This type of question can come up in both GCSE and A-Level History papers. Firstly, it is important to show both sides of the argument- you must outline points which both support and those which challenge the statement you’ve been given. The arguments you make must be supported with in-depth, developed historical knowledge and when appropriate, other people’s interpretations of history. You must consistently analyse both your own knowledge and any other interpretations you include. You should have a sustained argument throughout, which you should first outline in your introduction. To ensure you give both sides of the debate but keep your own argument sustained, you should outline the weaknesses of the opposing arguments, showing how your argument in ultimately stronger than the others. Your conclusion should not be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer but, as the question suggests, should focus on ‘how far’- consider using expressions such as ‘to some extent’ to show the examiner that you understand what the question is asking you. You could also consider breaking up the question: the example below is asking you to cover the years 1958 to 1969, but by breaking up this time period as has been done in the example below, you can demonstrate to the examiner a certain depth of knowledge and understanding of your period.
An example of an introduction to a ‘how far’ question to do with the Cold War is shown below to illustrate these points:
‘Sino-Soviet relations, in the years 1958-69, were undermined primarily by conflicting national interests’. How far do you agree with this view?
It seems likely that between 1958 and 1964 (breaking up the time period), Sino-Soviet relations were undermined by the personal rivalry which existed between Mao and Khrushchev rather than national interests. These personal rivalries made meetings unproductive and led Mao to act in a way that the USSR could have perceived as overconfident, raising tensions. However, from 1964, when Khrushchev was disposed of, Sino-Soviet relations appear to have been undermined by problems arising from conflicting national interests. For example, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which arguably stemmed from national interests, may have been interpreted by China as a clear message that the Communist world had to adhere to Soviet ideas, which they could have found quite threatening, undermining their relationship (historical knowledge followed by analysis). Nevertheless, it is also possible that Sino-Soviet relations were undermined in some minor ways by ideological differences in these years as they could have confirmed to the USSR that China was no longer under their influence. Nevertheless, a closer examination reveals that ideological problems were underpinned by personal rivalries (points to other arguments but shows why their own is ultimately stronger, ensuring their argument is sustained). Therefore, overall, it seems most probable that Sino-Soviet relations were, to a great degree, undermined by personal rivalries between 1958 and 1964. However, from 1964, the view that Sino-Soviet relations were undermined by conflicting national interests seems to have been accurate to a significant extent (answers ‘how far’).