A Level History


What is it about at sixth form level?

History is fundamentally the study of the past. It examines past individuals, societies, cities and other structures, as well as the causes that shaped their development and demise. The A Level History course focuses on nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. The themes of ideology and imperialism are considered during this tumultuous period. Focus will also be given to social and cultural aspects, so that students acquire a comprehensive understanding of these pivotal years. The course will also concentrate on source-evaluation and the importance of presenting clear and defined arguments in a coherent and concise fashion.

The study of these topics will allow students to understand Mark Twain’s famous comment that “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” History allows us to understand the context in which events happened, and – through knowledge of the historiography of the era – to analyse how interpretations have been subsequently altered or validated.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study two units. In Unit 1 (Liberalism and Nationalism in Italy and Germany, 1815-1871) you will begin with the post-Vienna Settlement of Germany and Italy, and examine how the outcomes added to regional difficulties. You will then consider how and why unification occurred in both Germany and Italy. In Unit 2 (the Industrial Revolution and the Origins of WWI) you will start by looking at the causes of the Industrial Revolution and its effects. You will also consider why the alliance system developed, the complex history of the Balkans and the decline of the Ottoman Empire. This will allow you to investigate why war broke out in 1914.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study two more units. In Unit 3 (The Holocaust) you will focus on the differing views of historians as to why the Holocaust happened. You will look at the background of European and German anti-Semitism, the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis, Jewish responses to it and contemporary reactions. In Unit 4 (Europe of the Dictators, 1918-1941), you will look at Lenin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany: why did these dictators gain power? What were their aims and how far did they achieve them? To what extent were they totalitarian rulers? You will look in particular at their socio-economic aims and their policies towards their opponents.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

History is a venerable and rigorous academic subject that is respected by every university. It will develop your analytic and evaluative skills through confrontation with both source material and the competing historical explanations it has led to. It will teach you how to articulate coherent arguments in a clear written form. These are skills that will benefit you across a range of subjects and beyond.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

A GCSE in History is not a prerequisite. You will need the ability to read substantial quantities of text with a critical eye and to write clearly and concisely. It is important to bear in mind that at this level it is not a matter of retaining and deploying a lot of information but rather a matter of drawing upon it selectively to construct a persuasive argument.

How is the course assessed?

Lower sixth

For the AS, there are two exams on Units 1 and 2 respectively. The Unit 1 exam will contain a series of two-part questions. In the (a) part, you will consider two sources on one aspect of the material. In the (b) part, you will use all the sources and your knowledge of the period to address how far the sources support a given statement. The Unit 2 exam will likewise contain a series of two-part questions. The (a) part question will ask for a causal explanation and the (b) part will require consideration of significance and weighing the relative importance of factors. The Unit 1 exam is worth 40% of the AS and lasts 1 hour. The Unit 2 exam is worth 60% of the AS and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes. Students may carry forward their unit 1 and 2 results to the second year. They are worth 50% of the A level.

Upper sixth

For the A level, there are four exams on Units 1-4 respectively. The Unit 1 and Unit 2 exams are as specified above, though they are now worth 20% and 30% of the A level respectively. In the Unit 3 exam, you will be given an extract from an unidentified historian’s writing. One extract will be set on each of the topics. The question will ask what can be learned 85 about the interpretation and approach of the historian who wrote it. The Unit 4 exam will require you to complete two essays covering the years 1918-1941. The questions will focus on how far a particular dictator had achieved their aims, why they were able to do so and how far they can be described as totalitarian. The Unit 3 exam is worth 20% of the A level and lasts 1 hour. The Unit 4 exam is worth 30% of the A level and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.


European History, 1789-1914
By R. Williams
Published by CUP, ISBN 978-1107613249

Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust
By A. Farmer
Published by Hodder Education, ISBN 978-0340984963

The European Dictatorships: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini
By A. Todd
Published by CUP, ISBN 978-0521776059

Unit 2 textbook, to be confirmed.

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: Cambridge International AS 9389, A level: Cambridge International A level 9389


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University College London (Economics) 

“Honestly, I could not imagine when I joined MPW that, due to language and adaptation barriers, I would achieve top grades in my first A-level exam sittings. This view changed completely after only a few weeks in the college’s supportive and motivational environment; with teachers who aimed at finding a personal touch with each student and with my Personal Tutor who made my adjustment to the UK education system not only an easy step in my life but, more importantly, an enjoyable one.”


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
King's College London (International Relations)

 “The teachers really helped me overcome any difficulties I came across; they always seemed willing to offer support be it inside or outside of the classroom. I could safely say my teachers inspired me to work hard and aim for the best, sometimes simply by being passionate about what they do.”


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University of York (Law) 

“Having a Personal Tutor to discuss ANYTHING with, from my UCAS application to organising my life in general, really did make life at the college more streamlined and in general less stressful.”


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University College London (Economics)

“My subject teachers and Personal Tutor have been very patient and helpful in supporting my studies and university application.”


Grades achieved at MPW

Progressed to
University College London (Mathematics and Statistics)

“International students have many aspects to think about, such as accommodation and guardians, but MPW surprised me by having a highly organised and supportive administration. Also, because most MPW Cambridge students are local, as an ‘international’ student, I found this very useful in both improving my English and in giving me a taste of a genuinely ‘English’ college.”