Thematic US History: The Final Exam

August seems like the perfect time to think about finals! For anyone thinking about shifting the curriculum, it is important to think about where that new path might lead. My version of thematic history allows for student choice within the units. There is some common work that we do, but within each unit there is a project that allows students to choose a specific topic and dive in more deeply. For the research paper, the topics are truly varied as students can choose any topic that is part of US history or 20th century world history (a gap in our core curriculum). With the immigration unit, students selected sub-topics and worked in groups to research the topics and present their findings to the class. Our foreign policy unit allowed for some choice in scholarly articles about different lenses through which to view foreign policy. Then, each student researched a topic of choice and prepared an ignite presentation for the class. Finally, in our socioeconomic unit, students chose a city in the United States, researched its development over time and shared their findings with the class as part of a class Google Tour.

Rumblings started around April – Are we having an exam? What type of exam can we have since we have all learned different things? The students were wondering how much of what their classmates studied, they would be expected to know. Some worried that their choices for individual topics may not have been central enough and that they would have to go learn other things. The concerns are legitimate, as they are accustomed to traveling through a class together. I realize that teachers embarking on this may also be wondering how to pull everything together at the end of a year of thematic teaching, if there is significant room for student choice in the curriculum.

One possibility is to not have a final exam. I do think that it is valuable for students to pull their knowledge together. Take home exams can accomplish the same things, and there are arguments for those but that is not the focus here.

Here is the review sheet (and as you will see the exam itself) that we used last year. By and large it worked for students, and empowered them to show what they had learned and reflect on their learning.


US and the World

Final Exam Review 2016

Three of the following prompts will be on the exam and you will write on two of them.  You must address the prompts fully with relevant and specific historical information and analysis.  A couple of the options are more creative which means you don’t need to write a traditional essay, but there should still be strong details and analysis.   The other three prompts should be in full analytical essay format with an introduction, clearly worded and specific thesis statement, and two to three supportive analytical body paragraphs.  You should have at least a sentence or two for the conclusion if you don’t have time for a full one.  


Please refer to the research and independent work that you have done through the course of the year as well as class resources and materials.  You will not be allowed to bring anything (outline, notes, etc) into the exam.


If you were to advise the next president of the United States on his or her foreign policy, which historical events would you choose to base your advice and which lessons would you take from them? Write a memo to the president where you present your advice to him or her.  There should be an overarching argument clearly woven throughout your memo.

Create a new citizenship test- What do new citizens need to know?  U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services website  Create a list of 10 questions that you think should be on the test and give the answers to them.  Below the answer write an explanation as to why this question is important for new citizens to know.

Connections between foreign policy, immigration, socio-economic history – Choose two of the three and illustrate how they have been connected throughout the history of the US by referencing three specific times when they have been connected.

Government role in regulating economy and society – Evaluate the role government has played in the 20th and 21st century in regulating the economy and society. How has that role evolved over time?

US history can be studied on the macro level, looking at major trends and national issues, or it can be studied on a micro level, by diving more deeply into one place, one time, one event, one topic. Drawing on your experience from this year, compare the advantages of each approach. Be specific in referring to your own research and choices of assignments when given a choice.