Tag Archives: Test Prep

Exam Prep 2016-17

In January you will take two separate assessments as you sit your exam: 1) a standard test covering Athens and the Persian Wars, lasting about 45 min. and 2) a comprehensive exam covering the entire semester, for which you will have 1 hour and 15 min. The score for the test on the Persian Wars will factor into your quarter grade, and the exam will count for 20% of your semester grade.


First and foremost, besides adding to your cultural literacy through knowledge of the origin of civilization in the ancient world, you should have been developing some important skills of critical analysis. Your final test and exam will measure both. I write exams that assess both your historical knowledge AND how well you’ve mastered these fundamental thinking skills. Here are a few:

  • SOURCES: a major part of historical thinking involves the evaluation of textual sources. Without written evidence, there is no solid argument! Analyzing documents, therefore, is critical for assembling real historical knowledge. Working with primary sources (excerpts) will be a MAJOR part of your final exam. You should have a working understanding of the major documents we used this semester — especially the more recent Greek ones.
  • Historical Context:  you should have developed an understanding of how context matters in shaping a historical document and why knowing the intent of the author helps a historian assess the source. For example, knowing something of the new political landscape of Mesopotamia c.2000 BC gives insight into the content and purpose of the Enuma Elis, and likewise, realizing that Herodotus interpreted the Persian war as a struggle for freedom from tyranny helps explain how he sets up his narrative.
  • Assumptions and Inferences: you should be able to identify underlying assumptions in and make educated inferences from historical documents and ideas. (for example, one can not really understand why Babylonians threw people in the river as part of their justice system without knowing that they were animists. Animism is the underlying assumption with which they viewed their world.)
  • Chronology: things happen in time, some before others; know your time-line and specifically how events are related. (for example: the 300 Spartans were sent to led a small Greek blocking-force at Thermopylae in order to slow the Persian advance to towards Attica and the Peloponnesus, where the allied fleet and main army was. THEREFORE, the battle of Thermopylae was fought BEFORE the battle of Salamis.)
  • Correlation/Causation: things happen in time, but just because one event precedes another does not mean one causes the other; know the difference and what CAUSED major events we’ve discussed (eg. the Persian Wars, the Greek victory, the reshaping of Hebrew culture, etc.)
  • Geography: things happen in space; know your map

I strongly suggest that you actively study for this exam rather than simply ‘going over’ your notes. Active study involves things such as making lists of terms, categorizing information (a good way is to split terms — people, places, events, ideas — into sections that deal with each civilization we’ve covered), creating time lines, outlining historical arguments, etc. You will be asked for specific information (i.e. facts), so you will certainly need to know specific information on exam day.

Another way to study is by asking yourself, or better yet asking a classmate, the bigger questions about the themes and information,  creating systematic answers that include a THESIS (i.e. an argument) and are backed up by some specific facts. The ‘bigger questions’ are those which we’ve addressed in class – the ones I’ve repeatedly asked you to consider when writing summary statements for each class! Some examples: WHAT exactly IS necessary for a civilization and why should we consider the Sumerians, Greeks or Hebrews civilizations? What made the Greeks unique in the ancient world and WHY was it important that the Greeks won at Salamis and Plataea in 479 BC? What was the general progression (chronology) of the Persian conquests and the invasions of Greece and HOW did the smaller Greek forces end up defeating the much larger Persian army and navy?

I. Objective Section : Your exam will begin with an objective section consisting of specific questions concerning the cities and civilizations we have studied. The format of most of these questions will be similar to the formats you have seen on your regular tests. Using your review sheets, as well as reviewing your class notes, the class readings, and the PowerPoints, is strongly advised. This section will most likely consist of some or all of the following components:

  • CITIES – of course know the many cities that we’ve talked about in class. That means knowing why they are important and how each fits into historical context.
  • Geography/Map (one of Clio’s eyes) – see your Maps of the Ancient Near East and the Greek World. You should know the major places we have discussed this semester are located AND why these places are historically significant.
  • Chronology (one of Clio’s eyes) – your review timelines should help for this, as well as the PowerPoints and timelines we have done in class. You will be asked to order several events in proper chronological order. The key point here is understanding how events are related to each other in time. For example, the Hebrews can’t return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple until the Persians conquer Babylon (539 BC) to liberate them.
  • Multiple Choice – readings and notes are crucial here. So-called big issues might appear here (e.g. Which of the following is not generally considered a requirement for civilization? What city was constructed in honor of the throne of Djamshid? and so forth)
  • Name That Civilization – be able to identify the significant and representative aspects of each of the civilizations we have studied (Sumerian/Babylonian, Hittite, Minoan, Mycenaean, Greek (Spartan), Persian, Hebrew). Example: What civilization first developed the ability to smelt and cast iron?
  • Name That Person – we have studied the actions of a number of significant people throughout the course. Why do we remember such people?  Make a list of them and categorize them under each civilization as a way to study.
  • Whatever else comes to mind – who knows what other surprises might pop up!

II. Definitions: You have accumulated a rather extensive list of vocabulary words that may appear in many forms. Major Greek terms (hoplite, animism, arete, acropolis, etc.)  that we have discussed may also appear.

