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Advice for teachers -

Sample approaches to developing an assessment task

The VCE History Study Design specifies a set of assessment tasks that must be undertaken as part of the teaching and learning program. Schools have flexibility to decide which assessment task type is used for each outcome. The following information provides an overview of general considerations when developing assessment tasks and more detailed discussion of the four assessment task types for Units 3 and 4 studies.

Approaches to developing an assessment task

The VCE History Study Design ‘Characteristics of the Study’ and the areas of study, including the key knowledge and key skills listed for the outcomes, should be used for the development of a teaching program, learning activities and the development of assessment tasks. Teachers should explicitly teach the concepts and skills that characterise historical thinking. In VCE History, students will be expected to show their knowledge and understanding of key knowledge and key skills, and application of the ‘Characteristics of the study’ using a variety of School-assessed Coursework (SAC) assessment tasks as listed in the VCE History Study Design.

When developing assessment tasks, teachers should refer to the VCAA policies and school assessment procedures as specified in the VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook section: Scored assessment: School-based Assessment.

Common terms and phrases

Students should be familiar with and understand the meaning of the common terms embedded in the key skills of the study design. Terms, such as: explain, compare, analyse, evaluate and discuss; and phrases, including ‘to what extent’ and ‘construct arguments’, are integral to the study and students should understand their significance and apply them in their study of history. Each of these terms has a different cognitive requirement to the others. All the terms should, therefore, be explicitly taught and embedded in learning activities throughout the course of study. In this way, students will have the opportunity to practise and demonstrate a range of responses using the language of the study design.

Historical sources as evidence

All outcomes in the VCE History Study Design refer to the key skill of using evidence to construct arguments. Evidence can be collected from historical sources and may include information such as dates, statistics, events, people and places, as well as historical perspectives and historians’ interpretations. Depending on the assessment task, students may use direct quotes with the correct author citation, or they may paraphrase the perspective or interpretation with attribution to the author. When paraphrasing, it is still important to cite the source.

Evidence must be used correctly, be relevant and used to formulate a historical argument in response to the questions. Teachers should provide instruction on how to use evidence and quotes effectively in order to strengthen the student’s own historical arguments.

Assessing the task

The VCAA Performance descriptors can be used and adapted to the specifics of the task to assess a student’s level of performance. The assessment tools (performance descriptors, rubrics and/or marking guide) should reflect the outcome, key knowledge and key skills. The assessment task and assessment tools should be explained to students before they commence the task.

The VCAA VCE Assessment Principles underpin all VCE assessment practices.


SAC assessment tasks must be a part of the regular teaching and learning program and must not unduly add to the workload associated with that program. They must be competed mainly in class and within a limited timeframe.

Conditions and authentication

The teacher must consider the conditions in which the task is completed and the authentication strategies relevant for each assessment task. Information regarding VCAA authentication rules can be found in the VCAA VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook section: Scored assessment: School-based Assessment.

Students should be provided with clear written instructions about each assessment task. These instructions should include a cover sheet and appropriate support materials, such as templates and bibliographic examples.

A historical inquiry

What is a historical inquiry task?

A historical inquiry assessment task focuses on the process of historical investigation and requires students to use their inquiry skills to develop a historical argument. Typically, a historical inquiry task includes three components or stages:

  • Planning, including development of research question
  • Investigating
  • Writing up.

Students undertake focused independent research to develop an evidence-based response to their inquiry question. They ask and refine questions about the past; they identify, select, gather and organise historical sources; they analyse primary sources and historical interpretations to use as evidence when constructing an argument.

The inquiry process assesses historical thinking skills including:

  • ask and use historical questions
  • use sources as evidence
  • explore historical perspectives
  • use historical interpretations.

When paired with a writing activity that requires students to construct a historical argument (such as an essay, source analysis or extended responses) a historical inquiry can also assess skills such as:

  • construct a historical argument
  • analyse cause and consequence
  • identify continuity and change
  • establish historical significance.

A historical inquiry should be teacher-directed and student-led. The approach taken has implications for each phase of the project.

