Primary care physicians are often required to make preliminary evaluations based only on the patient's history, especially during telephone encounters about sore throats. The authors studied adults with sore throats to determine whether patients can be stratified into higher and lower risks of strep throat by history alone. They first obtained data from 517 patients seen in an emergency room. Providers graded symptoms on a four-point scale (absent, mild, moderate, or severe). Initial analyses showed that prediction based on history should include three variables: fever, difficulty in swallowing, and cough. For ease of computation, these were consolidated into one score, "history" (=fever history+difficulty in swallowing - cough). This score was used to develop a model that predicts the probability of infection with group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus, and the model's performance was tested in two additional patient groups. The predictive accuracy of the "history" score was confirmed in all patient groups, despite differences in providers and disease prevalences. Primary care physicians may use this model to help them make decisions in situations such as telephone encounters without using additional data. © 1988 Society of General Internal Medicine.