JC History Tuition Bishan Singapore - How to answer an A Level History essay question

How to answer an A Level History essay question?

Essay Writing: Revisited
In contrast to the typical posts that feature specific themes, such as the Cold War and the United Nations, I will re-cap on the critical aspects of essay writing, which is for Section B. This is done in view of the GCE A Level examination for H1 and H2 History in November 2019. Previously, I have also posted a similar article that highlighted relevant areas of study.

1. Be familiar with the syllabus requirements
It is important to understand the featured themes that are covered in the examination. By doing so, you can derive a clear strategy for the actual day.

(a) For H2 History (9752), there are Papers 1 and 2:

  • For Paper 1, you are required to answer ONE essay question from Theme II: Understanding the Global Economy and ONE essay question from Theme III: Safeguarding International Peace and Security.
  • For Paper 2, you are required to answer ONE essay question from Theme I: Search for Political Stability and ONE essay question from Theme II: Economic Development after Independence

(b) For H1 History (8821), there is one paper, but the examination format is identical to the H2 syllabus:

  • You are required to answer ONE essay question from Theme II: The Cold War and Asia
  • Also, you have to answer ONE essay question from Theme III: The Cold War and the United Nations

(c) Be familiar with the topics tested within each theme
Within each theme, there are several topics that students are expected to learn and apply in the essay section. For example, H2 History Paper 2 Theme II has two main areas: ‘Paths to economic development’ and ‘Asian Financial Crisis’.

Although some students hold the assumption that they can spot, meaning that they focus on specific topics, while excluding others, it is a risky strategy to take.

Although some students hold the assumption that they can spot, meaning that they focus on specific topics, while excluding others, it is a risky strategy to take. In view of the recent 2019 A Level examination (for H2 History), the ‘Asian Financial Crisis’ was not featured in Section B. We have gathered feedback from students and some revealed that there were those who were unable to write the second essay due to the lack of content familiarity.

Therefore, our concluding remark is that you are strongly advised against spotting as it can result in such disastrous consequences. Instead, it is crucial to cover all relevant topics within each theme. At least, you should cover the fundamental content for the topic that you are less likely to select during the examination.

2. Read the essay question carefully
Cliché as it sounds, this word of advice should not be ignored. From the question itself, you can derive the given perspective as well as the contrasting viewpoint. Misinterpretation is a typical issue that some students encounter in their study of the subject.

(a) What is the question looking for?
In History essay writing, students are required to analyse the extent of agreement based on the given perspective set by the question. Look out for phrases like ‘how far do you agree’ and ‘how important‘.

(b) Are we allowed to introduce other factors/perspectives not featured in the question?
This is a major consideration as the decision to introduce irrelevant factors in a narrow-based question can compromise your essay grade.

The following are two essay questions:

  • How far do you agree that the Cold War hindered the effectiveness of the United Nations?
  • How far do you agree that the Cold War was the most significant obstacle that hindered the effectiveness of the United Nations?

Clearly, we can observe that the second essay question is broader in nature as students are allowed to introduce other factors besides the ‘Cold War’ to answer the question. In contrast, the first question is more specific than the latter.

3. Manage your time wisely
In general, everyone is given the same amount of time for the A Level examination – 3 hours. To the uninitiated, 180 minutes may be perceived as long. However, one must be aware of the need to answer 1 source-based case study question and 2 essay questions within the time limit.

To the uninitiated, 180 minutes may be perceived as long. However, one must be aware of the need to answer 1 source-based case study question and 2 essay questions within the time limit.

Furthermore, students are assessed based on their ability to perform under pressure, such as deriving a clear essay structure and forming well-analysed arguments that are backed with adequate evidence. As such, it is folly to leave practice to the last phase of your two-year study.

You should set time aside for timed practices, even if it is for one essay question. When you are attempting the timed practice, you are not only reviewing your content familiarity, but also re-wiring your brain to think fast and clearly. Over time, you develop the quick-thinking skills to form arguments and critique the given perspective effectively.

4. Prepare yourself thoroughly
More importantly, you should be mentally prepared for the A Level examination. Enter the examination venue with the anticipation that there may be ‘abstract-sounding’ questions that are intended to throw students off. Again, some students who sat for the 2019 A Level H2 History examination have shared with us that certain essay questions were difficult to attempt due to their style of phrasing.

