Some history courses at A level contain an optional personal study that ranges from 2,500- 4,000 words in length, depending upon the exam board. 

The National Archives is an excellent place to carry out research for this. It contains a vast range of original sources covering 1,000 years of history.

Here are our tips for your personal study:

  • Choose a valid historical issue that interests you and that is not too narrow or too general
  • The wording of your investigation question is absolutely central to a successful study. The exam board AQA stresses that it should always be in the form of a question like 'how far' or 'to what extent?' This approach will allow you to show the examiner your ability to evaluate, analyse and conclude. It will also help you to focus on concepts rather than narrative description
  • Make sure there is enough primary and secondary material to allow you to study in depth - textbooks, biographies, diaries, documentaries, films, historical sites, letters, maps, paintings, novels, newspapers and museum displays
  • Show you can select, interpret and evaluate sources (primary and secondary)
  • Present a consistently analytical response to the question posed by the study
  • Offer interpretations of events and reveal the context in which ideas are produced
  • Show awareness of the main debates of the issues involved
  • If you have chosen to write about a figure in history, always consider their social and political context and assess your person's historical significance
  • Organise your material to produce a well-structured piece of work
  • Focus on communicating ideas well to present a cohesive argument
  • Draw your own conclusions supported by evidence
  • Produce a study with a bibliography listing all sources, books and articles you used. Add appendices and footnotes where appropriate
  • Study previous examples of good practice if your teacher has them
  • Seek the advice of your teacher, within reason. The object of the exercise is to show that you can work independently!

We also run sessions on site at Kew to support research for your personal study. Find out more about our personal study sessions.