A Level History


What is it about at sixth form level?

History is fundamentally the study of the past: of the individuals, societies, cities and other structures that once were and the causes and explanations of that shaped their development and demise. The A Level History course examines the rise of America from the divisions of the Civil War to its global dominance in the twentieth century. This is investigated in relation to the decline of European economic, political and global power. 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 be studying two units. Unit 1 is a source paper on American history that analyses a precise topic taken from the era between the origins of the American Civil War and the New Deal policies of President Roosevelt. Unit 2 is an essay paper that covers the same era and investigates Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and Progressivism in American politics.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will be studying two more units. In Unit 3 (The Origins and Development of the Cold War, 1941–1950) you will consider the factors that led to a post-war divided Europe. You will look at the tensions amongst the Alliance powers with respect to the Axis powers and how this affected peace-making at the end of the war. This will lead onto a consideration of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the Berlin Blockade and Airlift. In Unit 4 (International Relations post-1945) you will look at the different phases of the relationship between east and west. How did relations between the USA and the USSR change and develop in the 1950s and 1960s? The impact of nuclear weapons, Détente and the reasons for the end of the Cold War. Unit 4 will also investigate events in Asia after the Second World War.

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 cogent 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?

AS level

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 their 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% (20% of the A level) of the AS and lasts 1 hour 15 minutes. The Unit 2 exam is worth 60% of the AS (30% of the A level) and lasts 1 hour 45 minutes.

A level

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 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 1950-75 and 1975-91. The questions will focus on the reasons for tensions post-World War Two, why the Cold War had such a global impact and ultimately why the conflict was resolved. 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.


The Penguin History of America
By H. Brogan
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0140252552

The War that Ended Peace
By M. Macmillan
Published by Profile Books, ISBN 978-1846682735

The Cold War
By J. L. Gaddis
Published by Penguin, ISBN 978-0141025322

The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts
By J. M. Hanhimaki, O. A. Westad
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0199272808

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: CIE AS 9489, A level: CIE A level 9489

Robert Heggie
Head of Department


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University of Bristol (Law)

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University of Edinburgh (History and Politics)

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King's College London (Biology)

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Grades achieved at MPW

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University of Bath (Mechanical Engineering)

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