• James

3 Secrets to Distinction in Social Studies

In all my years as a social studies teacher, the following questions has been asked most frequently, “How can I do well in social studies?” or “What is secret to getting an A in social studies?”

I have always answered that question by offering 3 secrets to getting a distinction in social studies. They are:

1. Become a Source-Based Champion in Social Studies

Whether you like it or not, Source-Based Questions carries 35 out of 50 marks in the whole paper. If you flunk this portion, your social studies grade is unlikely to be great. There goes your distinction in your Combined Humanities too. Thus, it is worth the effort to spend some effort to become a Source-Based Champion.

I define a Source-Based Champion in social studies as someone with the following set of skills:

  • Knowing the type of questions that are asked, i.e. is it an inference, comparison or reliability question?

  • Knowing the answer format to each type of question and how to answer them.

  • Using the key words of the questions to answer the question.

  • Knowing how to explain your evidence in your source to support your conclusion or observation.

  • Drawing appropriate and accurate conclusions from the sources.

  • Knowing how to scrutinize biasedness in the providence of the source. From here, you can conclude whether the source is useful, reliable or vice versa.

  • Knowing how to write a good and accurate answer for a consolidation question, i.e. the 10 marks question.

How good are you at the above skills? If you have some issues, or have no clue what I am saying, watch out for a series of short video lessons I will be doing to help you in these areas. Once you master, these skills, which is reachable for any student, you are on your way to becoming a Source-Based Champion for your social studies.

2. Learn The Art of Brain Storming for Your Social Studies

Not many students know this, but Part (a) of your Source Reference Question (SRQ) is actually a brainstorming question. In other words, you cannot find any content answer from your social studies text book or content. This part requires you to brainstorm and think of ideas for the answers. There are no right or wrong answers. As long as you can coherently explain and argue the point to answer the questions with suitable examples, you will be given credit for it.

Take the following social studies SRQ question for instance,

“In what ways have the smart phones improved people’s lives in Singapore? Explain your answer using two examples. (7m)”

Is there a page in your social studies text book that deals with the benefits of the smart phone? No. This question is a globalization question and is very focus on a particular gadget associated with globalization.

The trick in social studies to answer this type of question is to draw from your own personal experiences to answer such questions. For example, I bet every O-Level student today owns a smart phone in Singapore. So, to answer that question, all you need to do is ask yourself how you have benefitted from the use of the smart phone in day to day activities and events. Once you are able to think of some points, the trick, next is to categorize them into groups and think of a bigger word to write in your answer.

For instance, rather than write, “The smart phones have allowed Singaporeans to text and talk more with each other.”, you should write, “The smart phones have enabled Singaporeans to communicate better.” You can than go on and explain the point fully in your social studies question.

The next time, you encounter your social studies SRQ Part (a), do not worry so much. Think of your own experience, and think of a few ideas. Using those ideas, frame your answers in bigger category words.

3. Use Social Studies Codes

In social studies, the most difficult portion of the paper is the SRQ Part (b). This 8 marks question requires intense amount of study and memorization for actually a very small proportion of marks. You have to know all eleven chapters of your social studies syllabus well and only one of those chapters will be tested. But if you do badly here, your social studies distinction will fly away.

There is an effective way to overcome this social studies memorization challenge. At Gummy Humanities, we teach our students to use Humanities and Social Studies codes. A code is basically an acronym to remember the key points of the chapter well. These codes can also be an easy phrase or saying.

Let’s say, the social studies SRQ question asked you how developments in transportation and MNCs have led to globalization? For the developments of transportation, we teach our students to remember Air, Sea and Land. For Air, we get our students to remember a version of the Olympic Motto – Cheaper, Faster, Bigger. When describing Air Transport Development, you simply have to explain how air travel have gotten cheaper due to greater competition? How aircrafts are bigger and faster today when compared to the olden days?

The use of these types of social studies and humanities codes reduce the memorization load for students tremendously, and also helps them to remember more chapters better for their social studies examination.


Humanities subjects like social studies, history and geography can be perceived as heavy content subjects that require difficult writing and analytical skills to do well. That is true. But at Gummy Humanities, the secrets to the success of our students is rooted in helping them write better by becoming a Source-Based Champion, training them to brainstorm better, and getting them to memorize better with the use of Humanities and Social Studies Codes.

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