High School U.S. History Study Guide for the STAAR test

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General Information

In the state of Texas, you cannot graduate from high school without passing a test on certain core courses, and U.S. History is one of them. A passing score is II or III of these scoring levels:

  • III—Advanced Academic Performance
  • II—Satisfactory Academic Performance
  • I—Unsatisfactory Academic Performance

It is advisable to take this required test as soon as possible after completing the U.S. History high school course. This way, the content will be fresh in your mind. Then, you can use this study guide to go over key concepts and check your understanding by using our STAAR High School U.S. History practice questions and flashcards.

Basically, this is what the STAAR U.S. History high school test is like:

It contains 68 multiple-choice questions on the content of the four major areas covered in this study guide.

About 30% of the questions will also require you to use “Social Studies Skills,” as defined by the State of Texas. You will not receive a separate score on these skills, but using them will contribute to your ability to answer these questions correctly. For this reason, we have listed them at the end of this study guide under a heading of the same name.

Let’s get started! Here is an outline of the content on which you’ll be tested.

History of the United States

Almost half of the test (30 of 68 questions) assesses your knowledge of United States History. This covers major events, themes, people, and ideas of relevance throughout the history of our country. Don’t let this overwhelm you! Follow this guide and you will gain a good general overview of what you need to know.

Celebrate Freedom Week Program

As you may know, Celebrate Freedom Week emphasizes the founding of our country through the study of our founding documents. Studying the founding of the U.S. is a good place to start in your review of U.S. History. Let’s look at the founding documents first.

Founding Documents

The founding documents explain the intentions and goals our founding fathers had for this new nation. These documents lay the foundation for how government and society should operate in the United States.

Declaration of Independence—the official document declaring the 13 American colonies independent from Great Britain. You need to be able to recognize the first three paragraphs of this document.

U.S. Constitution—the supreme law of the U.S. that frames the national government. The Constitution is a living document and can be amended or changed, as needed, to meet the needs and desires of the people.

Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution that outline the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the U.S. and protect these rights.

Connection of Founding Documents to U.S. Historical Events

The founding documents are important to the daily functions of government and society in the U.S. For example, the U.S. Constitution was amended after the Civil War to prohibit slavery in the U.S. It has been amended to provide other rights and responsibilities concerning things like universal suffrage (the right of all to vote, regardless of race or sex), limiting presidential terms, and allowing the federal government to levy an income tax. Since the Constitution can be amended, U.S. citizens have power to influence these changes through civic engagement and electing officials that reflect their ideology.

Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers were an extraordinary group of men who risked their lives in the pursuit of creating a new nation. This is just a short list with brief information, so you may want to research more on your own.

Benjamin Rush—a signer of the Declaration of Independence, from Philadelphia, best known for his position as Treasurer of the U.S. Mint. He was also a prominent statesmen and physician.

John Hancock—the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, well known for signing his name large and prominent on the document. He was a very successful and wealthy New England businessman and remained a prominent figure in Massachusetts politics after the revolution.

John Jay—most well-known for his position as first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also helped draft the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

John Witherspoon—another signer of the Declaration of Independence who was highly educated and the first president of Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey) in 1768. His support of the revolutionary cause drew much attention and respect among colonists.

John Peter Muhlenberg—born in Pennsylvania, educated in Germany, later returned to the colonies, and became an ordained clergyman. He joined the military and led a brigade of German Virginians during the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of Major General.

Charles Carroll—a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was an early supporter of independence. He served in the Continental Congress and later in the U.S. Senate.

Jonathan Trumbull Sr.—The only colonial governor to support the rebel cause, he served as governor of the Connecticut colony under British rule and later, after the revolution, served as the first governor of the state of Connecticut.

Points in History from 1877 to the Present

A major aim of this test is to assess your knowledge and understanding of the most important times and events in U.S. History, beginning in 1877. Follow the guidelines below and study the topics provided.

Historical Eras

You must be familiar with the historical eras listed in this study guide. Eras are simply periods of time characterized by main events that allow people to contextualize history. You should be able to identify them and be able to explain the main characteristics of each one.

Sequence of Historical People and Events

Furthermore, you must understand these eras across time. In other words, you should know the chronological order in which these historical eras progress. When you identify a person or event, you need to know when they lived or took place as well as what happened before and after that time.

Turning Points in History

These are major events or time periods that drastically changed the narrative of history. Be sure to understand the significance of these events and consider how our world today would be different if these events had never happened. Here are some important examples:

1898 (Spanish-American War)—This conflict between the U.S. and Spain ended Spanish rule in the Americas and gave the U.S. control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and several other territories.

1914–1918 (World War I)—Also known as the Great War or the War to End All Wars, WWI was largely caused by growing militarism, staunch alliances, imperialism, and nationalism in Europe. The spark that started the war was the assassination of the Archduke of Austria by a Serbian nationalist. The conflict grew large due to alliances and dragged on due to new military technology like the machine gun, tank, and trench warfare.

1929 (Great Depression** begins)—Following an economic boom of the 1920s, the **stock market crashed as bank loans and credit soared to unsustainable levels. People panicked and rushed to withdraw their money. Inflation soared, and the depression worsened as businesses responded by cutting back and laying off workers. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs helped, but WWII would prove to be the force behind kickstarting the U.S. economy once again.

1939–1945 (World War II)—Growing nationalism in Europe (and Japan) once again led to global war. The Axis v. Allies fought on nearly every continent and the result left tens of millions dead and the world forever changed.

1957 (Sputnik Launch)—In the space race between U.S. and Soviets (largely an extension of the Cold War), the successful launch of Sputnik was a major blow to the U.S. as many feared the Soviets would quickly outpace U.S. technological ability.

