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This is the first chance you have to impress – or depress – an examiner, and first impressions are often decisive.You might therefore try to write an eye-catching first sentence.Don’t worry: confusion is often a necessary stage in the achievement of clarity. When you return to the question, it may be that the problems have resolved themselves. You may well find that decent ideas simply pop into your conscious mind at unexpected times.
All history students should swear a similar oath: to answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question. You can write brilliantly and argue a case with a wealth of convincing evidence, but if you are not being relevant then you might as well be tinkling a cymbal.
In other words, you have to think very carefully about the question you are asked to answer.
If you can establish which years are relevant – and consequently which are irrelevant – you will have made a very good start.
Then you can decide on the different factors that explain his rise. Is it objective (a matter of fact) or subjective (a matter of opinion)?
On reading a good first paragraph, examiners will be profoundly reassured that its author is on the right lines, being relevant, analytical and rigorous.
They will probably breathe a sign of relief that here is one student at least who is avoiding the two common pitfalls. The second is to write a narrative of events – often beginning with the birth of an individual – with a half-hearted attempt at answering the question in the final paragraph.
Or if you are asked to explain the successes of a particular individual, again avoid writing the first thing that comes into your head. In so doing, you will automatically be presented with the problem of defining ‘success’. Do we have to consider short-term and long-term successes?
If the person benefits from extraordinary good luck, is that still a success?
But unfortunately there’s no substitute if you want to get the top grade.
So think as hard as you can about the meaning of the question, about the issues it raises and the ways you can answer it.