History subjects are always remembered for their long essays, but their short answer questions are easily forgotten even though they are just as important. But have no fear – all it takes are 5 easy steps to master Ancient History Short Response!

Being a heavily essay based subject one may asked where can short answer questions be found?

Short answer questions appear in:

  • The Core ­— This is the Pompeii and Herculaneum section located at the beginning of your exam. The Short answer questions will vary from 2- 10 marks. In these short answer questions it is likely that you will be asked to discuss a topic with reference to a chosen source and your own knowledge. Your 10 mark question will always refer to at least one source.
  • Ancient Societies — In this section a source will generally be provided for question d) the 15 marker. You will then have other short answer questions that do not relate to a source but occur earlier in that section.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.25.03 PM

Now that you know where short answer questions will appear. We’ve prepared a 5 Step Plan/Checklist for helping you to get top marks with this style of question

Step 1: Identify what the question is asking

Whenever a question is posed in ancient history it will always start with a verb for example describe. The first thing you should be doing is making sure you know these ‘key words’ back to front, their meaning and how to answer a question with that verb.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.40.15 PM
The full list can be found using this link or you can see them in action with Maddi’s article on Hit Verbs for HSC Success. 

Once you know the key word highlight or underline the topic the question asking about.

“Using Source A and your own knowledge describe leisure activities in Pompeii.”

As it is a ‘describe’ question, you will then need to ‘provide characteristics and features’ of leisure activities. As it has two components, you will essentially need to do the following:

  • provide characteristics = a quality belonging typically to a person, place, or thing and serving to identify them.
  • provide features = a distinctive attribute or aspect of something.

Step 2: Link the question to a syllabus dot point

Once you have successfully identified what the question is asking link it to a syllabus dot point. This is helpful as it allows you to access information from that syllabus point to more deeply and thoroughly answer the question.

From the example in step 1 the accompanying dot point would be:

leisure activities, food and dining, clothing, health, baths, water supply and sanitation.”

Linking it to a dot point also gives you a hint about what should be included in your answer as that’s the knowledge BOSTES wants you to have on that topic.

Step 3: Create a rough draft

This step is most useful for questions that are worth 5 marks or more.

Jot a simple plan in the margins of the exam booklet to help you structure your ideas, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy just what immediately comes to mind.

Creating a plan for longer questions is also helpful as it encourages you to stay on task and not deviate from what the question is asking.

Below I’ve written a very quick draft to the question in step 1 to help you see how easy it is (this took me like 3 seconds so it won’t waste any precious exam time).


Step 4: Write your answer

This step is fairly straight forward, all you need to do is use your plan to write a response in the provided space. Make sure you are being as clear as possible and that your argument is following a logical pattern.

Below we’ve included a sample of what a response may look like.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.07.47 AM

Red indicates characteristics whilst blue indicates features. 

Step 5: Check that you have fully answered the question  

In this step read through your answer quickly but in detail (don’t skim read). Make sure your response is answering the question posed and contains an explicit reference to the source, for example ‘Source A reveals…’. While you are doing this double-check that you are using the correct terminology and proper grammar.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 4.17.08 PM

With these 5 steps answering short answer questions is a breeze. Remember that the HSC isn’t going to ask you anything that’s not on your syllabus. So know each point in detail and practise writing responses to achieve your best result.


Are you looking for a tutor to help you ace the HSC?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational coaches and mentors!

We offer tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a large variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today! 

Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at info@artofsmart.com.au or check us out on Facebook!

Milana Gusavac thought she had seen the end of HSC until she realised that others out there needed help surviving year 12 just like she had. Now she’s a member of the Art of Smart team while perusing her studies at the University of Sydney, studying a Bachelor of Psychology. When not learning or helping others Milana can be found with her nose in a book or marathoning TV shows.

Join the other students who want to get a Band 6 in HSC Ancient History this year!

Subscribe now to receive a copy of our free 'How To Get a Band 6 in Ancient History' Guide delivered straight to your inbox! 

Check your email for your free copy of our guide 'How to Get a Band 6 in HSC Ancient History' e-Book!