The Best US History Regents Review Guide 2020


Taking US History in preparation for the Regents test?

The next US History Regents exam dates are Wednesday, January 22nd and Thursday, June 18th, both at 9:15am.

Will you be prepared?

You may have heard the test is undergoing some significant changes.

In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about the newly-revised US History Regents exam,

from what the format will look like to which topics it’ll cover. We also include official sample questions of every question type you’ll see on this test and break down exactly what your answers to each of them should include.

What Is the Format of the US History Regents Exam?

Beginning in 2020, the US History Regents exam will have a new format. Previously, the test consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions with long essays, but now it will have a mix of multiple choice, short answer, short essay, and long essay questions (schools can choose to use the old version of the exam through June 2021). Here’s the format of the new test, along with how it’s scored:

Number of Questions

Question Type

Points per Question

Partial Credit Given?

Total Points

Part I
28 Multiple choice 1 No 28

Part II
2 Short essay 5 Yes 10

Part III
7 6 short answer 1 Civic Literacy essay 1 per short answer, 5 for the essay Only for the long essay 11




Part 1

Part 1 consists of 28 multiple-choice questions. T

here is no strict recall in this section; all of these questions will be based on stimuli

(what they call documents such as posters, letters, speeches, etc.) that will be included in the test. There will be nine to ten total stimuli, so each stimulus will be followed by about two to three questions.

Part 2

In Part 2, there will be two sets of paired documents (always primary sources).

For each pair of documents, students will answer with a short essay

(about two to three paragraphs, no introduction or conclusion).

For the first pair of documents, students will need to describe the historical context of the documents and explain how the two documents relate to each other. For the second pair, students will again describe the historical context of the documents then explain how audience, bias, purpose, or point of view affect the reliability of each document.

Part 3

Part A: Students will be given a set of documents focused on a civil or constitutional issue, and they’ll need to respond to a set of six short-answer questions about them.

Part B: Using the same set of documents as Part A,

students will write a full-length essay (the Civic Literacy essay) that answers the following prompt:

  • Describe the historical circumstances surrounding a constitutional or civic issue.
  • Explain efforts by individuals, groups, and/or governments to address this constitutional or civic issue.
  • Discuss the extent to which these efforts were successful OR discuss the impact of the efforts on the United States and/or American society.

What Topics Does the US History Regents Exam Cover?

Even though the format of the US History Regents test is changing, the topics the exam focuses on are pretty much staying the same.

New Visions for Public Schools

recommends teachers base their US History class around the following ten units:

Unit 1: Colonial Foundations
Unit 2: American Revolution
Unit 3A: Building a Nation
Unit 3B: Sectionalism and the Civil War
Unit 4: Reconstruction
Unit 5: Gilded Era and Progressive Era
Unit 6: Rise of American Power
Unit 7: Prosperity and Depression
Unit 8: World War II
Unit 9: Cold War
Unit 10: Domestic Change

As you can see, the US History Regents exam can cover pretty much any major topic/era/conflict in US History from the colonial period to present day, so make sure you have a good grasp of each topic during your US History Regents review.


What Will Questions Look Like on the US History Regents Exam?

Because the US History Regents exam is being revamped for 2020,

all the old released exams (with answer explanations) are out-of-date.

They can still be useful study tools, but you’ll need to remember that they won’t be the same as the test you’ll be taking.

Fortunately, the New York State Education Department has released a partial

sample exam

so you can see what the new version of the US History Regents exam will be like.

In this section, we go over a sample question for each of the four question types you’ll see on the test and explain how to answer it.

Multiple-Choice Sample Question

Base your answers to questions 1 through 3 on the letter below and on your knowledge of social studies.

. . . For myself, I was escorted through Packingtown by a young lawyer who was brought up in the district, had worked as a boy in Armour’s plant, and knew more or less intimately every foreman, “spotter,” and watchman about the place. I saw with my own eyes hams, which had spoiled in pickle, being pumped full of chemicals to destroy the odor. I saw waste ends of smoked beef stored in barrels in a cellar, in a condition of filth which I could not describe in a letter. I saw rooms in which sausage meat was stored, with poisoned rats lying about, and the dung of rats covering them. I saw hogs which had died of cholera in shipment, being loaded into box cars to be taken to a place called Globe, in Indiana, to be rendered into lard. Finally, I found a physician, Dr. William K. Jaques, 4316 Woodland avenue, Chicago, who holds the chair of bacteriology in the Illinois State University, and was in charge of the city inspection of meat during 1902-3, who told me he had seen beef carcasses, bearing the inspectors’ tags of condemnation, left upon open platforms and carted away at night, to be sold in the city. . . .

