the different historians interpretations of these facts? And from all that… what is my interpretation of the facts?’. That’s a really solid approach and, if you pull it off, a straight path to a big fat band 6. 🙌 🙌 🙌

3. Perfect your modern skills before the exam

A massive part of getting those high marks in Modern is having solid skills in the essay writing and of course, the much dreaded source-based study.

When it comes to essays, you’re pretty lucky in that you can draw on your essay writing skills from other subjects. So just make sure you know the ins and outs of creating a really structured argument that uses the facts given to you but also makes a clear and logical argument based on those facts. No rehashing the historical event, thanks.

When it comes to source study, it’s definitely worth practicing how to interpret the nitty gritty elements of a source and focusing on its place in history. The big tip here is the more you know about the historical period the source comes from, the greater knowledge you’ll be able to show the markers and you’ll be able to interpret the source to a much greater depth.

The usefulness and reliability section is also a toughie and a good opportunity to lock down a Band 6. You want to work through a checklist of criteria (like perspective, timing, context, presentation etc.) and end up making a judgement about how reliable and useful it is for understanding that part of history.

4. Practice, practice, practice

It’s a bit of a cliché but some people seriously forget that you need to practice for a Modern exam just like you would practice for Maths or English. This is a big ask but try to get in the habit of writing practice essays for Modern to as many past questions as possible so you are in the swing of using all that knowledge and all those skills to write a killer essay that your marker will love. That way, you’ll be ready to tackle any kind of question and you’ll know how to pack an answer full of great evidence and a solid argument.

The other reason it’s super important to do practice papers for Modern is time management. See, the exam really is packed and you don’t have much time to answer a lot of big questions so your time management skills need to be up to scratch. Do the past papers and practice sticking to 40 minutes for each section so you can get consistently good marks which is always better than one great section, two average ones and one that kind of looks like 💩 .


Our love-hate relationship with Modern History really can be turned into a full blown romance if we just know how to tackle some of the trickier/intimidating parts of the subject. For all that content, rely on some smart summaries and you also need to prioritise interpretation and your modern skills. Cap it all off with some decent exam practice and you should be sweet to nail this exam. 💯 💯

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