History is one of those subjects that a lot of people think you either understand or you do not. It can be framed in a better way as people who can remember dates and those that cannot, but this does not mean that you cannot be very successful in (and have a lot of fun with) history. Often, it is just that students have not been introduced to history in a way that makes it understandable and interesting for them. Here, we’ve collected some of our favourite tips and tricks for improving your grasp of history.
One very useful way of looking at history is to see it as a story with the important people in history as its characters. Individuals are very good at remembering stories, and even important little details can be recounted in this way. Instead of trying to remember a whole topic, it is generally best to start at the beginning and move from there. For example, if studying the Great Depression, it is a good idea to start with the stock market crash in the United States and move the story from there. Do not be afraid to step outside of the scope of what you are currently studying in order to better understand the topic (e.g. understanding the First World War can mean having to understand the fall of the Russian Tsars). It can be a daunting task to think about history in this way, but, once the skill is developed, the way forward is a lot easier and more entertaining.
DID YOU KNOW?
A tutor can be a great help in framing history in a way that a student can better understand it. Often, students do not understand history because it was not introduced in a way that makes sense.
Now, it is not enough to simply remember a story. Most teachers/professors would also like you to comment on something that you found interesting or did not understand. This interaction with the era is generally what they are looking for. It does not have to be a statement that changes our view of a period of time, but just has to be something you found thought-provoking. For example, if studying the Cold War, you can comment on how much had changed within both the United States and the USSR, and yet, a lot of tensions remained the same for the whole duration.
Another tip is to think about whether you do not understand history because of the concepts covered, or due to some other reasons. A couple of examples include not being able to complete tests within the given time or not fully understanding the questions asked. This could be a signal that it is not history that the student has trouble with, but perhaps English. We’ve often found that when a student has trouble with one subject, that it is not that subject that is the real problem, but one that the subject relies on (for example difficulties with chemistry can mean difficulties in mathematics).
You can also ask your teacher or professor how much detail you need on your assignments or tests. This should give you a good understanding of the level of detail to which you should go. Also, asking your teacher/prof will give you a better grasp of the expectations on tests and assignments which will make preparation easier. Do not be afraid to stay after class or go to office hours for extra help. Teachers, professors and TAs are there to help you understand the material (just be careful not to annoy them with too many questions). Often, during office hours, there are no other students, so it is a more relaxed atmosphere to ask questions about topics that you do not understand.
Most people consider history boring and unimportant. However, it can be a very interesting place to spend some time (consider the popularity of historical fiction). Trying to weave a story is a much easier and more exciting way to remember certain facts and ideas that shaped the era of study and telling your teacher or professor your thoughts can be what they are looking for. Remember that your instructor wants you to succeed, so do not be afraid to ask for help if you feel you need it, or just go for a chat.