VCE History exam techniques

vce history exam

The VCE History exam is only two hours long – but is one of the most challenging academic tasks students will ever undertake.


To do well in the exam, students must demonstrate a close understanding of two complex historical events. The exam requires the application of difficult skills, including the critical examination of evidence, analytical writing and historiography. The exam also requires students to write a large amount in a short amount of time, while under pressure.

All this might seem impossible at the start of the year – but for those who apply themselves and work consistently, exam success is well within reach. 

Treat the exam as a challenge and be confident and optimistic about your chances. The exam rewards those who work hard, prepare well, know their subject and do their very best. If this is you, your chances of success will be high. This page contains some general advice on exam preparation and technique.

Work consistently

The best way to prepare for the History exam is to work consistently throughout the year.

The enormous amount of content in this course makes it virtually impossible to ‘catch up’ or ‘cram’ during swot vac. The highest-scoring students are invariably those who worked hard throughout the entire year.

Read and revise regularly, and avoid taking prolonged breaks from the subject. Complete all of your SACs diligently and to the best of your ability; think of them not just as assessment but as four ‘mini-exams’, each preparing you for November.

Start your revision immediately

Your exam preparation and revision should begin once you have completed your fourth and final SAC.

Try not to put your organisation, revision and practice tasks ‘on hold’ for too long. Time at this stage of the year is critical – the sooner you can begin your exam preparations, the greater your chances of success.

Throw yourself into exam preparation as soon as your classes are finished. There will be ample time for celebration and relaxation after the exam.

Get organised

One of the first things you must do is organise your resources to save time when you start revising in earnest.

Probably the best method is to gather your resources into four separate boxes, bundles or folders – one for each Area of Study. Each should contain anything relevant to that Area of Study: class notes, documents, hand-outs from your teacher, photocopies from books, information from the Internet, completed SACs or coursework activities.

Organising in this way places resources at your fingertips when revising each Area of Study. This makes preparing for specific exam sections and questions so much easier.

Know the exam

This is something you should do early in the academic year, if possible. Get to know the format and structure of the exam. On exam day, the questions will be unknown to you but the exam format itself should be familiar.

Spend some time looking through past VCE History exam papers. Get to know the structure, layout and requirements of the exam. Get a ‘feel’ for the various exam questions: the language they use, the type of evidence they employ and the wording and requirements of particular questions.

Read at least one examiner’s report, preferably that from the previous year. These reports contain some important ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. They offer insight into the expectations of assessors, as well as common mistakes or failings in student responses.

Know each section and question

The exam contains five questions across two sections, one section for each revolution. When you enter the exam you should be familiar with the structure of each question. The format should not take you by surprise.

You should understand that each question requires different approaches and modes of writing. Ideally, you will have practised these question formats through the year and during swot vac.

For more information about specific exam questions and techniques, visit the relevant pages under ‘Exam Sections’.

Understand common exam themes

Though exam questions differ from year to year, they nevertheless tend to cycle through common themes.

Find out what these themes are and use them to organise your revision and exam practice. Complete targeted reading, revision and/or note-taking on particular themes; attempt a number of practice questions that cover a range of themes.

It goes without saying that you should spend more time on topics and themes you are less confident with.

Revise efficiently and effectively

The ‘old school’ method of simple reading or re-writing notes may work for some students – but most will benefit from more efficient revision techniques.

Rather than aimless reading or note-taking, select some critical exam themes or topics and then gather information relevant to that theme.

Draw up charts, tables or concept maps for each theme. Write or type up dot point notes for each theme, including relevant specific information such as events, people, policies, dates, documents, etc.

Complete practice tasks

It is important for you to flex your exam muscles prior to November by completing as many practice tasks as you can.

Every student should complete at least one full practice paper before sitting the exam, preferably more. Gather together practice papers or questions, like those available at Alpha History.

Complete written practice answers, ideally while timing yourself. Reflect on your answers and seek feedback on them.

Not all practice responses need to be written out in full. Typing up answers, jotting down dot points or just thinking about how to approach different sources or exam questions can be beneficial.

Use your teacher

During swot vac, many students isolate themselves, stay at home and spend little or no time at school or with their subject teacher.

Most high achieving students, however, remain in regular contact with their teacher after classes finish. They ask their teacher for exam advice, practice questions and feedback on practice answers.

In most cases, your teacher is the person best equipped to help you with VCE History exam preparation – but the onus is on you to stay in contact with your teacher, not vice versa.

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