How to Pass the Praxis II: Social Studies

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Social studies is one of the most content-rich subjects in primary and secondary schools. From covering history prior to the United States to learning about how our country is run, it is a fun subject to teach. In order to teach it, you will need to do one thing: pass the Praxis II: Social Studies.

Whether you’re a history buff or looking to add onto your teaching certification, passing the Social Studies Praxis lets administrators know that you are knowledgeable enough in that area to teach it. Here are some tips and pointers from someone who has taken the Praxis II: Social Studies, and gone on to teach Social Studies.

Tip 1: Know What’s On the Praxis II Social Studies Test

Before learning how to pass the Praxis: Social Studies, there’s one question you need to ask yourself: which one do I take?

ETS (the company who supplies the Praxis test) has three different Praxis tests for Social Studies:

  • Social Studies: Content and Interpretation (5086)
  • Social Studies: Content Knowledge (5081)
  • Middle School Social Studies (5089)

As you can see, there can be some confusion about which one to take. If you are a teacher candidate, you should discuss the best option with your program advisor. If you are in lateral entry or have up-to-date certification, then you will need to contact your state’s education agency to see which will be accepted. For the sake of this discussion, I will be focusing on the Middle School Social Studies Praxis.

If you were to take a look at the question breakdown of this test from the Praxis Study Companion:

Content Type Approx. Number of QuestionsPercentage of Test
United States History2219
World History1815
Government/Civics1714
Geography1714
Economics1613
Short Content Essays325

We’ll cover the largest piece of the test, the short content essays, later on, but for now it’s important to focus on the largest pieces of information to know in the multiple choice section: U.S. History and World History.

Passing a Social Studies Praxis test does not mean you need to know every facet of U.S. or world history over the years, so don’t expect questions about the first Vice President of the U.S. (John Adams) or when NATO was officially formed (April 4th, 1949). What you are expected to know is a broad overview of significant people, dates, and events. Some of these questions may include:

  • Which of the following statements is true regarding the settlement of Jamestown?
  • Which of the following was not a direct contribution to the Great Depression?
  • Who were the famous dispatch riders alerting Americans of British troop advancements in 1775?

To prepare for this, I recommend creating a timeline that contains both U.S. and worldwide significant events (events such as the Renaissance that preceded the American Revolution by centuries can be summed up in a sentence or two).

Perhaps the best visual aid to help you with these iconic dates and events is the Crash Course YouTube channel. Hosted by famous author John Green and his brother Hank, the channel hosts a U.S. History playlist along with a World History playlist with 10-minute videos covering the essential information you need. I used this in college for my undergraduate studies as well as for preparing for the Praxis test by taking notes on only the essential dates, figures, and events, and I can attest to how effective it is.

Tip 2: Connect Content Together

The third most tested portion of the multiple choice section is the government/civics piece. At minimum, you are expected to know:

  • The separation of powers between the executive, judicial, and legislative branch
  • How a bill becomes a law
  • The electoral college process and other voting facts
  • Major court cases
  • The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and major laws

The easiest and most effective way of learning this information is to connect each piece together along with the U.S. History section. Creating answer stems can help consolidate it together.

How to Pass the Praxis II Social Studies

For example, I can use the answer stem “_______ was passed in _____ by ______ after ______.” If I were to focus on the Voting Rights Act, I can fill in the blanks by saying, “The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson after passing the House and Senate during the Civil Rights Movement. This answer alone gives me:

  • A major law (Voting Rights Act)
  • A significant date (1965)
  • A significant person (President L.B.J.)
  • How a bill becomes a law (Passing the House, then the Senate)
  • A significant event (Civil Rights Movement)

Tip 3: Know How to Write (Even if You Don’t Know The Entire Topic)

Worth a whopping 25% of the final score, the short content essays are often the most difficult portion of the test. You don’t have the option of guessing the correct answer or narrowing your choices down. You either know the information or you don’t. As mentioned above, your essays may include:

  • U.S. History related to Civics
  • World History related to Geography
  • U.S. or World History related to Economics or Civics

You are graded on a three-point scale (thorough, adequate, or little understanding of the question) and your answers are approximately two to three paragraphs each, with some questions having a Part A and a Part B.

This may seem daunting, especially if you are not acquainted with economics or geography. However, if you’re simply looking to pass the Social Studies Praxis (achieving at least the minimum score), it is possible to garner a 1.5 or 2 by being crafty with your response. Some basic writing tips to boost your score are:

  • Reference any graphs, charts, or maps given to you in the question.
  • Clearly state what you are going to be arguing (ex. Brown v. Board of Education played a significant role in reversing the standard set by Plessy v. Ferguson).
  • Back up your claim with multiple points (this is where your content knowledge comes in) and explain why the evidence backs up the claim.
  • Bring up any information provided for you in the question prompt, as that is free real estate for your response.
  • Make sure your response is free of any spelling or grammar errors, as this can bring a 3 response down to a 2 quickly.
  • Conclude your response by summarizing your key points and end with a definitive statement (ex. Without Brown v. Board of Education, the American public would still be asking whether “separate” is truly “equal”).

If your strong suit is your writing, you need to brush up on your content knowledge, and vice-versa. Deficiencies in one can bring down your strength in the other. However, having a strong blend of both can lead you to achieving a suitable short content essay score, even if you may be confused as to where Zimbabwe is located on a map.

Anyone can learn how to pass the Praxis II: Social Studies, regardless of which test you take. By focusing on the most heavily tested items, connecting each piece together through answer stems, and making sure your writing for the essays is informative and clear, you’ll be ready to teach your students one of the most fun and enriching subjects in your school.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ets.org/praxis/prepare/materials/5086
  2. https://www.ets.org/s/praxis/pdf/5089.pdf
  3. https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse/playlists
  4. https://www.fastweb.com/student-life/articles/essay-tips-7-tips-on-writing-an-effective-essay