— Letter from Upton Sinclair to President Theodore Roosevelt, March 10, 1906

  1. Upton Sinclair wrote this letter to President Theodore Roosevelt to inform the president about

1. excessive federal regulation of meatpacking plants

2. unhealthy practices in the meatpacking plants

3. raising wages for meatpacking workers

4. state laws regulating the meatpacking industry

There will be 28 multiple-choice questions on the exam, and they’ll all reference “stimuli” such as this example’s excerpt of a letter from Upton Sinclair to Theodore Roosevelt.

This means you’ll never need to pull an answer out of thin air

(you’ll always have information from the stimulus to refer to), but you will still need a solid knowledge of US history to do well.

To answer these questions, first read the stimulus carefully but still efficiently. In this example, Sinclair is describing a place called “Packingtown,” and it seems to be pretty gross. He mentions rotting meat, dead rats, infected animals, etc.

Once you have a solid idea of what the stimulus is about, read the answer choices (some students may prefer to read through the answer choices before reading the stimulus; try both to see which you prefer).

Option 1 doesn’t seem correct because there definitely doesn’t seem to be much regulation occurring in the meatpacking plant. Option 2 seems possible because things do seem very unhealthy there. Option 3 is incorrect because Sinclair mentions nothing about wages, and similarly for option 4, there is nothing about state laws in the letter.

Option 2 is the correct answer.

Because of the stimulus (the letter), you don’t need to know everything about the history of industrialization in the US and how its rampant growth had the tendency to cause serious health/social/moral etc. problems, but having an overview of it at least can help you answer questions like these faster and with more confidence.

Short Essay

This Short Essay Question is based on the accompanying documents and is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. Each Short Essay Question set will consist of two documents. Some of these documents have been edited for the purposes of this question. Keep in mind that the language and images used in a document may reflect the historical context of the time in which it was created.

Task: Read and analyze the following documents, applying your social studies knowledge and skills to write a short essay of two or three paragraphs in which you:

  • Describe the historical context surrounding these documents
  • Identify and explain the


    between the events and/or ideas found in these documents (Cause and Effect,




    Turning Point)

In developing your short essay answer of two or three paragraphs, be sure to keep these explanations in mind:


means “to illustrate something in words or tell about it”

Historical Context

refers to “the relevant historical circumstances surrounding or connecting the events, ideas, or developments in these documents”


means “to put a name to or to name”


means “to make plain or understandable; to give reasons for or causes of; to show the logical development or relationship of”

Types of Relationships



refers to “something that contributes to the occurrence of an event, the rise of an idea, or the bringing about of a development”


refers to “what happens as a consequence (result, impact, outcome) of an event, an idea, or a development”


tells how “something is alike or the same as something else”


tells how “something is not alike or not the same as something else”

Turning Point

is “a major event, idea, or historical development that brings about significant change. It can be local, regional, national, or global”

Document 1


Mr. President, would you mind commenting on the strategic importance of Indochina for the free world? I think there has been, across the country, some lack of understanding on just what it means to us.

The President:

You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical [hostile] to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences. . . .

Source: Press Conference with President Dwight Eisenhower, April 7, 1954

Document 2

Joint Resolution

To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia.

Whereas naval units of the Communist regime in Vietnam, in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law, have deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels lawfully present in international waters, and have thereby created a serious threat to international peace; and

Whereas these attackers are part of deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom; and

Whereas the United States is assisting the peoples of southeast Asia to protest their freedom and has no territorial, military or political ambitions in that area, but desires only that these people should be left in peace to work out their destinies in their own way: Now, therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled

, That the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression. . . .

Source: Tonkin Gulf Resolution in Congress, August 7, 1964

It’s important to read the instructions accompanying the documents so you know exactly how to answer the short essays.

This example is from the first short essay question, so along with explaining the historical context of the documents, you’ll also need to explain the relationship between the documents

(for the second short essay question, you’ll need to explain biases). Your options for the types of relationships are:

  • cause and effect,
  • similarity/difference
  • turning point

You’ll only choose one of these relationships. Key words are explained in the instructions, which we recommend you read through carefully now so you don’t waste time doing it on test day.

The instructions above are the exact instructions you’ll see on your own exam.

Next, read through the two documents, jotting down some brief notes if you like. Document 1 is an excerpt from a press conference where President Eisenhower discusses the importance of Indochina, namely the goods it produces, the danger of a dictatorship to the free world, and the potential of Indochina causing other countries in the region to become communist as well.

