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DSST General Anthropology Study Guide

Updated: Aug 18

Are you studying for the General Anthropology DSST exam?

With our General Anthropology study guide, you'll have a great introduction to your test.

This comprehensive guide covers all the major topics on the exam, from cultural analysis to physical anthropology.

You'll be on your way to a successful journey with our resources!

Table of Contents

  1. Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines

  2. History and Theory

  3. Physical Anthropology

  4. Archaeology

  5. Cultural Systems and Processes

  6. Social Organization

  7. Economic and Political Organization

  8. Religion

  9. Anthropology in the Global Age

  10. Conclusion

  11. Student Resources

  12. References

1. Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines – 10%.
Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines – 10%


Studies humanity in all forms, including physical, cultural, linguistics, archaeology, and applied anthropology.

Each of these disciplines contributes to our understanding of the human experience.

Physical Anthropology

Studies the human body and its evolution, providing insights into our physical and biological nature.

Cultural Anthropology

Examines human cultures and societal norms, helping us understand human behavior's diversity.


Investigates language and its impact on both individuals and societies.


Uncovers the material evidence of past cultures, providing a window into how our ancestors lived.

Applied Anthropology

Applies anthropological insights to real-world problems, from environmental conservation to economic development.

Together, these disciplines give us a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human.

DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question #50

2. History and Theory

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. History and Theory – 10%.
History and Theory – 10%


Ethnographies are embedded, often highly personal, accounts of particular cultures, while perspectives provide more detached, analytical interpretations of cultural behavior.


It emphasizes the interdependence of various elements of culture and the fact that they work together to maintain stability.

Marxist Anthropology

Another is Marxist anthropology, focusing on how economic factors influence power relations within a culture.

Sex and Gender

Sex and gender are essential dimensions of social life, and anthropologists have long been interested in how they are constructed in different cultures.

In many societies, for example, women are seen as inferior to men and confined to domestic roles, while gender roles are more fluid in others.

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity also shape social relations and attitudes.

Certain ethnic groups may be discriminated against or even enslaved in some cultures, while other members of different ethnic groups may live together harmoniously.

Cultural Ecology

It is the study of how human societies interact with their environments.

It examines how people use natural resources (such as land, water, and food), adapt to climate change, and respond to environmental shocks (such as floods or droughts).

3. Physical Anthropology

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Physical Anthropology – 13%.
Physical Anthropology – 13%

Physical Anthropology

Studies human anatomy, physiology, and evolutionary history.

Anthologists who study physical anthropology are interested in understanding how the human body has evolved and how it differs from other animals.

They also examine how different populations of humans have adapted to their respective environments.

Four Main Subfields

Physical anthropologists specialize in four main subfields: genetics, evolution, primatology, and paleontology.

Genetics studies DNA and hereditary traits, while evolution examines how species change over time.

Primatology studies non-human primates, including their behavior, ecology, and evolution.

Finally, paleontology is the study of ancient life forms, including both human and animal remains.

Each of these subfields offers unique insights into the human experience.

By studying physical anthropology, we can better understand who we are and where we came from.

DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question #199

4. Archaeology

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Archaeology – 10%.
Archaeology – 10%


The scientific study of the material remains of past human life and activities.

These remains include tools, pottery, jewelry, bones, and buildings.

Paleolithic and Mesolithic

The Paleolithic is the oldest archaeology period, lasting from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

The Mesolithic

It is the middle period, lasting from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago.


The Neolithic is the most recent archaeology period, lasting 8,000 to 4,500 years ago.

This was when humans began domesticating plants and animals and developing more complex civilizations.

Development of civilization and urban societies.

As the Neolithic period progressed, humans developed more complex civilizations and urban societies.

This process culminated in the development of writing systems, allowing for the recorded history we have today.

Material Culture

Material culture is all the physical things people use daily.

This can include everything from tools and clothing to houses and art.

Archaeologists study material culture to learn about past cultures and their differences.

5. Cultural Systems and Processes

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Cultural Systems and Processes – 14%.
Cultural Systems and Processes – 14%

Cultural Systems and Processes

Cultural systems and processes are the underlying structures that shape cultures.

These systems and processes can be divided into six main categories: components of culture, symbolic systems, language and communication, cultural diffusion, cultural universals, sub-cultures and counter-cultures, the world system and colonialism, and arts and media.

