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Social Studies Study Guide

Need help studying for the GED social studies test? This study guide can help you get started!

Learning social studies for the GED can be tough. The vocabulary alone can be intimidating. Don’t worry. With the right help, anyone can pass the test. This guide will show you what you need to study to develop the skills you need to pass the test. 

Despite what you may have heard, the GED social studies is not about memorization. No one is expecting you to remember state capitals or historical dates. Instead, the test focuses on interpreting and applying social studies information. 

If you’d like to get an idea of what you still need to learn, try taking a free GED Social Studies Practice Test online. Once you’ve taken the test, you can always return to this guide to learn more. 

Frequently Asked Questions About the Social Studies Test 

Is the GED social studies test hard?

The GED Social Studies test isn’t hard if you’re prepared. Remember, the GED Social Studies test isn’t about memorization. No one will expect you to remember specific historical details. The GED Social Studies test focuses more on understanding social studies concepts, using logic and reasoning, and drawing conclusions.  

What kind of social studies is on the GED test? What are the topics?

The GED Social Studies test focuses on four content categories:

  • 50% Civics and Government
  • 20% U.S. History
  • 15% Economics
  • 15% Geography and the World

More importantly, it covers three broad skill topics:

  • Reading for Meaning in Social Studies
  • Analyzing Historical Events and Arguments in Social Studies
  • Using Numbers and Graphs in Social Studies

Each topic can be broken down into the following tasks:

Reading for Meaning in Social Studies

  • Determine and use main ideas and details in social studies readings.
  • Understand social studies vocabulary. 
  • Identify how authors use language in social studies.
  • Determine fact from opinion. 
  • Evaluate claims and evidence in social studies. 

Analyzing Historical Events and Arguments

  • Make inferences based off of evidence in social studies readings.
  • Analyze the relationship between people, events, places, and processes described in a social studies reading.
  • Make judgements about an author’s point of view (e.g. what events shaped the point of view, whether or not the point of view is supported by evidence.)
  • Identifying bias and propaganda in social studies readings. 

Using Numbers and Graphs in Social Studies

  • Use data presented in visual form, such as maps, charts, graphs, and tables. 
  • Understand dependent and independent variables.
  • Recognize the difference between correlation and causation. 
  • Use statistics in social studies (e.g. finding the mean, median, and mode.) 

How long is the GED social studies test?

The GED social studies test is 70 minutes long. The test has approximately 48 questions depending on which test you get. There are no breaks during the test.  

How can I pass my social studies test?

Passing the test requires you to learn a number of skills. Since much of the GED Social Studies test involves reading, you’ll want to start there. First study reading, then tackle the test once you’re better prepared.    

Where can I take the GED social studies practice test 2019?

A practice test is a good place to start. It will give you some idea of what’s on the test and show you what you still need to work on.  You can take a free online practice test here GED Social Studies Practice Test.

Once you’ve taken the practice test and are ready to take the GED test, consider first taking the GED Ready. The GED Ready is a $6 official practice test from the GED Testing Service at GED.com.

Where can I find a GED social studies practice test in Spanish?

GED Academy provides full lessons on all GED subjects—with multiple practice tests in Spanish and English—enroll today for only $19 a month.

The GED testing service offers GED Ready official practice tests in Spanish for $6 per test at GED.com

What GED social studies worksheets can I download?

Try these free sample PDF worksheets from the reading and math workbooks to hone your important social studies skills:

Is there a cheat sheet to help me understand the test?

This handy GED social studies cheat sheet gives you all the basics you need to know about the test!

What Is the GED social studies extended response?

In the 2014 GED Social Studies test, the GED Testing Service included an extended response, also known as the GED essay. The extended response was removed on March 1, 2016. There is no essay question on the current test, so you won’t need to write an essay for this test! 

Can I get GED social studies flash cards?

Here are some sample flash cards websites to help you study for the test!

How do I get GED social studies test answers?

Finding the answer to a social studies test question is part preparation, part careful reading, and part strategy.

  • Preparation: Find a GED study program that will help you learn important skills, including reading social studies texts and understanding social studies evidence.
  • Careful Reading: When you take the social studies test, read the questions first. That will help you know what to look for when you look at the text, or at the chart or graph if you’re looking at data. Once you know what you’re looking for, search the text carefully for the information you need. This is probably the most important skill for getting the right social studies answers.
  • Strategy: The GED social studies test is mostly multiple choice. Have a strategy to answer multiple choice questions. First, eliminate all the wrong answers. Then, if you know the right answer, choose it. If you don’t, choose the first answer that you didn’t remove. Don’t worry if you have to guess, just always follow the same system for guessing. This strategy works for drop-down questions, too! You’ll improve your score by following this simple test-taking strategy.

