social studies comparison

Social Studies Comparison Format

After the Inference and the Purpose Formats, the next important Social Studies skill to master is the Social Studies Comparison Format. This skill is important as it forms the basis of another important skill – cross-referencing.

But let’s take a step back first and consider how to answer a Social Studies Comparison question. A Comparison question requires a student to master the Inference and Purpose skills. If you are unsure, please go back to my previous posts.

To score well, you need to infer the similarities and differences between two sources. You also need to infer the difference or similarity between their purpose or tone.

How to Identify a Social Studies Comparison Format

A Social Studies Comparison question can be identified by the keywords such as similarities and differences. The examiner may also ask if the sources agree or support each other.

Some examples of questions include “How different are these two sources?” and “How far would the author of Source B agree with the cartoonist in Source C?”.

Social Studies Comparison Format

The typical format for this question type is below:

Para One: Similarity in content + Support + Explain

Para Two: Difference in difference + Support + Explain

Para Three: Similarity or Difference in Tone / Purpose

You must use your Inference skill to tease out the similarities and differences in content. Likewise, you need to use your Purpose skill to figure out the similarity or difference in Purpose.

Example of the Social Studies Comparison Format

Source A

Comment by a Singaporean student studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) about Singapore’s identity.

Our national identity is our unique ability to mix languages in speech. It is common to hear Singaporeans say: ‘I’m hungry, I want to makan now,’ (makan is Malay for ‘eat’). Our counterparts around the world speak in their own pure languages; few of them speak in these language-dialect mixes. This distinguishes us. This is perhaps a result of our bilingual education system and dialect-speaking forefathers.

Source B

An opinion by a student about the national identity in Singapore, published in the local Business Times.

Racial differences quickly disappear when I eat with my friends at the food court, navigating tables reserved with tissue paper, complaining about the crazy weather and chit-chatting about Bollywood movies while queuing to buy bubble tea. Being Singaporean has exposed us to each other’s cultures, and has enabled us to link heritage to culture, and culture to identity. We have even gone as far as creating our own language, one that baffles anyone who isn’t Singaporean.


How far will Source A agree with Source B? Explain your answer.


Both sources will agree with each other as they both see that there is a common bond that holds Singaporeans together, which is, in this case, our unique language patterns. (Similarity) Source A states, “Our national identity is our unique ability to mix languages in speech.” (Support) Similarly, Source B says, “We have even gone as far as creating our own language…” (Support] Thus, both sources feel that Singaporeans can identify with each other because we speak our own unique language. (Explain)

However, both sources disagree on how we came to create this unique language. Source A believes that this language came about because we learned it, while Source B thinks our language came about because of our cultural inter-mixing. (Difference) Source A believes that “this is perhaps a result of our bilingual education system and dialect-speaking forefathers”. (Support) Thus, we created it because we learned so many different languages and dialects. (Explain) On the other hand, Source B states, “Being Singaporean has exposed us to each other’s cultures… We have even gone as far as creating our own language.” (Support) Thus, it is because we are exposed to many cultures. (Explain)

Both sources have similar purposes as both agree about the common bond that holds the Singaporeans together. Sources A and B both want to convince (Action) Singaporeans (Audience) to be proud of their national identity and continue to strengthen it. (Outcome) Hence, Source A will agree with Source B to a large extent.

How is the Social Studies Comparison Format Marked?

A typical LORMS is below:

L1          Similarity OR Difference in Provenance                               1m

L2          Similarity OR Difference in Content                                      2-3m

L3          Similarity AND Difference in Content                                   4-5m

L4          L2 + Similarity OR Difference in Purpose OR Tone             6-7m

What are some tips for the Social Studies Purpose question?

There are quite a few things you need to take note of, which I will explain in detail below.

Firstly, ensure that you have a valid basis for comparison. The comparison must be of the same criterion. For example, an invalid comparison would be to argue that apples are red and oranges are round. You are comparing colour versus shape. Instead, you should argue that apples are red and oranges are orange. This is a valid comparison as you are comparing in terms of colour.

Secondly, ensure your similarities and differences are inferences and not just superficial matching of content. In the above two sources, if you simply answer that both Sources are about Singaporean national identity, then this is a superficial understanding. The comparisons should be based on inferences, as much as possible.

Thirdly, you need to understand how to seek out differences. There are two kinds: opposite spectrum and different factors.

The first type of difference is when both sources totally disagree. For example, Source A states that some policy is positive while Source B claims that it is negative.

The second type of difference is based on reasons, consequences, solutions, problems and so on. For example, Source A says that Reason A is the cause while Source B says that Reason B is the cause. Thus, both sources disagree on what caused the event to happen.

Fourthly, these are some ways to ensure you score the highest level. The safest way is to write one similarity in content, one difference in content and then the similarity or difference in purpose/tone. This will enable you to reach L4. However, this takes up the most time.

You can still score the highest level by writing one similarity or difference in content and the similarity or difference in purpose/tone. This is risky. If you don’t explain the similarity or difference in purpose/tone well, you might end up scoring marks for just a similarity or difference in content. (L2)

T ways to score the highest level:

Safe but time-consumingRisky but saves time
Para 1: Similarity in contentPara 1: Similarity OR Difference in content
Para 2: Difference in contentPara 3: Similarity or Difference in Purpose/Tone
Para 3: Similarity or Difference in Purpose/Tone 

Fifthly, there are some teachers who teach that there are one-sided Social Studies comparison questions. In other words, they only ask about either similarities or differences. This might be true for school papers, but one-sided comparison questions do not appear for ‘O’ levels. Thus, I am going to ignore this variation.


The Social Studies Comparison question is a common question for Social Studies. To answer it, you need to master the Inference and Purpose skills. It is also another version of the Reliability skill. When you master these skills, you can ace your Social Studies Source-based Questions.

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