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CIE O Level History (2158) Syllabus 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
CIE O Level History (2158) Past Papers 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
CIE O Level History (2158)
Edexcel GCE Ordinary level History A (7262)
Edexcel GCE Ordinary level History A (7263)
Advanced Extension Award (AEA)
Edexcel AEA History (9846)
Past papers: past papers for all levels of the IB can only be bought from the IB store.
The SQA history page. Last years past papers are freely available from the SQA website:
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Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018
As a recent Guardian editorial observed, the new exam for 16-year-olds will not be very much like the old O-levels – "its only similarity with the O-level will be rigour as Mr Gove understands it".
But what is this "rigour" that Gove and other ministers talk about? What does it mean? Tough, thorough, stern, severe, demanding? In an academic or scientific sense, we understand that an essay or experiment can be shown to conform to the stringent tests of accuracy. So, did the old O-levels fit in to this cluster of meanings? I sat them in 1962: English language, English literature, maths, biology, geography, German, latin and French. It's my contention that in three key areas, they were decidedly unrigorous:
1. The knowledge-base that the exams were testing was polluted.
a) The ease with which good scores could be achieved in the exam through learning definitions, details, whole paragraphs and chunks of literature without understanding what you were learning was obvious. A simple example of this were the science definitions (eg "What is osmosis?") and accounts on geography and science papers (eg "give an account of the route taken by red corpuscle as it passes round the circulatory system").
b) The ease with which processes could be reduced to mindless routines was on display as well. An example of this would be the system of grammatical analysis very much in vogue at the time – "clause analysis". In those days, each clause was labelled as, for example, "an adverbial clause of time" or some such, and the means by which it was identified (they said) was by its "header word". A clause beginning with "when", say, was an adverbial clause of time. So teachers fitted us up with charts of header words and names of types of clauses. We were told to learn the chart in order to get the right answer. This wasn't "analysis", it was a routine based on surface features – until it went wrong – see below.
2. Many of us passed or did well at the O-level because our teachers had learned and taught us exam techniques. These consisted of:
a) Learning the language of the rubric and the questions themselves. This was frequently difficult and confusing, so a good deal of time was spent teaching us how to translate a complicated set of instructions, for example: "either two from section A or one from section B, in which case one from section C".
b) Second-guessing what would be examined. A good deal of time was spent by teachers looking at recent papers, encouraging us to do the same, in order to eliminate certain areas of study, "for this year's paper".
c) Learning how to structure answers and fill them with the "stuff the examiner is looking for". Each subject had its own hidden set of additives that exam candidates should attempt to insert into exam questions, eg "quotes", for English literature answers.
3. The exams themselves were often full of tricks that examiners slotted in order to outwit the teachers who, they knew, taught technique.
In 1962, the English language examiners knew full well that our teachers substituted charts for real understanding of sentence structure and function. They knew we learned the clauses by rote learning the header words. In the exam, they asked us to identify a clause that began with a phrase which didn't appear on any chart, for example, "No matter what ... ". Some years, they deliberately repeated a question from the previous year in order to outwit the teachers who had tipped us off to concentrate on different questions.
None of this was about trying to up the quality of our understanding of anything; the methodology involved here is faulty and pointless. The exams were much better at finding out what we didn't know than what we did know. And what we did know was largely a matter of "mugging up" – learning it off by heart. For Gove to tour the radio and TV studios extolling the virtue of these exams can only be because he is either unaware of what the exams were like, or because he's hoping that we don't question him too closely on just how "rigorous" those exams were.