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AP World History -- It is Test Season

How to Analyze a Test Question

Many of you should be hastily finishing up your AP World History or AP U.S. History class material and will soon shift gears to study for the AP Exam in mid-May. First of all, congratulations for getting through these classes as they really are a challenge in terms of volume of work. I hope that you had a great experience and it has triggered your inner-historian. Even though STEM subjects get all the PR, I personally believe History and Social Science classes are just as important as math and science classes. Why? If taught (and learned) properly, a history class will teach you critical thinking and analytical skills, requiring you to express yourself in a clearly written format. The rigor of analysis is no less than in a math or science class -- arguably, it is more difficult because you are required to "interpret" a collection of facts / data / trends.

Where might these skills be useful in the real world? I believe they are useful in any potential job, including the math/engineering/science oriented jobs. I have always believed that the skills you develop in history classes would prepare you well for a position as a stock analyst. A stock analyst views both quantitative and qualitative data about a particular company (usually publicly available "documents" that might resemble DBQ documents), makes an assessment of the company's prospects based on this historical analysis coupled with their opinion of how internal/external factors for the company will play out (to their favor, disfavor, neutral) and then boils this down into a projection of what the future value of the company will be -- the stock price. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a stock analyst is $73,150 with the top 10% earning $141,070 with a projected growth rate of 20% until 2018. Usually, they are heavily bonused based on performance.

I wanted to run through an analysis of an AP multiple-choice question to demonstrate how to deduce the answer if you are unfamiliar with the topic being discussed.

30. One of the main goals of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) was to:

(a) expel Europeans from Mexico

(b) close the border with the United States

(c) cooperate with the Catholic Church to institute social reforms

(d) end the unequal system of land ownership

(e) attract United States investment in oil exploration

When I saw this question, I really had no idea what the Mexican Revolution was about. First of all, I was confused because I thought there were two Mexican Revolutions. A quick check of Wikipedia (yes, the text book confused me on the two "conflicts") confirms there was a Mexican War of Independence (1810-1921) and a Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Well, I thought a War of Independence was a revolution. I guess I was wrong about that but I wouldn't have access to Wikipedia while taking the test, so...

All that aside, it does not matter for answering the question!

I can dismiss (b) because this is a modern day issue. If you don't know this, watch a little news and follow a presidential campaign. You have to know some things for this method to be effective. Just not necessarily the specific thing they are asking you about.

I can dismiss (e) because oil did not become important for another 10 - 20 years. Plus, people don't really have revolutions (or civil wars) directly about natural resources.

I know Mexico was a Spanish colony which means it was Catholic ("god, gold, glory"). I know the Catholic Church was instrumental in reforming encomienda 100 or 200 years before. So, I am not 100% certain about ruling out (c ). But again, I parse the language. They refer to the Mexican Revolution. Reform movements are labeled like this "Seneca Falls Statement", "Abolitionism" (any -ism), Temperance, Great Awakening. Revolutions are NOT reform movements otherwise they would specifically exclude the word Revolution. I rule out (c).

I'm left with (a) and (d). Probably, in many cases you will be able to narrow down to 2 good answers. Sometimes, you have to flip the coin and pick one, though you have improved your odds considerably (50%) versus guessing out of five answers (20%) -- to make a baseball analogy, if you bat .500 versus .200, that is the difference between $50M a year superhuman hall-of-fame status and possibly finding a utility spot on a AA team in a remote part of the country.

For (a), I really have to piece it together from other knowledge I have. I know the U.S. war with Spain in 1901 or 1902 ish marked the end of their Imperial Empire. I know they were in Cuba in that war and that the war showed how far they had fallen (I believe they tried to surrender before we officially declared war or something ridiculous like that). Since they speak Spanish in Mexico, it is likely the Spanish conquered them (I already knew this but it is another example of using another bit of information in your brain to enhance your deduction). I can safely dismiss (a).

That leaves (d). Now, I would have picked (d) without the other analysis but I would have been 80% certain. I already knew that Latin America in general was hampered by the unequal distribution of land (very small minority own the majority of land) and this was not good in a rapidly industrializing world or for social stability. I just wasn't specifically sure that was what the Mexican Revolution of 1910 was about. Now, I am sure this is what the Mexican Revolution was about.