III. Primary Sources: THIS WILL BE AN IMPORTANT SECTION WORTH SERIOUS POINTS. You have read a fair number of primary sources over the semester. You should be familiar with them (general content, author, date of composition) AND be able to explain why each was written (historical context!) and what we can learn from such documents. Sources include: the Enuma Elis, Epic of Gilgamesh, Hammurabi’s Code, Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty, Medinet Habu, Pylos Tablets, Iliad, Tyrtaeus’ Code of the Citizen Soldier, Xenophon, Herodotus’ Histories, Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, Book of Daniel, Book of Isaiah, Book of Micah, Book of Genesis.


IV. Historical Argument: The final part of your exam will consist of writing short responses in which you construct more complex analytical arguments about cause and effect (similar to what you’ve seen on tests). You will be asked to write a thesis statement and supply several supportive arguments or pieces of evidence that make your case. Why did something occur? What is the significance of such-and-such? Why might we date something to a certain period? You will be asked to draw on information from all of the civilizations which we have studied.To review, these include: Sumerians/Amorites, Hittites, Minoan and Mycenaeans, Greeks, Hebrews, and Persians.

Here are a few ideas to focus your preparation:

1. Geography. How has geography affected the cities and civilizations of Mesopotamia and Greece? How did geography affect where and how cities were founded? How did geography affect the cultural, economic, and political development of civilizations? How did geography drive and change the way civilizations developed over time? Do not limit yourself solely to physical geography (although this is certainly a major factor) but also look at the role geography has played in other ways as well (i.e. religious attitudes, military impact, physical development of cities, etc.).

2. Role of the Individual in History. Does the individual matter in history? Can one man make a difference? How have individual men and woman shaped the development of their own communities in the ancient world? What impact can a single person have upon the vast sweep of history? What men that we have studied over the course of the semester, from the Mesopotamian, Persian and Greek civilizations, may be credited with changing the course of history? (think Xerxes and Themistocles here)

3. The Past Shapes the Present. How is history still with us? Why, to paraphrase, Dr. Kagan, do we study the Greeks? What was the significance of the Greek victories against Persia 2500 years ago? Why does Abraham Lincoln, for example, sit in a reproduction of an Athenian temple on the Mall in Washington? Why does Jerusalem play such a central role in Jewish culture/politics/and religion? Why does ‘Babylon’ and ‘Zion’ appear so often in the lyrics of reggae music?


1] You should be able to discuss the texts written by the following authors:

  • Aeschylus [we will read through this together in January]
  • Herodotus
  • Xenephon
  • Tyrtaeus
  • Plutarch
  • Homer
  • ALSO: the Enuma Elish and the Pentateuch (Torah)

In particular this means knowing 1) what they wrote, 2) when they wrote, 3) the historical context of the writing (i.e. what was happening when the text was created), and 4) the purpose of the text.

For example, the following lines are taken from Homer:

 so did The Trojans and Achaeans fall upon one another; they were in no mood for yielding but fought like wolves, and neither side got the better of the other. The Goddess Discord was glad as she beheld them, for she was the only god that went among them; the others were not there, but stayed quietly each in his own home among the valleys of Olympus. All of them blamed the son of Cronus for wanting to give victory to the Trojans, but father Zeus heeded them not: he held aloof from all, and sat apart in his all-glorious majesty, looking down upon the city of the Trojans, the ships of the Achaeans, the gleam of bronze, and alike upon the slayers and on the slain.

A proper response might go something like this:

This is an excerpt from Homer’s Iliad. He wrote it down around 800 BC, but the story itself had been passed along through several hundred years of oral tradition. The story concerns the battle that rages around the city of Troy, or Ilium, attacked by a united Greek force to retrieve the stolen wife of Menelaus, Helen of Sparta. Homer wrote during a period which witnessed the rebuilding of Greek civilization following the Dark Ages (c.1200-800BC), a time when writing itself reappeared on the Greek mainland. This is time when and the polis also emerged, the governing structure of all Greek life. Homer wrote to preserve the stories surrounding the great collective action taken by all the Greeks, the ancestors of the emerging city-states. The Iliad served as part history, part religious text (one that speaks of the gods and presents models of correct and incorrect behavior among men), and part entertainment.

2] You will be asked to provide a thoughtful response to several ‘big-picture’ questions and support your viewpoint with historical facts. Here are big-picture issues you WILL see, probably as essay prompts:

  • How might it be said that Sparta was greatest among the Greek city-states because it created the most excellent citizens?
  • What was the impact of religion on the development of civilization?
  • What role did Themistocles and Athens play in the Persian Wars?

3] Don’t forget our discussions concerning assumptions and inferences. For example:

  • What assumptions did Babylonians have about cosmology (think Eluma Elish) and how might this have affected attitude about hard labor in the fields?
  • What inferences do Donald Kagan [the Yale professor you watched] or Victor David Hansen [the last handout on Salamis] make about the Greeks? [Answer: that the Greeks differed from other ancient civilizations because of  1)  their insistence upon understanding the world — and man’s place in it (cosmology) — through observation and reason, and 2) their creation of a system (the polis) that allowed them to live as free men.]