Designing the task

Students may develop their own inquiry questions, or a teacher may allocate an inquiry question for all students to investigate. The question should address the outcome and key knowledge.

A historical inquiry incorporates the key skills of the study design and focuses on the process of historical investigation. The following is a suggested approach:

1.   Planning

Students ask and refine questions about the past using the outcome statement and key knowledge.

Establishing a focus

Teachers may allocate to students a focus for the historical inquiry or students may select their own focus. If students determine their focus, this should be approved by the teacher.

In establishing the focus, the teacher should ensure that it:

  • aligns with the historical thinking concepts
  • is relevant to the outcome to be assessed
  • aligns with the historical thinking skills
  • incorporates relevant key knowledge, such as the events, ideas, individuals and movements
  • addresses relevant social, political and economic features and how these have influenced the historical context and development of society/regime over time.

When students are permitted to select their own focus, teachers should ensure that their questions are of similar levels of difficulty to enable reasonable comparisons between students’ work.

Developing inquiry questions

This aspect of the assessment task requires the development of questions to support the student’s historical inquiry into the historical topic.

Teachers can support students to design their own inquiry question by providing them with parameters from the study design, including the key knowledge and key skills for the outcome, as well as a variety of command terms or question stems. To assist students, teachers could provide examples of question construction or a template.

Students should be encouraged to unpack their inquiry question with focus on secondary questions to ensure it is answerable and then adjust it if required. Teachers should approve inquiry questions to ensure that they enable students to demonstrate the outcome being assessed.

Historical inquiry questions should be:

  • open-ended
  • based on historical thinking concepts, such as causes, consequences, change, continuity, perspectives, interpretations and/or significance
  • specific and reference a time frame, event or development identified in the study design.

For example:

  • What were the significant causes of the Kronstadt revolt?    
  • What were the consequences of the Kronstadt revolt?
  • What significant changes did the Kronstadt revolt bring to Russian society?
  • Explain the different perspectives of the sailors or Lenin or Trotsky. 
  • Analyse the different interpretations of the causes or consequences of the Kronstadt revolt. 
  • To what extent did the Bolsheviks achieve their promises of creating a workers’ and peasants’ government? 
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of War Communism in transforming Russian society.   
  • Richard Pipes considers the October Revolution to be nothing more than a coup d’etat. How far is this interpretation supported by the available evidence and contemporary interpretations?

2.    Investigating

The investigation phase requires that students undertake research (including the selection, analysis and interpretation of historical sources) to gather evidence of historical perspectives and interpretations. This evidence should help students answer their inquiry question and will be incorporated into their final write up.

Students analyse primary sources and historical interpretations to gather evidence to support the construction of an argument. Students should be encouraged to corroborate historical sources and evaluate their accuracy and reliability.

Instructions for research

Students require considerable scaffolding for the research component of a historical inquiry task. Instructions to students should therefore be clear and specific. At the minimum they should provide clear guidance on:

  • the number of sources of evidence that need to be selected and used
  • tools to collect and organise data for sources, such as graphic organisers
  • time/classes allowed for research
  • research outside of class time
  • authentication procedures
  • bibliography, annotations and citation requirements.

Undertaking the research and selecting

This stage requires students to select, organise and interrogate primary sources to identify historical information, perspectives and opinions that will enable them to construct an argument that responds to the inquiry question. Students should be encouraged to identify a range of historical interpretations on their selected question.

Teachers may decide to provide students with a folio of primary sources, or they may decide to allow students to undertake independent research.

If students are to undertake independent research, it is recommended that they be provided with guidance on suitable websites and collecting institutions, such as the National Library of Australia’s TROVE repository. Students could maintain a research journal as part of the research process. This journal could include websites and search terms used during their research. Such a journal might form part of the authentication process.

Source interpretation can be differentiated by providing a list of sources for students that includes entry level and extension readings. It may also be beneficial to provide students with a glossary of relevant terms that may frequently arise in their research area.

