ocr history coursework guidance

History Coursework: how to Choose the Best Question

  • Dr Janet Rose
  • June 13, 2020

So, just when you thought your first A-level History year was over and you could relax before tackling next year, you have to think about your history coursework. This will be the non-exam assessment (NEA) or Historical Investigation.  It can cause a lot of angst amongst students but taking some time and thinking it through carefully before you start can make the world of difference.

1. Choose to study something interesting for your history coursework

If you have the chance to choose whichever topic you like for your history coursework and set your own question, or if you are given a list of different topics, choose one you are genuinely interested in. You will be working on this piece for months, so it makes sense to choose something that will hold your interest.

2. Make sure there are no clashes with your other topics

In practice, there are constraints set by the various exam boards to make sure that your topic does not overlap with the components you are already studying for your A level or Pre U. Your exam centre (school, college or independent centre) will need to have your question approved by the exam board and they will not approve a topic with an obvious overlap. For example, if you are already studying the Tudors for AQA, it is unlikely that you can  study a topic set in England between 1485 to 1603. Therefore, if you are setting your own question, ask yourself if it overlaps in date or topic with one of your components. If it does, you will need to find an alternative. Each exam board has slightly different rules, so check on their website to see what the rules are for your exam board.

3. Find your source material early

For your history coursework, you will need to find two types of source material – primary and secondary:

P rimary sources are those that were written at the time and you will also need to find a range of these to support your investigation. To achieve high marks you should look for a variety of primary sources, for example, a letter, a report, a painting, a speech etc.

Secondary sources are scholarly books or articles by historians, or what the a-level exam boards call ‘interpretations.’ this means that your investigation will only be viable if historians have written about the topic and, preferably, argued over it. you will need to understand the arguments that provide a framework for your chosen topic. historians call this the historiography..

Therefore, the question you set yourself will only be able to achieve high marks if you make sure there are both secondary sources (scholarly argument) and primary sources (original material) to support your investigation. If you cannot find these, you should re-think your question.

History Coursework

4. Remember you actually have to answer the question!

It sounds really obvious – but remember that you actually have to answer the question you set yourself!  You need to choose something that is achievable in the time frame and gives you a good chance of success. A good question will give you a framework within which to research and write – you are looking for something that is not too vague nor too wide.

You also need something that you can address in the historical time frame (e.g. around 100 years for AQA) and a topic that you can analyse and evaluate in approximately 3, 500 words (check the word limit for your own exam board). In practice, any question that is too wide, too vague or unlikely to be achievable should be vetoed either by your school/college/independent centre or the exam board. However, this will waste your valuable time and is not totally foolproof, so choose an achievable project to give yourself a fighting chance of achieving that elusive A grade.

5. Choose a good format for your history coursework question

The standard ‘for and against’ question format will always be a good choice and will give you a framework within which to set your investigation. There are various ways to word such a question e.g. ‘How far…’, To what extent…’ ‘Within the context of … how important was…’ which will give you a clear framework and a direction for your investigation. Keep it simple is good advice here. Remember, though, to define your framework by including the date range in your question. For example ‘Within the context of 1790 to 1890, how important was…?’

Done well, the NEA or Personal Investigation will teach you a huge amount about how historians work, how sources are used and how to construct an argument. This will help you enormously when you come to the final exams and it can be a very valuable contribution to your qualification. It can also be enjoyable as it is your first chance to ‘do’ some real historical research. Choose your question with care and you automatically give yourself a head start.

Exam Board History Coursework Guidance

AQA Guidance

Cambridge Pre U Guidance

OCR Guidance

Edexcel Guidance

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Non-exam assessment, general qualifications, choose your qualification.

  • General qualifications AS and A Level, Core Maths, Entry Level Certificate, Extended Project, FSMQ and GCSE
  • Cambridge Nationals
  • Cambridge Technicals
  • Other vocational qualifications

What’s on this page

Moderated assessment arrangements for general qualifications include non-exam arrangements, coursework and portfolios, which are all referred to as candidate work.

Read this section together with the following documents:

  • JCQ Instructions for conducting coursework
  • JCQ Instructions for conducting non-exam assessments

If you are working with other centres to deliver the assessment, you need to apply to become a consortium.

