Ace Social Studies SBQs

Ace Social Studies SBQs

This is a follow up to my blog post introducing Social Studies Questions (SBQ). In this blog post, I am going to elaborate on my 5 Step Method to Ace Social Studies SBQs.

While I cannot guarantee full marks using this method, my students have consistently scored between B3s to A1s. Thus, I am confident that my 5 Step Method to Ace Social Studies SBQs works to help students like you.

My method is based on asking specific questions while following a step-by-step process of going through the SBQ section. These questions are phrased to help you analyse the sources and answer the questions.

The questions I ask are not only beneficial during the examination, they carry over to real life situations. They teach students think critically, assess information and make reasoned judgements.

5 Step Method to Ace Social Studies SBQs

Ace Social Studies SBQs

The Five Step Method to Ace Social Studies SBQs is as follows:

1. Analyse the big picture

To first understand the sources and the case study presented, you must first understand the big ideas behind them.

Locate the issue. The issue is phrased like a “Yes or No” question. An example is, “Should governments be responsible for ensuring people eat healthily?”

Recall what you know about it. Think about whether you agree or disagree with the question. This should take at most, half a minute. Skip this step if you absolutely know nothing about the issue.

Next, read the Background Information. This will help you further understand the issue together with what you have recalled.

The second thing to do is to read through the questions. Of special importance is the last question as you will need to address this question as you analyse the sources. This should give you more information on the focus of the case study.

It is important to understand the big picture before you rush in to analyse the sources or answer the questions. This may take some extra time, but it is worth it as you will find that it helps you to understand the sources. Complete this first and you will be on your way to ace Social Studies SBQs.

2. Analyse the sources

After you have understood the big picture, it is time to move on to the sources. Let us go through the analysis template.

First, you need to understand the Origins, Context and Agenda of the source. Much of this information can be found in the Provenance. You also need to complement this information with the Content of the Source.

To understand the Origins of the source, you should look at the Provenance and ask yourself the following questions: Who is the author? How does his or her background affect what he or she is trying to express? What kind of source is this? Is it a poster or an article? Also, is the source a primary or secondary source? All these will influence our understanding.

Another thing we need to understand is the Context. What is the date the source was created? Does the date have any consequence? What is the background of the source? Where was it published? Is the source centred around an important event?

You also need to understand the Agenda of the source. You might need to look at the Content at this point. Ask yourself, who is the target audience of the source? What is the purpose of the source? What is the point of view of the source? Is the source biased or objective?

To understand the content of the source, we need to understand the text and the visuals of the source. First, understand the explicit meanings: what is the source directly telling me. Second, analyse the implicit meanings: what is the source implying about the issue?

After you have figured out the explicit and implicit meanings, think about whether the source agrees and/or disagrees with the issue. Write “Y”, “N” or “Y/N” at the side of the source.

Please start looking at the questions ONLY after you have analysed ALL the sources. You may find pertinent information about earlier sources in later ones, or you may find it easier to do cross-referencing. Ensure you complete this second step to ace your Social Studies SBQs. To find out more, click here.  

3. Analyse the Questions

Now that you have understood the big picture and the sources, we can start analysing the SBQs. They can be divided into a few different types.

To give clear instructions on how to analyse the questions would make this blog post too unwieldy. A short summary of the types of questions was already provided in the introduction of SBQs.

I will address each question type in a separate blog post:

  1. Message Question
  2. Purpose Question
  3. Comparison Question

4. Answer the Questions

After you have understood what type of SBQ and recall the answering template, you should answer the question.

Take note of your timing when you answer. You might choose to skip the highest level of this question to answer other questions to secure as many marks as possible.

The only way to understand how to manage your time is to practise many papers and time how long you take to answer the questions.

5. Check Your Answer

Finally, your last step is to check your answers. Read through your answer for each question to ensure you have answered the question and not missed out any steps to ensure you get the highest level.

Other common mistakes I have noticed include writing the wrong source letter (Source B instead of Source C). Another common mistake is not answering the question explicitly after completing the necessary steps.

While markers should not penalise grammar and spelling errors, do correct them if you see them. Good English will help markers understand and give you marks.

After you complete your 5 Steps, you should be able to ace Social Studies SBQs.


I encourage you to try out the Five Step Method to Ace Social Studies SBQs.

After teaching students from many different schools, I have realised that many schools teach answering techniques. However, not many schools explicitly teach students the entire process of answering SBQs.

I hope this method helps you to Ace Social Studies SBQs.

Critical Thought

Critical Thought English & Humanities is your best resource for English, English Literature, Social Studies, Geography and History.

My experience, proven methodology and unique blend of technology will help your child ace their exams.

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