Interpreting sources

Students interrogate sources to identify evidence relevant to the topic of their historical inquiry. The historical inquiry question and the subsidiary questions are powerful interrogative tools to support the interpretation of sources and the identification of evidence. For example, if the inquiry question is ‘To what extent did Amenhotep III cause the Amarna Crisis?’ a student might ‘ask’ the source:

  • ‘What information does this source provide about Amenhotep’s role in the Amara Crisis?’
  • ‘What interpretation of the meaning of Amenhotep’s role in the Amara Crisis is presented by the author?’
  • ‘Does it concur with or differ from other interpretations that I have read?’

Thinking routines can provide useful strategies for approaching sources. Consider providing students with a bank of these tools relevant for source analysis.

Recording evidence

Students will need to decide how to organise their notes. It is recommended that suggested templates be provided and that the teacher reviews student research regularly.

History tends to be organised chronologically as this reveals the course of events, the process of cause and consequence, and patterns of continuity and change. However, a thematic organisation may be more suitable for an investigation into a social group or social, political or economic features of a society.

Students may use a research booklet, notes, graphic organisers or tables to organise their data. A table, such as a LOTUS diagram or an information grid, that includes headings horizontally (such as facts, perspectives, interpretations, evidence, my thinking) and focus questions vertically, are valuable summative tools.

At the end of each research lesson, students should submit their graphic organiser or booklet. The teacher should review their progress and adherence to the authentication guidelines for the inquiry.


Schools may require students to keep a bibliographic record of all resources accessed during the research phase. Students should create a list of references as they conduct their search. Teachers should provide students with an example of bibliographic referencing in history. It is a school based decision as to the preferred standard referencing style.

3.    Writing up

Students draw on their research to respond to the historical inquiry questions. Student are to construct an argument about the past using as evidence the primary sources and historical interpretations gathered during their research. This response is to be written and in a format determined at the school level. Possible formats include an essay, an analytic report or an extended response(s).

Instructions for writing up should specify the required format (such as essay, extended response or analytic report) and should also provide relevant guidelines, such as expected word count and any referencing requirements. The instructions should also include the assessment conditions, including time allowance and permitted resources.

Students formulate an argument responding to their inquiry question identified in the first stage of the task. This argument should demonstrate their understanding of relevant key knowledge and key skills for the outcome.

Students may use their research notes or organisers in writing up their historical argument once these notes have been authenticated by the teacher.

Teachers are reminded that assessment should not be onerous and that students should not be over-assessed. Therefore, any writing produced should be limited in scope and be able to be completed within limited time in class.


The assessment tasks must state how much class time will be allocated to each stage. Time allocation for a historical inquiry can vary according to the depth and size of the inquiry task and the amount of research time. The approach provided below describes the steps involved in a historical inquiry and could be adapted to the time available. Historical research is an iterative process and teachers may need to allow time for some students to repeat steps at some points if their initial research is insufficient to meet the outcomes. Teachers should allocate time for each stage of planning, researching and writing up.

PlanningStudents will require time for the initial design of inquiry questions and focus questions, reflection and refining. Teachers should take time to review and provide feedback on students’ questions. This will support students’ refinement of their questions. This phase can be undertaken as a combination of class time and homework, subject to authentication processes.
InvestigatingTeachers should allocate time for researching, which may require three or four lessons. Teachers may consider allowing students time outside of class time to do further research. This must be subject to establishing a suitable authentication process.
Writing upThis may be conducted under test conditions in the class. Alternatively, this stage may be conducted outside of class, in which case strict authentication practices need to be in place and communicated to students.

Evaluation of historical sources

What is a historical source evaluation?

A historical source evaluation is a task in which a student undertakes a process of source identification, attribution, contextualisation and close analysis to form inference, and corroborates these with evidence from other sources. Primary sources must be analysed and evaluated for accuracy and reliability before being used as evidence when developing a historical argument. The evaluation of historical interpretations focuses on the interpretations of what historians say are the significant causes, changes, consequences and continuities of the past. The ability to identify and analyse different interpretations is important.

