Scheme of assessment

Find past papers and mark schemes, and specimen papers for new courses, on our website at aqa.org.uk/pastpapers

This specification is designed to be taken over two years.

This is a linear qualification. In order to achieve the award, students must complete all assessments at the end of the course and in the same series.

GCSE exams and certification for this specification are available for the first time in May/June 2018 and then every May/June for the life of the specification.

All materials are available in English only.

Our GCSE exams in History include questions that allow students to demonstrate their ability to:

  • draw together their knowledge, skills and understanding
  • provide extended responses.

Aims and learning outcomes

Courses based on this specification should encourage students to:

  • develop and extend their knowledge and understanding of specified key events, periods and societies in local, British, and wider world history; and of the wide diversity of human experience
  • engage in historical enquiry to develop as independent learners and as critical and reflective thinkers
  • develop the ability to ask relevant questions about the past, to investigate issues critically and to make valid historical claims by using a range of sources in their historical context
  • develop an awareness of why people, events and developments have been accorded historical significance and how and why different interpretations have been constructed about them
  • organise and communicate their historical knowledge and understanding in different ways and reach substantiated conclusions.

Assessment objectives

Assessment objectives (AOs) are set by Ofqual and are the same across all GCSE History specifications and all exam boards.

The exams will measure how students have achieved the following assessment objectives:

  • AO1: demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the key features and characteristics of the period studied.
  • AO2: explain and analyse historical events and periods studied using second-order historical concepts.
  • AO3: analyse, evaluate and use sources (contemporary to the period) to make substantiated judgements, in the context of historical events studied.
  • AO4: analyse, evaluate and make substantiated judgements about interpretations (including how and why interpretations may differ) in the context of historical events studied.

Second order historical concepts include continuity, change, cause, consequence, significance, similarity and difference.

The exam boards and Ofqual are working together to determine the marking expectations for spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) which will apply to all GCSE specifications in History, Geography and Religious Studies. The agreed wording will be included in the mark schemes for accredited sample assessment materials.

Assessment objective weightings for GCSE History

Assessment objectives (AOs) Paper weightings (approx %) Overall weighting (approx %)
Paper 1 Paper 2
AO1 16.25 18.75 35
AO2 13.75 21.25 35
AO3 10.0 5.0 15
AO4 10.0 5.0 15
Overall weighting of papers 50 50 100

Assessment weightings

The marks awarded on the papers will be scaled to meet the weighting of the components. Students’ final marks will be calculated by adding together the scaled marks for each component. Grade boundaries will be set using this total scaled mark. The scaling and total scaled marks are shown in the table below.

Component Maximum raw mark Scaling factor Maximum scaled mark
Paper 1 84 1 84
Paper 2 84 1 84
Total scaled mark: 168

Assessment structure

Paper 1: Understanding the modern world

This paper tests students’ ability in relation to all the assessment objectives.

It is divided into two equally weighted sections, A and B.

Section A: Period studies

In Section A, questions 1–6 assess the specified content for the wider world period study. In each series all three parts of the specified content will be tested.

Question Type of question Mark Total mark
AO1 AO2 AO3 AO4 SPaG
1 How do interpretations differ?       4   4
2 Why do interpretations differ?       4   4
3 How convincing are interpretations?       8   8
4 Describe... 4         4
5 In what ways... Explain your answer 4 4       8
6 Essay question in bullet format 6 6       12

Questions 1, 2, and 3 test AO4. They are based on two written interpretations of around 50–100 words with an accompanying ascription. They test, in turn, how interpretations differ, why interpretations differ and evaluate interpretations in the context of historical events from either Parts one, two or three or a core development that covers more than one part of the specified content. These interpretations do not require an understanding of historiography.

Question 4 requires a description of two key features or characteristics of the period studied and targets AO1 knowledge and understanding. The focus will arise from Part one, two or three of the specified content.

Question 5 tests the second order concept of change (AO2) and requires supporting knowledge and understanding (AO1). The question will ask students to explain how a group or development was affected by a key event or development. The focus will arise from Part one, two or three of the specified content.

Question 6 requires knowledge, understanding and analysis of historical events utilising second order historical concepts (AO1 and AO2) and is based around two identified aspects. It will target: causation, consequence, change and/or continuity. The question will be an essay requiring a judgement. It will give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to write an extended response following a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured. The focus will arise from Part one, two or three or a central development that covers more than one part of the specified content.

Section B: Wider world depth studies

In Section B, the questions assess the specified content for the wider world depth study. In each series all three parts of the specified content will be tested.

Each depth study has four questions.

Question(s) Type of question Mark Total mark
AO1 AO2 AO3 AO4 SPaG
7, 11, 15, 19, 23 Source analysis     4     4
8, 12, 16, 20, 24 Which source is more useful...     12     12
9, 13, 17, 21, 25 Write an account... 4 4       8
10, 14, 18, 22, 26 Essay question...how far do you agree? 8 8     4 20

The first and second questions test AO3 and require the analysis and evaluation of sources. One source is supplied for the first question and two sources for the second. Different types of sources will be used, including visual and written sources. The focus of the sources will arise from Part one, two or three of the specified content.

