How to Prepare Students for the New U.S. History Regents

Prepping students for the New York State U.S. and Government Regents Exam can be stressful. Your effectiveness as a teacher is often tied to students’ results.

Experience helps; every year you become more familiar with the exam and can better support your students. Now there’s a new test in town. Those years of experience with the old U.S. Regents can go in the drawer with your DVD movies and fidget spinner. Here is a guide to prepare your kiddos for the exam.

What’s on the New U.S. History Regents?

Like the old regents, the new test is comprised of three parts:

Description of U.S. Regents New Framework

What skills do students need for the new exam?

First and foremost they need reading and writing stamina. Every step of the test requires one or the other. The number of multiple choice questions has been cut by almost half, but EVERY SINGLE QUESTION is based on a document.

Each document is followed by 2 or 3 questions. That translates to about 13 documents that must be digested, just for Part 1! Yes, some are political cartoons and maps, but many are paragraphs of text.

The Civic Literacy Essay is comprised of 6 documents. The Short Essay Sets (aka SEQs) include a total of 4 documents. If you add it all up, the documents that students must read, understand and analyze it’s about 35 documents in a 3-hour time frame! For struggling learners and those that just hate to read (I have many!) this is huge barrier to success.

In theory, the amount of writing is identical to the previous version. There used to be 2 essays, average 4 paragraphs each. Now there are 2 mini essays, 2 paragraphs each, and one traditional 4 paragraph. But it feels like more because it’s 3 essays instead of 2.

Please don’t tell my students, but I personally would rather have root canal that have to sit for this test.

How to build necessary skills for the New U.S. Regents throughout the year

Are you ready — this is what you’ve got to teach the kids:

Reading Stamina

This really is the biggest hurdle for many, both students with disabilities and many gen ed kids who just don’t like to read. When I have proctored and graded past regents I see it over and over again, students get tired and break down. Here are some ways to prepare them.

Train everyone to read the question first. Many times it’s not necessary to read the whole document; if you know what you’re looking for, find the answer and move to the next document.

Another pointer for students: after they read the question try reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph when given a long document. Oftentimes that will be enough.

When you assign a reading that is a page or more chunk it down by putting a few lines and a question between paragraphs. This allows for mental pacing: read a paragraph, take a breath, move on.

If you teach students with disabilities create more than one version of the reading. This is something that I pushed back against for a long time for many reasons (a story for another post). Long story short, it REALLY helps. If you have students reading at a 5th or 6th grade level they cannot even begin to engage with some primary and secondary source documents.

A common technique we use at my school is to pre-annotate the text, double space it and make the font larger. This addresses several barriers and only takes 2 minutes.

If you have a document that can’t be edited for any reason simply annotating the main points will help guide struggling learners to the main ideas. There are many ways to differentiate is you want to know more.

Use a timer to challenge everyone to stay on point.

U.S> Regents Short Essay Ques WW1

Writing stamina

The best answer in one (hyphened) word: quick-writes. Several times a week as a do-now or exit put up a document with a question and have students write a five-sentence paragraph. Do the same for homework. This trains them to jump in and start writing.

Scaffold this process by giving  sentence starters in the beginning to help facilitate their ability to put pen to paper without too much hesitation. You can take this away after awhile, or keep it just for the students with disabilities.

Start by giving them 8 minutes. Then 7. Then 6. Work your way down to 5 minutes, 5 sentences.

Quick story. A few weeks ago one of my classes was out of control all week, despite using every classroom management trick in the book. I stood on a chair to get their attention and took the work for the day and ripped it up. “Your assignment today is to write a 5-paragraph argumentative essay and it will be graded as a test.”

I know, I lost it:(

Grumbling, disbelief (I never did this before) and complaints, “I can’t write an essay in 1 period” ensued. One student, however called out to the class, “After Morgan’s quick-writes every day, this is easy.” And she proceeded to write an essay in 30 minutes.

Historical content

I assume history teachers are reading this article, and therefore don’t need me:)

The only caveat I have on this topic is that sometimes students are given “review handouts” to study that are too long and intimidating; they just don’t know what to do with it. As you know, many students rarely study and don’t know how.

I have created different packets over the years for kids. The one thing they have in common is concrete action steps. For example, I will assign them one unit for homework and answer the questions at the end of the unit. Sometimes, rather than writing out the answer they must annotate the answer in the reading and number the annotation to reflect which question it answers. This encourages close reading and checks for comprehension.