An evaluation of historical sources may include a variety of short-answer questions and extended-answer questions.

What type of historical sources should I use?

When developing an assessment task involving evaluation of historical sources, students should be provided with a range of visual and written sources that require them to apply the historian’s methods of interrogating and corroborating sources; they should use these as evidence when constructing an argument. Historical sources used in assessment tasks should also expose students to multiple and, if possible, competing perspectives and interpretations. This will develop students’ critical and historical thinking so that they can challenge or corroborate sources and assess their reliability and usefulness in developing and constructing a historical argument.

Primary sources, such as diary extracts, extracts from speeches, and cartoons and artworks; or historical interpretations, such as the writings of historians, may be used as historical sources.

The length of the sources should be appropriate for the time provided to complete the assessment task.

Depending on the complexity of language in textual sources, it may be appropriate for a supporting glossary to be included with the source.

Designing the task

Selecting sources

Students need to use multiple sources when developing a historical argument as evidence for their evaluation of historical sources. To assist them with this, select three to seven historical sources that relate to the key knowledge in the study design. Ensure the selection of sources includes a combination of both primary sources (including both written and visual) and historical interpretations. The length of each source and the volume of reading needs to be considered to ensure that the task is equitable and efficient.

Each source should include complete and correct citations, translations (if required), some additional annotations to help contextualise the source, and any information that may be required to provide source clarity. Complex words and translations of words should be glossed to ensure the task is accessible to all students. Teachers are encouraged to access platforms such as the State Library of Victoria, Google Scholar, and specialist websites relevant to the historical context.

Consider the length of written sources and allow an appropriate amount of time for students to read them and complete the assessment task. Reading time may be given at the start of the task to assist students in interpreting sources before they begin responding to the questions provided.

Designing questions

When developing structured questions, ensure that they allow students to draw on a range of key knowledge and key skills. When developing questions for an evaluation of historical sources the following structure is suggested:

  • 25% of the questions should be lower order questions, such as: list, identify and/or describe
  • 50% of the questions should be mid-range questions, including; compare and/or explain
  • 25% of the questions should be higher order questions, including: analyse, evaluate and/or to what extent?

Posing a range of questions will ensure that the assessment task allows for a breadth of student achievement. Sources and questions should provide an opportunity for students to analyse, interrogate and corroborate the content of the sources, and state how that connects to the historical context, the perspectives and experiences of people living through the time, as well as differing historians’ interpretations. Students should evaluate the usefulness of sources for constructing historical arguments in response to the question asked.

When developing questions, teachers should draw on the commonly used terms and phrases of the key skills. This will assist in ensuring that the assessment task aligns with the key skills of the study.

The questions should require students to:

  • Identify the type, origin and content of sources.
  • Describe the context of the sources.
  • Explain context and purpose of the sources provided, drawing on additional and supporting historical knowledge.
  • Evaluate the reliability of the source; can it be corroborated by other sources of evidence?
  • Evaluate the usefulness of the source in understanding continuity and change or causes and/or consequences and/or significance.
  • Use the sources along with the students’ broader historical knowledge to construct a historical argument.

The following are examples of questions for evaluation of historical sources:

  • Identify two features in Source 1 that represent/depict…
  • Using Source 1, identify three changes/continuities/causes/consequences of…
  • Describe how symbols are used in Source 2 to show…
  • Identify the significant events/ideas/perspectives/experiences shown in Sources 1 and 2.
  • What does the historian in Source 2 identify as the significant causes of change/continuity?
  • Using Source 3, outline the causes of…
  • Explain the events that led to Source 3 being created.
  • Explain how Source 3 impacted upon…
  • Describe how the events/ideas/individuals/groups represented in Source 2…
  • Compare how the events are represented in Sources 3 and 5.
  • Using Sources 2 and 3, compare the different historical interpretations of the significant changes caused by…
  • Explain how these events/ideas/perspectives/experiences have changed or remained the same in Sources 3 and 6.
  • Using Sources 2 and 6 and your own knowledge, explain why…
  • Select one source and critically evaluate its usefulness/reliability in understanding the causes of… Use your own knowledge and evidence to support your explanation.
  • Using the sources and your own knowledge, evaluate the most significant change.
  • Compare the diverse perspectives in society as shown in Sources 1 and 4.
  • Analyse the significance of… Use evidence to support your response.
  • Evaluate the interpretations provided in Sources 3 and 4. Which do you find more persuasive, and why? Refer to both sources and evidence from your own knowledge to support your response.
  • Evaluate the extent to which…contributed to change. Use evidence to support your response.

