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HIstory Cambridge Pre-U **FEES PAYABLE** at Marlborough College

Course description

As a department we aim to encourage a lifelong interest and enthusiasm for the reading and study of history, and to develop skills of independent critical enquiry, analysis and the construction of sharply focused and detailed argument. Teaching extends well beyond the exam syllabus and pupils are encouraged to explore individual lines of enquiry and also the culture, art and literature of the time in order to build up a deeper contextual understanding.  

The sixth form course uses the Pre U syllabus by the CIE examination board. This has allowed us to follow our traditional practice of offering a range of different historical periods and also to return to the broader courses of study that were typical before the A level reforms of Curriculum 2000.

Through the study of the subject pupils should develop appropriate skills of research, critical evaluation, analysis, discussion, explanation, and argument, and the ability to organise ideas. We aim to promote attitudes and habits of scholarship through the encouragement of lively debate in the classroom and the development in effective independent study habits out of class. We wish to enable pupils to achieve the best possible result in their external exams, both to give them encouragement and confidence in the subject and also to keep doors open for Higher Education applications.

Course content

History is a vast and compelling subject whose many facets provide means by which we can understand past and present worlds in a great variety of ways. In the Pre-U course all pupils will gain an understanding and appreciation for aspects of political, social, cultural and economic History. Moreover, they will develop an ability to analyse primary and secondary sources, and to discriminate between the work of historians. 

It is our philosophy to encourage pupils to take an open-minded and adventurous approach to learning.  Our policy is also to offer periods that contrast with those (usually) studied at (I)GCSE, and we believe wholeheartedly in the value of the broader knowledge and comparative skills that such an approach will enable. Prospective historians will have the opportunity to fill in a questionnaire which will help us to ascertain which course will best suit them: they will then be allocated accordingly.

The courses we run are:

1. Medieval:

  • (a) England from the Saxons to the Plantagenets, including the Norman Conquest, Richard the Lionheart, John and Magna Carta;
  • (b) Europe from Louis the Fat to the Black Death, including the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Philip Augustus and the rise of Florence and Venice;
  • (c) the Crusades.

2. 17th-19th centuries:

  • (a) Great Britain from the Glorious Revolution to the factory age, including the growth of the British Empire, the Jacobite Rebellions, and rise of the Royal Navy;
  • (b) Europe from the French Revolution to the Unification of Germany, including the Napoleonic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration, and the Italian Risorgimento;
  • (c) either the English Civil War, or Napoleon.

3. 19th-20th centuries:

  • (a) Great Britain from World War One to the 1950s, including the interwar governments, the rise of Labour and the welfare state;
  • (b) late 19th and early 20th century Europe, including the Bourban Restoration, the Unification of Germany, and the Dreyfus Affair;
  • (c) Russia in the age of Revolution.

Entry requirements

The course will suit pupils who are eager to read and research, who are prepared to plunge into the complexities of new topics and periods, and who are willing to make connections between different eras and themes. To that end extensive co-curricular opportunities, including societies, speakers and trips, are offered in support. 

It is desirable but not essential to have studied History at (I)GCSE. 



  • Content: (a) topics
  • 2 hours 15 minutes, three essays, worth 25% of the whole.


  • Content: (b) topics
  • 2 hours 15 minutes, three essays, worth 25% of the whole.


  • Content: (c) topic
  • 2 hours, three questions (two of which are on unseen sources), worth 25% of the whole.


  • A 4000 word coursework essay on a subject of the candidate’s choice, usually connected with one of the outline papers, worth 25% of the whole.

All examinations will take place in the Summer term of the Upper Sixth year. 

Future opportunities

History, with its emphasis on both knowledge and analysis, works very well in most combinations of subjects (including the Sciences), and supports a very varied range of careers.

Further information

In addition to preparations for the exam syllabus, the department runs a very active extra-curricular programme. 


