The GED Social Studies essay question was eliminated on March 1, 2016. For Social Studies practice questions visit our GED Social Studies page.
The following response is an example of a high-scoring essay response for our GED Social Studies Essay Practice Question. Read the response then scroll down for a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses.
The issue of American foreign policy is as timely as ever. Americans debate the level of involvement the United States should have overseas in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and there appears to be no consensus among our political leaders. As the world changes, so too must America’s foreign policy. President Truman’s opinion that America should become more involved in European affairs was a dramatic departure from President Washington’s belief in isolationism that reflected the time period in which each man lived.
As shown in his speech, Truman believed the United States should become more involved in foreign affairs to stop the threat of communism. In George Washington’s day, communism did not exist. It had not been developed until Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in the 19th century. Washington did not perceive that there would be a threat to the United States if its citizens decided to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. However, in Truman’s day, the rise of Communism after World War II and the growing power of the Soviet Union forced him to take notice of the “peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” He saw countries such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia being taken over by the Soviets. Truman believed in a mounting threat, whereas Washington saw Europe as a “very remote relation.” Had Washington lived in Truman’s time, he might have had a different foreign policy.
The Holocaust also had a profound effect on Truman’s foreign policy. In Washington’s day, there had not been so large a genocide committed against a group of people, so George Washington did not feel the United States had a moral responsibility to helping other countries’ citizens. The Revolutionary War had been a war fought on American soil, whereas World War II, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, had been fought abroad. This opined up America’s eyes to the rest of the world. In his speech, Truman said, “free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.” His choice of words could not help but have been influenced by the terrible atrocities committed against millions of Jews under Hitler’s Nazi regime.
A final reason that Truman and Washington’s opinions on foreign policy differed was because the world had become a much smaller place by the 1940’s. Inventions such as the telegraph, and later the telephone, made communication with the rest of the world instantaneous by the mid-20th century. A letter that may have taken six weeks to reach Europe from American in the 1770’s could be transmitted via cable immediately. As we have seen in our most recent decades with the invention of the Internet and smartphones, we are all interconnected on a bigger scale. Washington said, “Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none,” because America’s economy and political interests were largely isolated. By the 1940’s, America was part of the United Nations and had deep economic interests in European affairs because of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, which aided Europe’s recovery.
In conclusion, Truman and Washington had fundamentally different views on American foreign policy based on the time periods in which they lived. Had Truman not been influenced by the rise of Communism, the Holocaust, and the technology that made Europe seem closer than ever, he may have advocated isolationism like Washington did.
This GED sample essay would have received a 4, the highest score for the GED Social Studies extended response questions. The thesis is clearly placed as the final sentence in the introductory paragraph:
“President Truman’s opinion that America should become more involved in European affairs was a dramatic departure from President Washington’s belief in isolationism that reflected the time period in which each man lived.”
The author then goes on to choose three specific points to prove his thesis that the time period caused the policy change: Communism, the Holocaust, and technology. The author tends to focus more on Harry Truman, so it would have been better to include a bit more information about George Washington. However, the author also does an excellent job of including relevant historical information not mentioned in the prompt documents: Karl Marx, Hitler, Marshall Plan, etc. You do not need to “name drop” in your essay, but it’s important to bring your own knowledge to the time periods being discussed. The author also does a good job using quotations from the two documents to make his points.
The length of the essay is excellent, though a couple of the body paragraphs are probably a bit too long and tend to repeat some information. The essay is well-organized into five clear paragraphs, each with a clear purpose. The author employs good transition words and phrases (such as “in conclusion”).
The syntax and diction are very strong, and even though there are a few misspelled words, they do not detract from the overall meaning. In the final paragraph, the author does a great job summarizing his thesis and major points.
While there are minor errors and some excess wordiness, the strong thesis, good examples, and clear organization make this a “4” essay. The “4” is awarded from 2 points (out of 2) for Trait 1, 1 point (out of 1) for Trait 2, and 1 point (out of 1) for Trait 3. Remember to keep the three traits in mind as you practice your next essay:
- Trait 1: Creation of Arguments and Use of Evidence (0, 1, or 2 points)
- Trait 2: Development of Ideas and Organizational Structure (0 or 1 point)
- Trait 3: Clarity and Command of Standard English Conventions (0 or 1 point)