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Author Topic: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever  (Read 5770 times)  Share 

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A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever
« on: February 02, 2019, 01:38:15 pm »
Greetings, fellow AN’ers. Congratulations on finding this post tucked away in the socially isolated VCE Ancient History board, the place where only true intellectuals dare to visit.

I completed VCE last year, and Ancient History was by far my favourite (and most demanding) subject – however I was annoyed at the utter lack of VCE-specific resources. Hence I’ve decided to have a go at writing a guide.

If anyone is after notes, practice SACs, and trial exams, just shoot me a PM. A collection of practice prompts for essays and source analysis can be found here.

Please note that this guide is written according to the 2016 – 2020 Study Design.

So, without further ado, let us dive right in to the wonderful world of ancient history.


I think I’d better start off with a brief intro of what VCE Ancient History 3/4 is actually like, as it’s such a new subject and not many people know what to expect.

History, like most VCE subjects, is split into four areas of study. Different schools do SACs differently, however most will have one SAC per AOS – two SACs per civilisation.

Outcomes 1 and 3 are called Living in an Ancient Society. These outcomes focus on the social, political, and economic features of your selected civilisations, including:
     - How the civilisation was formed
     - Interactions with neighbouring cities
     - The political and legal system
     - Conflicts between social classes
     - How its economy was maintained.
Outcomes 2 and 4 are called People in Power, Societies in Crisis. In these outcomes you learn about how the civilisation responds to conflict, including:
     - Causes of the conflict
     - How the conflict developed
     - Outcomes and the aftermath of such conflict
     - Three influential key figures


In source analysis questions, you are given 1-3 source(s) and are expected to use them, as well as your own knowledge, to answer three questions.

a) questions are 4-5 marks each, and would only require you to use one of the sources given. You will most likely be asked to outline or identify, and do NOT need to use any external knowledge. (Basically, treat this as a reading comprehension question).
An example of an a) question could be:

a) Using source one, outline how Rome developed their navy during the First Punic War.

In this case, you would only use source one, even if other sources given can also be used. Start with a strong opening sentence that outlines your points, then expand. Make sure to always use the source as evidence to back up your points, however do NOT let the source write the answer for you. ~80% of your response must be in your own words.

b) questions are worth 5-6 marks, and require you to use one or more sources and your own knowledge. You’ll likely be asked to explain or analyse. Here is an example:

b) Referring to the sources and your own knowledge, explain the significance of the Battle of Zama in Rome’s wars with Carthage.

This question states ‘sources” – therefore you have to use ALL sources provided in order to gain full marks. . If the question had stated ‘Referring to source 1 and 3…’ then stay the hell away from source two. You will also be required to bring in some external knowledge not provided by the sources. The same point from part a) still applies – make sure the source isn’t writing the answer for you. They’re just there to back up your points.

c) questions are similar to mini-essays, and are worth 10 marks. You are not required to use the sources (with ONE exception, which I’ll soon explain) – Instead all of it must be your own knowledge. Instruction words are the same as what you’d expect from essays, such as evaluate. An example would be:

c) Evaluate the extent to which Rome’s wars of expansion changed the social and political climates during the period 264 to 146 BCE.

First, note that there is a time period given in the question. This means that whatever evidence you use MUST be from this time period, even if the entire outcome may be beyond it. Next, see how the question explicitly asks for ‘social and political’ features. This means that you must focus on the social and political changes in your response. You can still mention economic aspects, but be brief and try to link it back to either ‘social’ or ‘political’ areas.

So what’s the one circumstance where you have to use the sources in a c) question? Say that you were given three sources, however in a) and b) you only used two of them. Then in the c) question you have to bring in whatever source you didn’t use.


If you do other humanities subjects, then you’ll find that the essays tend to be quite similar in terms of structure. Yes – TEEL structure tragically applies. You generally follow the traditional structure of ‘Introduction, 3 body paragraphs, conclusion’, though I have written essays with 2 long body paragraphs or 4 short ones and did not get penalised. Now let’s dissect an essay topic:

To what extent was Alcibiades responsible for the renewal of the Peloponnesian War in 413?

There are many ways to start your intro. Generally, I stuck to one of two ways:
Contention: The DIRECT method
Alcibiades was, to a minor extent, responsible for the renewal of the Peloponnesian War. While his actions had short-term significance, they could not have ensured the outbreak of conflict without deeper underlying factors.
Contention: The NON-DIRECT method
The renewal of the Peloponnesian War in 413 BCE was caused by a multitude of factors. The actions and decisions of Athenian statesman Alcibiades, while significant in the short term, could not have ensured the outbreak of conflict without deeper underlying factors.
After you’ve stated your contention, introduce your points. In this case, I would talk about what other factors also caused the outbreak of conflict.

