HSC Modern History

Not sure what makes a HSC Modern History historical source useful or reliable?

Not sure how to actually get 10/10 marks for a source analysis in HSC Modern History?

We’ve got you covered with a step by step guide to writing a 10/10 HSC Modern History source analysis!

Step 1: What is the question asking?
Step 2: Use an analysis checklist

Step 1: What is the question asking?

The first thing you need to do is find out what the question is asking.

A typical HSC question will ask ‘Assess the usefulness of Sources X and Y to a historian studying _____”.

It is the end of that question that is important as it will normally be straight from a syllabus dot point.

Skeptical? Let me prove it to you – check out these previous HSC questions below and their corresponding syllabus dot points!

HSC Modern History Exam 2014:

How useful would Sources C and E be for a historian studying the nature of trench warfare? In your answer, consider the perspectives provided by the two sources and the reliability of each one.

  • Syllabus Point: The nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches dealing with experiences of Allied and German soldiers
HSC Modern History Exam 2013:

How useful would Sources E and F be for a historian studying the impact of total war on civilians in Britain and Germany? In your answer, consider the perspectives provided by the TWO sources and the reliability of each one.

  • Syllabus Point: Total war and its social and economic impact on civilians in Britain and Germany
HSC Modern History Exam 2012:

How useful would Sources A and D be for a historian studying recruitment and propaganda in Britain and Germany? In your answer, consider the perspectives provided by the TWO sources and the reliability of each one.

  • Syllabus Point: Recruitment, conscription, censorship and propaganda in Britain and Germany

Step 2: Use an analysis checklist

Many students struggle with source analysis questions for HSC Modern History, so we’ve included a great acronym to help you remember what to discuss and in what order!

source analysis


Depending on the source, addressing each of the above points should require 1-2 sentences.

So 1-2 sentences for origin, 1-2 sentences about motive, and so on. This means you should have at least 7-14 sentences in your final answer. 

To help you out, we’re going to give you an example of how to analyse a source using OMCAPUR.

But first, download your HSC Modern History Source Analysis PDF Guide!


Source D from the 2014 HSC Past Paper


source analysis

Origin – what is the origin of this source?

  • Is source primary or secondary?
  • When was the source created?
  • Who created the source?

Example answer:


Source D is a primary source created during World War 1 by the Australian Government as part of the recruitment effort.

Motive – what was the motive behind the source?

  • Why did the author create the source?
  • Was it to document an event, write a historical summery on an event, give their opinion and/or to sway an audience?
  • Why was the source created?

Here you can also bring in bias if appropriate.

For example, a propaganda poster is created in order to influence public opinion on a matter according to an agenda. The source would be highly biased, as it was not created based solely on neutral facts.

Example answer:


The motive behind Source D is to aid in the recruitment of Australian soldiers to help the war effort. The text of the source “will you help us keep that promise” is used to sway the audience into feeling an obligation to assist the British forces, and is intended to encourage Australians into joining the war effort.

Content – what content is presented in the source?

  • What is in the foreground?
  • What is in the background?
  • How are the figures positioned?
  • What kind of symbolism has the composer used?
  • What do these symbols represent?

Tell the reader what the source contains.

Example answer:


The foreground features a kangaroo, using a native Australian animal to symbolise Australia as a nation. The background features troops in active battle, symbolising the war effort. The position of the text between these two features symbolises the connection between Australia and Britain, heightening the obligation the audience feels to Britain when observing the source.

Audience – what is the intended audience of the source?

This links to motive, as you must answer who the intended audience of the source is which is often considered when creating a source.

  • Who is the intended viewer?
  • In what context would they arise?
  • Where would they be likely to view this?
  • What would they be doing with the information?

If it is a historian it is likely that the audience is the general public or an academic circle.

If the source is a diary entry it is highly likely that the intended audience was either solely to author or their family.

Considering the audience is very important, as it will also reveal elements of bias that may be present in the source.

Example answer:


The intended audience is the Australian public, as encouragement to join the war effort is not limited to only men who are eligible to become soldiers. Families of eligible men were also targeted to encourage their family members to volunteer. It is likely this source was presented in newspapers, posters and flyers.

Perspective – what perspective is presented in the source?

  • What opinions or belief statements are evident in the article?
  • What is the source’s or the composers’/’s context?
  • Would another source/composer have a different point of view depending on his/her background experiences?
  • What opinions does the source/composer paint for a reader?
  • What facts were missing?
  • What words and phrases did the source/author use to present the information?
  • Why is the source presented in such a way, or why does the author present it in such a way?

This considers whether a source is objective or subjective.

Perspective is extremely important as it helps establish your two most important arguments of the paragraph reliability and perspective.

Example answer: 


The perspective presented in Source D is pro-enlistment, presumably coming from the Australian Government. The phrasing presented in the source is of very high modality to sway the audience’s opinions and emotions.

Reliability – is it a reliable source of information?

  • Is the source consistent with data available about the topic?
  • Are there other sources which could validate the information given from this source?
  • Does it have scholarly credibility? Where was it published? How was it published?
  • Does the source fulfil an agenda? (i.e. was the source produced for an opinion/stance, or was the stance a product from the source?)

For a source to be considered reliable it must contain accurate historical information.

This means that a source can be written in a completely subjective manner and still be considered reliable, as all facts are accurate.

Example answer: 


This source is a reliable depiction of efforts to recruit Australian soldiers to the war effort. While the source is obviously geared to sway its audience’s opinion and encourage them to enlist, and in that sense is not an objective source of information, it does give reliable information on the nature of propaganda during WWI in Australia.

Usefulness – is this a useful source of information?

All sources a useful whether or not they are reliable. In order to concisely answer whether a source is ‘useful’, consider the three R’s:

  • Is the source relevant to what is being asked?
  • Has the source revealed an insight into the question?
  • Is the source reliable in providing the information required to answer the question?

Example answer:


Source D would be an extremely useful piece of information for historians studying the nature of propaganda and the recruitment effort of Australia during WWI. It gives great insight into the way propaganda was used by the government to recruit soldiers by giving a reliable depiction of the recruitment effort.

Don’t forget to download your HSC Modern History Source Analysis PDF Guide!

Looking for extra help with HSC Modern History?

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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 other’s Milana can be found with her nose in a book or marathoning TV shows.