Students should be prompted to incorporate evidence from the sources provided and, where appropriate, bring in their own knowledge and examples of evidence.


Teachers may allow 50–90 minutes for students to write responses to an evaluation of historical sources. Reading time at the start of the task may be given for source analysis.

Extended responses

What is an extended response?

An extended response is a short piece of structured writing with a succinct argument and supporting evidence, which is focused and limited to one or two key knowledge points. Typically, students address two or three key discussion points that are supported with a range of evidence drawn from historical sources. An extended response may also include a short one- or two-sentence conclusion.

Extended response assessment tasks provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of specific key knowledge and/or key skills from the study design. An extended response assessment task may include multiple questions, usually a combination of explanatory, analytical and evaluative questions. The questions developed for extended response tasks should make use of the common terms (such as explain, compare, analyse, evaluate, discuss) and phrases (including ‘to what extent’) of the key skills. Extended response question design should focus on a historical concept (such as a change, cause, significance, continuity or consequence), and specific key knowledge and/or key skills from the study design. Such questions require comprehension and synthesis of detailed and accurate historical knowledge and judicial selection of relevant evidence to support a historical argument.

An extended response is a flexible task. It may be set as a stand-alone assessment instrument. Alternatively, it can be used in conjunction with other tasks, such as a historical inquiry or evaluation of historical sources, as a means for students to communicate their findings.

Designing the task

Developing questions

Teachers must design extended responses that will enable students to demonstrate achievement of the outcomes. When designing questions, teachers should pay attention to the language used in the study design, particularly with regard to the historical concepts. The construction of each extended response needs to be carefully considered to ensure it addresses the outcome and incorporates the key knowledge and key skills.

Formulate a question using the following three steps:

  1. Select the most appropriate terms from the key skills, such as: explain, compare, analyse, evaluate, discuss, to what extent. These terms elicit different types of thinking and have different cognitive demands.

  2. Select the most appropriate historical thinking concept for the area of study, such as: cause, consequence, continuity, change, significance, perspectives and/or interpretations.
  3. Select the key knowledge that is the focus of the question. Teachers may choose to link more than one aspect of the key knowledge to more effectively assess the scope of the area of study. For example, a question might require discussion of both an event and an individual.

If students are required to use evidence in their response, the addition of the line ‘use knowledge to support your response’ and/or ‘use evidence to support your response’ can be a helpful prompt.

For example:

  • Explain the course of the Ionian revolt. Use evidence to support your response.
  • Analyse the causes of Ionian revolt. Use evidence to support your response.
  • Evaluate the most significant consequence of the Ionian revolt. Use evidence to support your response.

A student’s response to the question requires the articulation of a contention and a series of key points that use historical knowledge and evidence, including historical perspectives and historical interpretations. An extended response question will provide the student with the opportunity to provide interpretations, as well as challenge and provide judgements about topics.

Student planning – What is the question asking?

Students should be encouraged to identify and interrogate the key terms, knowledge and concepts in the question in order to determine exactly what is being asked.

Students should be encouraged to develop a short dot-point plan that contains relevant discussion points, supports the contention, and includes evidence to support and strengthen the historical arguments presented.

Student responses

It is recommended that students organise their response in a logical sequence of short points to substantiate their contention.

IntroductionStudents should be instructed to provide a direct answer to the question. An introduction must contain a clear contention/historical argument. It may also include a short framework which states points for discussion. Typically, the introduction to an extended response is of one or two sentences.

