Study Resources

What does it take to get a H1 in Higher Level History?

Elizabeth Hearst, a past pupil from The Institute of Education who achieved a H1 in Leaving Cert higher level history, tells us how she got top marks.

Practice writing essays

It’s difficult to get an essay written in 42.5 minutes, but with practice you can learn how it’s done. We did weekly class tests, which I found really helped.

Study past papers

Familiarise yourself with the paper and the past questions that have been asked.

Make a plan

In the exam, it’s much easier if you know the structure of what you’re going to write, before you write it. Those 42.5 minutes go by incredibly quickly, so knowing your structure is key. When making my plan, I wrote out each important point that I wanted to make, in each of the essays that I prepared.

Writing essays

Aim for 3-5 quotes per essay. Examiners love this, as it shows depth rather than reeling off facts. Include interesting nuggets of information in all paragraphs. Write short paragraphs. Each paragraph is marked out of 12, so writing 2 short paragraphs and each scoring 6’s, is better than one long paragraph which could be awarded 9.

Reaction to 2023 History Exam

Each year, our exceptional teachers give their take on the Leaving Certificate higher level exam papers. Read what Susan Cashell, history teacher at The Institute of Education, had to say about the 2023 exam below.

Reaction to Leaving Certificate 2023 History (Higher Level) by Susan Cashell, history teacher at The Institute of Education.

The History paper is one that always requires students to write with time constraints in mind. Generally, the questions were straightforward. Occasionally a term might be unfamiliar but after a moment of composure and reflection the context of the question would provide the key.

Section 1: To start, the compulsory document question was the Sunningdale Agreement and the power-sharing executive, 1973-4. Many students would have been well-prepared for this and thus well-equipped to tackle the first three questions. Some might have paused before Question 4’s Contextualisation, which asked why the Agreement was so “divisive”, but ultimately this would have been manageable by adapting prepared material and reworking link sentences to fit the question.

Section 2: Ireland had an overarching question on how Cosgrave and De Valera handled Anglo-Irish relations. The broad scope of this question would really allow the practised student to show off their knowledge – which could be a challenge within the 42.5 minutes allowed for each question. Those looking to write another essay on the most popular area, Sovereignty, might have been stretched to find another question with the same flexibility. The question on the Northern Ireland Government and its challenges, or the question on the impact of the Eucharistic Congress and the Irish language, were options but were much less generous in their scopes.

Section 3: Europe and the Wider World had a great question on the characteristics of fascism. This would have been covered at the beginning of 5th Year, as it underpins the topic. Students who knew the specific examples of fascism could easily refine them into a response for the characteristics in general. Those wishing to focus on specifics were greeted by a very accessible question on Stalin. Many students would have anticipated and prepared for this and been relieved. For those looking to stand out from the crowd by taking the road less travelled, there was a rewarding question on France. While not appealing to everyone, if you had prepared that topic you really had a chance to shine. Those looking to answer on American history will have been well-served by racial inequality and the Moon landing.

The History course is large, varied, and demands a lot of writing but, on this paper, everyone had a chance to fairly represent themselves. In particular, those who were prepared to tackle three topics would have found something rewarding in each.

Sample Notes

Students who attend The Institute of Education are provided with exclusive, exam-focussed study notes to support their home study and revision. Below are a sample of the high-quality history notes they receive.

“If you’re aiming for a high grade, you need to pay attention to the DBQ.”

The Documents Based Question in the higher level history paper is worth 20% of your overall grade.

Susan Cashell, history teacher at The Institute of Education, steps through the ‘four C’s’ of the DBQ and explains how answering each part correctly can help you maximise your grade in the exam.

Top Tips

Susan Cashell, history teacher at The Institute of Education, shares her secrets to exam success.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

How can you attempt this exam if you haven’t written under pressure? You should be doing a test two times every week. If this is not possible in your class, do it at home. Even if you find this difficult at the beginning you will get better at it.

Write fast!

This is an exam that rewards those who write fast and a lot ! You do not have a hope of a high grade if you only write three pages for an essay. Aim to write five.


Running out of time? Never spend longer than 42.5 minutes on a question. If you run out of time, leave a blank page and go on to the next question. If there is time you can go back. If you are under pressure near the end of the essay, make bullet points for the last two paragraphs and write out the conclusion.

Toilet breaks

Never bring fizzy drinks into the exam, sip water. Remember if you leave the exam hall for a toilet break the examiner will have to stamp your script when you leave and when you return. What a waste of your valuable writing time. You could have written that conclusion!

Research Study Report

Take the RSR seriously as it is worth 20% of your overall mark!

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