How to do a response to stimulus exam

Jedburgh Abbey
© History Skills

A response to stimulus exam provides you with a range of source material, both primary and secondary, and asks you to answer a series of questions.


These questions are meant to test you on all of the critical thinking skills but will most often focus on source analysis and evaluation. As a result, make sure you practice all of these skills in preparation for the exam.


On some exams, you may also be required to write an Extended Response, so ensure you are familiar with the requirements of this kind of question. 

How to read a source

Furthermore, it is useful to understand the format of sources on the exam, as details provided in the format can help you in answering the exam questions.


An example source is provided below, with explanations about what each element of the is:

How to understand the questions

Short response questions use a variety of terms, and it is essential you understand what each of these mean if you are to answer properly. Here is a list of the most common terms and what they mean: 

Key Word or Phrase Explanation
Account for Give reasons why
Analyse Examine to explain meaning, relationships, similarities or differences
Argue Give reasons for or against
Assess Determine the value or significance
Causes What things led to or caused the historical event?
Change What was different as a result of this event or person?
Compare Examine and note similarities
Consequence What happened as a result of the historical event or person
Consider Judge and come to an opinion
Continuity What continued unchanged, or stayed the same?
Contrast Emphasise the differences
Discuss Examine by argument, considering for and against
Explain Offer reasons for
How Explain the process, steps or key events
Motive The reasons people provided for their actions
Significance Why is it important?
To what extent Quantify the importance (to a great extent? to a limited extent?)
Why Explain the motives, reasons or causes

How to write answers

Not only do you earn marks for having the correct answer to questions, often how you structure your answers can improve your final result. The easiest formula for writing an answer is to base it upon the wording of the question. If you follow this rule, you response is most likely going to answer the question fully.


For example, if an exam question asks:

What perspective of World War 2 is evident in Source 2?


Rather than simply writing 'Nazi', your response could be:

Source 2 demonstrates a Nazi perspective of World War 2.


Furthermore, make sure you answer everything that questions ask you. Some questions may have two parts, so make sure you have answered both.


For example, a two-part question may look like this:

What perspective of World War 2 is evident in Source 2 and is this perspective representative of a general populace in Germany at that time?


To ensure you answer all parts of the question, your answer could look like this:

Source 2 demonstrates a fascist perspective of World War 2. This is clearly seen in the source where ... Furthermore, this source is not representative of the general populace in Germany at the time. This can be deduced by ...