Enter the examination venue with the anticipation that there may be ‘abstract-sounding’ questions that are intended to throw students off.

Indeed, from our observations as well, some essay questions tested narrow areas that were seemingly challenging to address at first sight. Yet, if the standard thinking and answering steps were to be applied, such abstract questions can still be answered.

Therefore, one final tip for essay writing is to practise as many questions as you can. Do not simply refer to past year preliminary examination questions and attempt to do so right away. Instead, you should be aware of the possible areas of testing to cover the fundamental aspects. Then, you can intensify your efforts by answering complex questions. Find the right balance of questions to have adequate time spent on each theme. Besides, you can gather feedback from your teacher, tutor or classmate to check if there are other arguments to broaden your discussion.


Alternatively, you can join our JC History Tuition as we conduct regular essay writing skills development workshops to refine your thinking and writing techniques. During these lessons, you will receive concise study notes, practice questions and reference answers to enhance your study efforts. Also, you can consult our JC History Tutor to identify your areas of improvement, such as essay structure, perspective setting and evidence explanation.

Also, you can consider joining our JC tuition classes, such as GP TuitionEconomics TuitionJC Chemistry TuitionJC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English TuitionSecondary Math tuitionSecondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to learn more.


On a separate note, this is the final article in the 52-week cycle of 2019. It has been an enriching and meaningful year as I have covered diverse topics relating to A Level History. At the start of 2019, I have made the decision to embark on this endeavour primarily to provide students with a useful educational platform to access learning resources conveniently. Although some would claim that the freer access to the Internet has made information gathering easier, I believe that this website will ease the search process and empower students to learn purposefully. In anticipation of the upcoming decade, I will continue to expand on this platform. Let’s look forward to another series of informative, insightful and interesting articles!

JC History Tuition Bishan Singapore - What is the Pedra Branca dispute - JC History Essay Notes

What is the Pedra Branca dispute?

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]:
Paper 2: Regional Conflicts and Co-operation
Source Based Case Study
Theme III Chapter 1: Inter-state tensions and co-operation: Causes of inter-state tensions: territorial disputes

Learn more about other border disputes to understand the causes and consequences of inter-state tensions in Southeast Asia.

Historical Background
Pedra Branca is an island situated in the easternmost point of Singapore, between the Singapore Strait and South China Sea. The island is known to many sailors for years, given its strategic location as a internationally-recognised shipping route.

Following the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, Pedra Branca was within the British-influenced territory of the Johor Sultanate. In the 1850s, the British established the Horsburgh Lighthouse (not the featured article image).

From 1826 to 1946, the Straits Settlements administered the Pedra Branca island. Subsequently, Singapore took over.

Origins of the Dispute
On 21 December 1979, the Director of National Mapping of Malaysia published a map that depicted the island to be within its territorial waters. The map was titled ‘Territorial Waters and Continental Shelf Boundaries of Malaysia‘, which illustrated the inclusion of Pedra Branca, the ‘Middle Rocks’ and ‘South Ledge’ in its territory.

In response, Singapore delivered a diplomatic note on 14 February, requesting the map to be corrected. From then on, the territorial dispute began.

The conflict began to escalate in the 1980s as the Malaysian Marine Police entered the waters surrounding Pedra Branca several times.

Nevertheless, both parties exercised restraint and avoided direct confrontation. As such, political leaders from both governments engaged in discussions to defuse tensions.

International Arbitration: The ICJ
In 2003, Singapore and Malaysia signed an official agreement to defer the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ carried out its proceedings in 2005 and the case was heard in November 2007.

From Singapore’s standpoint, it claimed sovereign rights over Pedra Branca based on the premise that it had managed the island over the years. For example, Singapore and its predecessors had investigated marine accidents in the vicinity, planned land reclamation works and installed naval communications equipment.

On the other hand, Malaysia undertook no action with respect to Pedra Branca from 1850 onwards. Furthermore, in 1953, the Acting Secretary of the State of Johor stated that they did not claim ownership of the island.

Conflict Resolution
In conclusion, the Court declared that the sovereignty of Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, whereas the surrounding Middle Rocks and South Ledge were granted to Malaysia.

