Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Junior Cert History 2017: Some Thoughts

Well that's that. Another year done and dusted. I doubt I'm alone when I say that I experience a nice feeling of relief once the History state exams are done for the year. There's no more looking back after that (ironically), time instead to look forward to next year.

The overall response I heard from students of both levels was that the papers were very good. Any nerves going in were quickly allayed by exams which weren't out to catch people, but instead examine students' learning across a range of topics.

I have to say the change to Calibri instead of Times New Roman makes a huge difference to the look of the paper. It makes it less intimidating - Times being the go-to font for formality.

Ordinary Level:
This paper was laid out quite nicely. There definitely seemed to be an attempt to put together a decent examination rather than just sticking together some topics and asking questions not entirely relevant to the course (see 2015, Higher Level). The Picture Questions took a different approach to previous years in that the three pictures weren't exclusively tied to a single topic. There were links - rural Ireland, World War I, and social history were all a part of it - but the focus was more on context and source examination than it was a memory test on those topics. This brings the Picture Questions more into line with how the Document Questions work, and has shades of the proposed new Junior Cycle History Strand One, which focuses on the development of research and analytical skills.

The Short Questions looked over many topics on the course. Nearly all of the questions had appeared on previous papers, but there was one new one: Name one type of entertainment which was common during the Middle Ages. It would be nice to see more "new" questions, even new ways of asking the old questions.

The People in History Questions were likewise mostly familiar, but the third question in Part A took a new approach to an old topic: rather than ask about an explorer or a person sailing with them, this question asked the candidates to write as a native of the New World when the European explorers arrive. This should be easy enough for any students who revised the Age of Exploration properly, but to write a good answer they would have needed a good basic knowledge of this native's culture before the Europeans' arrival and what impact the subsequent colonisation had. The temptation with an Age of Exploration People in History is always to think of Columbus or Magellan, but this would have fitted more with da Gama, Pizarro and the Conquistadores.

Higher Level:
The Picture Questions on the Higher Level paper were straightforward (any teachers wondering if the Nuremberg Rallies would appear in the Leaving Cert papers might have been surprised to see Nazi rallies making an appearance here too), as were the Document Questions, though the examiners seem to have so much of a preference for basing one of the documents on World War II that it almost seems a permanent fixture (four times in a row for the last four years!)

There was a slight bias towards World War II in the Short Questions as well, though there were plenty of other topics to balance this out.

There was a nice surprise in the People in History section. There was the usual "named civilisation outside of Ireland" question but 2017's question specifically asked the candidate to write from the point of view of a woman. It's not a groundbreaking change or anything but it's nice to see an acknowledgement that women often get a short shrift on this curriculum. The remaining questions all previously appeared on past papers.

After a five year absence, the Reformation returns to the Source Question section, though it focused on John Calvin and Presbyterianism rather than the more predictable Martin Luther, though the C questions would have been familiar to students. One of the sources was an excerpt from John Knox's The First Blast of the Trumpet: Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, published in 1558. The title says it all about the content, but it was another move to include women, or at least attitudes to them, in the exam paper.

The Long Questions seemed to be a good mix. The Renaissance took up Part A, with another "women in history" type question: Give two reasons why there were so few female scientists and artists. Social Change avoided the more obvious "how life changed for women in Ireland" question and instead went with the first Junior Cert History question to ask specifically about the Internet (In relation to social change, mention one consequence of the introduction of the internet). Political Developments in 20th Century Ireland got a fair overview, while three of the five International Relations questions pertained to Hitler's Germany.

These were indeed nice papers. Any student who made sure to revise their notes should have done quite well. It was nice to see a move away from the established and overused formula of past papers, however minor the changes were, and it was especially nice to see an acknowledgement of women in history, again however small. One thing I would like to change - less World War II, even just for one year! 

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