I’m sure you’ve heard all about the new HSC Modern History Module: Change in the Modern World!

But do you know how you’ll be assessed on Change in the Modern World in the HSC Modern History Exam? 

Look no further!

We’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide to assessment for HSC Modern History: Change in the Modern World!

How will Change in the Modern World be assessed

Based on the sample assessment information provided by NESA, the Change in the Modern World module will be examined through a series of short-answer questions in your HSC Exam.

This section will contain 3-4 questions, one of which will be worth 10-15 marks, with a total of 25 marks available. The Change in the Modern World section will be the final section of the HSC Modern History exam.

There will be questions provided for each of the six topics of the Change in the Modern World module. You will only answer the questions provided for the topic you studied during the year.

Remember, the Change in the Modern World module is replacing the previous Personality section of the HSC Modern History course and exam.

There are three key areas that your short answer marks will be assessed on, according to NESA:

But, what does that actually mean?

In summary, this means that you will be required to have a thorough knowledge of your studied topic, and apply the relevant historical information in order to answer the questions.

Your responses should be clear and logical, and demonstrate an understanding of historical concepts, such as continuity, change and historical significance.

Note: The whole syllabus for each topic is examinable, however, content from the Survey section will typically only be appear in the lower mark value questions.

How do I apply this to the questions?

1. Lower Range Questions (1-5 marks)

Usually worth up to 5 marks, these questions will ask you to outline, describe or define an aspect of your study.

To answer, you should provide a direct and clear answer with detailed historical knowledge which is relevant to what the question is asking.

For example, a 3 mark question in the NESA Sample Paper asks:

“What is meant by the ‘American Century?'”

An answer to this 3 mark question could be:

The ‘American Century’ refers to the period since the mid-20th Century in which the United States had an increasing influence and dominance in political, economic and cultural spheres, on a global scale. The United States’ influence grew over the 20th Century, and it’s international dominance became clear after U.S Victory in WWII in 1945, when only the U.S and U.S.S.R remained as world super powers. By the end of the Cold War, with the dissolution of the U.S.S.R in 1991, the United States became the world’s only superpower.

As you can see, this answer is succinct and answers the question with support of historical detail. The first sentence clearly answers the question, and the second and third sentence elaborates with clear and relevant historical detail as evidence to back up the answer.

These lower range answers don’t need to be overly long, as long as they apply an accurate and clear answer to what the question is asking.

2. Mid-Range Questions (6-9 marks)

Questions worth between 6 and 9 marks will typically ask you to explain, or make a judgement about an aspect of the topic.

Responses should be thorough and well-developed, and supported with greater specificity and historical detail than the lower mark questions. Answers will likely be multi-paragraph, and should have a logical and coherent structure.

For example, a sample 8 mark question asks students to: 

“Explain the military reaction to the rise of the pro-democracy movement in Burma to 1989.”

An answer to this question could be:

Since the establishment of Ne Win’s regime by the 1962 coup d’etat, the military effectively ruled Burma. The growing popularity of pro-democracy movements directly threatened the military’s rule, and thus were responded to with significant hostility and violence. The military’s reaction focused on the violent suppression of any opposition; consequently, protests and riots frequently resulted in mass casualties.


This violent suppression was particularly evident in the military’s response to 1988 Uprisings. Protests and demonstrations had been consistent and widespread in 1988, with hundreds of thousands of protestors across the country. Protests reached their peak in August, with a nationwide demonstration and general strike planned by university students for the 8th of August. Military authorities fired on the protestors, who, according to Shelby Tucker, responded by throwing Molotov cocktails, knives and rocks. On August 10th, soldiers fired into the Rangoon General Hospital, killing nurses, doctors and their patients.


By September, the protests had increased in violence, and it is noted by Vincent Boudreau that soldiers would deliberately start and lead protestors into skirmishes that were easily thwarted by the army. On September 18th, the military retook power in a violent coup and imposed martial law to break up the protests. Extreme violence against civilians continued, with the Burma Watcher suggesting that over 1500 people were killed in the first week of the military securing power. Aung San Suu Kyi stated on September 22nd “the people of Burma are being shot down for no reason at all.” Historian Justin Winkle suggested that by the end of 1988, approximately 10,000 people including both protestors and soldiers, had been killed.


