Comparing Two Sources and Identifying Their Differences for the GED Social Studies Test

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

In both the questions on the GED Social Studies test and in the Extended Response, you may be asked to compare two sources on the same topic and identify or explain how they differ. Start assessing the passages by sorting the materials into primary and secondary sources:

  • Primary sources are the original materials, written at the time in question or by the individuals involved. Government statistics on unemployment in 1930 would be an excellent primary source on the Great Depression. The Declaration of Independence is a great example of a historical document and primary source, written at a specific moment in history, by the individuals involved in the independence movement.

  • Secondary sources are those that are written about, reference, or are based on one or more primary sources. Examples of secondary sources are papers written about the Declaration of Independence or unemployment in the Great Depression.

After noting whether a passage is a primary or secondary source, identify the central idea or thesis in each passage, all the claims presented, and all of the evidence or details used to support each claim. You can then use a Venn diagram to determine the similarities and differences between the two passages.

Use a Venn diagram to identify similarities and differences in sources.

Use a Venn diagram to identify similarities and differences in sources.

Following are two passages from a Webster-Hayne debate over the government policy on public lands followed by a question that challenges you to identify the difference between the two.

Excerpt from speech of Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 19, 1830

I am opposed, therefore, in any shape, to all unnecessary extension of the powers, or the influence of the Legislature or Executive of the Union over the States, or the people of the States; and, most of all, I am opposed to those partial distributions of favors, whether by legislation or appropriation, which has a direct and powerful tendency to spread corruption through the land; to create an abject spirit of dependence; to sow the seeds of dissolution; to produce jealousy among the different portions of the Union, and finally to sap the very foundations of the Government itself.

Excerpt from speech of Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, January 20, 1830

I deem far otherwise of the Union of the States; and so did the framers of the constitution themselves. What they said I believe; fully and sincerely believe, that the Union of the States is essential to the prosperity and safety of the States. I am a Unionist, and in this sense a National Republican. I would strengthen the ties that hold us together.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the differences between the views expressed in these two passages?

  • (A) The first passage favors a strong federation, whereas the second favors states’ rights.

  • (B) The first passage promotes states’ rights, whereas the second promotes a strong federation.

  • (C) The first opposes the partial distribution of favors, whereas the second supports the partial distribution of favors.

  • (D) The second favors a strong union, whereas the first favors an extension of powers or influence of the union over the states.

In this example, the correct answer choice must highlight a difference between the two passages, and both the first and second part of the statement must accurately describe what’s being stated in each passage. You can rule out Choices (A) and (D) because the first passage does not support a strong federation or union as these statements claim.

You can also rule out Choice (C) because although the first passage opposes the partial distribution of favors, nothing in the second passage suggests support for such a thing. Choice (B) is correct because the first passage opposes any extension of union powers over the states, and the second supports a stronger union.