BlogModern HistoryHow To Quickly and Flawlessly Analyse Modern History Sources

How To Quickly and Flawlessly Analyse Modern History Sources

The HSC Modern History source question is the section where you can pick up some easy marks.

However, to get the best mark possible, it’s important to analyse your HSC Modern History sources quickly and flawlessly during the exam.

We’ll take you through 8 steps of analysing your source to write the perfect Band 6 response!

We’ll be using the following question to help us write our example responses to each step:


Step 1: Understand what the question is asking

The first step to writing your source response is understanding the question!

Ask yourself what are the most important aspects of the question and highlight the key words.

Then annotate the source by underlining the important sections you know you will include in your response.

Here’s an example of what this might look like:


Step 2: Analyse the originality of the source

Every students studying HSC Modern History sources will instinctively ask themselves if the source is primary or secondary.

This is important, but it would be even better if you consider the following questions:

  • Who made the source? What is their occupation? (e.g soldier, government etc)
  • When was the source created? (Was it after the event or during the event?)

Example answer:

This source is an extract from the report of Max Osborn, who appears to be a German Journalist that ‘observed’ the Battle Of Passchendaele. The source was created shortly after the event (1917). As a result, these two features make the source a primary source.

Step 3: Identify the nationality of the composer

Understanding the background of the composer of the source could give important information on the possibility of bias as well as the purpose of the source.

Consider the following questions:

  • What was composer’s ethnic background?
  • What role did their country play during the event represented by the source?

Example answer: 

The nationality of the composer of the source is German. As a result, there is a high possibility that he would be particularly biased towards Germany. From this aspect, we cannot entirely rely on this source to provide the exact detail of the Battle Of Passchendaele. Additionally, this source provides no information on the condition of soldiers from other countries involved during the warfare.

Step 4: Identify the motive behind the source

In order to identify the motive behind the source, is it best to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you learn from the source?
  • Why do you think the source was created?
  • Does the source simply give a recount of the event, or is it trying to manipulate our perception through the art of persuasion?
  • What tone/language is the composer using?
  • Is the source personal or general? (trying to express personal feelings or attempting to inform/persuade the public audience)

Example answer:

Considering that the source originates from a journalist, this source would probably have been exposed to the general public. Furthermore, the usage of excessive high modality and positive language indicates that this source might have been used for propaganda purposes to raise optimism of the home front.

Step 5: Identify the audience

Identifying the audience is a matter of placing yourself in another person’s shoes at the time.

It is always useful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who do you think the audience/s of this source are?
  • What would they do with such information?
  • Where would the audience have most likely seen this source? (general public/academic circle)


As illustrated above, the audience for this source was most likely to have been the German public.

Step 6: Analyse the perspective presented

This is a very important aspect to consider.

Firstly, you are always required to provide a reasonable judgement regarding how the composer’s perspective may impact on the reliability of the source.

Your analysis on perspective also helps to establish your two most important arguments of the paragraph —reliability and perspective in the 10 mark extended response.

For a thorough analysis, consider the following questions:

  • What opinions or belief statements are evident in the source?
  • What tone does the composer use? (Does he speak in a very passionate or neutral way?)
  • What is the source or the composer’s context?
  • What role does the composer play in the event?
  • What opinion does the source/composer paint for a reader?
  • What facts were missing?
  • What words and phrases did the source/author use to present the information?
  • Why is the source presented in such a way, or why does the author present it in such a way?

Example answer:

The perspective from this source is drawn from a German journalist. This will pose many limitations regarding the reliability of this source:

  • Since he is a journalist, he does not have the actual experience of the warfare.
  • He is only an ‘observer’ and thus did not partake in the actual event.
  • He is German, the way he constructed the source could indicate that the journal/article he wrote was censored by the government in order to hide the actual facts from German residents.
  • He only focused on the situation of Germany, not other countries in his description.

As a result, his conclusion of a “happy achievement” is not accurate/ reliable.

Step 7: Analyse the reliability of the source

For a source to be considered reliable it must contain accurate historical information.

This means that a source can be written in a completely subjective manner and still be considered reliable, as all facts are accurate.

The reliability of a source can be identified through considering the following questions:

  • Is the source consistent with data/information you know about the topic?
  • Are there other sources which could validate the information given from this source? (you could refer to other sources given to you during the exam)
  • Does it have scholarly credibility? Where was it published? How was it published? What’s the background of the composer?
  • Does the source fulfil an agenda? (i.e. was the source produced for an opinion/stance, or was the stance a product from the source?)

Example answer:

Due to the possibility of bias and a narrowed perspective, this source should not be reliable to a significant extent.

Step 8: Evaluate the usefulness of the source

The reliability of a source does not always affect the usefulness of a source. 

Although the source can be unreliable, it may be still useful in showing how propaganda and publication were made at the time.

In order to evaluate the usefulness of a source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the source relevant to what is being asked?
  • Does the source provide any information about the context/background of the source?
  • Has the source revealed an insight into the question?
  • If you are a historian studying WWI, would you consider this source to be useful?

Example answer:

Despite the potential bias and narrowed perspective, this source should still be useful for historians. Its nature as a primary source gives useful suggestions to historians on how German people portrayed warfare to the public. It is also a perfect example of propaganda at the time. These details correspond to the fact that Germany at the time of warfare was indeed creating propaganda in order to raise the hopes of German residents.

For some help writing a Band 6-worthy argument for your HSC Modern History essay, make sure you check out this article!

And that wraps up our guide to effectively analysing HSC Modern History sources! Good luck!

We’ve compiled a list of practice questions to help you ace HSC Modern History: Power and Authority in the Modern World

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Yifan Shen completed his HSC in 2014 and is currently studying the Bachelor Of Economics/Advanced Mathematics at UNSW. Apart from nutting out equations and helping out students with their academic pursuit, you will find him either reading thriller novels or introducing a range of new people to the intricate and mysterious world of mathematics as the marketing representative of UNSW MathSoc. When he is drained from all of these work, you will also see him hiking, planking and water bending in his recovery mode.

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