O Level Humanities – How to answer Section A: Source Based Questions for Social Studies



When do I have to learn Social Studies in Secondary School? 

Social Studies is a compulsory component, part of Elective Humanities that all mainstream Secondary School students have to take. At Secondary Two, students will have to choose which subject combination they wish to pursue and what subjects to combine for their Elective Humanities. It is compulsory to take Social Studies papers but they will be able to choose if they wish to take the combination Humanities subjects (like History, Geography and Literature) at a more demanding level, provided they meet the eligibility criteria. 

What is Social Studies at O’levels? 

At Secondary 3, all students studying in mainstream secondary schools in Singapore have to take on a new subject known as Social Studies. This subject constitutes 50% of the Elective Humanities which is compulsory for O’levels. Students usually take Social Studies in combination with another humanities such as Literature, Geography and History. Once again, a reminder that, Social Studies is a COMPULSORY subject and students cannot drop it. 


What is Elective Humanities? 

Depending on which other humanities subject you choose, the subject codes will differ.


O Level Humanities 2273 

Subject Combination 1. Social Studies + History Paper (2273)

The first paper for this syllabus will be on Social Studies. It lasts around 1 hour and 45 minutes and will constitute 50% of your final result.

The second subject will be on History and will determine the final half of your overall grade. It is 1 hour and 40 minutes long and similarly, there are two sections.

O Level Humanities 2272 Subject Combination 2. Social Studies + Geography Paper (2273)  

Students will take the same Social Studies papers and combine with another elective humanities Geography. 

The second subject  for this syllabus will be on Geography. It lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and is divided into three sections.

O Level Humanities 2274 Subject Combination 3. Social Studies + Literature (2274) 

Students will take Social Studies with 50% weightage and combine with Literature in English another 50% weightage. 

The second subject Literature in English will be 1 hr and 40 mins. Students will be expected to learn Prose and Unseen Poetry which constitutes 50% each.

*Do note that not all schools offer this combination due to shortage of teachers or other reasons 

Social Studies can be tough for many, especially students who are not apt with English or Current Affairs.

So, how do you or can you (ever) get distinction for Social Studies? 

Many students will nod and readily agree that amongst all the subjects available on the O-Level curriculum, Social Studies would be one of the most likely to take the top spot when it comes to difficulty. Most Secondary 3 students often receive a rude shock when they score only one mark out of 5 marks in their SBQ Inference Exercise with comments from the teacher citing “Make sure you understand what the question is asking for.” or “you are not answering the question.” Other students have plainly shared that they find it hard to even understand the topics and the graphical, statistical sources. 

If you have a similar concern, seek out our team of qualified and professional MOE or full time tutors today and let our Humanities Specialists help you pave the way for distinction in Social Studies! For those who want free social studies resources, read on and learn how to tackle Social Studies Paper (Section A: Source Based Questions).

How to do well in the Social Studies Paper (Section A: Source Based Questions) ?

Section A: Source Based Questions Skils

To excel in Source-Based Case Studies in Section A of Social Studies (35%), it is pertinent that you are able to identify the issue questions that you will be tested on.

This compulsory section tests candidates’ ability to interpret  and evaluate sources and information based on three themes.


Theme 1

Understanding Governance 

Theme 2  Conflict and Harmony
Theme 3 Managing International Relations

Important Skills for Distinction in Social Studies  – Infer, Support Explain (ISE)


What is Infer, Support Explain (ISE)?

– What can you tell from Source A about…?

– What can you infer about…?

Format: (I.S.E. – Infer, Support, Explain).

Start with: “The source is trying to infer that…”

Support: “The source says that…”

Explain: “This means that…”

How to answer Section A: Social Studies Source Based Question:

In this Social Studies test paper, it shows what a typical source based question look like where students will be asked to interpret the image. In this instance, students are asked “What was the motive of the cartoonist? Explain your answer.” Based on the image, students need to infer the images and associate it with the predominant world issue and topic. Most students may find this challenging and end up interpreting wrongly. 

To get tuition for social studies and other humanities subjects, get in touch with us today. 


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