Initially, the Malaysian Government expressed its intent to reconsider the Court’s ruling over the island. In May 2018, Malaysia chose to drop the two cases of revising and interpreting the judgment by ICJ.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the consequences of the Pedra Branca dispute on the management of inter-state tensions between Singapore and Malaysia [to be discussed in class].

Now that you have covered the general overview relating to this territorial dispute, it is imperative that you attempt source-based case study questions (Paper 2 – Making of Independent Southeast Asia) to review your knowledge application and writing skills.

Alternatively, you can join our JC History Tuition as we provide you with summarised content for each case study, outline references and additional practice questions. By doing so, you will be prepared thoroughly for the complexities of the GCE A Level History examinations.

Also, do consider joining our related JC tuition programmes, such as GP TuitionEconomics TuitionJC Chemistry TuitionJC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English TuitionSecondary Math tuitionSecondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to find out more.

JC History Tuition Bishan Singapore - What were the consequences of the Vietnam War - JC History Essay Notes

What were the consequences of the Vietnam War?

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: Vietnam War (1955-75)

Topic of Study [For H1 History Students]:
Essay Questions
Theme II Chapter 2: The Cold War and Southeast Asia (1945-1991): The Second Indochina War (1964-1975)

Contextual Analysis
In the previous article, we have examined the historical developments of the first and second Indochina Wars. Next, it is imperative to consider the political impacts of the Vietnam War on the superpowers – USA and Soviet Union.

1. Impacts on the USA: ‘Vietnam Syndrome’
Notably, the withdrawal of USA from Vietnam was largely influenced by anti-war sentiments. Many young Americans were against the drafting process. Also, the growing disillusionment and exposed war atrocities (especially the ‘My Lai massacre’) created the impetus for citizens to demand the immediate withdrawal.

Furthermore, critics questioned the necessity of US involvement in the politics of other countries even though many still supported the notion of ‘defending democracy’. As these doubts surfaced, some argued that US Presidents should not be given extensive powers to wage wars without Congress approval.

1.1. The War Powers Act
In November 1973, the War Powers Act (also known as the ‘War Powers Resolution’) was passed as a congressional resolution to curtail the US President’s ability to conduct foreign military campaigns. Its main purpose was to prevent US from being trapped in costly and protracted wars, like the conflict in Vietnam.

This Act required the president to seek congressional approval before American troops can be deployed overseas. For instance, the President has to inform the Congress within 48 hours.

Although President Nixon vetoed the law by claiming that it was ‘unconstitutional and dangerous’, the Congress overrode his action.

However, the congressional resolution proved futile as future US Presidents found ways and means to circumvent it. For example, President Ronald Reagan deployed troops in El Salvador in the 1981, during the renewed confrontation with the Soviets.

1.2. The Detente
As the world was on the brink of nuclear confrontation in the late 1960s due to the Sino-Soviet split, USA changed its diplomatic stance towards China. Additionally, in the early 1970s, the Nixon administration extended an ‘olive branch’ to Soviet Union in the form of diplomatic visits.

On 22 May 1972, Nixon visited his Cold War rival, Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow. It marked the first-ever visit by an American president to Soviet Union. The key takeaway from these visits was the increased mutual cooperation.

For example, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) Agreement was signed on 26 May 1972. The Agreement signified the mutual decisions of the superpowers to halt the build-up of strategic ballistic missile launchers. The SALT II Treaty was signed later in the 1970s that banned the development of new ballistic missiles for both countries.

Also, this phase of the Cold War led to the push for space exploration. In July 1975, both USA and USSR conducted a joint-space flight and encouraged collaboration.

However, the thawing of superpower relations halted when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Tensions resurfaced as USA boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

2. Impacts on the USSR: Race in the Third World
On the other hand, the Second Indochina War prompted the Soviet government to intensify its efforts to support the Communist regime. Ho Chi Minh’s victory in Indochina was hailed as a significant victory against the Americans.

As such, Soviet Union raised its military expenditures to support its Cold War allies. As stated earlier, its campaign in the Third World regions began with the invasion in Afghanistan. This conflict was a turning point as observers noted that Soviet Union invaded a country outside the Eastern Bloc, such that its actions drew international criticisms.

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was carried out with the intention to reinforce the Brezhnev Doctrine, in which the government seems to secure its political influence in these socialist countries.