The third question tests AO1 and AO2. It is a narrative account, which uses knowledge, understanding and analysis of the second order concepts of cause and/or consequence. The focus will arise from Part one, two or three of the specified content.

The fourth question tests AO1 and AO2. It requires knowledge, understanding and analysis of historical events utilising any of the second order historical concepts. This will be an essay question requiring a judgement. It is an extended response which will give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to construct and develop a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured. Marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) will also be available. The focus will arise from Part one, two or three or may cover more than one part of the specified content.

Paper 2: Shaping the nation

This paper tests students’ ability in relation to all the assessment objectives.

It is divided into two equally weighted sections, A and B.

Section A: Thematic studies

In Section A, questions 1–4 assess the specified content for the British thematic study. In each series all four parts of the specified content will be tested.

Question Type of question Mark Total mark
AO1 AO2 AO3 AO4 SPaG
1 How useful is source...     8     8
2 Explain the significance of... 2 6       8
3 Compare...in what ways are they similar/different? 4 4       8
4 Essay question using factors 8 8     4 20

Question 1 tests the utility of a source (AO3). The source will either be visual eg cartoons, or written eg diary extracts. Students will need to use the content, provenance and their contextual knowledge in order to evaluate the usefulness of the source. It will target a key event, development, individual or group from Part one, two, three or four of the option content.

Question 2 tests AO1 and AO2. It requires knowledge, understanding and analysis of historical events and specifically assesses the second order concept of significance. Significance looks at the importance of a key event, person/group or development at the time and importance over time. The focus of the question will arise from Part one, two, three or four of the specified content.

Question 3 will ask students to compare two key events, developments or the role of individuals or groups. It tests the second order concepts of similarity and/or difference. The focus may target Part one, two, three or four or a combination of two parts of the specified content.

Question 4 tests AO1 and AO2. It requires knowledge, understanding and analysis of historical events and developments over time. It draws on second order concepts of cause, consequence and/or change. It will ask students to evaluate one stated factor against other factors. Factors could include war, religion, chance, government, communication, science and technology or the role of an individual. This will be an essay question requiring a judgement. It is an extended response which will give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to construct and develop a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured. Marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) will also be available. The question will target all four parts of the specified content.

Section B: British depth studies including the historic environment

In Section B, the remaining questions assess the specified content for the British depth study, incorporating the study of the historic environment. In each series all four parts of the specified content will be tested.

There are four questions in this section.

Question(s) Type of question Mark Total mark
AO1 AO2 AO3 AO4 SPaG
5, 9, 13, 17 How far do you agree with this statement?       8   8
6, 10, 14, 18 Explain... 4 4       8
7, 11, 15, 19 Write an account... 4 4       8
8, 12, 16, 20 Essay question linked to specified site 8 8       16

The first question tests AO4. It requires the evaluation of one visual or written interpretation drawing upon contextual knowledge of a key event, development, group or individual for Part one, two or three of specified content.

The second question will test AO1 and AO2. It will require knowledge, understanding and analysis of historical events, issues or developments and draws on second order concepts of causation, change, continuity and/or consequence. The question will arise from Part one, two or three of specified content.

The third question tests AO1 and AO2. It is a narrative account, which tests knowledge, understanding and analysis of the second order concepts of cause, change, continuity and/or consequence. The question will arise from Part one, two or three of specified content.

The final question tests AO1 and AO2 and is based upon knowledge, understanding and analysis of the historic environment and in particular its relationship with wider events/developments. It will be an essay question requiring a judgement and will draw on second order concepts of change, continuity, cause and/or consequence. This question is intended to be an extended response enabling students to demonstrate their ability to construct and develop a sustained line of reasoning which is coherent, relevant, substantiated and logically structured.

Spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG)

Spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) will be assessed against the following criteria:

Performance descriptor Marks awarded

High performance

  • Learners spell and punctuate with consistent accuracy.
  • Learners use rules of grammar with effective control of meaning overall.
  • Learners use a wide range of specialist terms as appropriate.
4 marks
Intermediate performance
  • Learners spell and punctuate with considerable accuracy.
  • Learners use rules of grammar with general control of meaning overall.
  • Learners use a good range of specialist terms as appropriate.

2–3 marks

Threshold performance
  • Learners spell and punctuate with reasonable accuracy.
  • Learners use rules of grammar with some control of meaning and any errors do not significantly hinder meaning overall.
  • Learners use a limited range of specialist terms as appropriate.

1 mark

No marks awarded
  • The learner writes nothing.
  • The learner’s response does not relate to the question.
  • The learner’s achievement in SPaG does not reach the threshold performance level, for example errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar severely hinder meaning.
0 marks