Paper 2 is an examination that is required for both HL and SL students. The exam is the same and the students are graded using the same markbands – the only difference is in the weighting of the exam for the final IB grade – it consists of 25% for HL students and 45% for SL students.
Paper 2 is an essay test that examines students’ knowledge of 20th century world history. Students are required to have knowledge of 2 of the 5 20th century topics. Those topics are:
- Causes, practices and effects of wars
- Democratic states: challenges and responses
- Rise and rule of single party and authoritarian states
- Nationalist and independence movement in Asia and Africa and post-1945 Central and Eastern European States
- Cold War
The exam is divided into 5 sections – one for each topic – that consist of 6 questions. Students must answer 2 questions from 2 different topics. They have 90 minutes to complete the exam, plus 5 minutes reading time. Within the topics, teachers choose the examples they will use to cover the topic. For example, a teacher who chooses Democratic States may choose Weimar Germany, Canada under Pearson, South Africa under Mandela and India under Indira Gandhi to cover the topic. One key is to covering 20th century world history appropriately is to ensure that the students have knowledge of the subject that comes from more than one region. A teacher can choose examples from all 4 regional options but that is not necessary – most examples can come from one region as long as there is knowledge of the subject outside of that region. So, for Single Party States, a teacher could cover Nyerere’s Tanzania, Kenyatta’s Kenya, Nkrumah’s Ghana and Hitler’s Germany and the students would be effectively prepared.
Once the content has been decided upon, that content must be covered in depth so that the students have sufficient detailed knowledge of the material to write well supported responses to the essay questions on the exam. A senior Paper 2 examiner recently wrote that the main problem he sees in Paper is a lack of detailed content – students have a good general grasp of the concepts but have a difficult time supporting their arguments effectively because their essays lack factual detail. One way of ensuring sufficient content is to link the 20th century topic to the HL option and the Prescribed Subject as much as possible so that information gets reinforced and explained in a variety of ways. Another way is through supplementary readings, but this can be a very onerous assignment for ELLs. Yet another way is to have students choose one area of interest to them with each topic and have them write a series of research papers that explore one issue in greater depth, e.g., the role of women in Single Party States.
Students also need to know how to write persuasive essays in a timed situation. Writing 2 essays on vastly different topics in 90 minutes is a very challenging task, and only practice will help students learn how to do this. There is no one prescribed method for writing a history essay, but students must focus on the question they have been asked – which is far more difficult for most students than it sounds. They need to formulate an argument – there is no requirement that they present a thesis, but many successful essays do indeed have one. And, they need to support their arguments with both analysis and relevant factual evidence. Most teachers spend a lot of time over two years teaching students these skills and helping them to refine them. If an extended time period is available for students to do a mock exam of Paper 2, that is ideal as that gives the students concrete experience with the exam format that will be expected of them.
When all of this is accomplished is dependent upon how the curriculum has been developed but essay writing obviously must be developed and refined over the course of the entire two years. Even students with a strong background in essay writing prior to IB history will need time and practice so that their skills can mature. And that, in some respects is the final piece of the puzzle regarding success on this exam: academic maturity. Once again, as teachers, we are expected to help students develop unquantifiable but necessary qualities in our students – no small chore, and not the same for every student, but very important nonetheless.
This is the skills’ based component of the exams:
- You have been taught one prescribed subject, and it consists of two case studies.
- Your exam will include all 5 prescribed subjects so be sure to answer the correct questions.
- Your exam will only cover one of the prescribed subjects. Even though your teacher compared the two studies, the exams do not do this.
- There will be two booklets – one with sources and one with questions. If you don’t already have it, request a copy of the specimen paper so you know what to expect.
- You will have 5 minutes reading time with all history exams.
- Use the reading time to review the topic of the paper, look at the questions and start reading through the sources.
- There are 4 questions
- There are 4 sources
- You have one hour for the exam so be sure to keep track of time. If you spend too much time on the first question you will not have enough time for the last question.
- Answer the questions in order; the first ones are easier, and by the time that you reach the last question you will have used all 4 sources.
- Suggested timing for the exam:
- First question (1, 5, 9, 13, 17): two parts: a & b – 5 points total – 10 minutes maximum
- Second question (2, 6, 14, 18): source evaluation (OPCVL) – 4 points total – 10 minutes max
- Third question (3, 7, 15, 19): comparing two sources – 6 points total – 15 minutes
- Fourth question (4, 8, 16, 20): mini essay – 9 points total – 25 minutes
- Consult the markscheme, and in particular, pay attention to the markbands for the third and fourth questions as they demonstrate the necessity of using sources, and own knowledge
- Ask your teacher for help if you are confused with any of this.
- You are not allowed to leave this exam early so use the entire hour; if you complete the exam early, review your work.
Paper 2: World History Topics
This is the concept-based component of the exams:
- Review the specimen paper; there are 24 questions in 12 topic areas; it is fine if you can only answer 3 or 4 of those questions, after all you only have to answer 2.
- Review with the World History Topics that you have covered.
- Look at the major themes and prescribed content
- Since there are only 2 questions per topic you need to know all of the major themes and prescribed content for each case study.
- In most instances you should have at least 3 cases studies
- You must have knowledge of two different regions.
- Outline how to use the 5-minute reading time.
- With 1 1/2 hours they have 45 minutes per essay.
- Remember to answer two questions from two different topics.
- Go over essay-writing techniques:
- Planning is very important: draft an outline, make a Venn diagram or create a mind map.
- Mnemonics work well, and all teachers have their own; review those
- Introduction: how do you begin your essay? how do you ensure the examiner knows where you are going in your essay?
- Body: stick to any roadmap you provided in the introduction; treat each argument as a mini-essay; have clear topic sentences that maintain focus on the question; advance your arguments with evidence and explanation of the evidence; try to provide different perspectives on your arguments but have an opinion that you have supported; link all arguments back to the question.
- Conclusion: an essay cannot score higher than a 9 without a conclusion, and will probably score worse than that so include a conclusion that is consistent with your arguments. It does not have to be long, but it should be there.
- Review the command terms: compare and contrast; discuss; evaluate; examine, to what extent.
- Think about two 42-minute essays with the remaining 8 for planning.
- Use all 90 minutes.
Paper 3: HL option
This is the content-focused component of the exams:
- Review the essay-writing components of Paper 2.
- You have an evening before Paper 3 to review HL option-specific content. Use it wisely.
- Go over the content that you have covered. Look at the sections of the guide that show everything you must know to respond effectively to any answer in those sections.
- Look at the specimen paper: there are 36 questions on 18 topics. You only need to answer 3, and you only need to know 3 sections.
- You can answer any three questions; two from one section and one from another, or three from three separate sections.
- With 2 1/2 hours you have 50 minutes per essay.
- Plan on 3 45-minute essays with 5 minutes planning time.
- Part of the planning time should be a mental break; don’t be afraid to clear your head. Take your bathroom break after you complete an essay – not in the middle of one if you can help it.
- Pace yourselves – this is exam is partly an endurance test.
Congratulate yourself: you have done a lot of work over the past two years and this is your opportunity to show this. However, don’t let your IB results define you. That is only one piece of the picture that is you.
Keep calm and carry on!