History Aptitude Test (HAT)

What is the HAT?

The History Aptitude test is a one-hour exam (unless you have specific requirements that mean you need extra time) where you will be asked to answer a question in essay form based on an extract from an unseen primary source. There is only one question and one source, so you will have the full hour to read, plan and write.

Given how important primary sources are to history, the HAT is an opportunity for you to show off how you have interpreted the source. This isn’t a test of grammar or how much you already know. What the examiners want to hear is your ideas and what you think the source is telling you and why. 

How is the paper formatted?

You will get a question, which is always formatted in the same way. The question will always be ‘what does this source say about x’. For example, the 2019 question, which was based on a letter sent to the King of Sri Lanka to the King of Portugal, asked ‘What does this document tell us about how power relationships worked, within Sri Lanka and between Sri Lanka and Portugal?’ You will also get a paragraph that gives you context about the source, such as who wrote the source and when.

What is the assessment criteria?

Faculty marking criteria   What the marking criteria ACTUALLY means
•    the ability to read carefully and critically   •    Read the source properly
•    the adoption of an analytical approach   •    Always ask why, don’t just describe the source!
•    the ability to answer a question relevantly   •    Answer the question directly
•    precision, in the handling of concepts and in the selection of evidence presented to support points   •    Pick quotes and examples that support your point well
•    historical imagination   •    Use logic to deduce why certain things are written in the source
•    originality and independence   •    Express your own ideas
•    precision, clarity and facility of writing   •    Have a clear structure and use simple, clear language so we get the full gist of your ideas

How to approach writing your essay

Here are some suggestions on how to approach writing the HAT. Given you have an hour, spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading and planning. Take some time to break down the question and context so you understand it really well and then move onto analysing your source. Think about exactly what the source is telling you and highlight any examples that can help you answer the question directly. Also think about the limits of the source, what it doesn’t tell you and whose perspective is being highlighted. Then write a plan. In your plan, organise your quotes from the source into a few themes. A thematic approach is really important because you can then use quotes from different parts of the source rather than focussing on a small part of it.

In terms of structure, it is recommended that you have a small introduction, about three paragraphs and a small conclusion. The introduction should reference the question and give your reader a bit of an idea about what points you’re going to make. This only needs to be a few sentences long. It is a good idea to use the introduction to tell the reader a bit of context about the source that seem important to you, such as who wrote the source. Then move into the main part of your essay. Each paragraph should be for a different theme or point you’ve written up in your plan. Pick out key quotes from the source and start unpacking them, suggesting what the quote is telling you and how this supports the argument you are making to answer the question. Finally, your conclusion should tie everything together, making reference back to the question and highlighting that the source can tell us a lot but has its limitations. Give yourself five minutes at the end to quickly read through what you have written. You only have an hour, so the examiners will not expect a long essay. 

Advice on how to prepare

Look at the past papers on the History Faculty website and sit at least a paper under timed conditions. Check your answer by using the mark schemes that are also on the website. Since the source is unseen, it can be helpful to practise your source analysis on any primary source you can get your hand on, including those collated by the faculty. Here are some resources you can access:

•    Click here to look at the faculty website for past HAT papers and mark schemes

•    Click here for a bank of primary sources to practice your analysis skills

•    Click here for a video resource going through the HAT