Going with what you know
You're smarter than you think. You can usually come up with more than one way to figure out a question. When you hit a blank wall, try thinking around the wall. Eliminating even one bad answer choice puts the odds in your favor. Sometimes, you can rule out answers by looking at them closely. Here's an example:
1 Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle led to the passage of which law?
(A) the Clayton Antitrust Law
(B) the Northwest Ordinance
(C) the Pure Food and Drug Act
(D) the Stark Amendment
(E) the Hepburn Act
How would you know? If all those complicated acts look like a foreign language to you, stop and think back for a moment. On a slow Friday in literature class, the teacher was talking about The Jungle not being about a tropical forest at all, but about filthy food factories. That would lead you to (C), the Pure Food and Drug Act. Or you may just have been wrestling with the question about the Northwest Ordinance covered earlier in this chapter, and you picked up something about the Ordinance from answering that question and now know it can't have anything to do with The Jungle.
On a history test, time is on your side. Knowing about when events happened helps you to see when a possible answer is way out of its chronological period. If you know the key terms, their approximate dates, and why they're important, you have a great chance of scoring well. You may make this note: "Northwest Ordinance (1787 — at the beginning of U.S. government) = rules for setting up new states from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River; no slavery; freedom of religion; jury trials." Knowing the general time period related to the Northwest Ordinance eliminates it from the Sinclair/Jungle answer possibilities. Upton's grandfather wasn't even born when Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance.
Making a little knowledge go a long way
You don't really need to know everything by heart to choose the correct answer. You can make a little knowledge go a long way. Suppose you faced a question like this:
1. American artists painting around 1900 in what was called the Realist school tended to paint which subject?
(A) American frontier life
(B) urban scenes
(C) rural family life
(D) wild natural landscapes
(E) pastoral scenes
A little time with art can go a long way. You may have a vague feeling that the late Victorians painted some pretty sentimental scenes, certainly not what people would call Realism. That would mean that common subjects like (A), (C), (D), and (E) probably wouldn't earn a special name like Realist school; they all blend together and make (B), the right answer, stand out.
Using common sense
Sometimes, common sense alone can help you solve a problem, as it does with this question:
1. When a U.S. reporter coined the phrase Manifest Destiny, he meant that
(A) the struggle for racial equality should be the purpose of America
(B) the United States should set all of South America free from colonialism
(C) America must become either all slaveholding or all free
(D) it's the fate of the United States to cover the whole continent from ocean to ocean
(E) all Americans should pursue happiness until they're happy all the time
Your best bet is to know that Manifest Destiny means (D). But what if you just knew that Manifest Destiny sounded like something you'd heard a lot? That would probably eliminate events that didn't happen, such as (B) and (C). You can eliminate (E) because it sounds like a smart-aleck answer. You may know that Manifest Destiny started way before the Civil War and that, even 100 years after the outbreak of the Civil War, racial equality still didn't have full support, which pretty much leaves (A) out. Knowing a little and taking the time to use your common sense can be a lifesaver.