The body of the extended response is less formally structured than an essay. The body includes:

  • the identification of key points and relevant supporting evidence
  • a logical and focused organisation of points, which may be expressed as dot points
  • use of signpost words and phrases that announce steps in the student’s argument
  • use of historical evidence to support their argument.
Conclusion A summary of key ideas, as well as a reiteration of the contention/historical argument. This typically consists of one or two sentences.

Using sources as evidence

Students will be expected to demonstrate their knowledge, as well as use a range of evidence to support their historical argument.


The time allocation for the extended response assessment task may vary. The preparation and research phase may take place over several classes. However, the execution of the actual extended response should typically take between 50 and 90 minutes.


What is an essay?

The essay is a structured piece of writing in which students present a historical argument in response to a question or a prompt. The essay requires an explicit response to the question or prompt. This response functions as the student’s argument, which is supported by evidence drawn from historical sources. An essay structure typically consists of an introduction, a logically structured body of multiple paragraphs that support and substantiate the student’s response, and a conclusion. In addressing the question, students will have the opportunity to engage with the historical thinking concepts, such as establishing connections between cause and effect, making judgments about historical significance, and evaluating the extent to which change and/or continuity occurred.

An essay should require students to:

  • Develop and sustain a historical argument that addresses the outcome
  • Start with an introduction, continue with body paragraphs and finish with a conclusion
  • Select and deploy historical sources as evidence to establish and support key arguments
  • Use historical thinking skills to explain, analyse or evaluate the ideas and discussion points.

Designing the task

When designing an essay question, teachers should ensure that it allows students to demonstrate satisfactory achievement of the outcome and draw on the scope of the key knowledge and key skills in the study design. Questions should be sufficiently open-ended to allow students access to the task from a range of ability levels, while allowing ample scope for analysis and/or evaluation of the question.

Key elements in designing an essay question include:

  • Identifying the key concepts of the outcome that can frame the essay question and/or prompt
  • Drawing on the key knowledge to provide a structure and focus for the essay and/or prompt
  • Identifying suitable quotations from historical sources for use as an essay prompt
  • Using common terms and phrases drawn from the key skills of the study.

Teachers will decide if it is appropriate to give students a choice of two or three prompts in order to allow for a choice.

Common question stems include:

  • Evaluate the extent to which…contributed to change…
  • Analyse the significance of…
  • Assess the extent of changes…
  • To what extent did…contribute to…
  • Evaluate the impacts of…
  • Discuss…

Teachers may use quotes, interpretations and/or historical sources as question prompts.

Preparing students for an essay task might include:

  • Practising how to unpack, plan and respond to similarly worded questions in class
  • Explaining and modelling the common terms prior to the essay task. Examples of questions from past examinations can be used as exemplars to be broken down by the teacher with the class. It is imperative that all students understand that they may encounter a variety of common terms in the prompt.

Structuring of the essay

It is recommended that students create a brief, dot-point plan before beginning to write their essay. In the plan students should set out their contention and identify discussion points and evidence for each body paragraph.

Introduction The introduction should be brief, establish the historical context and topic of the essay, use the language of the prompt to state a contention that directly answers the question, and outline the main points for discussion in the body of their essay.
Body Paragraphs Students should aim to address a specific argument or idea in each paragraph. The number of paragraphs will vary depending on the essay question, time provided, and the nature of the student’s response. Each paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence that outlines what will be discussed in that paragraph and why. Students should aim to include two to three clear examples, supported by evidence, including historical knowledge (dates, events, key people and ideas) and the use of primary sources and historians’ interpretations. Sources used should be contextualised, accurate and used in a balanced manner. Students should analyse what their evidence reveals, suggests or implies, and state how it helps them answer the broader essay question. A link back to the contention is made at the end of each body paragraph.
ConclusionThe conclusion should be brief, summarise the key points made in the essay and reiterate the contention.


The duration of the essay assessment task is determined by the teacher but should not exceed 90 minutes.