1968–1969 (MLK assassination and moon landing)—The assassination of MLK is often seen as the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the catalyst for the passage of an equal housing bill that is seen as the last significant piece of legislation from the movement. The following year, America became the first to put a man on the moon, bringing an informal end to the Space Race.

1991 (Cold War ends)—The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, largely due to internal problems like communist economic principles, vast ethnic divides, and large government bureaucracy.

2001 (911)—On September 11, 2001, the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was carried out by members of the Al Qaeda terror group. The twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were targeted by commercial jets, while a fourth plane (believed to be targeting the White House) was put down in rural PA.

2008 (first black president elected)Barack Obama became the first black person to be elected president in the United States, signifying a major step in civil rights and a turning point in American politics.

[Following this is a look at the major eras in U.S. history and some of the major political, economic, and social issues during that time. Political issues typically refer to government policy or the system of representation the U.S. enjoys. Economic issues include anything that deals with business, the stock market, and the principles of supply and demand. Finally, social issues deal with people in a country or society. These issues are things like homelessness or unemployment.]

U.S. History from 1877 to 1898

This period of time is often referred to as the Gilded Age and lasted roughly from the 1870s to 1900.

Political Issues

There were a variety of politically related issues during this time. Be sure to especially study these:

Indian Policies—refer to how the U.S. government deals with native tribes within the U.S. The Constitution provides the Federal government with this responsibility. In the late 1800s, the U.S. was particularly brutal with Indians. As the U.S. continued to spread westward, Indians were killed, their land taken, and often confined to poverty on reservations.

Political Machines—closely resembled organized crime in the nineteenth century. Bosses, as they were known, represented a political party and provided favors to voters in exchange for their voting loyalty. Immigrants in urban areas were especially targeted by bosses and were provided jobs and housing in exchange for their votes.

Civil Service Reform—The Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883 provided for government jobs to be filled based on merit (or ability to do the job), rather than party affiliation. The goal was, basically, to fill jobs with the best-qualified person rather than giving a job to someone’s relative or friend (a practice known as nepotism).

Populism—refers to the political movement of focusing on representing the common man rather than the elite, wealthy people in society. The populist party was founded in 1892, upheld the cause of the common man, and opposed big business.

Economic Issues

Economic issues refer to business dealings or the way money is made and spent across the country, especially on a large scale.

Industrialization—The Gilded Age was most characterized by rapid industrialization in the U.S. The period is known for economic growth as the country saw new factories, railroads, and mining.

Growth of Railroads—the expansion of railroads in the late 1800s that allowed for the growth of industry as goods could be transported further and faster than ever before. Railroads also encouraged and allowed people to settle further westward. The rapid expansion of railroads also led to intense competition between railroad companies during this period.

Growth of Labor Unions—happened as industrialization meant the growth of factories and industry and more people moved to cities to work in factories. Factory owners often took advantage of workers, making them work long hours at dangerous jobs for little pay. Labor unions were formed to advocate for the rights of the workers and provide better working conditions, limiting the hours in a workday, fighting for better pay, and much more.

Farm Issues—arose as machinery was introduced to farming on large scales during this period and farmers were able to produce more than ever before. As a result, prices dropped (simple supply and demand economics) and farmers struggled. Lower market prices coupled with the high cost of shipping on railroads caused farmers to advocate for a change in government policy.

Boom of the Cattle Industry—happened with the growth of the railroad. Cattle ranching grew in the west as the railroad finally connected the wide open ranges with large eastern markets. Also, with more economic prosperity, more people could afford red meat in their diet. These factors led to a rapid rise in cattle ranching during the Gilded Age.

Rise of Entrepreneurship—or people starting businesses. During this age, many people rose as prominent, successful entrepreneurs that are household names today. John Rockefeller was known for establishing Standard Oil while Andrew Carnegie started U.S. Steel with J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab. The Vanderbilt family was known for dominating the rail and shipping businesses.

Free Enterprise—the economic system that allows anyone to start a business and allows those businesses to compete for your dollar. In other words, individuals own businesses and can make all decisions about their businesses, from production to sale.

Big Business Pros and Cons—The Gilded Age is well known for the rise of big business as larger businesses bought out smaller ones and some gained a monopoly. This often expanded access to goods for the consumer but sometimes led to lower quality goods as the one big business had no competition or pressure to improve their product or service.

Social Issues

Rapid growth in industry led to rapid urbanization in the U.S. during this period. These changes brought a handful of problems for people. These problems that people faced across the country can be referred to as social issues.

Women—advocated for suffrage, or the right to vote, during this period. This was largely driven by the fact that more women were getting an education and working outside the home, so the argument was that if women could work, they should be able to vote, too.

Minorities—issues concerning mainly black people, who were especially mistreated during this era. Since the end of slavery, African Americans had gained many rights. This didn’t sit well with many whites, especially in the South, and campaigns were launched to pass laws requiring segregation.

Children—problems concerning children who worked dangerous jobs in mines and factories during this time. There was a big push for legislation to end child labor practices and send kids to school instead.

Immigrants—those who immigrated to the U.S. during this period of rapid industrialization and economic growth. They often faced discrimination and were confined to poor neighborhoods.

Urbanization—rapid urbanization that took place as people moved to cities to work in factories. This often led to overcrowded living conditions as cities couldn’t keep up with the rapid pace of population growth.

The Social Gospel—movement started by Christian ministers as an effort to improve the economic, moral, and social conditions of the urban poor.

Philanthropy—as many industries thrived, the obligation felt by many wealthy business owners to give some of their wealth to promote the welfare of others. They started organizations and gave money to improve the lives of those less fortunate.

Immigrant Optimism

This period was also known for optimistic immigrants who came to the U.S. seeking job opportunities and a better life. Many people believed that anyone had a chance to become rich in the free enterprise system of the U.S.


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