Try a GED Social Studies Practice test to see how you’ll do on the test!

GED Social Studies Questions

What social studies is on the GED test?

This guide will help you understand what to expect on the GED Social Studies Test. The more familiar you are with the test, the better you will do.

What are the basics of the GED social studies test?

The Test is 70 minutes long, with no breaks. It has about 48 questions, so you’ll have about 1 minute and 45 seconds per question. If you time your own practice questions, try a minute and a half per question, but don’t constantly look at the clock. Focus on the questions, instead. You’ll have access to a calculator, but the focus isn’t on math. You won’t do a lot of math, but you will need to understand social studies data.

What kinds of questions are on the GED social studies test?

The GED social studies test has the following types of questions:

  • Multiple Choice. Most of the questions on the test will be multiple choice questions with four answer choices.
  • Fill-in-the-Blank. Fill-in-the-blank items will ask you to complete a sentence with the correct answer.
  • Drag-and-Drop. Drag-and-drop items will ask you to do things like put historic event s in order.
  • Drop-down. Drop-down items ask you to complete a sentence by choosing the correct answer from a drop-down list.
  • Hot Spot. Hot spot questions ask you to click on a particular part of an image, like an area on a map or a part of a photograph.

Some questions on the test will be stand-alone. In other words, it will be one question, maybe about a small table, a picture, or a short piece of text. For other questions, you’ll read a longer passage of text and answer a number of questions about it.

What social studies content is on the test?

Civics and Government—50% (24 out of 48 questions)

Civics and Government covers types of government, underlying principles of American government, the structure of the U.S. government, individual rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens, political parties, campaigns, elections, modern policies, and debates in politics today. The focus is on American government, its origins, and how it works. Try an example question!

Social Studies Skill: Analyzing the Relationships between Texts

These two excerpts are amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
1870: 15th Amendment—The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
1920: 19th AmendmentThe right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
In what way do these two amendments have similar objectives?
  1. They both give power to Congress.
  2. They both protect the voting rights of citizens.   
  3. They both grant voting rights to citizens. 
  4. They both apply laws to federal and state government. 
Answer: 2 
Read the two amendments carefully. They both say that the “the right of citizens... shall not be denied or abridged…” Neither amendment talks about granting new rights. Both amendments refer to rights that the citizen already has. The United States assumes that its citizens have unalienable rights, rights they are born with. Both amendments hope to protect the rights of citizens whose rights were infringed upon in the past. 

U.S. History—20% (10 out of 48 questions)

U.S. History is exactly what it sounds like, the history of the United States, from the Revolutionary War and writing the U.S. Constitution, all the way to modern-day policies after 9/11. You won’t find questions on all of the following topics, but any of them could be on the test: important documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights; the Revolutionary War and early U.S. history; the Civil War and Reconstruction; Civil Rights; European settlement of the Americas; World War I; World War II; the Cold War; and modern American foreign policy after 9/11. Here’s a practice question about U.S. History.

Social Studies Skill: Analyzing Author’s Point of View, Making Inferences

This is an excerpt from Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech. He speaks to American leaders about the possible threat of British invasion:  
March 20, 1775, Second Virginia Convention: They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
Based on this quote, which of these ideas would have Henry’s support?
  1. American leaders should not discuss military action unless the British attack. 
  2. American leaders should raise an army and attack Britain. 
  3. American leaders should raise a militia and be prepared to defend their liberty.  
  4. American leaders should do everything possible to avoid a war with the British. 
Answer: 3 
Henry worries that American leaders aren’t taking the British threat seriously. He wants to see “millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty.” Most of his language is concerned with what the British will do to his homeland. He’s more concerned with defending his own country than he is with attacking the British. 

Economics—15% (7 out of 48 questions)

Economics is an important issue for everyone. After all, you need to have a job, make money, and support yourself. That’s all economics. You might find the following topics on the test: key economic events in American history; relationships between politics and economics; economic ideas like markets, incentives, competition, and profit; microeconomics and macroeconomics, such as supply and demand, monetary policy, government regulation, investment, and unemployment; consumer economics, such as credit, savings, and banking; economic causes and impacts of war; how economics influenced exploration and colonization; and the scientific and industrial revolutions. Try an economics practice question.