Document 2 is an excerpt from the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It mentions an attack on the US Navy by the communist regime in Vietnam, and it states that while the US desires that there be peace in the region and is reluctant to get involved, Congress approves the President of the United States to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

Your response should be no more than three paragraphs.

For the first paragraph, we recommend discussing the historical context of the two documents. This is where your history knowledge comes in.

If you have a strong grasp of the history of this time period, you can discuss how France’s colonial reign in Indochina (present-day Vietnam) ended in 1954, which led to a communist regime in the north and a pro-Western democracy in the south. Eisenhower didn’t want to get directly involved in Vietnam, but he subscribed to the “domino theory” (Document 1) and believed that if Vietnam became fully communist, other countries in Southeast Asia would as well. Therefore, he supplied the south with money and weapons, which helped cause the outbreak of the Vietnam War.

After Eisenhower, the US had limited involvement in the Vietnam War, but the Gulf of Tonkin incident, where US and North Vietnam ships confronted each other and exchanged fire, led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Document 2) and gave President Lyndon B. Johnson powers to send US military forces to Vietnam without an official declaration of war. This led to a large escalation of the US’s involvement in Vietnam.

You don’t need to know every detail mentioned above, but

having a solid knowledge of key US events (like its involvement in the Vietnam War) will help you place documents in their correct historical context.

For the next one to two paragraphs of your response, discuss the relationship of the documents.

It’s not really a cause and effect relationship, since it wasn’t Eisenhower’s domino theory that led directly to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but you could discuss the similarities and differences between the two documents (they’re similar because they both show a fear of the entire region becoming communist and a US desire for peace in the area, but they’re different because the first is a much more hands-off approach while the second shows significant involvement). You could also argue it’s a turning point relationship because the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was the turning point in the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Up to that point, the US was primarily hands-off (as shown in Document 1).

Typically, the relationship you choose is less important than your ability to support your argument with facts and analysis.


Short Answers and Civic Literacy Essay

This Civic Literacy essay is based on the accompanying documents. The question is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. Some of these documents have been edited for the purpose of this question. As you analyze the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document. Keep in mind that the language and images used in a document may reflect the historical context of the time in which it was created.

Historical Context: African American Civil Rights

Throughout United States history, many constitutional and civic issues have been debated by Americans. These debates have resulted in efforts by individuals, groups, and governments to address these issues. These efforts have achieved varying degrees of success. One of these constitutional and civic issues is African American civil rights.

Task: Read and analyze the documents. Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, write an essay in which you

  • Describe the historical circumstances surrounding this constitutional or civic issue
  • Explain efforts to address this constitutional or civic issue by individuals, groups, and/or governments
  • Discuss the extent to which these efforts were successful


means “to illustrate something in words or tell about it”


means “to make plain or understandable; to give reasons for or causes of; to show the logical development or relationship of”


means “to make observations about something using facts, reasoning, and argument; to present in some detail”

Document 1a

. . . Before the Civil War, blacks could vote in only a handful of northern states, and black officeholding was virtually unheard of. (The first African American to hold elective office appears to have been John M. Langston, chosen as township clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855.) But during Reconstruction perhaps two thousand African Americans held public office, from justice of the peace to governor and United States senator. Thousands more headed Union Leagues and local branches of the Republican Party, edited newspapers, and in other ways influenced the political process. African Americans did not “control” Reconstruction politics, as their opponents frequently charged. But the advent of black suffrage and officeholding after the war represented a fundamental shift in power in southern life. It marked the culmination of both the constitutional revolution embodied in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, and the broad grassroots mobilization of the black community. . . .

Source: Eric Foner, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005

Document 1b

. . . Although 1890 to 2000 is a relatively short span of time, these eleven decades comprise a critical period in American history. The collapse of Reconstruction after the Civil War led to the establishment of white supremacy in the Southern states, a system of domination and exploitation that most whites, in the North as well as the South, expected to last indefinitely. In 1900, despite the nation’s formal commitment to racial equality as expressed in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, racial discrimination remained a basic organizing principle of American society. In the South, racial discrimination, reinforced by racial segregation, became official state policy. In the North discrimination and segregation also became widely sanctioned customs that amounted to, in effect, semiofficial policy. The federal government practiced racial segregation in the armed services, discriminated against blacks in the civil service, and generally condoned, by its actions if not its words, white supremacy. . . .

Source: Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality 1890–2000, Viking, 2001

  1. Based on these documents, state


    way the end of Reconstruction affected African Americans.

