Skip to content

Sample Answers History Gcse Essay

There are two principle elements that a 'To what extent...' essay question should include.

The first is detailed source evidence and extra material, to support your argument. Let's use an example essay question here to demonstrate. In a history exam, the essay might ask: “To what extent was the character of Charles II responsible for his problems with parliament?".

The student is being asked to do two things here: to show an in-depth knowledge of Charles II's character, and to analyse which specific aspects of his character may have affected his political relationships.

Incorporating detailed evidence will always demonstrate how much you know of the subject matter, and will help to support the angle and strength of your argument.

The second element is linking to wider issues, topics or arguments that support your point of view. For example, in this particular history essay, a student could refer to other historical events that were responsible for problems between Charles II and parliament, but which were not related to his character.

Drawing on other factors in this way helps to increase the significance of your argument, and will round out your essay fully.

These two elements of analysis – including detailed evidence and linking to wider ideas – can be used to answer any 'To what extent...' question. In other words, when answering this type of essay question, keep the general structure the same and change the the appropriate information in the right places.

Remember also to analyse your evidence as you weave your argument. Do this by answering questions like, 'how significant is your evidence in supporting your argument?' and, 'what are the potential weaknesses that this evidence carries?'.

Essay writing

In the exam you will also be asked to write an essay. There will be a choice of two essay titles and you will be asked to pick one. Your essay must focus on the novel as a whole and therefore it is very important that you know the novel extremely well before you sit your exam. You must make sure you have a clear idea about:

  • plot
  • themes
  • characters
  • language, form and structure
  • context

When you are in the exam, it is a good idea to write a brief essay plan before you start writing the actual essay. This will help you to have control of the structure of your essay and make sure that you do not end up repeating points or even worse, missing out valuable points.

Below there are examples of essay titles from a higher tier and foundation tier exam on To Kill a Mockingbird.

Higher tier

Who are the mockingbird figures in the novel and what is their significance to the novel as a whole?

Foundation tier

Why are Boo Radley and Tom Robinson considered to be the mockingbird figures inTo Kill a Mockingbird?

Planning your answer

  1. Introduction. explain who the mockingbird figures are and why they are important to the novel.
  2. Comment on Atticus’ belief that mockingbirds should not be shot and include details of why he believes this.
  3. Comment on Boo Radley and why he is considered to be a mockingbird figure.
  4. Comment on Tom Robinson and why he is considered to be a mockingbird figure.
  5. Conclusion - here you should provide a general summing up of your main points.

Higher tier sample answers

Here are two sample answers that refer to point one of the essay plan set out in step 4.

Sample answer one

The mockingbird figures in To Kill a Mockingbird are Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. They are the mockingbird figures because they are kind men who do not do anything wrong but they are still treated badly by the rest of the townspeople in Maycomb. Boo Radley rescues Scout and Jem from Bob Ewell and Tom Robinson is kind towards Mayella Ewell and helps her when she needs a wardrobe chopped up. In this essay I will be writing about Boo Radley and Tom Robinson and explaining to you how they are considered to be the mockingbird figures in Harper Lee’s novel.

Feedback comments – good but improvements need to be made

This answer does not clearly state what a mockingbird figure actually is. This needs to be included in the introduction.

Phrases such as should be avoided as they are a little basic. In fact you should try to avoid using the first person (I) completely.

In the introduction there is no need to mention specifics such as Tom Robinson chopping up the wardrobe. This should be saved for the main body of the essay.

The name of the author should be included at the start of the paragraph instead of at the end.

Sample answer two

Harper Lee’s novel To kill a Mockingbird includes several characters who could be referred to as mockingbird figures. Mockingbird figures are characters who are kind and caring and yet are treated badly in some way by the rest of society. They are linked to the actual mockingbird, who does nothing wrong except sing for the enjoyment of others and so should therefore never be hunted and killed. There are several episodes during the novel which highlight the fact that both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley can be considered as mockingbird figures and these will be examined over the course of this essay.

Feedback comments – a much improved answer

This answer begins with the author’s name and makes it clear what the essay will be about.

There is no use of the first person here which provides the answer with a more polished feel.

This answer makes it clear what a mockingbird figure is, giving a clear link to the next paragraph, which will be about Atticus’ views on mockingbird figures.

This answer does not give too many specifics about the actions of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, meaning that there is scope to include these points later in the essay.