The regime’s response to Aung San Suu Kyi’s emergence as a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement also demonstrates the military’s approach of suppressing potential opposition. With the imposition of martial law by General Saw Maung and establishment of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, Burma’s constitution was repealed and harsher measures introduced. Under the martial law, the Tatmadaw could place people under detention, even without a charge or trial. As the daughter of Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi became a key political symbol, and a leader of the pro-democracy movement, organising demonstrations and giving speeches throughout the August 1988 protests. As a significant threat to the military regime, she was put under house arrest on July 20th, 1989. She was detained initially for six years. When the National League for Democracy won the General Election of 1990, the military nullified the results and refused to transfer power.


As evident in the brutal responses to protests and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the military’s response to the growing pro-democracy movement in Burma was focused on its brutal suppression. Military regimes responded with extreme violence and abuses of power to protests and the successes of the pro-democracy movement.

As you can see, this answer provides a detailed and structured explanation of the nature of military reactions.

The explanation is supported by relevant historical detail, providing more insight than in the 3 mark answer response.

3. High Value Questions (10-15 marks)

The questions for Change in the Modern World worth between 10 and 15 marks will most frequently require you to present an argument, but may also ask for an in depth explanation.

The arguments you may have to make include assessing the significance of particular people or events, or presenting a judgement about a particular historical interpretation.

Key to these long responses is making a reasoned judgement in response to the question, and presenting a well developed argument to support it – akin to a short essay – here’s how to do it properly:

Step 1: A clear structure and logical progression is required, meaning it is best to start with a brief introduction establishing your argument, and use ‘body paragraphs’ to support your claim. Some questions may also require you to integrate a provided source into your response.

Step 2: Your argument should be backed up with detailed historical information which demonstrates your thorough knowledge of the topic you have studied.

Step 3: Although the use of sources isn’t explicitly required by the marking criteria, including primary and secondary sources as evidence to back up your judgement is a good way too add depth to a argument.

The most important thing you can do to achieve the top band in these higher value questions is to make a reasoned judgement about the question, and use your response to make an argument, showing markers how your knowledge of the topic you have studied supports your judgement.

For example, a 15 mark question in this section asks students: 

“The civil rights movement in the United States was successful in achieving its goals by 1968.

To what extent can this view be supported?”

An answer to this question could be:

While the Civil Rights movement had achieved considerable successes by 1968, it would be inaccurate to suggest that its goals had been adequately achieved. Through varying forms of peaceful protest, the Civil Rights movement generated awareness and support for their cause. Numerous legal decisions also furthered the success of the movement. However, despite these successes, the ultimate goal of removing racial discrimination and inequality in the United States remained unachieved in 1968.


Through peaceful protests across America, the Civil Rights movement was successful in generating widespread support, and promoting awareness of the discrimination faced by African Americans. Martin Luther King Jnr noted that the purpose of non-violent protest to win “friendship and … understanding” of the oppressor, and the protests occurring throughout the movement were highly successful at this, and at times also led to legal decisions which heightened their effectiveness. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, initiated by the civil disobedience and arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 gained national recognition and helped create a sense of unity, particularly through highlighting the effectiveness of peaceful protest. The resolution of the boycott also brought legal successes, with the ruling of Bowder v Gayle, later upheld by the United States Supreme Court, finding that the segregation laws in Alabama were unconstitutional, leading to the desegregation of the buses.


Similarly, in 1960, the Greensboro sit ins were successful at generating support and awareness. Within four days, 300 people were involved in the sit in at the Greensboro Woolworth, and the sit-ins spread nationally, with approximately 70,00 black and white Americans partaking. Widespread media attention helped raise awareness about segregation and build the support. In addition to the national attention, these sit ins resulted in the desegregation of lunch counters and other public spaces across the United States. Thereby, through forms of peaceful protest such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and The Greensboro Sit Ins, the Civil Rights movement was successful in gaining increased support and awareness, and also achieved victories in furthering desegregation.