Culture's Components

Includes: values, beliefs, norms, and customs.

Symbolic Systems

The ways that cultures communicate meaning.

Language and Communication

How cultures share information.

Cultural Diffusion

The spread of culture from one place to another.

Cultural Universals

All cultures share certain aspects of culture.

Subcultures and Counter-culture

Groups that are different from the mainstream culture.

The World System and Colonialism

The ways that cultures interact with each other on a global scale.

Arts and Media

The ways that cultures express themselves.

DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question #433

6. Social Organization

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Social Organization – 10%.
Social Organization – 10%

Social Organization

The social organization of a society includes its marriage and family patterns, kinship and descent groups, and social and economic stratification.

Each of these elements plays a role in shaping the culture and customs of a society.

Marriage and family patterns dictate how couples and families interact with each other.

They can be monogamous or polygamous, patrilineal or matrilineal, and nuclear or extended.

Kinship and descent groups are based on blood ties or marriage.

They can be further divided into clans, lineages, and moieties.

Social Stratification

Social stratification divides people into distinct classes based on their economic status.

Each of these elements interacts with the others to create the unique social fabric of society.

Together, they provide a framework for understanding the customs and beliefs of a culture.

7. Economic and Political Organization

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Economic and Political Organization –10%.
Economic and Political Organization –10%

Modern Politics

A prolonged economic and political organization history has shaped modern political systems.

Political systems have evolved in response to changes in subsistence and settlement patterns and the development of trade, reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange.


Globalization is profoundly impacting the environment, likely shaping the future evolution of political systems.

Globalization has increased resource competition, putting pressure on governments to respond effectively to environmental challenges.

In addition, globalization has created new opportunities for transnational cooperation on environmental issues.

As a result, how political systems are organized will likely change in response to globalization and the environment.

8. Religion

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Religion – 11%.
Religion – 11%

There are many different belief systems worldwide, each with its teachings and practices.

Formal Religious Institutions

Formal religious institutions are often organized around these belief systems and can play an essential role in community life.

However, many informal religious organizations serve a similar purpose.

Religious Practices

Religious practices and practitioners can vary widely, but they have some commonalities.

Rituals are an essential part of many religions and can be used to mark important occasions or transitions in life.

Religious institutions can give believers a sense of community and belonging, formal or informal.

9. Anthropology in the Global Age

DSST General Anthropology Exam Outline. Anthropology in the Global Age 12%.
Anthropology in the Global Age - 12%

Applied Anthropology

Applied anthropology uses anthropological theory and methods to solve practical problems.

It is also known as action anthropology or engaged anthropology.

Applied anthropologists work in various settings, including corporations, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community-based organizations.

They may be involved in organizational development, human resource management, marketing, product development, program evaluation, or community planning.

In recent years, applied anthropology has been increasingly recognized as a valuable tool for addressing global challenges such as climate change, poverty alleviation, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation is the act of safeguarding traditional culture from extinction.

This can be done by documenting and studying traditions, promoting traditional arts and crafts, and conserving natural habitats.

Cultural preservation is often undertaken in response to threats posed by modernization or globalization. It is a resistance to assimilation into the dominant culture.

Directed and spontaneous cultural change are two opposite ways culture can change over time.

Directed change is intentional and often occurs in response to external threats or challenges. It's often imposed from above and coercive.

Spontaneous change is unplanned and results from everyday interactions of individuals within a culture. It is often bottom-up and can lead to new customs, beliefs, and practices.

There are several challenges that anthropology will face in the future.

One of the most important is the need to address global issues such as climate change, poverty, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Other challenges include adapting to the ever-changing digital world and the increasing importance of indigenous voices in a global conversation.

10. Conclusion: DSST General Anthropology

In conclusion, anthropology is the study of human cultures and societies.

It encompasses many topics, including biology, archaeology, linguistics, and psychology.

Anthropologists seek to understand similarities and differences between cultures to solve practical problems.

In the global age, anthropologists will be vital to finding solutions.

Ready to take the next step in your studies? Try our free practice exams.

11. Student Resources

12. References

DSST General Anthropology Fact Sheet

DSST General Anthropology Fact Sheet
Download PDF • 74KB

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