IB History is a subject in Group 3. Subjects in group 3 are considered Humanities subjects. Questions usually require students to write essays.

History at IB is based on a comparative and multi-perspective approach.Through this, you will have time to think about various fields including politics, economy, society and culture.

It is the process of reconstructing and interpreting past records through various investigations. It emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to think historically and to develop historical skills as well as gaining factual knowledge.

External Assessment

Paper 1 : Source-based paper based on the five prescribed subjects
– Choose one of the five subjects
– Four questions
– Total marks for the paper is 25 marks.

Paper 2: Essay paper based on the 12 world history topics
Paper 3: Essay paper based on one of the four regional options

Duration Marks per section % of final grade
External assessment Paper 1 1h 25 20%
Paper 2 1.5h 30 25%
Paper 3 2.5h 45 35%
Internal assessment 20h 25 20%

In this blogpost, we will be sharing some tips you can use to ace your IB history exam paper 1 which is in the external assessment.

1. Understand historical sources

The first question of the paper usually tests a student’s ability to understand historical sources.The question comes in two parts: Part A and Part B.Part A requires students to study and demonstrate their understanding of a textual source. Examples of textual sources are newspaper transcripts, diary entries, speeches.

Part B requires students to study and demonstrate their understanding of a visual source. Some examples of visual sources are cartoons, photographs, and paintings.

When answering the question, students have to draw relevance between the source and the question. It is important to understand the given source and answer the question.

You will be expected to meet the following objectives:

First of all, you have to demonstrate detailed, relevant and accurate historical knowledge such as how much is relevant to the resource within the question and if it’s the information well searched.

Secondly, you have to demonstrate your understanding of historical concepts and context.To understand a context, the first task of the historian is to identify and study the factors that caused it- which is cause and effect.

Lastly, you have to demonstrate your understanding of historical sources based on who,what,why,when and where.

2. Analysis

The second question requires students to analyze the value and limitations of a historical source.

‘Analyze’ means examine in detail to show meaning, and identify elements and the relationship between them. All historical sources have a value and its limitations.

Value refers to how much this source is useful in the question.When analyzing the value of a source, there are two aspects that we have to consider which are relevance and authority. In terms of relevance, you have to analyze how this information is relevant to your question. For authority, you should know who the author is.

To answer the question, students will be called to consider three factors: the origin of the source, the purpose, and its content.

  • Origin: You have to know where it came from and when the source was produced.
  • Purpose: You must be able to know how the text is written, why is this cartoon/ photograph taken for its creation. You are also able to know what the author is going to deliver.
  • Content: You must be able to figure out how the sentence structure looks and what is written within the visual sources.

After students have analyzed the origin, purpose and content of the source, they have to comment about the values and limitations of it

  • Value: The source should provide you with high-quality information and meet your information needs and evidence that is supported to answer the question
  • Limitation: The task here is not to point out weaknesses of the source, but you should know what is the point to cease to be of value to us as historians and the experiences in the present might influence accounts of the past

It is important to understand historical sources, the ability to analyse sources as historical evidence, recognizing their value and limitations.

3. Compare and Contrast

You have to compare and contrast the resources based on the period that occured, what kinds of people do and what kinds of relationships they have based on the background.
The good response includes clear and valid points of comparison and of contrast.

For example,
Compare and contrast what Sources B and C reveal about the massacre of the Jews in York in 1190.

In this sentence, we can figure out that the similarities about the massacre of Jews in York is the valid point. In terms of invalid point, it only states about the similarities in authorship which is irrelevant – it doesnt talk about the massacre of the Jews in York.

4. Synthesis and evaluation

The fourth question in the IB History exam is like a mini-essay question. When writing it, you are expected to write an introduction, body and conclusion including these 4 objectives. You must comprehensively evaluate the given materials based on your background knowledge.


  • Introduction/introductory paragraph
    It outlines the structure or main supporting points of your essay and suggests the direction of the argument which gives the evidence which supports your opinion but it has to general and brief
  • Main body
    It has to be identifiable with a theme or label and should include the factual information. Try to consist of the sentence within 5-6 paragraphs with the factual information. Use as many sources as possible based on your background knowledge based on what you have learnt in the classroom
  • Conclusion
    It has to be restate your thesis and summarize the key supporting ideas you discussed

Move from the ‘general’ detail in your introduction to the ‘specific’ in your ‘main body’, back to the ‘general’ in your conclusion. Your sentence and paragraph construction should contribute to the clarity and precision of your essay. All sentences, and paragraphs, should be interlinked – each should follow naturally from the former and lead should flow naturally, on to the next.

I hope these tips will be helpful for your future history exams. Then see you in the next article! For guidance in any IB exams, feel free to contact QE for help. All the best, everyone!