  • Consortium arrangements

Marking the assessments

Centres should mark each piece of work according to the instructions and criteria provided in the specification for each unit.

Forms to help you mark and administer candidate work – many of them interactive – are provided.

These may be called a cover sheet, a unit recording sheet, or centre assessment form, depending on the specification.

You can download all the forms from our handy Forms finder (they are also available on each qualification page).

Complete one per candidate and attach it to the front of their work.

Candidate authentication

Each candidate must sign a declaration before submitting their work to their teacher to confirm the work is their own and any assistance given and/or sources used have been acknowledged. A sample can be downloaded below.

It is the responsibility of centres to ensure every candidate does this.

These statements should be retained within the centre until all reviews of results, malpractice and appeals issues have been resolved.

  • Candidate authentication statement DOCX, 45KB  

A mark of zero must be recorded if a candidate cannot confirm the authenticity of their work.

For some qualifications, specific candidate authentication forms must be submitted with the centre sample :

  • GCSE Design and Technology J310
  • AS and A Level Design and Technology H004–H006 and H404–H406
  • A Level Geography H481

You can download these forms from our Forms finder .

Centre authentication

Teachers are required to declare the work submitted for internal assessment is the candidate's own work by completing a centre authentication form (CCS160) for each unit. These should be kept within the centre until all reviews of results, malpractice and appeals have been resolved. This is also a requirement for private candidates.

  • Centre authentication form DOCX, 43KB  

NEA centre declaration form 

For the following qualifications, your head of centre needs to confirm your centre has followed the regulatory requirements involving non-exam assessment (NEA), by returning the NEA centre declaration form to us by 15 May.

  • A Level Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geology)
  • GCSE Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Combined Science) (not required for summer 2022)
  • GCSE (9-1) English Language

This form is in addition to the Head of Centre declaration .

GCSE Computer Science programming skills statement

For GCSE Computer Science, you must complete a practical programming statement for all examination series in which candidates are entered. See the Computer Science page for more information.

Carrying out internal standardisation

Centres must carry out internal standardisation to ensure marks awarded by different teachers are accurate and consistent across all candidates entered for the unit from that centre.

If centres are working together in a consortium , you must carry out internal standardisation of marking across the consortium.

You must ensure marks for all candidates, not just those in the sample, are checked for both addition and transcription errors before submission.

Informing students of their marks

Before you submit your centre marks to us, you need to inform students of their centre-assessed marks (and endorsement grades) and provide enough time for them to appeal these marks. 

You must also allow sufficient time for the review to be carried out, to make any necessary changes to marks and to inform the candidate of the outcome before the mark submission deadline. 

There's more information on the JCQ website , including a suggested template to use.

Submitting marks and grades

All marking and internal standardisation must be completed in good time and before the marks are submitted to OCR and the moderator.

Deadlines for submitting marks, grades and authentication are available in the key dates document.

Marks should be submitted electronically to OCR by one of the following methods:

  • Interchange – see our step-by-step instructions for submitting marks and grades
  • EDI files sent via A2C – follow the instructions in your own management information system for inputting marks for the relevant components. The common format for submitting marks is outlined in the JCQ Formats document.
  • JCQ Formats for the Exchange of Examination Related Data

Moderation cannot begin until we have received all the marks. Make sure you keep a copy of the marks for your records.

You don't need to send a copy of the marks to your moderator.

If a candidate did not produce work, the candidate should be submitted as absent.

If we do not receive your marks we will contact you.

View our step-by-step instructions on using Interchange to submit marks/grades.

As part of our work to increase our security arrangements, we’ve added two-factor authentication (2FA) to our secure website, Interchange. This means we’ve changed the way you log into Interchange. For more information, see our Interchange page.

Submitting mark or grade amendments

If you discover an error with a previously submitted candidate mark, you will need to complete the Amendment to centre marks or Amendment to endorsement grades form:

  • Log in to Interchange , click on ‘Resources and materials’ and then ‘Forms and documents’ and download the form.
  • Complete the form, providing the original total and amended total mark/grade for the component.
  • Email the form to [email protected] from a centre email address.
  • Send a copy of the Amendment to centre marks form to the moderator (you do not need to send the Amendment to endorsement grades form).

