Praxis Social Studies: Content and Interpretation (5086) Ultimate Guide and Practice Test
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Praxis Social Studies: Content and Interpretation Quick Facts
This test is designed to evaluate the knowledge and skills of a prospective secondary teacher of social studies. It covers the content areas of United States history, world history, government, economics, geography, and behavioral sciences.
This test contains 90 multiple-choice questions and 3 short answer questions, with a two-hour time limit on the entire test. The test taker has the freedom to divide their time as they choose between the multiple-choice and essay questions, but it is designed with the expectation of approximately 90 minutes allocated to the multiple-choice questions and 30 minutes to the essay questions.
The score range for this test is from 100 to 200. Each individual state determines its own passing standard. Links to individual state passing standards are available on the Praxis website.
When choosing a testing date, consider the amount of time you will need to prepare. Spend time evaluating the content categories in the test to determine which categories will need the most attention. Do not attempt to study all the needed areas at once, but make a plan to cover them over a period of days or weeks, studying in frequent but relatively short blocks of time.
In this test, the United States History, World History, and Government/Civics/Political Science sections each make up 15% of the test. The Economics and Geography sections are each 11%, Behavioral Science is 8%, and the short content essays make up the remaining 25%. Consider this breakdown when planning your study. Be sure to practice writing short content essays.
What test takers wish they would’ve known:
- You will need to bring a valid ID to this test and will not be allowed to take any personal items into the testing room.
- This test is only two hours long, and while you are allowed to take a break to use the restroom, your test timer will not stop.
- Use the time displayed on your computer screen to monitor the time you have remaining. It’s important not to waste time on questions you don’t know the answer to. Do your best and use any remaining time at the end to review your answers.
- Blank and wrong answers count against your score equally. It’s in your best interest to guess even if you don’t know the answer.
Information and screenshots obtained from ETS.
I: United States History
The United States History content category has 18 questions, which accounts for 15% of the test. Overarching concepts and time periods covered within these competencies include:
- Early US History
- Civil War and Reconstruction
- Industrialization to World War I
- Social Movements
- World Wars
- Cold War
- Modern History
So let’s explore some specific topics from this content category that are likely to appear on the test.
When the Founding Fathers created the Constitution, they were trying to address the failures of the Articles of Confederation, which had made the federal government too weak. When the new Constitution was ratified in 1789, it increased the power of the federal government.
Anti-Federalists, in opposition to the Federalists, resisted the creation of a strong centralized federal government. The Bill of Rights was created in an attempt to alleviate these concerns. The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the constitution, which are specifically centered on protections for citizens against the federal government.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights provided a balance between the needs of the federal government to fulfill its role and responsibilities as the centralized power and the Anti-Federalists’ desire for personal freedoms and states’ rights. The Bill of Rights did not prevent further clashes between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, but the increased power of The federal government did enable it to use force to control uprisings and rebellions throughout the states.
WWII and America
The United States was hesitant to enter World War II. The country had lost many soldiers fighting in Europe during World War I and had worked to remain uninvolved in the new conflict. However, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, the U.S. joined the Allied forces against Germany and the other Central Powers.
At home, production related to the war effort revitalized the U.S. economy, which had not yet recovered from the Great Depression. The loss of life from the war was devastating. There were more than 60 million fatalities. In hopes of preventing future worldwide conflicts, the United Nations was formed.
Another consequence of WWII was the Cold War that arose between the United States and the Soviet Union, resulting in an arms race that built up both countries’ stores of weapons. While no direct fighting broke out between the two countries, the conflict played out in various places around the world, including the border between East Germany and West Germany.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1948 in response to the Soviet Union’s establishment of a number of Eastern European satellite states. The defining idea in the creation of NATO was that an attack on any of its member nations would be considered an attack against them all.
As the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union continued, more and more countries joined NATO. The increase in membership helped establish the United States’ global power and influence.
Rise of Conservatism
In an attempt to lift the country out of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the creation of many new social programs and reforms collectively referred to as the New Deal. These changes were significant and introduced a new conception of the US government that relied on regulations and taxes that had not existed previously. The new regulations were mostly directed at reforming the banking and finance industries, and wealthier Americans were subject to higher tax rates.