Furthermore, the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963, was a significant factor in helping the Civil Rights movement achieve its goals, through advocation for civil and economic rights. The March furthered the effectiveness of the protests by generating greater support for the movement, and raising international awareness, which ultimately also lead to greater legal successes. An estimated 250,000 people were in attendance, highlighting the success of the movement at drawing support and dedication from across the United States. This was furthered by Martin Luther King Jnr’s renowned ‘I have a Dream’ speech, suggested by D. Hansen to be a defining moment of the Civil Rights movement. (The Dream: Martin Luther King Jnr and the Speech that Inspired a Nation). In describing his dream for justice and equality, King effectively educated, informed and inspired, “not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations,” according to U.S representative John Lewis. President at the time, John F. Kennedy met with the march’s leaders, considering it a ‘triumph,’ which would prove to assist the passing of Civil Rights Legislation. Thereby, with its large turn-out and lasting legacy, the Washington March furthered the success of the Civil Rights Movement in achieving its objectives, through inspiring and educating supporters, and bringing civil and economic issues to the forefront of national discussion.


The achievement Civil Rights Movement’s goals was significantly aided by the passing of various pieces of legislation between 1963 and 1968, which overturned many discriminatory practices, and recognised civil and economic rights for African Americans. The 1964 Civil Rights Act expressly prohibited discrimination, based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, in employment. The Act also outlawed racial segregation in public places, schools and workplaces. In addition, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, further promoted civil and political rights, by outlawing discriminatory voting practices that existed in many Southern States. The Act prohibited voter application requirements that discriminated against African Americans, such as the requirements of literary tests to register, and also authorised federal examiners who would oversee registration and voting in areas that historically had an underrepresentation of African-American voters. The achievement of economic rights was furthered in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act which added provisions to the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination in the sale or renting of housing. This legal recognition and protection had greatly aided in the achievement of the Civil Right Movement’s goals of removing inequalities.


Thereby, it is evident that the movement had made significant progress in achieving its goals by 1968. However, despite these successes, the ultimate goal of eradicating inequality and discrimination remained unachieved. As noted by President Kennedy in his 1963 Civil Rights Address, “law alone cannot make men see right” and the issue of civil rights was a primarily moral issue. Consequently, despite growing support for the movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and the passing of Civil Rights legislation, equality and justice remained in the United States. Peaceful protests were often met with violence and hatred from white Americans. For example, despite the success in generating awareness and support by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, there was significant backlash, particularly following the Bowder decision. Newly integrated buses were shot at, bus riders attacked, and in 1957, five black churches were bombed by the Klu Klux Klan. Civil Rights leaders faced continual threats of violence, and many, including Martin Luther King Jnr, were assassinated. Despite the prohibition of segregation in the Civil Rights Act, many businesses resisted, and, in many places, segregation remained. Integrated school buses, African American church, and other community centres also remained the targets of violence. Despite support for the movement, discrimination and hate crime continued, and many people lived in fear of violence. Thereby, by 1968, the goals of the Civil Rights Movement had not been entirely reached, as racial inequality remained.


It is evident that some goals of the Civil Rights Movement were achieved by 1968, through the successful generation of support and awareness through peaceful protests and marches. The passing of federal legislation in the 1960s also significantly aided the achievement of the objectives of removing racial inequalities. Despite this, continued violence and racism prevented the goal of ending discrimination and achieving racial equality being reached.

Although this sample answer is a bit longer than may be needed in an exam, you can see how it makes a clear, reasoned judgement in its introduction, and continues to build a supporting argument with reference to historical details.

The answer follows a logical structure which further supports the presentation of a historical argument.

And that’s it!

You now know everything you need to know to ace the Change in the Modern World section of the HSC Modern History exam!

If you’re wondering about the other changes to the HSC Modern History Syllabus, check out this article on the new Core Study: Power and Authority in the Modern World!

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