Basic U.S. History Knowledge for Social Studies Test Sections

The U.S. History part of Social Studies sections of high school exit exams test your knowledge of U.S. history since the American Revolution, although many tests focus on the late-19th and 20th centuries. Common topics include major people, events, and dates. Here are some important things you should know:

Significant dates in American history:

  • 1776: Declaration of Independence
  • 1787: U.S. Constitution
  • 1861-1865: Civil War
  • 1898: Spanish-American War
  • 1914-1918: World War I
  • 1929: Stock market crash
  • 1941-1945: World War II

Emergence of the United States as a world power between 1898 and 1920:

  • The Spanish-American War
  • The causes of American involvement in World War I
  • The Fourteen Points
  • The Treaty of Versailles

Significant issues and personalities of America in the 1920s:

  • Prohibition
  • The Red Scare and immigration policies
  • The changing role of women
  • William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow (the Scopes Trial)
  • Charles Lindberg (first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean)

Military and foreign policy developments during World War II and the Cold War:

  • The Holocaust
  • The Normandy Invasion
  • The decision to use the atomic bomb
  • The Truman Doctrine
  • The Marshall Plan
  • NATO
  • The Korean War
  • The Vietnam War

Domestic issues that arose in the context of World War II and the Cold War:

  • The internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans
  • The GI Bill of Rights
  • McCarthyism
  • The anti-war movement
  • The 26th amendment

Here are two U.S. History practice questions:

Question: When World War I broke out in August 1914, the United States

  • immediately entered the war against Germany
  • declared its neutrality
  • made an alliance with Russia
  • stopped all trade with Europe

The basic fact you need to know is that the United States did not declare war on Germany until 1917. The United States was officially neutral for the first three years of the fighting in Europe. Indeed, President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to "be neutral in fact as well as in name." Despite our neutrality, American trade with Britain and France grew dramatically between 1914 and 1917, while trade with Germany declined just as dramatically during the same period. The correct answer is, "declared its neutrality."

Question: A factor in President Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan was

  • to limit American and Japanese casualties
  • to force Germany to surrender unconditionally
  • to encourage Russia to declare war on Japan
  • to prevent Japan from invading China

Answer: Even if you don't know that Truman was concerned about the high number of combat deaths predicted for both sides if the United States were to invade Japan, you should be able to get the answer by the process of elimination. Germany had surrendered to the allies before the atomic bomb decision was made, and Russia agreed to declare war on Japan after Germany was defeated; Japan invaded China in 1931 and again in 1937. The correct answer is "to limit American and Japanese casualties."