So you’re thinking about taking the U.S. History I CLEP exam? Awesome! Here’s what you need to know.

US History I covers equivalent content to the first semester of a two-semester US History program; the second sister is covered in the sibling exam: US History II. The period that will be tested in US History I begins with early European colonization in North America, includes colonial Independence and the Civil War, and ends with Reconstruction, with the majority of the questions on the period of 1790–1877. In the part covering the 17th and 18th centuries, emphasis is placed on the English colonies.

The test itself is roughly 120 questions and you’ll have exactly 90 minutes to answer them.

History of the United States I
Study Guide

The exam will be divided into five major sections:

  • 35% Political institutions, political developments, and public policy

    Upon first glance, this section appears like it could be difficult and it also covers 35% of the material. Once you understand what the heading is getting at, you can break this section down to into three parts: 1) The reasoning for European exploration and expansion into the Americas, 2) The reasons behind the colonies wanting independence from Britain, and 3) The formation of the U.S. Government. Yes, you will need to have some basic understand of what is in the U.S. Constitution and some of the “better known” amendments but this test is more about the “why”. The test is going to want to know why Constitution was written the way it was, why there were amendments made to the constitution, and why there was a formation of political parties.

  • 25% Social developments

    When you take a look at this time period, the two major issues that most people convey with this time period in American History are the fight for independence and slavery. While these are two major social issues of this time period, do not overlook some of the other social developments of this time period. While the Civil War itself brought major changes to American History, the years around the Civil War also brought about changes in women’s rights and the creation of labor unions. Fun Fact: The women’s rights movement actually began in 1848 at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

  • 10% Economic developments

    This is a fairly easy section to cover. While under Britain’s rule, the colonies had a lot of restrictions and taxes placed on their goods. Once the colonies gained their independence and the United States began to grow, so did the importance of economic growth. Topics like the elimination of things like interstate tariffs and a reduction (but not elimination) of taxation of goods. It also led to the creation of the First Bank of the United States and a need for a common form of currency. You are also going to want to familiarize yourself with the major expansions of U.S. territory and the economic effects of this growth, plus the start of the shift from agricultural to industrial America, along with the formation of major cities.

  • 15% Cultural and intellectual developments

    This is possibly the easiest section. The United States was founded on immigration. Only a handful of native peoples make up the U.S. population. With immigration brings new cultural influences (including religion) and while there are many, focus on those brought about by a mass influx of new peoples.Also included in this section are the intellectual developments of the time. With the expansion westward creating new challenges and an influx of immigrants, developments in the U.S. were more about applied sciences to “solve a problem” rather than experimental sciences.

  • 15% Diplomacy and international relations

    Diplomacy and international relations have always been a major part of U.S. History, dating back to before the Revolutionary War. One example is the involvement (or neutrality) in the French Revolution, due to the relations with the two countries involved. You should focus on the major conflicts both in the United States and abroad during this time and pay close attention to the shifts in diplomacy.

History of the United States I
Practice Quiz

Ready to give it a shot?  Dive into the 10 question quiz below to get a feel for how prepared you are! Once you’ve written down your answers, hover over (or tap on a phone) the question to see the answers and explanations.

Please do keep in mind that we can’t guarantee the accuracy of this quiz, so we do recommend you also run through a full-length practice exam.  The CollegeBoard offers a good one that we’ll share in the resources section below.

1. What did George Washington warn the country about during his Farewell Address?

A. Native Americans
B. A Jefferson presidency
C. Women’s suffrage
D. Abolition of slavery
E. Permanent foreign alliances

Answer: E
Because George Washington was a good student of history, he had seen how most of the wars in Europe and their colonies started out as a quarrel between two powers, but they quickly dragged in their allies into the fight, which had nothing to do with how it started. Washington did not want the United States to be dragged into someone else’s wars every decade or so, like it had been during it’s colonial status.

2. What did the United States gain as a result of Pinckney’s Treaty?

A. The Louisiana territory
B. The cooperation of the French navy
C. Access to the Mississippi River
D. Alaska
E. A massive loan from the British

Answer: C
Pinckney’s Treaty, also known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, was an agreement between the United States and Spain. No only did it declare that the 31st parallel would be the boundary between Spanish West Florida and the United States, but it also gave the people of the United States freedom of navigation of the Mississippi River through Spanish territory. It also granted Americans a tax-free deposit, or temporary storage of goods, in New Orleans. It also included that both sides would agree to protect both sides from Native American attacks within the borders, along with provisions respecting freedom of the seas.

3. How was the United States affected by the Great Famine of Ireland in the 1840s?

A. It led to a massive wave of Irish immigrants to the United States.
B. It forced the Americans to import potatoes from other sources
C. It led to a decline in the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
D. Intermarriage between Irish immigrants and native-born US citizens declined.
E. It led American scientists to pool their skills in finding a cure for the potato blight.

Answer: A
Between 1845 and 1855 more than 1.5 million adults and children left Ireland and immigrated to America. The reason for the immigration was disease has devastated Ireland’s potato crops, leaving millions without food, desperately poor, and many were suffering from starvation and disease. The Potato Famine killed more than 1 million people in five years and generated great bitterness and anger at the British for providing too little help to their Irish subjects.

