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How to Make Sure You Crush the U.S. History SAT Subject Test & AP Exam


1) Take the test when it makes sense to. If you’re taking U.S. history junior year, for example, take the SAT subject test and AP exam in U.S. history at the end of junior year—you’ll have the whole year’s worth of knowledge jammed into your head for your course final, so you can kill two birds with one stone by taking the subject test and AP exam as well. If you put the exams off until senior year, it’ll take a lot more work to prepare, because all the facts and dates you memorized will exit your head over summer vacation. But no matter when you take the test…

2) Read the book. Whether it’s your high school textbook or a prep book specifically for the U.S. history test, spend time with the pages—and not just for a week before the test but for several months. Test-taking strategies will get you only so far on this test; you really have to know the material. But while there are tons of dates, names, and places to learn…

3) Pay attention to themes. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of facts the U.S. history test covers (dates of wars, specific acts of various presidents, names of movements or organizations), so instead of trying to learn every single fact, focus on the larger picture. Take immigration throughout U.S. history: successive waves of immigration, especially from Europe in the 19th century, eventually led to a backlash in the early 20th century, as white males found that their jobs were being taken by foreigners willing to work for less money. If you get familiar with this general sketch of immigration, then you’ll be much better equipped to deal with a fact-based question about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which put a quota on Chinese immigrants) or the National Origins Act of 1924 (which reduced immigration quotas to 1890s levels). Or take the role of labor unions in U.S. history: unions rose to prominence after the Civil War as northern businesses (in particular) became more monopolistic; unions waned from the 1880s to the 1930s, due to a combination of anti-union sentiment (which arose from the public’s wariness of sometimes violent union strikes and protests) and Republican pro-business policies; unions finally regained their strength under FDR, whose New Deal policies promoted union growth. Armed with this general outline, you’ll be equipped to understand the importance of the Haymarket Riot (1886) and the Pullman Strike (1894). Still, don’t forget to…

4) Make flashcards. You don’t have to know every single name, date, and place, but certain facts, terms, acts, events, and works (e.g., Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court decision of 1803, Upton Sinclair’s muckraking exposé The Jungle) are politically and/or culturally important and come up again and again, so you should try to learn the basics about them. Of course, certain people and events in U.S. history are less significant; focus on the more important ones. Put another way: there’s a reason Andrew Jackson is on our money and Millard Fillmore isn’t. But if you need a break from memorizing…

5) Keep your studying fun. Watch Ken Burns’ universally acclaimed Civil War documentary and his Prohibition documentary, both of which offer a lot in the way of themes and facts relevant to the U.S. history subject test. These series are masterful, engrossing, and thorough, and they do a phenomenal job of bringing the story of U.S. history to life, which makes it easier to remember both facts and themes.

If you are struggling with your US History class, consider a Revolution Prep companion course.


The Revolution Prep Team  

Our team is made up of professional tutors and academic advisors who are passionate about sharing their wealth of academic success knowledge.