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Preparing For a Test on Early American Explorers

By Margo Dill

Early explorers are often a unit of study in fifth grade social studies classes and middle school history classes. These early explorers are important to the development of the western world, and they paved the way for many discoveries. But how do you keep them all straight?

What Did These Explorers Do?

Here are a few early American explorers for you to know:

  • Christopher Columbus: Italian explorer who thought the world was round instead of flat. He tried to sail to India by going west, and he accidentally landed at North America.
  • Hernando de Soto:The first European to have discovered the Mississippi River
  • Amerigo Vespucci: He sailed to America after Columbus and was an Italian mapmaker. Many people believe America is named after him.
  • Juan Ponce de Leon: He was the first to name Florida and was Spanish. He is also associated with looking for the Fountain of Youth.
  • Henry Hudson: He was an English explorer who searched the region around New York City while he was looking for a western route to Asia through the Hudson River.
  • Jacques Cartier: He was French and went on three voyages to Canada. He was looking for a Northwest Passage to Asia. He named Canada.

Be Smart When Preparing for the Test

Your teacher probably sent home a study guide about early American explorers or told you the information you should understand for your social studies test. During review sessions, make sure you know the answers to the following questions. It will help you focus when you study explorers.

Do you need to know the exact years that the world explorers left for their voyages or landed in America? Are dates important?

  • Some teachers focus on dates, but many do not. Teachers want students to know which early explorers went first and influenced others, but you will not have to know the exact date that Magellan left for his voyage around the world. The fact to study is that he left after Christopher Columbus's voyage to prove the world was round.

Do you need to know what countries each explorer sailed for and what land they claimed for that country?

  • This is an important concept when studying early explorers because you can still see the influences of France or Spain in certain parts of North and South America today. So, if your teacher wants you to know this geography, then you will want to spend some of your study time looking at a map and memorizing where explorers claimed land for their country instead of memorizing what date they sailed there. Remember when you are studying for a social studies test, you won't have to memorize everything you talked about in class. That is not an efficient use of your study time! This is why it is important to ask your teacher questions about the test.

What types of questions will be on the typical early American explorers' test? Will I have to match the name of an explorer to his voyage or task? Will there be fill-in-the-blank questions or multiple choice?

  • If your teacher can tell you about the questions on the test, this will also help you use your time efficiently when you study the early explorers. If you have to match names of explorers to their voyages on the test, then you will need to study these well, or you may easily mix them up since many explorers' names are similar. One of the best ways to study this information is with flash cards--the name of the explorer on one side and what he accomplished on the back. You can play this musical chairs study game to study for your history test.

Information to Consider

Studying about early American explorers might include knowing problems of early explorers and how they solved these problems. Again, read your study guide carefully and ask your social studies or history teacher questions about what information to expect on the test. If you need to know about early explorer's problems, it helps to make a list of as many as you can remember. Then read your textbook or study guide and add to your list. Finally, write down what solution each explorer and his crew used to solve that problem.