My newest U.S. Regents review breaks down core content into 3-page unit summaries, followed by 10 stimulus-based multiple choice questions on the topic. Shameless plug: I have uploaded each U.S. History unit on TpT if you want to save time and grab 1 or 2 there. You can just look at the preview and make your own version using the same model. Check it out here.

Stimulus-based multiple choice questions
Unit 13 Review – Cold War

Document Analysis

The new U.S. regents exam includes TONS of documents! There are lots of acronyms for teaching this topic. English language teachers have theirs, history have theirs — I bet math has one, too!

I like HIPPO, simply because it gives me a chance to include a cute hippo on my PowerPoints and handouts:) Students need a full lesson dedicated to this topic. After that sprinkle it in do-nows, exits, homeworks, exactly the same as quick-writes.

If you’re wondering, H is is historical context, I is intended audience, P is point of view, P is purpose and O is outside information or evidence. For quick practice focus on any one of these, or ask students to choose 2 and identify for the document.

To read more on HIPPO this guide from Tomasso History is clear and concise.

Elimination skills

If students successfully eliminate 2 of the 4 possible answers suddenly they have a 50-50 shot at being correct, even if they use the old eeny-meany-miny-moe method (scientifically proven to work – never!)

In groups of 4 assign 12 multiple choice questions. Each group member is in charge of 3 questions. They must read the question and choose 2 that can be eliminated giving justification. “The question is about World War 1 and the answer involves Hitler; he’s World War 2.” Next, as a group, they assess each group member’s work and make changes as the group deems necessary. Offer an answer sheet at the end of the period for students to self-check their results.

Throughout the year insist that students eliminate as a natural part of any multiple choice work. Train their minds to do this until it’s as natural as breathing. Take a point off during quizzes and tests if elimination is not done.

Create a chant for the class to recite.

Teacher: What do we want?

Students: To graduate!

Teacher: How do we do it?

Students: Eliminate! (My students are used to me being VERY corny!)

Timing skills

There are a significant number of kids who don’t get to finish the test. You know the type: those methodical workers who carefully read and work their way through an assignment, often write slowly and can’t seem to rush even if their life depended on it. There are a couple of things you can do.

Break it down for them, how long each portion should take them. They have 3 hours, roughly an hour for each section. Repeat this at least ten times throughout your test prep; that’s how often the average person needs to internalize new information.

Have them self-assess: am I faster at reading or writing? If a student is self-aware they can set their personal timing schedule to fit their needs. A slow reader needs more time on the multiple choice questions, a slow writer the essays.

Practice, practice, practice. If you read the tips on writing stamina above, quick-writes are magical for the slow writer. If you can get a child to write 5 sentences in 5 minutes they can write a 5 paragraph essay in under half an hour!

Do the same with the stimulus-based multiple choice questions. They have about 2 minutes per question averaged out over the hour. The reality is that they need time to read each document and should take a minute or less actually answering each questions.

Suggested 15-Day Lesson Plan Guide for the New U.S. Regents

guide for new U.S. Regents framework

15 Day Test Prep – Download PDF

Test-taking Hacks

First a simple one: tell students to chew gum. If you can swing it, provide it for students. Studies have shown that chewing gum increases focus and release stress. Soldiers are routinely issued gum for these reasons.

Mindset is huge. Give students pep talks often. Let them know that their self-speak influences their grades. Every day of prep leading up to the test should be infused with optimistic sentiments. Students who go into a test believing they will not do well get lower results than equal level students who believe they can do well. Changing a student’s outlook can be tough, especially if they have experienced failure in the past.

Basic habits should be reinforced. Ask student’s to share: What time are they going to go to sleep the night before the exam? How are they going to ensure that they get up on time? What are they going to eat for breakfast? These fundamentals can derail a teen as much as lack of content knowledge.

Once at the testing site if there are tips or tricks a student wants to remember suggest they jot it down somewhere on the test ASAP. Then they have it in front of them and it’s not taking up brain bandwidth.

New U.S. Regents Conclusion

The New  U.S. Regents is intended to test common core skills. There will be many portions that are more of a reading test than a measure of content knowledge. This will benefit some and hurt others. Spending a few weeks prepping prior to test date is critical. Bombard them with practice that looks just like the regents. Their eyes and brains will be familiar with the layout and format. Then on test day when confronted with the booklet, it will be like seeing an old friend. Okay maybe not exactly, but you get my drift.

However you feel about this exam — love it, hate it, neutral — is irrelevant. If you have been teaching for any period of time you know that things are always changing. And nobody cares what teachers think. Facts.

Warmest wishes, Joan

U.S. Regents Review TpT

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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