Social Studies Skill: Understanding and Interpreting Charts, Graphs, and Data

These two pie charts shows the U.S.’s combined 2011 Mandatory Spending, also known as entitlement programs. These programs benefit qualifying citizens. 

Source: https://thornberry.house.gov/news/email/show.aspx?ID=YLQCOBH7KKBK6JNC4YDAIWANPI
What is the purpose of the right-hand pie chart?
  1. The right-hand chart gives a more specific breakdown of the same information. 
  2. The right-hand chart represents a single wedge of the left-hand chart.
  3. The right-hand chart is a 2012 projection based on the left-hand chart. 
  4. The right-hand chart includes the left-hand chart as part of itself. 
Answer: The right-hand chart is a detailed breakdown of the “Other Mandatory” wedge in the left-most chart.
Without this second chart, the individual slices of “Other Mandatory” would be too small to read. Adding a second graph allows the individual parts of “Other Mandatory” to be easily seen. 

Geography and the World—15% (7 out of 48 questions)

The rest of the GED Social Studies Test will be about geography and the world. You could come across questions about any of the following topics: The development of classical civilizations, such as Greece and Rome; relationships between the environment and how society develops; borders between people and nations, including reading and understanding maps; and human migration, or movement from place to place throughout history. Here is a sample geography practice question.

Social Studies Skill: Interpreting Maps, Drawing Conclusions, Understanding Hypotheses

The four sites marked on the map show the locations of past villages. What is the best hypothesis for the distance between the villages?
  1. Hypothesis A: The distance between the villages is based on the fact that Site C is the largest village.
  2. Hypothesis B: The distance between the villages is the distance villagers could travel down the river in one day.
  3. Hypothesis C: The river caused the villagers to make villages a certain distance apart.
  4. Hypothesis D: The river allowed the villagers resources to make crops, so the villages are a certain distance apart to grow crops.
Answer: 2. Hypothesis B.
It is likely that the river provided many resources for villagers, including the ability to travel. The villages are about equally spaced along the river, and the hypothesis that this distance is the time it would take villagers to travel down the river in one day is the only one that explains this fact.

What social studies skills are on the test?

If you wanted to memorize all the events of U.S. history, that would be tough! It’s more important to have the skills to read about these topics and understand what you’ve read. That’s why the social studies test focuses on skills, also called social studies practices. Every question will relate to one of the following types of social studies skills:

  • Drawing conclusions and making inferences.
  • Understanding the central idea, hypothesis, and conclusions in a social studies text.
  • Analyzing social studies events and ideas.
  • Understanding the symbols, words, and phrases used in social studies.
  • Analyzing an author’s purpose and point of view, including the point of view of people living in a past time and place.
  • Understanding and interpreting charts, graphs, data, and pictures as well as text.
  • Evaluating reasoning and evidence in what you read.
  • Analyzing the relationships between texts.

GED Social Studies Tips and Tricks: How to Study for the Test 

What’s the best way to study for GED Social Studies? These tips will help you study quickly and get ready fast.

1. Study Social Studies Skills, Not Details

Do you want to memorize every fact, date, and name from the beginning of time to the current U.S. President? Of course you don’t! The good news is that you don’t have to. Instead of studying facts, learn skills.

  • Learn to read about social studies.
  • Learn to interpret maps, graphs, and data about social studies.
  • Learn “big idea” topics in economics, geography, and history.
  • Learn about how American government works.

It’s a lot quicker and easier than memorizing!

2. Take the GED Social Studies Practice Test

Our practice test will get you started to pass your social studies test. A practice test is a great place to start. It shows you:

  • What kinds of questions are on the actual GED test.
  • What it’s like to take the test.
  • What kinds of questions you have trouble with and what kinds you do well on.
  • What you need to study. 

3. Study More Quickly and Effectively, Here Is How

If you want to learn social studies better, then you need a plan to study.

  • Make a list of what you need to know. Focus on big ideas and social studies skills like reading. This will help you get ready quickly. If you’re studying with an online course, then it might do the work for you to determine what you need to study.
  • Gather study materials. You might work best from books, or maybe you learn better from an online course or a class. If you’re studying on your own, find materials for all the things you need to study. An online course or class should give you the study materials you need.
  • Make a study schedule. Try to study a little bit every day. It’s more effective than studying a large chunk of time once a week. It’s also more effective to study at night, before you sleep. Keep a tracker to make sure you’re keeping to your study schedule, and reward yourself when you hit goals.
  • Review as you go. Go back and review every day and once a week. This helps you remember what you’ve learned better.
  • Take practice tests. As you go forward, take more practice tests to see how you’ve improved. When your practice test shows a passing score, schedule a GED Test date!