Document 2

. . . By 1905 those African Americans who stayed in the former Confederacy found themselves virtually banished from local elections, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t political actors. In his famous 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech, Tuskegee College president Booker T. Washington recommended vocational training rather than classical education for African Americans. The former slave implied that black southerners would not seek social integration, but he did demand that southern factories hire black people: “The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house.” He looked forward to the near future when the African American third of the southern population would produce and share in one-third of its industrial bounty. . . .

The northern-born black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois positioned himself as Washington’s nemesis [opponent]. A graduate of Tennessee’s Fisk University, Du Bois was the first African American to earn a Harvard Ph.D. He believed that Washington had conceded too much and said so in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Any man, he insisted, should be able to have a classical education. Moreover, accepting segregation meant abdicating all civil rights by acknowledging that black people were not equal to whites. “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois warned. In 1905 he founded the Niagara Movement, the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was begun in 1909 to fight for political and civil rights. . . .

Source: Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore & Thomas J. Sugrue, These United States: A Nation in the Making 1890 to the Present, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015

  1. According to this document, what is one way Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois disagreed about how African Americans should achieve equality?

Document 3

. . . In 1950 Reverend Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kansas, was incensed that his young daughters could not attend the Sumner Elementary School, an all-white public school close to their home. Instead, they had to walk nearly a mile through a dangerous railroad switchyard to reach a bus that would take them to an inferior all-black school.

In the early 1950s, this sort of school segregation was commonplace in the South and certain border states. By law, all-black schools (and other segregated public facilities) were supposed to be as well-funded as whites’—but they rarely were. States typically spent twice as much money per student in white schools. Classrooms in black schools were overcrowded and dilapidated.

In 1951 NAACP lead counsel Thurgood Marshall filed suit on behalf of Oliver Brown. By fall 1952, the Brown case and four other school desegregation cases had made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, all under the case name Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Marshall argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had legitimized segregation. Marshall believed that even if states spent an equal amount of money on black schools, the segregated system would still be unfair because the stigma of segregation damaged black students psychologically. . . .

Source: Beth Bailey, et al, The Fifties Chronicles, Legacy, 2008

  1. According to this document, what is one reason Thurgood Marshall argued that the “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson should be overturned?

Document 4a

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina


Source: Greensboro News & Record, February 2, 1960

Document 4b

. . . At lunch counters in other cities, protesters encountered hostile reactions from outraged white patrons. Sit-in demonstrators were assaulted with verbal abuse, hot coffee, lit cigarettes, and worse. Invariably, it was the young protesters who ended up arrested for “creating a disturbance.” Nevertheless, by fall 1961 the movement could claim substantial victories among many targeted cities. . . .

Source: David Farber, et al, The Sixties Chronicles, Legacy, 2004

  1. Based on these documents, state one result of the sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth.

Document 5

. . . The direct action protests of the 1960s paid dividends. In 1964 and 1965, the Johnson administration orchestrated the passing of the two most significant civil rights bills since Reconstruction. The Birmingham protests and the March on Washington had convinced President Kennedy to forge ahead with a civil rights bill in 1963. But his assassination on November 22, 1963, left the passage of the bill in question. President Johnson, who to that point had an unfavorable record concerning civil rights, had come to believe in the importance of federal protection for African Americans and deftly tied the civil rights bill to the memory of Kennedy. . . .

Despite passage of this far-reaching bill, African Americans still faced barriers to their right to vote. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed voting rights, it did not eliminate many of the tactics recalcitrant [stubborn] southerners used to keep blacks from the polls, such as violence, economic intimidation, and literacy tests. But the Freedom Summer protests in Mississippi and the Selma-to-Montgomery march the following year led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson had already begun work on a bill before the Selma march, and he again urged Congress to pass it. On March 15, 1965, he addressed both houses of Congress. . . .

Source: Henry Louis Gates Jr.,

Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History

1513–2008, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

  1. According to Henry Louis Gates Jr., what was


    result of the 1960s civil rights protests?

Document 6

. . . When the clock ticked off the last minute of 1969 and African Americans took stock of the last few years, they thought not only about the changes they had witnessed but also about the ones they still hoped to see. They knew they were the caretakers of King’s dream of living in a nation where character was more important than color. And they knew they had to take charge of their community. After all, the civil rights and Black Power eras had forged change through community action. Although many blacks may have sensed that all progress was tempered by the social, economic, and political realities of a government and a white public often resistant to change, they could not ignore the power of their own past actions. America in 1969 was not the America of 1960 or 1965. At the end of the decade, a chorus could be heard rising from the black community proclaiming, “We changed the world.”. . . .

