Study for a Social Science Test

Focused college student studying at computer
Hero Images / Getty Images

When you study for a test in one of the social sciences, like history, government, anthropology, economics, and sociology, you must keep in mind that three things are important.

  • You must understand the vocabulary of your discipline.
  • You must understand the concepts you encounter in each segment of study.
  • You must understand the significance of each concept.

Students are sometimes frustrated after an exam in the social sciences because they feel they prepared adequately but discovered during the exam that their efforts didn't seem to make a difference at all.

The reason this happens is because students prepare for one or two of the items above, but they don't prepare for all three.

Common Mistakes When Studying Social Science Vocabulary 

The most common mistake students make is studying the vocabulary alone - or mixing concepts in with vocabulary. There is a big difference! To understand this, you can think of your material as a batch of cookies that you need to prepare.

  • The vocabulary words are the ingredients, like sugar, flour, and eggs.
  • Each individual concept is a cookie. Each looks a little different from the others, but each one stands alone as important.
  • Altogether, the cookies make up a batch.

You must create an entire "batch" of comprehension when you study for an exam in social science; you can't stop with a collection of ingredients! Here is why this is so important:

Vocabulary words show up as short answer or fill-in-the-blank questions.

Concepts often show up as multiple choice questions and essay questions.

Treat your vocabulary as a set of ingredients for understanding the concepts. Use flashcards to memorize your vocabulary, but remember that to fully understand your vocabulary definitions, you must also understand how they fit into the larger concepts.

Example: Imagine that you are preparing for a political science test. A few vocabulary words are a candidate, vote, and nominate. You must understand these individually before you can understand the concept of an election cycle.

Studying in Stages

The bottom line for preparing for a test in any social science is that you must study in stages. Practice vocabulary, but also study concepts and understand how different vocabulary words fit into each concept. Your concepts will also fit into a greater collection of knowledge (batch), like a specific historical period (Progressive Era) or a certain government type (dictatorship).

The concepts you study are as individual as your vocabulary words, but it will take time and practice to recognize concepts as entities because the lines can be somewhat blurred. Why?

The idea of a single vote (vocabulary word) is pretty clear cut. The idea of a dictatorship? That can be defined as many things. It can be a country with a dictator or a country with a very strong leader who demonstrates unchallenged authority, or it can even be an office that holds control over an entire government. Actually, the term is used to define any entity (like a company) that is controlled by one person or one office.

See how blurred the concept can become?

To summarize, any time you study for a social science test, you must go back and forth studying vocabulary, studying concepts, and studying how those concepts fit into the overall theme or time period.

To study effectively for a social science exam, you must give yourself at least three days of study. You can use your time wisely and gain a full understanding of both terminology and concepts by using a method called 3 Way 3 Day study technique.