4. Learn a Few GED Social Studies Formulas

Social studies isn’t as formula-driven as science. There aren’t that many formulas in social studies for you to know, but there are a few basic concepts about Social Studies data and trends that you should know. 

  • Mean, Median, and Mode. These formulas are called Central Tendencies of Data. They’re ways to look at large amount of information and find the “center.” For example, what’s the average age of people in a city? If you learn mean, median, and mode, it can help you understand data.
  • Range. Range also gives you information about data. The range is the amount of difference between the largest piece of data in a set and the smallest one.
  • Data Displays. Large amounts of data can be shown in a histogram or a box plot. These are ways to see the median, or center, of the data, as well as the lowest and highest points of data: the range or spread. If you learn about histograms and box plots, you’ll be able to understand a lot of the data on the test. Check out GED Academy for easy lessons on everything you need to know, including easy lessons on data displays.
  • Supply and Demand. Supply and demand is one of those basic economics concepts that you should be familiar with. Basically, as the quantity you’re selling goes up, the price goes down. A supply and demand chart has a line for supply (how much of something people sell) and a line for demand (how much people want to buy). Where the lines cross is the point called equilibrium. That’s the “market price” of the item. It describes how much will be sold and what the price will be.
  • Principles about Society. What are some general rules about society and how it develops? Think about these rules, and when or how they apply. As you study, add new general rules to the list:
    • People build towns and cities near water and other important resources.
    • Over modern times, people have generally moved from the country to the cities.
    • Economies are either ruled more by the government and its laws, or more by economic forces like supply and demand. Most economies are a mix of the two!

5. Learn about the U.S. Government and History

The U.S. government and history is a big part of the test. Pick some big ideas and big points in history.

  • Learn about the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and important Supreme Court decisions.
  • Learn about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and World War II.
  • Learn about important events like the Dust Bowl, the Louisiana Purchase, the 1929 stock market crash, Watergate, and 9/11.
  • Learn about the Federal government versus state governments.
  • Learn about how the Federal government is constructed and its three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. This should include ideas like checks and balances that helped shape the U.S. government.
  • Learn about elections, political parties, and campaigns.

6. Maps, Pictures, Comics, Graphs!

Take some time to look at visual information that you might need to read on the test.

  • Be sure you can read a map that shows geography, population trends, or other types of social studies information..
  • Look at important photos from the past. What information can you get from historic photos? What do they tell you about the time?
  • Read some political cartoons! Political cartoons can give you important information about politics.
  • Learn to read charts and graphs for economics, history, and politics. You should be able to understand social studies data.

7. Study Reading First

If you don’t have strong reading skills, study GED reading before you start studying for social studies. It will help you with a lot of the skills on the GED Social Studies test. A good deal of the test is reading, so the better your reading skills are, the better you will do.

8. Learn Some Social Studies Words and Phrases

To read social studies, you’ll need to know some words and phrases. Learn the terms for important events and ideas in social studies, and it will help you understand what you read. To help you get started, here’s a social studies glossary from the Michigan Department of Education.

9. Make a Timeline...or Lots of Them!

Make a timeline of social studies events that you learn about. Start with the bigger topics on the Social Studies test, like World War II, the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War. A timeline will help you put social studies ideas in order. You might make one master timeline of big events, and then smaller timelines of topics as you study.

10. Prep for the Test

Be prepared for the test. People who are ready for a standardized test do better. That means:

  • Take timed practice tests so that you’ll know what it’s like to take the test.
  • Be rested before you take your GED Test. Don’t stay up all night studying! Don’t study the night before or the day of the test. Instead, relax and get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat well before the test. Eat healthy food with plenty of protein, and drink a good amount of water. You don’t want your stomach distracting you while you try to take the test.
  • Make sure you know where the test is and how long it takes to get there. The GED Test is given at a testing center near you so arrive a little early, so you’re not in a rush.
  • Don’t focus on being nervous or worried. Act like you’re taking another practice test. You know what to do!
  • Don’t focus on other test-takers, whatever they are doing. This isn’t about comparing yourself to others. You only have to do your best, and if you’re prepared, you will pass.
  • Use a test-taking strategy. Most of the questions will be multiple choice. A good strategy is to remove all the answer choices that you know are wrong. If you know the right answer, great! If you don’t know, always guess the first answer you haven’t eliminated. Don’t leave any questions blank.