Pushing back against this shift, the Republican Party came to be associated with arguments for lower taxes and smaller government. These new priorities were particularly apparent during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Reagan implemented supply-side, or “trickle-down,” economics by cutting taxes on the highest earners and decreasing regulation and taxes on businesses. These changes were made with the expectation that the additional money flowing into the economy would “trickle-down” to the rest of the country through higher wages and increased job opportunities, though these benefits largely failed to materialize.
By the time Reagan became president, much of America had grown to expect and appreciate many of the social reforms of the New Deal. Because of this, Reagan cut taxes without eliminating those programs that people had come to rely upon, like social security, and as a result, the national debt increased dramatically.
Are you with us so far? Great! Let’s move on.
II: World History
The World History content category has 18 questions, which account for 15% of the test. Overarching concepts and time periods covered within these competencies include:
- Classical Civilizations
- Pre-1400 History
- 1400-1750 History
- 1750 to World War 1
- The World Wars
- The Cold War
- Sociology Impacts on History
Just like we did with the previous section, let’s talk about some specific concepts from this content category.
Ancient Greece was made up of a collection of city-states that were independently governed and relatively isolated from one another. The smaller populations of the individual city-states provided the opportunity for citizens to be more directly involved in their government. Athens in particular is known to be an early model of democracy.
Beyond its contributions to the development of democratic governing systems, Ancient Greece is also known for its contributions in art, science, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, and naval technology. A Macedonian military commander, Alexander the Great, is credited with spreading elements of Greek culture throughout his empire, which extended into Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India. The Greeks who developed this culture include Homer, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.
World Religions: Islam
Islam is a religion based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and its followers are called Muslims. Muhammad and the caliphates, or Islamic states, that followed him spread the religion over much of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Spain.
Muhammad’s death marked a significant point in Islamic history, as it caused a dispute over who should succeed him as the leader of the Islamic faith. Muslims who maintained that his rightful heir was his cousin and son-in-law the Caliph Ali split with those who believed that a successor should be chosen by other leaders of the faith. The two groups have come to be known as Shias and Sunnis, respectively. Sunnis make up the large majority of the Muslim population.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution began in 1789 and was in part inspired by the American Revolution. In France there were three different classes, or estates, of people: the clergy composed the first estate, wealthy nobles composed the second, and the third estate was made up of the remaining 97% of the population. Only the third estate was required to pay taxes, and they grew tired of supporting the other two estates without a role in deciding how their taxes were spent.
Members of the third estate declared themselves the National Assembly and invited representatives from the other two estates to join them. Uprisings, riots, and shifts of power occurred over the next decade, resulting in the death of the king and queen and a permanent realignment of French political power. Ultimately, the military commander Napoleon Bonaparte took control as emperor, and while he was a stabilizing force, he eventually became a dictator.
Napoleon’s military record of victories had helped him secure political power, but he met his downfall when he led his army to invade Russia. French forces were drawn further and further into Russia and found themselves unprepared for the hard Russian winter. They eventually retreated but lost many men in the process. Napoleon was exiled following his Russian defeat, but briefly returned to reclaim power within the same year. However, his return was short-lived, as he was again exiled following his defeat at Waterloo.
The Russian monarchy, led by the Romanov family, saw its hold on Russia begin to disintegrate with the country’s entry into World War I. The Russian economy was still organized around the feudal classes of landowners and serfs long after most of the world had moved on from these practices. The Russian people had begun to chafe under this arrangement, and the onset of war, and its accompanying loss of life and limitations on the food supply provoked even greater agitation.
The czar, Nicholas Romanov, tried to placate the Russian people by creating an assembly called the Duma. However, its lack of true power made his action insufficient to curb public sentiment. In 1917, following the Duma re-forming as a provisional government, the czar abdicated his throne. The Duma was soon challenged by the Bolsheviks, who quickly took control of the government. A civil war soon broke out between the Red Army, who supported the Bolsheviks, and the White Army, who opposed the communists. By 1923, the government of the United Soviet Socialist Republics had assumed power under the leadership of Lenin.
Let’s move on!
III: Government/Civics/Political Science
The Government/Civics/Political Science content category has 18 questions, which account for 15% of the test. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Social Movements
- The US Government
- Political Theories
C’mon! Let’s dive into some more specific concepts.
