Writing for History Examinations
The most important point to remember about essay exams is that the historical values required are no different from those used in writing papers and essays. This is due to the fact that essay exams are essentially short, timed papers. An essay exam is likely to be evaluated upon whether the writer demonstrated a firm grasp of the material, through precision and detail in information, organization around a central core of ideas, and the student's originality and insight.
When answering, the tenor and frame of reference should reflect the question. In other words, if the question is detailed, the essay should be too. A sequence of events, incorporating dates and details about each, may be used to prove the writer's point. If the question is more general, the answer should be as well. Once again, however, the writer must deal with some specific historical examples. The essay should clearly define the subject and problem at the beginning. Writers should avoid digressions from the topic, especially given the time constraints. All paragraphs should have topic sentences and be organized around a particular point. When a statement or conclusion is made, relevant facts must be used to back it up. Clear transitions between points or ideas should exist. Since organization and presentation of facts is so crucial, it is advisable to outline your answer before writing it on the test.
Writing a Book Review
A book review is one of the most common forms of historical writing. A book review critically evaluates one or more works on the basis of several analytical points. These include: accuracy, validity, and the book's relationship to other works of its kind. A review is written from the standpoint that the reader knows something about the book and does not require a chapter by chapter summary. In fact, such a summary would be contrary to the purpose of the review.
Writers should begin a book review by introducing the reader to the author's main point, the facts presented or omitted, and the conclusions reached by the author. It is also helpful to do some background on the author, exploring their previous work and qualifications to write on the subject. The review should have a thesis statement. The remainder of the review should delve into why the author used a particular method of historiography and the kind of information he or she uses to support the main points of the book. Basically, the reviewer's task is to determine whether the author's methods and interpretations are valid for the subject.
Note: The preceding work incorporated material from How to Study History (Cantor & Schneider, 151-64).