Format of the SAT II U.S. History
Format of the SAT II U.S. History
The SAT II U.S. History is a one-hour-long test composed of 90–95 multiple-choice questions. The instructions for the test are very simple. You should memorize them so you don’t waste time reading them on the day of the test.

Directions: Each of the questions or incomplete statements below is followed by five suggested answers or completions. Select the one that is best in each case and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet.

Have you read the directions? Have you memorized them? (Don’t lie to us.) Have you really memorized them? Good.
Basically, the instructions inform you of two simple things: all the questions on the test are five-choice multiple-choice questions, and you will have an answer sheet on which to mark down your answers.
But we want to give you the lowdown on some aspects of the test the instructions don’t mention.
  • The questions on the test aren’t organized by time period or difficulty. For example, a difficult question about the Sherman Anti-Trust Act during the Industrial Revolution might be followed by an easy question about the causes of the War of 1812.
  • You can skip around while taking the test. If, for some reason, you have a yearning to answer question 90 first, then question 1, then question 67, then 22 … well, you can do that. However, if you do plan to skip questions and return to them later, remember it’s important to pace yourself, and make sure you fill out the answer key correctly.
  • All questions are worth the same number of points, whether easy or difficult.
All of these facts can greatly affect your approach to taking the test, as we will explain in the next chapter, on strategy.
The Four Types of Questions on the SAT II U.S. History
Each multiple-choice question on the SAT II U.S. History falls into one of the following four categories:
  1. Fact Questions
  2. Trend Questions
  3. EXCEPT Questions
  4. Cartoons/Charts/Maps Questions
If you familiarize yourself with each question type, you’ll be much less likely to be surprised by anything you encounter on the test.
Fact Questions
Fact questions test your knowledge of names and definitions, as well as your ability to recognize, describe, and explain specific events and the people associated with them. In this type of question, you might be asked about the ramifications of one particular act, rather than the effects of a general legislative policy. The questions will cover all time periods and themes—everything from presidents to social revolutionaries, from the Great Awakening to Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy.
Example Fact Questions:
The Haymarket Riot of 1886:
(A) helped rouse public support and sympathy for unions
(B) contributed to the Knights of Labor’s success in demanding higher wages and shorter work days
(C) effectively ruined the Knights of Labor, temporarily crippling the labor movement
(D) was violent but effective, as it forced the police to give strikers more liberty to express their grievances
(E) had little effect, since “scabs” went to work in place of those striking
Answer: C. In the Haymarket Riot of 1886, laborers met in Chicago to protest police brutality against strikers. The riot turned violent when a member of the Knights of Labor threw a bomb, killing a police officer. In all, nine people were killed and close to sixty were injured. Many leaders of the Knights of Labor were convicted of inciting the riot, and public support plummeted, effectively destroying the union. In the aftermath, a general anti-union hysteria spread through the American public, portraying unions as violent and lawless.
The first immigrants to be blocked from entering the U.S. were:
(A) Polish
(B) Italians
(C) Irish
(D) Russians
(E) Chinese
Answer: E. The Chinese Immigration Act was passed in 1882, preventing the Chinese from immigrating for the next six decades.
Trend Questions
Trend questions cover basic themes regarding groups, movements, and time periods. These questions test your ability to draw connections between the facts that you know and to display a more nuanced understanding of U.S. history. For example, you might be asked to spot connections between three listed acts, or to identify key issues during a listed span of years. Some Trend Questions will include quotations, asking you to identify a speaker’s attitude and to fit that speaker into a larger historical context by associating him or her with a relevant political or social movement.
Example Regular Trend Question:
Which of the following best characterizes the Transcendentalists?
(A) they aimed to transcend nature and overcome man’s inherent flaws
(B) they believed that, through the church, man could unite with God and achieve perfection
(C) they urged enlightenment through reason and the close study of scripture
(D) they believed that man could personally connect with God through oneness with nature
(E) they preached church reform and encouraged women to join the clergy
Answer: D. Transcendentalists called for an individualistic approach to faith, shunning the institutional church and its restrictive disciplines. They urged instead that people commune with God through nature, through personal and emotional responses rather than an intellectualization of faith.