Note - if the question asks for ‘what extent’, you are ACTUALLY REQUIRED to state the extent to which you agree / disagree with the statement (*gasp* how shocking). If you sit on the fence, then write ‘to a moderate extent’.

Now, the question obviously focuses on the key figure of Alcibiades (i.e. the sexiest man in history), so your essay must have a central focus on Alcibiades as well. According to examiners’ reports, this would mean at least two out of three body paragraphs must be on the topic, or you could be penalised.

Here, I’ve put myself in a sticky situation by saying that I disagree with the topic – I still have to talk about Alcibiades for two paragraphs. In this case, I would focus my first two paragraphs on Alcibiades and the short-term consequences of his actions.
For example, this could be a sample topic sentence:
Alcibiades’s direct involvement in the Sicilian Expedition of 416 to 413 ignited the tensions between Athens and Sparta and undermined the conditions of the Peace of Nicias (421).
My last body paragraph would be used to bring in the point in my contention on the other underlying factors that re-ignited the war.
Sample topic sentence
Despite this, the Peace of Nicias was ‘doomed to fail’ (Kagan) from the beginning due to its inability to quiet both sides of the conflict pushing for a decisive victory and its failure to restore the territorial status quo.
Having a short, direct quote in your topic sentence can make your point seem stronger, just don’t overdo this.

Try to use signposting words to separate out your points if you have multiple points in one paragraph. Words like ‘furthermore’, ‘additionally’, and ‘moreover’ can leave a great impression.

You don’t generally need a long conclusion – just a few short sentences that brings together your points and drives home your contention. You can definitely put quotes in your conclusion, and you can even end on them if they are strong enough.


Just a general overview of the exam – it’s 2 hours long with a 15 minute reading time. There are two source analysis questions (one for each civilisation) and two essays (one for each civilisation). For essays you pick one prompt from a choice of two. You do not get a choice for source analysis.
The most important aspect of the exam is time allocations. It’s generally recommended to spend no more than half an hour on each section. However, I’d suggest spending no more than 27 minutes. It’s best to leave some time to check over your responses at the end, also if you do end up going over on one of the sections, you’ll still finish on time.

- Write with a black, ballpoint pen. This shows up the clearest when photocopied. Think about it – your assessors are probably elders in their 60s with thick spectacles reading your essays at 2am, running on nothing but 4 cups of coffee. You’d want to make life just a tad bit easier for them, then maybe they’d go easier on you when marking.
- Do NOT annotate. You won’t have time. Unless you're confident that it works for you, just use reading time to mentally annotate and plan.
- Use reading time wisely. Seriously – history has the most demanding workload during reading time. It’s likely that you’ve never seen the sources before, so read the whole thing! Also, it’s best to make a decision on what prompts to write on for your essays in reading time.


Don’t treat History as a bludge.
It’s extraordinarily content heavy and will require a lot of effort and hard work to see good results. While the content is fun to learn, do not go into this subject with the mindset of ‘this will be a subject for me to chill and relax’, because it’s not. Be prepared to do a lot of work for this subject. History was by far my most demanding subject in VCE. It’s not a subject to be taken lightly of.

Read independently and actively.
There’s quite a lot of reading involved with Ancient History. While you can rely on the teacher to teach you the content, be warned that this isn’t enough. I found it useful to just carry a history book with me everywhere (nerdy, I know), and just take it out and read a couple of pages when I’m waiting for the bus or something.

Go beyond the study design.
The Study Design is a useful tool and it’s always important to keep in mind what you really need to know for the exam as you study. With that said, I’d encourage you to go beyond. It offers you a deeper understanding of the content, including the social, political, and economic features of the time period, and an occasional reference to something outside the SD can give the examiner a better impression. Example – the Catiline Conspiracy is not on the SD, but still go over it in your own time as it offers some valuable insights into the political career of Caesar and Cicero.

Rote-learn quotes and key details.
Here’s the slightly *boring* part of history – rote learning. Yes – it’s dull, but it’s needed to achieve high marks. One comment that appears each year in examiners’ reports is that students are not able to write about the most basic details, such as when an event happened, who were involved, etc. Memorising some key details can set you apart from the rest of the cohort!
Average response – ‘In his early years, Pompey was granted many significant titles by his commander, despite the fact that he did not meet the requirements.’