If you amend a mark after moderation has started, we may require the work relating to the relevant candidate.

If this is the case, we will let you know and tell you where to send the work.

Moderator address information

You will be sent address labels to send the marks and forms to the moderator. (You will also be sent enough copies of the labels to send candidate work to the moderator.)

If you have still not received your labels three days before the mark submission deadline, you can request emergency moderator address information from Interchange .

To do this, log in to Interchange , hover over ‘Resources and materials’ in the left menu, click on ‘Emergency exam labels’ and follow the on-screen instructions. 

Requests should be processed within 12 hours.

Before posting the sample of work to the moderator, make sure the address on the moderator label matches the address on the sample request. 

If it doesn't, please contact our Customer Support Centre .

Sample requests

Once you have submitted your marks to OCR, you will receive a moderation sample request.

For most specifications you will receive a sample request via email from [email protected] (see Exceptions below).

Once we start to send sample requests (usually at the beginning of the month in which the mark submission deadline falls), you will normally receive a sample request within one or two days of submitting your marks.

If you are part of a consortium we will wait until we have received marks from each centre before sending a sample request.

Samples will include work from across the range of attainment of the candidates’ work.

The size of the sample we request depends on the number of candidates for the relevant unit/component:

As we send sample requests via email, it’s essential the email address we hold for your exams officer is correct.

This is the address that is held on the JCQ National Centre Number Register.

If you need to change this email address and, therefore, your exams officer contact details, please send the updated details on centre-headed paper to the JCQ National Centre Number Register as an email attachment to [email protected] .

We can only hold one email address per centre so please do not change this address unless you wish all exams office communications to be sent to a different address.

You will not receive a sample request for the GCSE (9-1) English Language Spoken Language endorsement. Instead, you should select the sample as described on the endorsements page and submit by the mark submission deadline.

You will not receive a sample request for the Entry Level Physical Education (R463). Once you've submitted marks (by 15 May), a moderator will contact your centre to request moderation samples.

Submitting a sample of candidate work

Depending on the final entry option, candidate samples can be submitted via digital upload using Submit for Assessment, post or via a moderation visit. 

  • When making your final entries, the entry option specifies how to submit the sample of work for each unit/component.
  • For each of these units/components, all candidate marks and work must be submitted to the moderator using the same entry option. 
  • It is not possible for centres to offer both options for a unit within the same series, but you can choose different options for different units.

Submitting work via Submit for Assessment

Submit for Assessment enables centres to submit candidate work electronically for moderation and is an option for most specifications. (You can check this in the entry codes booklet .) 

You should select this option when you make your entries. Once you receive your sample request, you should upload the work to Submit for Assessment within three working days of receiving the request. 

June 2024 series : For non-exam assessment which is not moderated you will still need to use the OCR Repository if you want to use the upload option. This applies to the following components:

  • AS Level Music H143/01/02 and A Level Music H543/01/02/03/04 – examined
  • A Level Drama and Theatre H459/21/22 and GCSE Drama J316/03 – visiting examiner
  • GCSE English Language J351/03 – spoken language endorsement

Submitting work via post

The sample of candidate work must be posted to the moderator within three working days of receiving the request.

Please ensure the address on the moderator label matches the address provided on the sample request. If they do not match, please use the address provided on the sample request and make sure to use labels for the correct series (not leftover labels from previous series). 

On rare occasions, work can get lost in the postal system. We strongly advise you to keep evidence of work submitted to the moderator, e.g. copies of annotated versions of written work or photographs of practical work.

You should obtain a certificate of posting for all work posted to the moderator.  

Please ensure you include a return address on the packaging, just in case there is a problem with the delivery. We recommend you do not use courier services or other specialist postage methods, as moderators may experience difficulty receiving deliveries, which can delay moderation.

Sending removable data

If you’re sending removable media such as USBs, DVDs, etc, we recommend you send unencrypted data wherever possible. If you have no other option than to use encrypted data:

  • Save the work as usual.
  • Clearly label the removable data with your centre number and component number and send it to the OCR assessor.
  • Print the password out together with your centre name, number and component details and send it to the assessor in a separate package.
  • Email OCR at [email protected] with your centre number, the component number and the password.

