Exam preparation materials

The "When” Question

A common type of multiple-choice question asks “when” something took place. Although history is much more than dates, students must be able to put key events in their proper chronological context. You are expected to know, for example, that the ratification of the Constitution came after the Declaration of Independence. “First,” “last,” “occurred,” and “most recently” are obvious markers for “when” questions. These words are not capitalized in the question.

Example 1

1. The first permanent English colony in North America was

A.

Maryland

B.

Roanoke

C.

Jamestown

D.

Plymouth

E.

St. Augustine

The correct answer is C. Jamestown was founded in 1607. While Sir Walter Raleigh tried to establish a colony at Roanoke in the 1580s, the attempt failed. St. Augustine was founded by Spain (not England) in 1565. Plymouth was established in 1620 and Maryland in 1634. This question has two important clues — “permanent” and “English.” If you read it too quickly and missed either clue, you probably marked the wrong answer.

Example 2

2. Which of the following important events in westward expansion took place last?

A. Annexation of Texas

B. California gold rush

C. Homestead Act

D. Mexican War

E. Oregon boundary settlement

The correct answer is C. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres of public lands in the West to any citizen for a low fee. All of the other events occurred earlier: annexation of Texas (1845), Mexican War (1846), Oregon boundary settlement (1846), and California gold rush (1849). Since you can mark up the question booklet, you could put dates you know next to the event to help you eliminate the incorrect choices.

Example 3

3. Which of the following occurred during the Truman administration?

A. Yalta Conference

B. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

C. Bay of Pigs invasion

D. Taft-Hartley Act

E. Suez crisis

The correct answer is D. The Taft-Hartley Act, which significantly affected labor unions, became law in 1947 over President Truman’s veto. All of the other events occurred either before (Yalta Conference) or after Truman’s term as President. If you’re unsure of the dates, you could arrive at the right answer by identifying the events with the correct President:

Yalta Conference — Franklin Roosevelt

Brown v. Board of Education — Dwight Eisenhower

Bay of Pigs invasion — John Kennedy

Taft-Hartley Act — Harry Truman

Suez crisis — Dwight Eisenhower

Example 4

A variation of the “when” question presents several lists of events, and asks which is in the correct chronological order.

4. Which of the following is in the correct chronological order?

A. Japan invades Manchuria, Stimson Doctrine, Neutrality Acts. Lend-Lease Act, Atlantic Charter

B. Stimson Doctrine, Japan invades Manchuria, Lend-Lease Act, Neutrality Acts, Atlantic Charter

C. Atlantic Charter, Stimson Doctrine, Lend-Lease Act, Neutrality Act, Japan invades Manchuria

D. Stimson Doctrine, Atlantic Charter, Lend-Lease Act, Neutrality Acts, Japan invades Manchuria

E. Japan invades Manchuria, Neutrality Acts, Atlantic Charter, Lend-Lease Act, Neutrality Acts.

The correct answer is A: Japan invades Manchuria (1931), Stimson Doctrine (1932), Neutrality Acts (1935-1939), Lend-Lease Act (1941), Atlantic Charter (1941). The Stimson Doctrine, which stated that the United States would not recognize territory acquired by force, was a direct response to Japan’s invasion of Manchuria.

Example 5

“When” questions may not include one of the special markers. It’s obvious from the examples presented so far that understanding when an event occurred is often an important clue to the correct answer. Dates or references to particular periods in U.S. history in the question are significant. It's a good idea to put dates that you know next to the possible answers to better define your choices.

5. In 1961, the most significant event affecting relations between the United States and Cuba was

A. the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island

B. Castro’s decision to support Marxist movements in Central America

C. the Bay of Pigs invasion

D. the closing of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay

E. the CIA plan to assassinate Castro

The correct answer is C. You might easily have answered A if you didn’t remember that the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of war, occurred in 1962.

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