Preparation Strategies for the Social Studies Section of the GED

By Murray Shukyn, Dale E. Shuttleworth, Achim K. Krull

You may find yourself stuck when it comes to the Social Studies portion of the GED. To improve your skills and get better results on the Social Studies test, try the following strategies:

  • Take as many practice tests as you can get your hands on. The best way to prepare is to answer all the sample Social Studies test questions you can find. Work through practice tests, practice questions, and examples, such as those at the GED Testing Services website.

    This site is intended for educators teaching the GED prep courses, but it might be useful if you are self-studying. If you’re in a prep class, check with your teacher.

    Consider taking a preparation class to get your hands on even more sample Social Studies test questions, but remember that your task is to pass the test — not to collect every question ever written.

  • Practice reading a variety of different documents. The documents you need to focus on include historic passages from original sources (such as the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution) as well as practical information for consumers (such as voters’ guides, atlases, budget graphs, political speeches, almanacs, and tax forms).

    Read about the evolution of democratic forms of government. Read about climate change and migration, about food and population, and about American politics in the post-9/11 world. Read newspapers and news magazines about current issues, especially those related to civics and government, and social and economic issues.

  • Prepare summaries of the passages you read in your own words. After you read these passages, summarize what you’ve read. Doing so can help you identify the main points of the passages, which is an important part of succeeding on the Social Studies test. Ask yourself the following two questions when you read a passage or something more visual like a graph:

    • What’s the passage about? The answer is usually in the first and last paragraphs of the passage. The rest is usually explanation. If you don’t see the answer there, you may have to look carefully through the rest of the passage.

    • What’s the visual material about? Look for the answer in the title, labels, captions, and any other information that’s included.

    After you get an initial grasp of the main idea, determine what to do with it. Some questions ask you to apply information you gain from one situation in another similar situation. If you know the main idea of the passage, you’ll have an easier time applying it to another situation.

  • Draft a series of your own test questions that draw on the information contained in the passages you read. Doing so can help you become familiar with social studies–based questions. Look in newspapers and magazines for articles that fit into the general passage types that appear on the Social Studies test. Find a good summary paragraph and develop a question that gets to the point of the summary.

  • Compose answers for each of your test questions. Write down four answers to each of your test questions, only one of which is correct based on the passage. Creating your own questions and answers helps reduce your stress level by showing you how answers are related to questions. It also encourages you to read and think about material that could be on the test.

  • Discuss questions and answers with friends and family to make sure you’ve achieved an understanding and proper use of the material. If your friends and family understand the question, you know it’s a good one. Discussing your questions and answers with others gives you a chance to explain social studies topics and concepts, which is an important skill to have as you get ready to take this test.

  • Don’t assume. Be critical of visual material and read it carefully. You want to be able to read visual material as accurately as you read text material, and doing so takes practice. Don’t assume something is true just because it looks that way in a diagram, chart, or map.

    Visual materials can be precise drawings, with legends and scales, or they can be drawn in such a way that, at first glance, the information appears to be different than it really is. Manipulating the scale for graphs is one way to skew the information and make it appear different from what it actually represents.

    At first glance, you never know the purpose for which the visual was created. Even visuals can be biased, so “read” them carefully. Verify what you think you see by making sure the information looks correct and realistic. Finally, before coming to any conclusions, check the scale and legend to make sure the graph is really showing what you think it does.

  • Be familiar with general graphical conventions. Maps and graphs have conventions. The top of a map is almost always north. The horizontal axis is always the x-axis, and the vertical axis (the y-axis) is dependent on the x-axis. Looking at the horizontal axis first usually makes the information easier to understand. Check out government websites where information is displayed in tables, charts, and maps.