Exam bomb! First world war questions a minefield for DSE history students

Exam bomb! First world war questions a minefield for DSE history students

Did more historical sources mean more opportunities to mess up? Did you tank? Let us know


Candidates found the first world war question a bit of a slog.
Photo: Reuters

This year’s DSE Elective History Paper One (data-based questions) exam was trickier than last year’s because there were more historical sources to handle, a history tutor says.

HY Fung, a history tutor at Modern Education, noticed a trend in Paper One towards more word-based sources, which took students a great deal of time to understand. He said candidates had to absorb all the data and write their answers faster.

Fung added that some of the questions were unfamiliar too. “Q.1 was about Hong Kong’s medical and political history in the early 20th century, but no previous papers had covered this topic before,” says Fung. 

Even teachers sweated with the maths paper

A history teacher surnamed Lau said Q.4 (a) was tricky as, unusually, it asked candidates to write a caption for the cartoon. "I found it was a new type of question which had only occurred in the HKAL [HK Advanced Level examination]. While tackling this question, students needed to note when and where the cartoon was published. They needed to understand the sources’ message before planning their answers," says Lau.

Natalie Chan Yuen-yu from Marymount Secondary School also said she was surprised to see the cartoon question referenced the first world war. "I haven’t come across and prepared for this question, and it was hard to suggest a caption based on the source and our own historical knowledge. I wrote 'the ignorant Germans' who underestimated the British power," she says. Chan added that Paper One was demanding, saying she didn't have enough time to finish the last question which was worth seven marks. 

Question 4 (c) asks that "'the first world war was caused primarily by the miscalculations of the European powers.' Do you agree? Explain your answer with reference to Sources G and H and using your own knowledge." 

Fung said that for this question, students had to focus on key words like "primarily", "miscalculations" and "do you agree".

Liberal Studies candidates struggled 

"I believe it's easy to score some marks if they can talk about the miscalculations of European countries which led to the First World War. But only top scorers could answer which cause 'primarily' led to the war," he says.

Lau said Paper Two (long questions) wasn't difficult to tackle. “Most question phrases are commonly seen on the DSE history exam, such as 'to what extent', 'trace and explain' and 'explain your view with reference to...', so students should have been well prepared for these types of questions."

She added that fewer questions on Paper Two asked students to compare the relative importance of historical events or factors.


To post comments please
register or