Popular sovereignty is the democratic concept of allowing people to determine the laws under which they live. In the context of the American Civil War, popular sovereignty was the basis for the argument that states had the right to make their own decisions regarding slavery, while abolitionists fought to end it nationally.
Checks and Balances
The three branches of the US government were specifically designed as checks on the powers of each other to prevent any individual or branch from gaining too much power.
One way that the executive branch serves as a check to the legislature is through the use of the veto power. The legislative branch, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, passes the laws of the country, but the bills must be signed by the president before they become laws. If the president does not agree with a law, he or she can veto it. However, if two-thirds of the Senate vote to overturn the veto, the bill will become law despite the president’s lack of approval.
Another example of checks and balances is the relationship between the judicial branch and the other two branches. While the justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate, the Court can declare acts of the other two branches unconstitutional.
The Electoral College
The Electoral College is the body that ultimately elects the president of the United States. Each state gets a number of delegates equal to its delegation in Congress; i.e., the number of electors is equal to the number of representatives plus two senators. The presidential candidate who wins the most delegates is elected president.
This process is designed to give smaller states a bigger impact on the election’s outcome as compared with their effect on the nationwide popular vote. The intent is to ensure that states with small populations still have their interests considered by presidential nominees.
Usually, the outcome of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote are the same, but not always. In the 2016 election, President Trump won the presidency with an electoral college tally of 304 electoral college votes compared with Hillary Clinton’s 227. However, Clinton won the popular vote, with 48.3% percent of all votes cast, compared to Trump’s 46.2%.
Common Forms of Government
A theocracy is a government that bases its laws on the rules of the associated religion. Also, the leaders of a theocracy rule with an assumed religious authority, and in some cases are believed to be divine themselves.
A parliamentary democracy, like that of Great Britain, is a system of government in which citizens vote for their representatives in parliament. Once the parliament has been elected, the party with the largest number of representatives chooses a leader, typically called either the chancellor or, as in the case of Great Britain, the prime minister.
Democratic republics, like that of the United States, are representative democracies. People elect representatives to a legislative body, who are then expected to vote based on the needs of their constituencies.
A dictatorship is an authoritarian government in which the citizens do not have a say in the running of their country. In this form of government, the dictator maintains all the power. In dictatorships, either no elections are held or the elections that are held are not fair and are only designed to provide the appearance of popular support.
A monarchy is a government headed by a single person, usually a king or queen, who is the head of state and the sovereign ruler of the country. Typically, the title is passed down through family ties and the people of the country do not have a voice in choosing their head of state. In some cases, a monarchy is combined with a parliamentary democracy, as in Great Britain, where the monarch is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government.
Let’s move right along.
The Economics content category has 13 questions, which account for 11% of the test. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
keep reading to learn about some more specific concepts that are highly likely to appear on the test.
Traditional and Post-Industrialization Economies
Traditional economies arose when individuals in smaller communities would barter to meet their needs and the needs of their families. For example, a farmer might have traded crops for a hunter’s meat.
The post-industrialization economy occurs when the market has shifted to a more service-based economy, usually following a period in which manufacturing jobs were the basis for the economy.
Modern economies are either market, command, or mixed economies. Market economies operate without government intervention and are controlled by supply and demand. A command economy is controlled by the government, which decides what and how much is produced. Many modern economies are mixed economies, a mixture of market forces and government intervention. In mixed economies, governments intervene with regulations to help keep the economy stable and serve the needs of the country.
Opportunity cost applies when considering what you cannot do because of what you have chosen to do. The opportunity cost of buying a new pair of shoes is that spending the money may affect your ability to purchase something else you need. Another example might be buying a bigger house. If you must spend more time working in order to pay the higher mortgage, the opportunity cost is all the things you can no longer do with that time; for instance, spending it with your family.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
GDP stands for gross domestic product and represents the total market value of all goods and services produced in a country. It is calculated by adding up the value of only the products whose production is completed in the country, regardless of where the producer is based or the geographical source of materials. For example, if a US company’s product is assembled overseas, that product would be counted in the other country’s GDP, not that of the United States.
Take a deep breath and let’s move on!
The Geography content category has 13 questions, which account for 11% of the test. Overarching concepts covered within these competencies include:
- Human Geography
- Geography (surprise!)
Let’s get to it.
Types of Maps
Physical maps are geographically focused and show landforms like oceans, mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers.
