How do I learn dates?


Dates! I hate them – and I’m useless at remembering them too. 

(Also, you’d be surprised to learn how many of the dates given in your textbooks are wrong.)


Where might you need to use dates? Let’s go back to the basics of what the GCSE is about. You want to show the examiner:

  • that you can DESCRIBE things in history: 

    You do not need to know the date for every fact.   Weasel phrases (time connectives) such ‘then’ and ‘shortly afterwards’ are usually quite good enough, and the most that you will normally need is ‘In 1938…’.   In these stories, there is only the need to learn a date if it is absolutely essential to the plot.

  • that you can EXPLAIN things in history: 

    Here, you will need to provide a bit of evidence as part of a ‘PEE every paragraph’ approach – but again, the most you will usually need here is a year.

  • that you can ANALYSE SOURCES, using your own knowledge:

    Again, rarely will a specific date be essential to the argument.


So do not to get too hung up on trying to remember lots of dates. You DO NEED to know what is happening at a certain time, but you rarely need to know the exact date that it was happening.   There are other things (eg lists of causes/ stories of key events) which are more important.




=  Every date has a day, a month and a year.

=  If you tried to learn every date for every event in the course, there’d be millions.

So therefore:

=  You cannot learn every date, and...

=  You cannot learn more dates than you can learn, therefore...

=  To start the process of learning the dates you need to SELECT WHICH DATES YOU NEED TO LEARN.








There is one situation where dates are ESSENTIAL. 

There are times when examiners put dates in questions – and you can REALLY foul up if you don’t know the dates then!!!:

  •  Click the yellow pointer for some topics where this might happen:
    • international events after the Treaty of Versailles (eg ‘What were the threats to the Treaty of Versailles 1919-19??’)
    • the road to war, including detailed knowledge of the last year, Sept 1938-Sept 1939 (eg ‘How did Hitler endanger the peace of Europe 1933-19??’)
    • the sequence of key events in the Cold War (eg ‘Why did America and Russia fall out 1945 to 19??)
    • the sequence of events in the Russian revolution (eg ‘How did life change for Russians between 1914 and 19??')
    • the events in/threats to the early Weimar Republic
    • the rise of the early Nazi Party and Hitler 1919-1933
    • the events of Hitler’s consolidation of power 1933-1939.
    • Can you think of any others?

    It is REALLY ESSENTIAL that you know the dates of events in these key lists, so that you can include the correct events in your answers.


HOW you learn them will depend on your learning style.


  • I am a lists man – are you?   I write things like that down in lists, then I read/look away to put them into to my mind, then check if I know them, covering up one side then the other to see if I can remember etc.

  • Some people are postcards people – date on one side, event on the other. You can go through the cards whenever you have a moment (as you sit on the bus going home) seeing if you can remember what is on the other side.

  • Auditory learners – dictate them onto a tape, leaving short gaps in between.   Play the tape to yourself over headphones, trying to fill the gaps before the tape does.   Or recite them as a sing-song ‘poem’ (eg ‘Munich meeting: thirty-eight’).

  • Visual learners – draw your dates onto timelines, using bright colours and pictures.   Design each timeline differently, so that it has a different ‘hook’ for your visual memory to hang it on.

  • Kinaesthetic learners – you must tie the different dates to different places.   Eg write date+event cards, and blutack them to various places around the house (along the top of your wardrobe/ the back of the toilet door).   Start by actually GOING TO those places to learn the dates, THEN try to imagine yourself going to those places, and rehearse the dates in each location.   (Kinaestheic learners find the postcard approach useful, because they are actually touching the dates).



1.   Start by going through your topics and making lists of the dates you MUST remember – ie all the dates in the vital key lists of the big stories, plus dates which you think are essential within individual stories.

2. Prune your list to the number of dates you think you can remember – eg 50.