The IB history exam consists of two to three papers depending on whether students are taking a Standard Level or Higher Level course. The samples below are drawn from the May 2000 Standard Level history exam.
Paper 1: Document-Based Questions
Students have one hour to complete this portion of the exam. Paper 1, taken by both Standard and Higher Level history students, is based on documents and consists of four questions in each of three pre-announced topics. While students may choose which topic to address, they must answer all four of the questions on that topic. As a sample, three of the documents and two of the questions for one preset topic—the Cold War—are provided below. A close look suggests that this exam not only tests the discrete skill of "document analysis," it requires students to use that skill in connection with a rich base of content.
Prescribed Subject 3: The Cold War 1945-196
These documents relate to rising tension in the Cold War in Europe 1946 to 1951.
An extract from a speech in which General George C. Marshall announced an ambitious plan of economic aid to the whole of Europe, June 5, 1947.
The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign foods and other essential products—principally from America—are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial economic help, or face economic, social and political deterioration [decline] of a very grave character.
... It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return to normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.
An extract from a speech by Vyshinsky, Deputy Foreign Minister and Soviet spokesperson at the United Nations, to the UN on September 18, 1947 (published in the UN records of the meeting).
The so-called Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan are particularly glaring examples of the manner in which the principles of the United Nations are violated [disregarded], of the way in which the organization is ignored.
... It is becoming more and more evident to everyone that the implementation of the Marshall Plan will mean placing European countries under the economic and political control of the United States and direct interference by the latter in the internal affairs of those countries.
Moreover, this Plan is an attempt to split Europe into two camps and, with the help of the United Kingdom and France, to complete the formation of a bloc of several European countries hostile to the interests of the democratic countries of Eastern Europe.
...The intention is to make use of Western Germany and German-heavy industry as one of the most important economic bases for American expansion in Europe, in disregard of the national interests of the countries which suffered from German aggression.
An extract from 'The Blockade of Berlin' by historian Philip Windsor (published in History of the Twentieth Century, BPC publishing, London, 1968).
When the Russians cut road and rail links to the West, the four-power city of Berlin was left stranded a hundred miles inside the Soviet sector of occupied Germany.... It was over Berlin that the Soviet Union and the United States came to their decisive trial of strength. But is that what the Soviet rulers intended? Did they intend to cut off Western access to Berlin? Was the trial of strength deliberate, or was it the product of a series of accidents and misapprehensions [misunderstandings]?
• In what ways and to what extent do Marshall in Document B and Vyshinsky in Document C disagree about the motives behind the Marshall Plan?
• Using the documents and your own knowledge, explain why the Soviet Union launched the Berlin Blockade in June 1948.
Paper 2: Essay Questions on Six Prescribed Topics
Students have 1 1/2 hours to complete this paper. The Standard and Higher Level history syllabus includes six topics; IB recommends that teachers cover two or three of them in preparation for Paper 2. This portion of the exam offers a choice of five questions per topic; students must answer two questions, each chosen from a different topic. The following sample includes two (out of five) questions from four (out of six) topics.
Causes, practices, and effects of war [Topic 1]
• Compare and contrast the effects for the country concerned of two of the following: the Chinese Civil War, the Nigerian Civil War, the Spanish Civil War.
• In what ways have wars (a) caused suffering and hardship to women and (b) helped promote women's equality? Specific evidence must be given from at least two regions.
Nationalist and independence movements, decolonizsation, and challenges facing new states [Topic 2]
• Why has colonialism become an 'outdated and unpopular concept' in the 20th century?
• In what ways, and why, have social and economic conditions changed since independence in two of the following: Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Zaire?
The rise and rule of single-party states [Topic 3]
• In what ways, and for what reasons, did rulers of single-party states play an important role in world affairs between 1917 and 1945?
• Account for the rise to power and longevity of the rule of either Fidel Castro in Cuba or Julius Nyerere in Tanzania.
The state and its relationship with religion and with minorities [Topic 6]
• Evaluate the methods used by two minorities (ethnic, racial, or religious) in their efforts to preserve their culture and identity.
• Explain why, and to what extent, two of the following minorities are considered to have been disadvantaged: Aborigines in Australia, Chinese in Malaysia, Kurds in West Asia, Quebecois in Canada.
A Test Worth Teaching To
The IB's Course Guides and Exams Make a Good Marriage
By Robert Rothman
Excerpts from the IB History Exam