Political maps show the boundaries that have been created by humans, like those of cities, states, and countries.
Topographic maps show elevation and are created to show the shape of the land.
A climate map illustrates the temperature ranges of the land represented on the map.
An economic map is used to represent the economic elements of a region. It may be used to visually represent resources available in a specific area.
A thematic map can be used to represent anything from differing levels of annual rainfall to the way individual states voted in a presidential election.
Causes of Human Migration
There are many possible reasons for human migration. Populations who are searching for a suitable water or food source may move to be nearer to a freshwater lake, or travel following a herd of animals that they depend on for food. They may also choose a specific location due to a military advantage or protection from the elements. For example, a mountain range can serve as a natural barrier to defend against enemies, and caves can offer protection from rain and wind.
Human migration can also occur for political reasons. People may seek a new home in order to escape persecution, as when the Puritans left Britain for America. They may also migrate in search of better economic opportunity, as when Southerners in the U.S. moved north to take advantage of a surplus of factory jobs.
Demographic patterns are revealed by analyzing the numbers of people with certain characteristics in a given area. For example, a demographic study could identify percentages of different ethnicities in a city. The demographic patterns of that city could then be used to compare the diversity of populations among different cities.
Demographic patterns can also reveal the density and distribution of a population. For example, once the percentages of different ethnicities in the state are determined, their density and distribution can then be analyzed to determine whether those populations are evenly distributed throughout the state, or if there are larger percentages in particular areas. Analyzing this data further by comparing the information from different time periods can be used to look for demographic change. Analyzing demographic change will show whether the composition of the state’s citizens is changing over time.
You’ve got two content categories left to review. You can do this!
VI: Behavioral Sciences
The Behavioral Sciences content category has 10 questions, which account for 8% of the test. It will encompass sociology, anthropology, and psychology.
Time to dig into some specific concepts from this content category.
Cultures are changed by exposure to other cultures. These changes can occur due to cultural diffusion, cultural adaptation, or cultural assimilation.
Cultural diffusion is a common occurrence when elements of one culture are adopted by another culture. An example of cultural diffusion involving food is the fact that many Americans love sushi, which is more normally associated with Japan or other Asian cultures.
Cultural adaptation occurs when a person encounters a new culture and changes their own behaviors and customs to better fit into the new culture. An example of this could be someone moving to the US and decorating their house with Christmas lights, despite having never celebrated Christmas in their previous country.
Cultural assimilation is a more complete adoption of the traits of the new culture. This occurs when someone takes on the traits of a new culture so thoroughly that it is no longer apparent that the person has not always been a part of that culture. If someone has culturally assimilated, they may no longer show signs of a previous accent, they might dress in the new culture’s style, and they will have embraced most or all of the typical customs of the new culture.
In psychology, the categorical-self is how a person sees themself in the most concrete terms. The categorical-self may described using age, gender, and physical attributes without going into deeper psychological or emotional assessments.
A person’s self-image describes how a person views themself more generally. Our self-image is the kind of person we think we are. A person’s self-image is influenced by interactions with others and can be positive or negative. Once a person has developed a clear self-image, the feelings they have about who they are are the source of their self-esteem. When a person reflects upon their self-image and interprets those traits positively, they are more likely to have high self-esteem.
A person’s ideal-self is who they wish they were, and it comes from a judgment about their self-image. It describes the characteristics a person wishes were attributes of themselves.
Ahh! That’s it for the selected-response portion of the exam. Now, on to the essays!
VII: Constructed-Response Questions (CRQs)
The constructed response questions (CRQ) section of this test will be composed of three short-answer essay questions. These questions will elicit a response that demonstrates both historical knowledge and a connection to a specific social studies subject like government or economics. The questions will also require you to interpret the information provided in the form of texts, charts, maps, or some other visual element.
The CRQ section makes up 25% of your overall score. Each question is graded with a rubric and receives a score of 0, 1, 2, or 3, based on the quality of your writing and the thoroughness of the answer in demonstrating your knowledge.
When writing your answer, be sure to return to the prompt in order to verify that you have answered the specific question and not veered into a general discussion of the topic. Make sure you haven’t simply summarized a historical event, because fully responding to the CQR question will require analysis and an explanation of your conclusions.
Wahoo! That’s some basic information about the entire test.