A Checklist of What You Need to Know to Pass the GED Social Studies Test

In this section, we will write a recap of everything that one has to know in order to pass the GED Social Studies test. We will use subheadings and bullets, for example:

Here is what you should study for the Social Studies test. Not all of these topics will be on the test, but any of these topics might be!

Civics and Government—50% (about 24 questions out of 48)

  • You need to know about types of modern and historical governments.
  • You need to know the basic underlying principles of American democracy.
  • You need to know the structure of the U.S. government and how it works.
  • You need to know about individual rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.
  • You need to know about political parties, campaigns, and elections in the U.S.
  • You need to know about modern policies and debates in politics.

U.S. History—20% (about 10 questions out of 48)

  • You need to know what’s in key documents, like the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
  • You need to know about the Revolutionary War and early U.S. history.
  • You need to know about the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction after the war.
  • You need to know about Civil Rights.
  • You need to know about Eurpean settlement of the Americas.
  • You need to know about World War I and World War II.
  • You need to know about the Cold War.
  • You need to know about modern American foreign policy since 9/11.

Economics—15% (about 7 questions out of 48)

  • You need to know about key economic events in American history.
  • You need to understand relationships between politics and economics.
  • You need to understand economic ideas like markets, incentives, competition, and profit.
  • You need to understand topics in microeconomics and macroeconomics, such as supply and demand, monetary policy, government regulation, investment, and unemployment.
  • You need to understand consumer economics, such as credit, savings, and banking.
  • You need to know about economic causes and impacts of war.
  • You need to understand how economics influenced exploration and colonization.
  • You need to know about the scientific and industrial revolution.

Geography and the World—15% (about 7 questions out of 48)

  • You need to know about the development of classical civilizations, like Greece and Rome.
  • You need to understand relationships between the environment and how society develops, such as how technology and resources like water influence society.
  • You need to understand borders between people and nation, including reading and understanding maps.
  • You need to understand human migration. When and why have people moved from country to country or continent to continent? When and why have people moved from the country to cities?

Social Studies Practices

Throughout the test, you’ll need to use these skills to answer questions on all the topics. Focusing on social studies skills is a good way to study for the test!

  • You need to know how to draw conclusions and make inferences.
  • You need to understand the central idea, hypothesis, and conclusion when you read.
  • You need to analyze social studies events and ideas.
  • You need to understand symbols, words, and phrases used in social studies.
  • You need to know how to analyze purpose and point of view.
  • You need to understand and interpret charts, graphs, data, and pictures as well as text.
  • You need to evaluate reasoning and evidence in what you read.
  • You need to analyze the relationships between texts.

Online Social Studies Classes

What’s the fastest, easiest way to pass the GED Social Studies test? The GED Academy Online Course gives you personalized learning to get you there quickly. Quick and easy lessons are just the start!

The GED Academy includes a complete social studies course to prepare you for the GED Social Studies test. First, you’ll take a practice test or self-assessment. Based on how you do, the program will create a personal plan of social studies lessons and quizzes just for you, so you study only what you need to learn. You’ll improve quickly and easily because your learning plan will include everything you need to study to pass the GED Test, from easiest to more difficult. 

How long does it take? Every learning plan is different, but the average student only needs to study a few weeks to pass. You might only need to study 20 hours to pass your GED Social Studies test. That’s about a week’s work at a part time job! If it takes you longer, don’t worry. You can take as much time as you need, because you study at your own pace.

With helpful, personal support at every level, GED Academy is designed to help you succeed. When you enroll in GED Academy, you’ll receive:

  • A Virtual Tutor. As you study, your virtual tutor will recommend practice and review to get you ready for the test. Your virtual tutor will lead you, step by step, through the lessons you need.
  • Online GED Practice Tests. Take as many practice tests as you need to improve your score. You’ll see your score right away from these computer graded tests and see how close you are to passing the GED Social Studies test.
  • Social Studies Lessons and Quizzes. Learn everything you need to know in simple, short lessons and quizzes on every topic. Learn how to:
    • Read social studies texts
    • Understand social studies context and point of view
    • Analyze social studies events and ideas
    • Work with social studies data
    • Reason in social studies

Are you ready to get started? Take a look at how GED Academy works. 

Author

Leonard Williams, Personal Tutor

Tags

Free Resources | Prepare for the GED