Week 8 – Source Analysis
Hey everyone! I hope you’re doing well and taking care of yourself. We’re being blessed with some beautiful weather this week, so maybe consider spending some time outdoors! Go on a (socially-distanced) walk with a friend, set up a table in your backyard, or just look out the window. I find the weather is a good reminder that there is more to life than study and work.
This week’s topic is source analysis. I’m sure you’re all very much familiar with this text type, since by now you’ve probably covered it across two different revolutions. It’s definitely one you want to work towards having well-covered though, since it’ll make up half of the marks on the exam!
What we’ll be going through today are some of my personal tips and strategies on how to get the most out of this text type.
Every source analysis question you receive in VCE History will be split into three parts, and based on 2-4 given sources. The first two parts are worth five marks each, and the third part is worth ten. This is all stuff that you know, but that’s exactly why I’m mentioning it. It’s the most basic, fundamental things that we often overlook and pay a big price for.
I’m talking about a question’s specific wording. Too often, under the adrenaline of timed conditions and the stress of wading through all of the content knowledge in our brain, we neglect the question’s wording and simply answer what we assume the question is asking. We may forget to pay attention to which sources the question asks that we refer to, or we may assume a certain command term when we are given another. These are all easily avoided by following an infallible two-step formula:
Read the Question, Answer the Question.
You might think I’m taking the mickey, but I’m really not. One of my best teachers in high school gave our class these words of advice before a big SAC, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed in the midst of an exam and overthink things or possibly underthink things, but as long as you follow the infallible formula you will stay right on track.
If the question asks you to “outline” why a certain event occurred, that’s exactly what you should do. Outline, provide a clear but concise summary of its components. If a question says you should do so “using Sources 1 and 2”, then you should do so using exclusively sources 1 and 2 – none of that own knowledge stuff, unless asked for explicitly or under the general umbrella term “use evidence”. If the question asks you to “analyse”, you’d better write in-depth about causes, consequences and links. But if asks you to “evaluate”, don’t you forget to give your informed opinion.
In my experience, written sources are the best thing you can get in a source analysis question. Everything is there, clearly visible and in understandable words, for you to pick and choose quotes that best answer the given question. These sources effectively test your ability to choose, apply, and integrate meaningful quotes into your responses, serving as external evidence to topics that you (hopefully!) know inside and out. That said, there are a couple of things I’d urge you to keep in mind or try to practice when writing these responses.
Firstly, be sure to attribute each quote that you use to the source that it belongs to. Especially when asked to incorporate multiple sources, you must distinguish for your examiner which quote came from which source. This is honestly as easy as putting “as per Source 1” or “according to Source 2” somewhere in the sentence. I would recommend doing so at the end. Regarding abbreviations like “(S1)”, don’t. It’s confusing, it breaks up the flow of your writing, and it’s shorter. Longer attributions take up space and prevent you from writing too much for part A & B.
Secondly, make sure that you actually unpack the quotes that you’re taking from the sources when you need to. This doesn’t apply to every single question – in fact, there are many questions for which blind repetition is the way to go. But some responses will benefit from extra analysis, so think about chucking in a cheeky “… thus demonstrating xyz”.
Whenever I saw a visual source analysis question in VCE, I groaned internally. In my experience, these tend to be trickier to unpack and write about, since there are no direct quotes to base your response off of. Here is my advice for answering them.
Firstly, get creative. A visual source has just as much content as a written source, if you know how to look creatively. Rely on all the tools of visual analysis – who is depicted in the source, and how are they represented? What symbols or objects are present, and why? How is colour used? Is there a caption? Does the source have a name? Where is the source referencing? I like to think of visual source analysis as art history analysis, and sometimes it very much is. Get creatively analytical, and draw as much as you can from the source to put into your response.
If you’re struggling with this, I recommend gridlining. This is a technique where you divide up the source into nine squares by drawing three equidistant vertical and horizontal lines. Then, you look at each square individually and pull apart any interesting things. By reducing the space that you’re analysing, you can overcome the overwhelming nature of analysing a whole source, and really get stuck into the details of an image.
Secondly, just like with written sources, you need to make sure you attribute to the source in your writing. Because here we don’t have quotes to put into our writing, you’ll need to physically describe what you see in the source as you analyse it, as well as mention which source it comes from.
Have a question?
In the final weeks before exams Diego will be hosting 2 Live Q&A sessions to help everyone get fully prepared for exams. If you have a question on how to best get prepared, have been stuck on an exam question or want to clarify an area of content send it through here, and Diego might answer it live!