High-scoring response – ‘In 83 BCE, at the age of only 23, Pompey was granted the title of propraetorian imperium by his commander Sulla, despite the fact that he was seven years below the prerequisite age and had not held any qualifying offices beforehand’.

Best of luck for VCE! If you have any questions regarding history, feel free to make your own thread in the Ancient History board. Alternatively, just shoot me a PM! Cannot guarantee an instant reply but I’ll do my best.

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2019, 06:38:41 pm »
hi, thankyou for taking the time to write this. i have a couple of questions:
1, just wondering what sac & exam scores would safely get you over 40 raw?
2, what is the recommended word length for source analysis and essays?
3, i heard that history scales down by 3, is this true?
4, how much extra reading did you do and what resources would you recommend? (i'm also doing rome and greece)

vce class of 2019
viscom 44 • methods 40 • further 39 • eng lang 37 • history 33 • chem 32 • 94.6 atar

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2019, 02:48:14 pm »
Hi there! Glad that someone found this guide useful :D As for your questions -

1, just wondering what sac & exam scores would safely get you over 40 raw?
Unfortunately I don't have a clear answer for this, as statistics would change every year and also differs between cohorts. I would suggest that you take a look at the Grade Distributions for ancient history.
Generally A+ in all three GAs (Unit 3 SACs, Unit 4 SACs, final exam) are needed for a 40.

Just to give you a rough idea, here are my SACs and exam scores:

     SAC 1: 19/40
     SAC 2: 38/40
     SAC 3: 33/40
     SAC 4: 36/40

     EXAM: 153/160 (A+ range: 129-160)

2, what is the recommended word length for source analysis and essays?
I would recommend just sticking to the number of lines provided. For example, in source analysis's a) questions, you're generally provided 4~5 lines max, while for essays you would be provided ~3 pages of lines.
Here's a rough guide my teacher gave -
Source analysis a)   <100 words
Source analysis b)  100 ~ 200 words
Source analysis c)   300 ~ 400 words
Essays                     500 ~ 600 words

3, i heard that history scales down by 3, is this true?
Yes and no. If you get a raw 30, it scales down to about 27. However if you get 40+, it actually scales up.

I got a mid 40s score which went up by 0.8

4, how much extra reading did you do and what resources would you recommend? (i'm also doing rome and greece)

For Greece:
- Herodotus
- Xenophon
- Thucydides
- Pericles
- Aristotle
- Aristophanes
- Plutarch

- Paul Cartledge
- Pamela Bradley
- Donald Kagan
For Rome:
- Caesar
- Cicero
- Plutarch
- Polybius
- Livy
- Dio

- Thomas Martin
- Pamela Bradley
- Mary Beard
- Ronald Syme
That's just some I can come up with off the top of my head at the moment. I'm putting together a full list for Greece and Rome right now and I'll hopefully finish it by March.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2020, 10:32:21 pm by hums_student »
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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2019, 02:54:12 pm »
So good. Love this thread.

Perhaps a strange question, but what was/is your least favourite thing about Ancient?

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest VCE Subject ever
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2019, 03:53:04 pm »
So good. Love this thread.
Thanks mate! :D

Perhaps a strange question, but what was/is your least favourite thing about Ancient?
Nothing because this subject was perfect in every way imaginable
I do have a few complaints about the way ancient history is taught according to VCAA, the biggest thing being that it doesn't really focus on application. History subjects in general are already seen as 'useless' because it has already happened, and ancient history bears the brunt of this because if you compared this to Revs or Australian history then the content seems even more pointless. It would have been better if the study design asked students to draw some modern day parallels with the events of 2000 years ago.

One example to come to mind is the Siege of Melos of 416 BCE. According to the SD students literally only had to know what happened, who were involved, what were the short-term consequences etc. If you were to round up all previous ancient history students and ask them about this event, I bet they can all tell you the facts, but most will not know the importance of why this event that took place more than two and a half thousand years ago is still studied extensively to this day - that is, it's one of the earliest examples of political realism.

I guess it'll be too difficult to explore all modern day parallels at VCE level but I think VCAA should attempt to incorporate just a little more analysis of the importance of ancient history into the SD, rather than "here's a bunch of facts and dates and quotes. Memorise them."
2019-21: Bachelor of Arts (Politics & Int'l Relations / Economics)