Arranging visiting moderation

For some units/components (see the entry codes booklet ), rather than posting or uploading the sample, the sample will be viewed by a visiting moderator. 

The moderator arranges a visit at a date and time convenient to both parties. 

For GCSE, AS and A Level Art and Design, the moderator will contact centres once the marks are received to arrange a visit. 

Instructions for arranging Physical Education internally assessed performance can be found on the Physical Education visits and filmed evidence page.

Instructions for arranging externally examined performances can be found on the Drama and Theatre performances page.

Visiting moderator identification

Due to internal safeguarding policies we appreciate centres may need to see identification from visiting moderators before they are allowed access to the site. We do not issue visiting moderators with any form of identification, and we have advised moderators they should bring the following with them to any visit:

  • A valid form of photo identification (e.g. passport, driver’s licence)
  • A copy of their OCR invitation to moderate
  • A valid DBS certificate if they have one (we do not require visiting moderators to hold a valid DBS certificate in order to fulfil the role).

We also suggest visiting moderators arrange to meet their named contact on arrival at the centre, as they will have the moderator’s details and can verify these with their identification.

If your safeguarding policy requires some form of supervision for visitors whilst on site, this requirement should be discussed with the moderator before the visit so there is no impact on the moderation process.

We have advised visiting moderators of what identification they should take with them on visits; however, if you have any concerns then please contact our Customer Support Centre.

Lost, missing, damaged or incomplete work

In the case of a candidate for whom the internally assessed work has been lost or is missing, or where the work is damaged or is incomplete, then you must apply for special consideration . 

In addition, if the candidate concerned forms part of the requested sample, you must substitute an equivalent candidate’s work on, or as near as possible to, the same mark point. 

In certain circumstances we may request to see incomplete portfolio evidence where an application has been made.

External moderation

Usually, internally assessed units are externally moderated. 

Moderation is designed to bring the marking of internally assessed units in all participating centres to an agreed standard by checking a sample of the marking of candidate work. 

At this stage, centres may be required to resolve any issues the moderator discovers during the external moderation. 

Centres may receive one of the following requests, usually by email.

  • Additional sample request – If the moderator needs you to provide additional work for moderation, please respond as quickly as possible so your candidates’ results are not delayed.
  • Notification of clerical errors – We have amended the internally assessed marks you provided, usually following an incorrect transcription or incorrect addition of the marks. You must follow the instructions on the form and make sure the remaining work, which was not part of the sample, is checked. If you disagree with the changed mark(s) indicated on the clerical error notification form, please email  [email protected] within 5 days of receipt. 
  • Notification of inconsistent marking – Where a consistent pattern of inaccurate marking can be established, marks will be adjusted in line with the JCQ guidelines. Where no consistent pattern can be established, the work may be returned to you with feedback, to mark again. You will need to submit the new marks to OCR and return the sample to the moderator before moderation can continue. In exceptional circumstances work may need to be remarked a second time. In such cases, the moderator will arrange to call the teacher to support them in reaching a resolution.

Outcomes of moderation

Centres will usually receive the outcome of moderation when the provisional results are issued. 

The following reports will be issued via Interchange .

  • Moderation adjustments report – This lists any scaling that has been applied to internally assessed units or components. This report is updated twice – once after results are released and once after the post‐results period.
  • Moderator report to centres – This is a brief report by the moderator on the internal assessment of candidates’ work. (PE reports are issued in hard copy rather than via Interchange.)

Use of candidate work

If work was posted to OCR for moderation or selected during visiting moderation, it will normally be returned to centres. 

However, we may be required to retain some items as exemplar material for awarding, regulation, archive, teacher training and educational purposes. 

We will inform you if work is required. In some circumstances, we may need to request work from a centre. 

In such cases, your co-operation in supplying material is much appreciated. 

Candidate work should be retained by centres under secure conditions until after the deadline for review of results or until any appeal, malpractice or other results enquiry has been completed, whichever is later. This applies to all work – whether or not it was part of the moderation sample.


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