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The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST
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Free The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST Study Guide

Name of Exam: The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST

Number of Questions: Around 115 (varies)

Time Limit: 120 Minutes

ACE Recommended Passing Score: 47

Practice Test Available?: No

Cost: $80 + Sitting Fee (Usually no more than $20) at your testing site. Military can take DSSTs for free with Tuition Assistance. Check with your Educational Officer!

Difficulty 1-5 : 4
(One being the easiest, and five being the hardest)

Exam Description:

The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST covers what a student would learn during a single semester of a Civil War and Reconstruction history class. A few of the specific topics you'll see see are: Causes of the War, The Abolition Movement, The War in the East (and West), and the Southern Reconstruction Effort..

Personal Thoughts:

I'm a history buff, so I thought the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST was going to be pretty easy for me. I mean after all, I've seen enough History Channel specials on the Civil War to be familiar with all the key battles and personalities. Unfortunately, that's only a small part of what you'll find on this exam. You'll need to go a little deeper than that. ;)

The exam will ask you questions about the battles, and it will of course ask you questions about the famous generals and politicians of the time. What throws a lot of people is when it starts asking questions about the political parties of the time. What did they stand for? What was the abolitionist movement and who were the notable figures in that movement? What laws were passed leading up to the war, and why do some say those laws pushed the southern states into secession? How did the world react to the US Civil War? Which countries got involved? Why did they do so?

I'd highly recommend taking the History of the United States I CLEP as well as the History of the United States II CLEP before tackling this one. The US History I CLEP covers material up to the end of the Civil War, and the History II starts off with the Reconstruction Era. These exams will help prepare you for the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST, and you'll pick up another six credits as well when you pass.

Exam breakdown:

Make sure you check out the Official DSST Fact Sheet for this exam.

Pay attention to the bottom of the fact sheet. It contains some sample questions that closely mimic the type of scenario-based questions you'll see on the actual exam.

The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST is broken down as follows:

22% 1864 to May 1865
22% 1862
21% 1863
13% Reconstruction
11% 1861
11% Causes of the War

Areas of Study

I'm going to list some specific topics that you'll need to study.

Though there are different versions of The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST, you'll most likely see some of the following on your exam:

  • John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry
  • Westward Expansion of Free and Slave Territories
  • Slavery as a Southern Institution
  • Growing differences between the North and the South
  • Missouri Compromise
  • Kansas Nebraska Act
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Lincoln's Cabinet
  • Jefferson Davis
  • Fort Sumter
  • Generals Lee and Jackson
  • Causes of Casualties
  • Cold Harbor
  • Sherman's March to the Sea
  • Southern Surrender
  • Assassination of Lincoln
  • Lincoln and Johnson's Reconstruction Plans
  • Freedmen's Bureau
  • Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments
  • Compromise of 1877
  • Carpetbaggers and Scalawags

This is not a comprehensive list of topics! I highly recommend (as always) signing up for InstantCert and running through their entire flashcard series as well as seeing the Specific Feedback section for this exam. They've had years to accumulate their information, and it shows.

Recommended Free Study Resources

  • Snazzlefrag's The Civil War and Reconstruction Study Notes - Download a copy of the PDF. Personally I'd look up any terminology you find on the study notes that you don't understand.
  • Civil War Sparknotes - I'd read through them all, just start with the Overview and work your way down. Almost all of this will be required for the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST.
  • Reconstruction Sparknotes - Same as before, just run through the entire thing. Use the Fact Sheet and pay attention to the particular subjects noted on under the Reconstruction section.
  • Scribd - Civil War and Reconstruction Study Guide - I really like this one. Doesn't cover everything, but what it does cover it goes into detail about.
  • Civil War Notes - Another nice (though short) write up on the Civil War. I include this only because you'll need to know everything on it.
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction Flashcards - Just 33 in length, but you'll need to know every one of them for the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST.
  • Civil War Study Guide - Take this and look up every term on it. I suggest Wikipedia. I wish they would have given a short write up on each of these, but they didn't. It does however cover what you'll need to know.
  • Flashcard Exchange - Free flashcards! A pretty good set of flashcards. Hit the "Study" button at the top to use them. The only error I see is about the Scalawags. They weren't just white farmers, but southern whites who supported the Reconstruction government after the war.

Recommended bargain-priced study resources

Always check your library first! You may be able to find some of these for free. You don't have to buy the officially recommended resources all the time. If you're the type of person that prefers to study from a textbook source however, then please see below.

The Civil War Dictionary - One of the suggested materials from the Official Fact Sheet. The only reason I'm listing it here is due to its use as a reference source. Ideally you could look up any terminology, name, battle, etc with this. Of course you could do the same at Wikipedia and I suggest you do so (it's free).

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Civil War, 2nd Edition - In the interest of disclosure, I could not find a copy of this book in time so did not use it in my own personal study. Still, others have said it's a great resource for this exam, so I'm going to include it.

The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns - Please do not buy this series unless you really want to own it. Go check Netflix or your library, since almost all of them will have this. If they don't, they can probably get it for you. It's one of the most successful miniseries of all times. Besides IC, if there was one thing that helped me pass, it was watching this miniseries.

InstantCert Academy The Civil War and Reconstruction Specific Exam Feedback - Let me be clear here - If you're going to spend money to study for The Civil War and Reconstruction DSST, then you need to spend the $20 ($15 with the discount code) and get InstantCert. There are five pages of targeted information for this exam. As in... "I just got back from my exam and you'd better know A, B, and C when you take yours." They also have more suggested study resources in this thread. A great value.

Also if you've subscribed, make sure you go through the Flashcards for The Civil War and Reconstruction as well.

If you don't know what InstantCert is, then click here for the scoop as well as a discount code: **InstantCert Academy**

You'll find an InstantCert link for every exam here if that gives you an idea of the amount of information they have available. It's an outstanding resource.

Closing Thoughts

Once again, don't just think that if you know the battles and generals that you'll pass this exam. I'd go so far as to say that many Civil War buffs would run into trouble with some of these questions. For example, one of the questions on the fact sheet asks how did most of the soldiers die - by wounds or by illness? Or who founded the Republican party and why?

I can't suggest InstantCert enough for this. If you go through the IC flashcards and read the answers and explanations then you'll almost certainly pass. Check out the specific feedback thread as well and see what topics others had on their exams. If you use those to fill in the gaps, you'll have no problems with the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST.

Best of luck!

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