Example Quote Trend Question:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”
These words from 1864 best describe which of the following political agendas?
(A) a war relief program to help Civil War veterans and their loved ones
(B) a moderate Republican plan, known as the Ten Percent Plan, to ease Reconstruction and reunite the nation
(C) a religious plan to unite the nation through faith in God
(D) a Southern appeasement plan, drafted by Southern Congressmen, to help rehabilitate the South without military supervision or Northern intervention
(E) the aims of the Radical Republicans to reunite the nation through a long and punishing reform of the South
Answer: B. Lincoln finished his second inaugural address with these words, expressing his desire to reunite the nation quickly and without conflict. The moderate Ten Percent Plan allowed the southern states to reenter the Union so long as ten percent of their voters pledged an oath of loyalty to the Union. Radical Republicans condemned the plan as too lenient; they wanted to punish the South for seceding.
EXCEPT Questions
EXCEPT questions can be either fact- or trend-related and are characterized by the use of the words EXCEPT, NOT, LEAST, INCORRECT, INCONSISTENT, or something similar. These words will always appear in all caps.
EXCEPT questions can be tricky because the right answer is actually the wrong answer; it is the one answer among the five that doesn’t fit. Though the idea is simple, it’s easy to get confused as you’re moving quickly through the test. If you are careful not to fall into a trap, though, the format of the question can actually help you. On other question types, if you aren’t sure of the answer, you have to eliminate four answer choices in order to find the right one. On EXCEPT questions, all you have to do is eliminate one, and you’ve found your answer.
Example EXCEPT questions:
The Populist Party supported all of the following EXCEPT:
(A) graduated income tax
(B) immigration restriction
(C) public ownership of railroads, telephone, and telegraph systems
(D) maintaining the gold standard, countering inflation
(E) eight-hour work day
Answer: D. The Populist Party vehemently opposed the gold standard, which served to limit the money in circulation and further aggravated farmers’ debts and poverty. William Jennings Bryan, the Populist and Democratic candidate in the 1896 presidential election, condemned the gold standard as oppressive, declaring that the people (farmers and laborers in particular) should not be “crucified on this cross of gold.” Bryan and the Populists pushed for a silver standard, which would cause inflation and raise prices. They argued that increasing the money supply would help boost the struggling economy (and make farmers’ debts worth less).
Of the following, which was NOT a factor in the Panic of 1837?
(A) overspeculation
(B) inflation, followed by a tight contraction of credit
(C) the successful recharter of the Second National Bank
(D) recall of loans and Jackson’s issuance of the Specie Circular
(E) possible bank mismanagement
Answer: C. Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second National Bank, considering it corrupt and unconstitutional.
Cartoons / Charts / Maps Questions
These questions present you with an image and ask you to interpret it. Since charts and maps tend to hold more information than a single question can test, read the question first so you know what to look for in the image. Pay close attention to any text, title, or date within the image. These things can help you place the image in a historical context, making it easier to decipher the question. There are usually 5 to 7 questions of this type on the test. Here’s an example:
The above cartoon suggests that
(A) the Spaniards used cruel guerilla tactics in the Spanish-American War
(B) the Spanish tried to demoralize Americans by desecrating their grave sites
(C) a disproportionate number of soldiers killed in the Spanish-American War were from Maine
(D) Spain was a brutish colonial power that had to be punished for sinking the Maine
(E) Americans attributed Spain’s victory in the Spanish-American War to Spaniards’ brutish, subhuman nature
Answer: D. The cartoon shows Spain as a savage power hovering over a grave site for “Maine soldiers”—that is, for the 256 soldiers killed in the explosion of the U.S. naval ship, the Maine, off the coast of Havana in 1898. A 1976 investigation revealed that a fire onboard the ship caused the blast, but in 1898 the U.S. government and general public were convinced that an underwater Spanish mine was to blame. Soon after the incident, the U.S. declared war on Spain to avenge both the loss of the Maine and Spain’s well-publicized cruelty against Cuban nationalists, who had been fighting for independence from Spanish rule since 1895. The U.S. won the war within two months, securing Cuban independence.
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