By Giles Howard, Tests.com
Social studies is a subject that builds in importance throughout primary and secondary education. It instructs students in how to be good citizens, teaches them about the history of mankind and helps them understand the world and its peoples. Because it is a subject based on both the acquiring of skills and the retention of knowledge, it can be difficult to study for effectively throughout a student’s entire primary and secondary education. But it’s important to become a proficient test taker in the social studies field because the subject becomes a bigger part of a student’s classroom experience with each grade and then follows them to college. By understanding the progression of the curriculum and making use of the many resources available in the subject area, you and your child can tackle social studies tests with ease.
Timeline of Social Studies Education
Social Studies in primary school focus on applying the themes of social studies to students’ families, communities and nation. It begins by introducing students to the concept of rules and why families exist and builds until it introduces them to U.S. history by 5th grade. Along the way, students are taught basic skills related to primary documents and maps that will help them understand more complex lessons in history, government and geography later in school.
Starting in sixth grade, social studies curriculum begins to concentrate on history and government in a more formal, less locally focused way than social studies is taught throughout primary school. The curriculum generally begins with one year studying world geography and surveying major world cultures as an intro into a more detailed investigation of the history of the Western World. This is generally approached by students in 7th grade studying ancient history, students in 8th grade studying American colonial history and then 9th and 10th grades spend studying America from its inception to the 20th century. In these grades, students are expected to develop their research skills, apply more in-depth analysis to topics and engage primary resources.
Social studies in grades 11 and 12 are generally approached as a capstone to the knowledge that students have developed throughout primary and secondary schooling. Exams test students more rigorously on their ability to analyze complex relationships and their comfort in using primary documents. Students in these grades generally study government, economics and international relations and the exams can be expected to include lengthy essays and demanding short answers.
Social Studies Skills
A large part of social studies in grades K-12 involves the accumulation of various skills. These skills relate to how students collect and interpret information. Mastering these skills is crucial to successful test taking in the social studies.
* Ability to identify relevant sources
* Ability to distinguish between primary and secondary sources
* Ability to incorporate primary sources into essay answers
* Ability to go beyond basic facts, dates, names and events
* Ability to understand an historical event in context
* Ability to construct a thesis and explain it in an essay test
Students begin to study economics as part of their social studies education during secondary school. It’s often approached as a topic taught hand-in-hand with history and analyzed in the classroom as a motive force behind historical events. It is then examined in greater detail during 11th and 12th grade. Because it is taught at the highest level of K-12 education, tests in economics can be expected to include a mix of essays and multiple choice questions.
Geography is an early focus of social studies with students in primary school learning map skills, studying the continents and learning the identity of various bodies of water. Tests at the most basic level of geography often require students to label geographic elements on a blank map such as the compass rose, a particular continent or body of water. Geography is not a major part of secondary education and is not tested extensively at the high school level.
History becomes a subject of greater and greater importance in social studies as a student progresses through school. Requiring students to learn about the past and place specific events within a greater context, the study of history dominates social studies during secondary education. Students can expect to be tested on their knowledge and analysis of historical events and time periods in a variety of formats. These include essays, short answers and multiple choice questions.
Curriculum regarding Citizenship and Government is prominent throughout K-12 social studies. Students are taught from the beginning of primary school about the value of Democracy, their role as citizens and the basic aspects of the government. This information grows in depth and complexity throughout primary and secondary education and culminates with students taking AP courses about Government in grades 11 and 12. Because the subject evolves over a student’s entire school career, Civics tests change drastically over time. However, no matter how the tests change, they will almost always include the same methodologies discussed throughout this guide: short answer, essay and multiple choice questions.
How to Study
There are many ways to study for social studies exams. Some of the most effective ones are flashcards, note taking and practice essays. Flashcards are a simple way to remember basic social studies vocabulary, information about geographic places and major historical dates. They are most useful at the primary level but many secondary students find them to be helpful in studying the basic facts of their social studies courses. Essays are increasingly important in secondary level social studies tests and really the only way to prepare effectively for them is to write practice essays. Choose a sample prompt, time yourself and write an essay as though you’re in class. Finally, taking thorough notes is a sure way to improve your social studies test taking. Thorough notes provide great references when studying and the simple act of taking them helps you remember the material.
Need help studying? Our Social Studies Directory includes information and test prep materials for social studies tests from across the nation.
Sources: Ohio Department of Education - www.ode.state.oh.us, National Council for the Social Studies – www.socialstudies.org