How do I approach the source-based essay?

The Oxford University HAT test can seem daunting, and indeed it is not like any exam you will have taken before. However it is important to identify ways in which you can approach the source. Firstly remember that you will almost definitely not know the historical context of the source, and at first reading you may seem confused as they are very obscure. Don't worry! Everyone will be in the same position and the examiners expect no wider knowledge of the subject. Read the source and the question at least four times, and within the essay identify the key words such as 'relationship', 'understanding' or 'acquire'. From this you'll be able to consider how the source shows a relationship, for example. From this you can also ask yourself wider questions about the source, where does it come from? who wrote it? what is the main function or aim? what are the prominent themes? what value does the source have for historians today? If you cannot derive all the answers to these question from the source, speculate where possible.
From these questions you can form the basis for your essay. Don't worry too much about your prose, you don't have to use especially fancy language just because it's Oxford - write at your standard level. Examiners mark what is included and don't focus on what is omitted, therefore it is worth writing all the interpretations you want as you may not know what gains you the marks. This is not an argumentative essay, it is a consideration of the source. However you can still use some of the methods used with your school essays. All your evidence will be from the source, quote directly from it where possible, and all your interpretations should be able to backed up from the source. Your point will be an interpretation, you evidence will be from the source, you can analysis how the source backs up your point and throughout you can link it to the question.

Answered by Eliza H. HAT tutor


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