4. What was the name of the Thomas Paine pamphlet that gave reasons for the American split with Great Britain?

A. Plain Talk
B. Declaration of War
C. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
D. Common Sense
E. Birth of a Nation

Answer: D
Originally published anonymously, “Common Sense” is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history, advocating for the independence of the American colonies from Britain. “Common Sense” is credited with uniting the average citizens and the political leaders of Colonial America. He changed the way people thought by pointing out that the people of the colonies came from Europe, and not just Britain, to escape persecution, and by allowing British rule, that persecution was continuing.

5. Which of the following was acknowledged as a clear advantage held by the Union over the Confederacy during the U.S Civil War?

A. Control over the Mississippi River from the outset of the war
B. A sense of purpose in the conflict that unified all Northerners
C. An industrial capacity to produce most of what it needed for the war
D. A more highly trained and experienced military leadership
E. A better understanding of the terrain on which the majority of the battles were fought

Answer: C
The Northern states had numerous factories and industrial organizations, while the South depended on agriculture and slave labor. Before the Civil War began, the economy of the North was made up of industries like guns, textiles, pig iron, and boots that were sold in both the North and the South. In fact, when the war began, the South had no rifle factories to speak of. For this reason, while the Northern soldiers were supplied with the latest rifle technology, many of the men in the South went to battle using their own, personal weapons.

6. What was the greatest problem of the Washington administration?

A. Continual skirmishes with Native Americans
B. Economic turmoil
C. Massive wildfires
D. Political infighting
E. Insufficient natural resources

Answer: B
After the Revolutionary War, the United States struggled to build a healthy economy due to the $52 million in total that was owed to the French and thousands of merchants, bankers, and citizens that had loaned Washington money during the war. Some American politicians wanted to renege on these debts, or only pay part of them off, but Washington and his Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, recognized that in order to maintain integrity and credit internationally, the U. S. had to pay back the creditors all was owed to them.

7. The disagreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson regarding the economic policy of the United States can best be summarized as a contrast between:

A. Remaining part of the British Commonwealth or aligning with the French colonial system
B. A centralized system based on trade and manufacturing and a system that relied on independent farmers and agriculture
C. Proslavery economic system or an economic system free of slavery
D. A system in which workers share in the principal means of industrial production and one in which selected officials control economic policy
E. Old World economy in which land ownership is taxed and a New World system in which high tariffs are assessed on industry

Answer: B
Like most Americans in the 1790s, Jefferson was a “country man”. He believed that the nation’s future was with plain, farm folk and opposed any growth of business and manufacturing. Hamilton, on the other hand, wanted to expand the nation’s economy and increase the nation’s wealth by using the power of the federal government to promote business, manufacturing, and trade.

8. What book did Harriet Beecher Stowe release in 1851 that sentimentalized slaves and helped to sway public opinion against slavery?

A. Pride and Prejudice
B. Great Expectations
C. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
D. Sense and Sensibility
E. War and Peace

Answer: C
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a direct response to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Bill. The Fugitive Slave Bill established strict requirements for all states and territories to arrest runaway slaves and return them to the South. Infuriated by the Bill, abolitionists, like Stowe, were upset that they were forced to comply with something in which they opposed. The writing style and plot of the book were intensely emotional for contemporary audiences, leading to many people who had previously been apathetic and even hostile toward blacks and abolitionists to become more receptive towards antislavery views.

9. Which president oversaw the Louisiana Purchase?

A. George Washington
B. John Adams
C. John Quincy Adams
D. Thomas Jefferson
E. James Madison

Answer: D
One of Jefferson’s most notable achievements as president was the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory for the bargain price of less than three cents an acre. American expansion westward into the new lands began immediately. On April 30, 1812, exactly nine years after the Louisiana Purchase agreement was made, the first state to be carved from the territory, Louisiana, was admitted at the 18th state.

10. Where did General Robert E. Lee surrender his forces in 1865, effectively ending the war?

A. Atlanta, Georgia
B. Charleston, South Carolina
C. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
D. Washington, D.C.
E. Appomattox, Virginia

Answer: E
Surrounded and desertions mounting daily, On April 9, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. On that day, arriving in his muddy uniform was Grant while Lee had cam in full dress attire, which included sash and sword. When Lee asked for the terms, Grant hurriedly wrote them out. The terms included were that all officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property, most importantly, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. It was also agreed that officers would we able to keep their side arms, and Union rations would be give to Lee’s starving men.

More CLEP Study Resources

Looking for a study guide to fill a couple gaps, or just want a full length practice exam? You can find a few of my favorite resources below.  Note that some of the links are affiliate – meaning I’ll make a few dollars if you purchase, but I’m only sharing resources that were genuinely helpful during my own CLEP journey.

Official CLEP Study Guide: It’s quite short on the study side of things, but this is the go-to practice test bank.  I don’t think I’ve done a single CLEP test without taking the practice test in this book first.

REA CLEP US History I: I’m not huge on reading, but this book series is fantastic if you’re into that kind of thing. It also includes some nifty online practice tests, though I always found the official practice tests more reassuring.

InstantCert Academy: The website looks like it was made before the internet, but it’s legitimately the single most useful study guide I’ve found. Basically it’s a series of flashcards that help you learn about US History I in a fast paced and fun way.

Plenty of other resources exist – just do a quick internet search – but these are the three that I’ve personally found the most helpful back when I did CLEP.

Congrats on starting your CLEP study journey! Study hard, earn credit, and most of all remember to have fun.