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If you’re either in the process of making your choices for 6th form, or currently powering through the course - these are the things I wish I’d known about doing Classical Civilization to AS/A Level.
First thing's first - there is a strange myth that Class Civ. is a ‘poor’ or ‘soft’ choice of A/AS Level. If you’ve ever worried about this, you shouldn’t as it could not be further from the truth.
Classical Civilization is a highly respected course amongst employers and universities are alike. People may assume that Class Civ. is all about looking at some nude statues and playing loads of Rome Total War, but actually the critical and evaluative skills you will develop over the course are precisely the skills many employers are looking for. Whilst not one of the Russell Group’s ‘facilitating subjects’ (see link below) if you are seriously considering applying for a top university, then Classical Civilization can be a huge bonus in your application.
When you study Class Civ. you are essentially studying loads of subjects in one. Very few other subjects require students to understand a topic in such breadth and still be specific at the same. Class Civ. is in many ways a lens via which you can study lots of different subjects including art, architecture, drama and theatre, literature, government and politics, history, geography, philosophy – and more importantly learn about their origins. It is therefore a facilitating subject in that the knowledge and skills learnt in Class Civ. can be used to improve your understanding of pretty much any other A Level.
One of the challenges you will face studying Class Civ. is that you will have to memorize very specific facts and information, whilst understanding the bigger picture within which those subjects fit. Whether you are doing a module on Athenian Vase painting, Mycenaean Civilization or Alexander the Great, realizing that all of these topics link together is a key step to understanding and doing well in Class Civ.
A key tip for revision therefore is to try and create timelines of key historical events for each subject. Even if you’re doing a question on Greek Tragedy, having an understanding of the key political events of 5th Century Greece is essential to get a top mark. Likewise, if your question is on Roman Architecture, having knowledge of the social and political motives for building projects in the specific period is likely to make your answer stand out from the crowd.
Across both of the main exam boards (OCR and AQA) for Classical Civilization there are essentially 3 key areas of assessment the examiners are looking at to award marks. The three skills examiners are looking for are:
The ability to apply relevant facts
The ability to analyze and evaluate sources
The ability to plan and structure an argument
When it comes to learning across the year and revising there are therefore 3 quite clear steps that need to be taken:
The first surrounds memorizing content. A large part of success in Class Civ. is simply down to the amount of information you can memorize in each of your topics. That may sound depressing, especially if you’re someone who worries about remembering information, but it shouldn’t be. When you revise try to learn why certain facts are important rather than learn lots of small facts in isolation: for example, it is easy to forget that Hector dies in book 22 of the Iliad, until you realize why the timing of his death in book 22 is so significant in the wider context of the 24 books.
The second surrounds practice source questions. One of the key skills you need to develop is the ability to analyze source material: this will usually be in the form of an extract, passage or image. The best way to revise is to practice using past papers or extracts provided by teachers. Most source questions, especially the initial 5 mark questions, have specific set answers that the examiners are looking for. When you do practice questions always make sure the mark scheme is close at hand.
The third and final skill surrounds practice essay planning. Particularly for A Level Class Civ. students, the exams will test your essay writing skill and ability to construct a coherent argument. The key word in the mark scheme and examiners report is ‘synoptic’ – essentially meaning the ability to draw together content knowledge and critical writing skills to construct effective arguments. The way to revise for this topic is to ensure you have done enough practice essays and gone through them with your teachers. Whilst the longer essays do give you more freedom than other subjects to create your arguments, and impart your opinion, under exam pressure this can provide more problems than answers for some students!
If you can practice these three skills in your revision, you should never have to worry about what a Classical Civ. exam might throw at you!
Whilst studying for most subjects can quite easily descend into trawling through text books and writing revision notes, no subject offers as many different ways to revise as Class Civ. Whether it be watching Troy or 300, trying to reconstruct the forum in Rome as an art project or watching a production of a Greek tragedy – all of these are valuable for your class and exam discussions in Class Civ. One of the best ways to revise is simply to book in a trip to a museum or art gallery and just walk around.
A small tip here: the little bios written next to objects in museums and galleries are very similar in style to the source questions you need to answer in exams. If you looking for source material to practice on, or extra facts to impress the examiner with in a synoptic essay, a museum can be an invaluable resource for your revision.
To wrap up, as someone who went on to study Ancient History at University the secret to doing well in Class Civ. is to enjoy the topic. The reason I enjoyed it so much is no other subject gives you such license to explore, discuss and write about things you are interested in. It always continues to amaze me how discussions about the ancient world can be entirely relevant and informative about the present world. Whether it be discussions around politics, understand global issues around migration and conflict or even just understanding why humans are the way they are – there is nothing more informative than our ancient past and origins.