However, the campaign in Afghanistan proved disastrous for Soviet Union. The protracted conflict was perceived by some historians as “Soviet Union’s Vietnam War”, particularly due to the mounting economic costs.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the political significance of the Second Indochina War on the USA [to be discussed in class].

Besides the topical review of this Cold War event, it is important that you attempt source-based case study questions or essay questions to determine whether you have fully understood these historical developments. Join our JC History Tuition and get additional support as we provide numerous practice questions and answer outlines. By doing so, we ensure that you can study productively and effectively to perform well for the GCE A Level History examinations.

Also, you can join our JC tuition programmes, such as GP TuitionEconomics TuitionJC Chemistry TuitionJC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English TuitionSecondary Math tuitionSecondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to learn more!

JC History Tuition Bishan Singapore - What happened druing the Second Indochina War - JC History Essay Notes

What started the Second Indochina War?

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: Vietnam War (1955-75)

Topic of Study [For H1 History Students]:
Essay Questions
Theme II Chapter 2: The Cold War and Southeast Asia (1945-1991): The Second Indochina War (1964-1975)

Historical Context: Battles in Indochina
Before we examine the Second Indochina War, which is commonly known as the ‘Vietnam War’, it is imperative to understand the historical developments in the Indochinese region.

Ever since 1887, Vietnam was under French colonial occupation until World War Two. Following the end of the Japanese Occupation, the French returned to Vietnam.

1a. First Indochina War (1945-1954)
In contrast to the pre-WWII phase, Vietnam engaged in a serious of fierce military confrontation with the French. This conflict was known as the ‘First Indochina War’. Eventually, after the historic ‘battle of Điện Biên Phủ‘, the French was defeated. At the same time, the Geneva Accords were signed during the Geneva Peace Conference, which signified the withdrawal of the French from the Indochinese region.

During the First Indochina War, the French formed a local government led by Bảo Đại, who was a self-exiled former emperor. In early 1954, Bảo Đại was replaced by Ngo Dinh Diem as the prime minister.

1b. The Great Divide: 17th parallel
The provisions of the Accords included the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel. The northern part was known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) led by Ho Chi Minh. The southern region below the 17th parallel is called the Republic of Vietnam (RoV) under Emperor Bảo Đại.

Although the partition was carried out with the aim of facilitating a ceasefire after the 1954 conflicts, tensions mounted and manifested in the form of actual fighting again. Furthermore, the South was unwilling to participate in the 1956 elections.

More importantly, the North and South were largely influenced by Cold War rivals, which later shaped the developments of the next major conflict.

2a. Second Indochina War (1954-1974)
In South Vietnam, Diem deposed Bảo Đại and became the next president. Notably, Diem was a viable anti-communist leader that aligned with the Cold War interests of USA.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Administration intensified its efforts in supporting the Diem regime to stem communist expansion in Indochina. One clear evidence is the increased presence of American military advisers deployed in the South.

In the North, Ho Chi Minh’s DRV expanded its military might with the help of external powers, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Ho rallied the peasants to support his nationalistic cause.

2b. A Test of Loyalty: Sino-Soviet split
Ever since the controversial ‘Secret Speech‘ by Soviet leader Khrushchev in April 1956, USSR was at odds with PRC due to ideological differences and personality clashes.

As such, both Communist powers competed to gain the trust of North Vietnam through the provision of military and economic support. From 1964 to 1969, the PRC aided the North with the condition that their recipient reject support from Soviet Union.

From 1967 onwards, Soviet Union increased their support for the North. Similar to Kennedy’s approach, Soviet advisors entered the fray and aided the North. Also, military support was granted to improve their chances of victory. Notably, more than 75% of North Vietnam’s military capabilities originated from USSR, such as tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

2c. The ‘Americanisation’ of the Vietnam War
After the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964, the Lyndon Administration embarked on a large-scale military campaign in Vietnam under the auspices of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Subsequently, numerous American men were drafted to expand the size of the US military forces. The drafting process was challenging as some of the students aged 18 to 25 in the USA protested openly.

Furthermore, the US government launched ‘Operation Rolling Thunder‘ in March 1965, which involved a prolonged period of aerial bombing. Its purpose was to display American air superiority and demoralise the North forces.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– How far do you agree that Second Indochina War broke out due to ideological differences? [to be discussed in class].

