Academic Group 3 Subjects

How to ace History Paper 1?

November exams are closing up, students who will take the May exam are waiting for those exams to be published in the IB resources and overall everyone is alarmed to make perfect (the eternal goal) on their exams. In this article I’ll guide you through what History papers are and how you can practice on these. 

(Disclaimer: History Paper 1 & 2 are the same for both HL and SL students but if you are a HL student you’ll have one more exam , Paper 3.)

Paper 1

Paper 1 is a one hour long exam where you’ll be doing 4 questions about 4 sources. By sources it is meant that either visual or text piece that gives historical knowledge, these are usually works done by historians or primary resources. 

Question 1 (5 marks)

1a – This part is a reading comprehension where you’ll be given a text source and required to answer the question ‘‘What is the message of this source?/What is this source trying to say?’’ This part is worth 3 points so try to formulate three different points. 

Phrases you can use: The first point the source is making/the first reason given by the source… The second is…  The third is…

Tip: Try to paraphrase the statements in the text. Turn names into verbs and verbs into names, don’t overdo it but also don’t lose time trying to summarize the text by yourself. What is required of you is just the message, not a summary or a background information paragraph.

1b – This time your historical understanding of an image or a cartoon would be tested. You again need to write about the message of the source. You need to write two separate points by showing image evidence. 

Tip: Sizes of the characters matter! For example there is an image of a sheriff holding a person, the sheriff might look like the person in charge but if the person he is holding is drawn bigger than him, maybe there is a catch there. Sizes, facial expressions, colours and shadows can have hidden messages behind it, try to see what is not shown apparently.

Question 2 (4 marks)

Second question needs you to analyze the source according to its O (Origin) , P (Purpose) , V (Value),  L (Limitations). 

Phrase: The origin of the present source is … (-> name the source type here) by…(-> author) from the year… . The content of the text source thematizes…The text source/excerpt is addressed to private persons / the public / posterity / rulers…. The intention of the source is… . This source is valuable because….. . This source is limited because….. . 

Tip: When writing about the value or limitation don’t generalize according to the text type. For example you have an interview as a source, don’t say that it may reflect an insight into contemporary opinions held, instead try to reflect on the context. Interpret what can be done better historical knowledge-wise. Are this person’s answers biased? That can be a limitation. Are this person’s answers giving specific information that isn’t known by the public? That can be a value. 

These questions might guide you while writing the analysis. 

Question 3  (6 marks)

After analyzing the source looking only at the facts such as author, aim etc. it is time to clash two sources together. We are going to compare and contrast two sources context-wise and determine a winner (that was a bad joke, we are not going to do that).

Start by writing summarizing 1-2 sentences about the context of the sources, then: 

1st Paragraph – Compare the similarities

  • Both authors share the idea that …
  • Source A states that ….  Source B also mentions that …. 
  • Source A discusses …. Source B focuses on ….

2nd Paragraph – Contrast the differences 

  • The author of source A emphasizes …, while the author of source B emphasizes ….
  • Both sources differ with respect to …
  • Thus, the author of source A points out that …, while the author of source B writes …

Tip: You should NOT address the sources separately. Don’t explain the first source in one paragraph and then the second one in another. You need to run the analysis simultaneously, if you are stating what source A explains, the next sentence should be about how source B has something similar or different to it. Your main aim is to show that you can understand what is being said in both sources and then have the capacity to evaluate them with respect to each other. 

Question 4 (9 marks)

In the fourth question you are asked to write a mini essay where you need to use your own historical knowledge and the given source. Usually it follows:


  • Introduction to the topic and the question
  • Clarification of the relevance of the topic
  • Repetition of the question

In the following, using the four sources and my own knowledge and conclusions, I will describe and analyze (topic). If one looks more closely at the given sources, then one understands why (thesis). 

OR you can just start by explaining the historical context. 

Body Paragraphs: 

In body paragraphs at least two argumentations are needed. You are required to mention two sources, but you can cite the four sources given in the previous parts. But how can you do this ‘‘argumentation’’ every teacher goes crazy about? It has three basic elements:

  • Thesis 
  • Reference to the source  
  • Explanation by the historical context 

For example

Thesis: The goal of the National Party was to separate the nation.

Explain your thesis with an example from the source: This is particularly evident from Source X, which describes the government’s rigorous legal measures…From X, it is also apparent that…Thus, [author name/origin of source] describes…

Mini Conclusion: Ultimately, the government actions highlighted above illustrate how the

entire public life was characterized by strict racial segregation.


This is the part where we wrap up and finish the whole exam for good. I can hear you say ‘‘FINALLY!’’ and I couldn’t agree more. Writing a conclusion is relatively simple, summarize the results you come up with your analysis and mention how you come up with this result. Then come back to your initial question and answer this with the help of your body paragraphs. 

Consequently, it can be stated that … / Thus, in summary, it can be said that … / In conclusion, it can be said that …

To be continued with Paper 2…..

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  1. This tutorial is wrong. There is no personal engagement such as “I will” in a history essay. Worth maybe an IB4

    1. Hello Stan! Please keep in mind that this article was written in 2021, so there may have been changes to the curriculum.

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