The Secret to Writing a Killer History Essay

by goirish1129

History essays can be a daunting task, especially college history exams. Luckily, there is a secret to writing history essays that will help you.

History essays can be a daunting task, especially in college when many history exams are made up of only 2 or 3 essays that can fill up multiple blue books. If you mess up just one of them, you could be looking at a failing grade.

Luckily, there is a secret to writing history essays that should be able to get you through even the toughest of essay questions. That secret is... wait for it... PERMS. That’s right, PERMS. It’s not in all caps because I want to yell perms at you. It’s an acronym:


If you approach every history essay or exam question with PERMS in mind, you’re doing a pretty good job of answering the question.

Whatever the question is, make sure you cover these points:

    • P:  Discuss the question from a political standpoint.  The question doesn’t necessarily  have to be about politics, at all.  But, there is a good chance that politics either influence the subject, or are influenced by the subject in some way, regardless of the question.
    • E:  Look at the economic situation during the time period.  Again, the question does not have to be specifically about economics.  However, like politics, the economic climate affects a lot of things that happened during certain time periods.
    • R:  Touch on any religious impact on the subject of the question, or how the topic impacted religious views at the time.  Sometimes it can be hard to make a religious connection.  If that’s the case, don’t worry and move on.
    • M:  Comment on how the military was involved with the question.  Looking back through history, it’s hard to find a time when people were not at war.  So, if possible, try to find a connection.  Like religion, it’s not always possible, so just do your best.
    • S:  Cover the social impact of the topic.  There is always a social impact.  Any essay question on a social studies exam will have some connection to the social atmosphere at the time.

If you cover all or most of PERMS, you should have a pretty complete essay.

Like I said above, sometimes you’ll find a question that may not involve one of the letters.  For example, a question about the War of 1812 might not allow you to touch on Religion.  But, you could write for a long time about the political, economic, military, and social aspects of the war.  Of course, there could certainly be religious connections made to the War of 1812, but I think you get the idea.  If you run into a question like this, don’t worry about skipping a letter and just make sure all of the other letters are explained to the best of your ability.  P, E, and S can generally be applied to just about any topic that you would see on an exam.

Also, keep PERMS in mind as you study.  It will help you connect any overarching concepts within the ideas being taught.  Each letter is always connected in some way to all of the other letters.

Updated: 11/09/2012, goirish1129
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Rose on 06/09/2014

Great advice - my history essays used to concentrate on facts - who did what and where, but I never thought to add a political commentary as well

katiem2 on 11/11/2012

Very intriguing, nice to learn a few new skills. :)K

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