Source: Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis, eds., To Make our World Anew: Vol. Two: A History of African Americans Since 1880, Oxford University Press, 2000

  1. Based on this document, state


    impact of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Start by reading the instructions, then the documents themselves. There are eight of them, all focused on African American civil rights.

The short answers and the civic literacy essay use the same documents.

We recommend answering the short answer questions first, then completing your essay.

A short answer question follows each document or set of documents. These are straightforward questions than can be answered in 1-2 sentences.

Question 1 asks, “Based on these documents, state


way the end of Reconstruction affected African Americans.”

Reading through documents 1a and 1b, there are many potential answers. Choose one (don’t try to choose more than one to get more points; it won’t help and you’ll just lose time you could be spending on other questions) for your response. Using information from document 1a, a potential answer could be, “After Reconstruction, African Americans were able to hold many elected positions. This made it possible for them to influence politics and public life more than they had ever been able to before.”

Your Civic Literacy essay will be a standard five-paragraph essay, with an introduction, thesis statement, and a conclusion.

You’ll need to use many of the documents to answer the three bullet points laid out in the instructions. We recommend one paragraph per bullet point.

For each paragraph, you’ll need to use your knowledge of US history AND information directly from the documents to make your case.

As with the short essay, we recommended devoting a paragraph to each of the bullet points. In the first paragraph, you should discuss how the documents fit into the larger narrative of African American civil rights. You could discuss the effects of Reconstruction, how the industrialization of the North affected blacks, segregation and its impacts, key events in the Civil Rights movement such as the bus boycott in Montgomery and the March on Washington, etc.

The key is to use your own knowledge of US history while also discussing the documents and how they tie in.

For the second paragraph, you’ll discuss efforts to address African American civil rights. Here you can talk about groups, such as the NAACP (Document 3), specific people such as W.E.B. Du Bois (Document 2), and/or major events, such as the passing of the Civil Rights Act (Document 5).

In the third paragraph, you’ll discuss how successful the effort to increase African American civil rights was. Again, use both the documents and your own knowledge to discuss setbacks faced and victories achieved.

Your overall opinion will reflect your thesis statement you included at the end of your introductory paragraph.

As with the other essays, it matters less what you conclude than how well you are able to support your argument.


3 Tips for Your US History Regents Review

In order to earn a Regents Diploma, you’ll need to pass at least one of the social science regents. Here are some tips for passing the US Regents exam.

#1: Focus on Broad Themes, Not Tiny Details

With the revamp of the US History exam,

there is much less focus on memorization and basic fact recall.

Every question on the exam, including multiple choice, will have a document or excerpt referred to in the questions, so you’ll never need to pull an answer out of thin air.

Because you’ll never see a question like, “What year did Alabama become a state?” don’t waste your time trying to memorize a lot of dates. It’s good to have a general idea of when key events occurred, like WWII or the Gilded Age, but i

t’s much more important that you understand, say, the causes and consequences of WWII rather than the dates of specific battles.

The exam tests your knowledge of major themes and changes in US history, so focus on that during your US History Regents review over rote memorization.

#2: Don’t Write More Than You Need To

You only need to write one full-length essay for the US History Regents exam, and it’s for the final question of the test (the Civic Literacy essay). All other questions (besides multiple choice) only require a few sentences or a few paragraphs.

Don’t be tempted to go beyond these guidelines in an attempt to get more points.

If a question asks for one example, only give one example; giving more won’t get you any additional points, and it’ll cause you to lose valuable time. For the two short essay questions, only write three paragraphs each, maximum. The short response questions only require a sentence or two. The questions are carefully designed so that they can be fully answered by responses of this length, so don’t feel pressured to write more in an attempt to get a higher score. Quality is much more important than quantity here.

#3: Search the Documents for Clues

As mentioned above, all questions on this test are document-based, and those documents will hold lots of key information in them. Even ones that at first glance don’t seem to show a lot, like a poster or photograph, can contain many key details if you have a general idea of what was going on at that point in history.

The caption or explanation beneath each document is also often critical to fully understanding it.

In your essays and short answers, remember to always refer back to the information you get from these documents to help support your answers.

What’s Next?

Taking other

Regents exams


We have guides to the



Earth Science

, and

Living Environment Regents

, as well as the

Algebra 1


Algebra 2

, and

Geometry Regents


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Learn all about this important document, and how it is still influencing Guantanamo Bay,

by reading our complete guide to the Platt Amendment.