Now that you have covered the key events and players that explained the Second Indochina War, you should apply your knowledge to essay practice questions. Alternatively, you can sign up for our JC History Tuition. You will receive concise study notes and engage in enriching thematic discussions to be more ready for the GCE A Level History examinations.

Besides, you can join our JC tuition classes, like GP TuitionEconomics TuitionJC Chemistry TuitionJC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English TuitionSecondary Math tuitionSecondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to find out more.

JC History Tuition Bishan Singapore - What happened druing the first ASEAN summit - JC History Essay Notes

What happened during the first ASEAN summit?

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]:
Paper 2: Regional Conflicts and Co-operation
Source Based Case Study
Theme III Chapter 2: ASEAN (Growth and Development of ASEAN: Building regional peace and security)

Topic of Study [For H1 History Students]:
Essay Questions
Theme II Chapter 2: The Cold War and Southeast Asia (1945-1991): ASEAN and the Cold War (ASEAN’s responses to Cold War bipolarity)

Historical Context: What is the Bali Summit?
Now that we have examined the functions of ZOPFAN that sought to counter the rising Communist influence in Southeast Asia, it is imperative to consider the subsequent developments. ASEAN members stepped up efforts to intensify their extent of regional cooperation in the mid-1970s.

After the untimely departure of the USA from Indochina, ASEAN members were increasingly concerned with the ideological dangers that may threaten regional security.

On 24 February 1976, ASEAN held its first-ever Summit in Bali, Indonesia. The heads of states attended this historic event to develop countermeasures against the Communist threats. Notably, the meeting led to the signing of two key agreements: the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the ASEAN Concord.

Agreement #1: Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC)
Leaders of the founding five members of ASEAN signed the TAC during the Bali Summit. In general, the TAC was a political agreement to encourage peaceful cooperation among members and the mutual respect for sovereignty of states.

The purpose of this Treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and cooperation among their peoples which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship,

In their relations with one another, the High Contracting Parties shall be guided by the following fundamental principles :

a. Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations;

b. The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;

c. Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;

d. Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means;

e. Renunciation of the threat or use of force;

f. Effective cooperation among themselves.

Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), 24 February 1976.

Additionally, ASEAN encouraged non-members to adhere to the TAC principles in order to preserve regional peace and security. The agreement can be acknowledged as a bold attempt for the regional organisation to preserve security through non-violent means in spite of past and on-going inter-state tensions.

Agreement #2: ASEAN Concord
The second agreement is known as the ‘ASEAN Concord’ that can be interpreted as a unified response to stem the spread of Indochinese Communism. The ASEAN Concord focuses mainly on economic cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution.

The elimination of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy is a primary concern of member states. They shall therefore intensify cooperation in economic and social development, with particular emphasis on the promotion of social justice and on the improvement of the living standards of their peoples.

Member states, in the spirit of ASEAN solidarity, shall rely exclusively on peaceful processes in the settlement of intra-regional differences.

The Declaration of ASEAN Concord, 24 February 1976.

Although Communism posed a clear security threat to ASEAN members, there was common consensus on adopting a non-military stance to overcome this challenge. Therefore, threats to security were usually managed through the support of countries or groupings outside ASEAN.

The ASEAN Concord proved to be a significant achievement for ASEAN as members were more willing to work together and manage the communist threats from within.

Conclusion: Is it adequate?
Ever since these two agreements signed during the first ASEAN Summit, members of the regional organization has continued to reaffirm their desire for greater cooperation, as seen by the increased frequency of intra-ASEAN and external organizational interactions (e.g. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, United Nations). ASEAN’s solidarity was later put to the test during the Third Indochina War in 1978.

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– How far do you agree that Bali Summit of 1976 was a turning point for ASEAN’s efforts in managing the Cold War threats in Southeast Asia? [to be discussed in class].

Join our JC History Tuition and learn to organise your knowledge for ASEAN and other related topics. In fact, we provide concise study materials, practice questions and reference answers to derive an exam-oriented programme for you.

Also, you can join other JC tuition programmes, such as GP TuitionEconomics TuitionJC Chemistry TuitionJC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition, we provide Secondary English TuitionSecondary Math tuitionSecondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to know more about these classes!