The Marlborough History Society is the overarching title of the society which aims to promote interest in and involvement with historical subjects and skills across all years.  The History Society is led by a team of pupil officers, and activities of the society vary according to what is decided by the officers, perhaps including visiting and staff speakers, anniversary lectures, seminars, book-reviews, film reviews, internal and inter-school history debates, society dinners and trips. 


The Polemicist is a history magazine created by a pupil editorial team working as part of a Wednesday Afternoon Activity. The aim is to promote interest in history across the school and to showcase the talents of Marlburian historians. 


The History at University (HAU) Group is an Upper School history focus group intended to develop historical skills and breadth of enquiry and to support the applications of any pupils applying to read history at Oxbridge and other universities, including preparation for the Oxford HAT and for university interviews. Members from the L6th are invited to join in the Michaelmas Term. L6th sessions in the Michaelmas Term consist mainly of a series of lectures on comparative history topics (such as the Nature of History; Revolutions; History and Literature; etc) delivered by members of the department. In the Lent Term emphasis is placed on pupils writing and presenting for group critique essays written for submission to the Oxbridge History competitions. The Summer Term and into the Michaelmas Term of the U6th the group is prepared and advised through the application and interview process for their selected universities. 


Book Reviews

Across all year groups one of the aims of the department is to encourage pupils to read about history and to find and pursue historical interests outside the curriculum. To this end individual teachers often organise to review a book or give a choice of books to read and discuss to pupils within their set. At times the department also organises book reviews centrally across sets and across year groups to those who wish to sign up. Books to review may be factual or fiction.

Film Reviews

In addition to book reviews, film reviews can be a very good way of enthusing pupils about a range of historical topics and can inspire a desire in pupils to explore topics in more depth through reading as well as encouraging them to think about the role of history in society and the way it can be manipulated. As with book reviews, film reviews can be organised by teachers for individual sets, or they are often run centrally as an activity for the History Society. The format used is usually to start with a short introduction to the topic or period the film addresses, watch the film, then follow it with a discussion of both the content dealt with, the accuracy of the portrayal and the manner in which the film makers have presented it. 

Visiting Speakers

Visiting speakers can be invited by the History Society to give talks or run seminars on historical topics. In general, the Society will aim to invite at least one speaker per term to talk on a 20th Century World topic (therefore of interest to Shell, GCSE and all 6th formers) as well as one or more speakers to talk on other topics either within or outside the Upper School curriculum.


Debating can be an excellent way to encourage history pupils to engage with differing interpretations and to utilise critical thinking. 

Teachers are encouraged to use debates in the classroom to encourage active involvement of pupils. Debates are often also organised by the History Society as a way of stimulating discussion on a historical issue or topic. 

These debates can be ‘formal’ and be run according the established Rules of Debating. For assistance and advice as to the rules and format and to which pupils are the most accomplished debaters, it can be useful to consult with the Head of Debating. Alternatively a useful form of ‘informal’ debate is the walk-across format, whereby two pupils or beaks speak in turn for 5-10 minutes to outline one side of an argument (perhaps also with a single page handout), before the audience has a break to decide which side they will join at the outset. The Chair then takes alternating points from the audience on both sides. Members of the audience may change sides at any time by walking across the room, thus encouraging active involvement even from those who are too shy to speak. 


Actual site visits are a powerful means of stirring interest and deepening understanding of history and for this reason the department is committed to organising and running site visits to enhance our classroom delivery. In addition, beaks sometimes take groups of pupils out of school to attend museums and seminars to complement their studies.
Recent local trips include outings to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Kelmscott Manor in Wiltshire and to the Wiltshire Public Records Office. Trips further a field include a day outing to Battle Abbey for an academic conference on the Norman Conquest and to watch the re-enactment, and a two-day trip to Normandy to visit the Bayeux Tapestry and other sites related to the William the Conqueror. 

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Marlborough College directly.

Last updated date: 18 November 2016
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