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How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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What is the document based question, steps to writing an effective dbq, how do ap scores affect my college chances.

If you’re taking a history AP exam, you’ll likely encounter the Document Based Question (DBQ). This essay question constitutes a significant portion of your exam, so it’s important that you have a good grasp on how best to approach the DBQ. In this post, we’ll cover what exactly a document based question is, and how to answer it successfully.

A Document Based Question (DBQ) is a measure of the skills you learned in your AP classes in regard to recalling history and analyzing related documents. These documents can be primary or secondary sources, and your responses are expected to be in the form of an essay. Your ability to relate the context of documents to concepts beyond the given text and creating meaningful connections between all your sources will help demonstrate your skills as a knowledgeable writer.

The number of documents for a DBQ varies from exam to exam, but typically will fall between five to seven documents. The following AP exams will require you to write a DBQ:

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP World History

We’ve listed the formats for each exam below, and keep in mind that the number of documents is prone to changing from year to year:

  • Up to seven Documents
  • One hour recommended time (includes 15-minute reading period)
  • Up to seven Documents 
  • 25% of total exam score

With that in mind, let’s jump right into how to craft a strong DBQ response!

We’ve summarized how to write an effective DBQ into the following five steps:

1. Read the prompt first

Though you may be tempted to jump into the documents right away, it’s very important that you first look at what exactly the prompt is asking for. This way, when you eventually look at the documents, your focus will be narrower. A DBQ tests your reading comprehension and analysis skills more than the content itself, making it very important to understand your prompt thoroughly.

2. Skim the document titles

Each document will contain vital information regarding the context, and it’s important to scout key words regarding dates, authors, and anything pertaining to the general sense of what the documents are about. Skimming through your documents like this could save time and allow you to form a more structurally sound thesis.

Let’s take a look at the following graph and figure out how to skim the figure:

dbq apush definition

This document was in a real exam from the AP World History free response questions in 2019. It’s important to pay attention to data provided and what context can be drawn from it. In this case, we’re provided with a graph that displays the life expectancy of a country in relation to the GDP per capita of said country. Being able to skim this graph and notice the common trends in the data points could provide convenient information into the context of the document, without any further intensive reading. 

For example, seeing how countries with a GDP below 4,000 to 5,000 have lower life expectancies already gives us a potential correlation between the two factors. We can use this information to start formulating a thesis, depending on what the prompt is specifically asking for.

Remember, just skim! Don’t worry about reading the entire document yet; this strategy can keep you calm and level-headed before tackling the rest of the document. Methods like this can make acing the AP World History DBQ less intimidating! 

3. Formulate a tentative thesis

A thesis is a statement that should be proved and discussed upon. It’s important to have a strong thesis as the foundation of your DBQ, as it guides the rest of your response in relation to the context. Understanding the difference between weak and strong theses will be imperative to your success, so here is an example of a weak thesis:

“The Cold War originated from some scenarios of conflict between Soviets and some groups of oppressors.” 

Such a thesis can be considered weak for its lack of specificity, focal point, and usability as a constructive tool to write further detail on the subject. This thesis does not take a clear stance or communicate to the reader what the essay will specifically focus on. Here’s how the same thesis can be restructured to be stronger and more useful:

“The Cold War originated from tense diplomatic conflicts relating to propaganda and conspiratorial warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The information that’s been included into the second thesis about the two groups involved with the Cold War gives you more room to build a structured essay response. In relation to the rubric/grading schema for this DBQ, forming a structurally sound thesis or claim is one of the seven attainable points. Being able to contextualize, analyze, and reason off of this thesis alone could provide for two to four points – this means that five out of seven of your points revolve around your thesis, so make sure that it’s strong! Doing all of this in your fifteen minute reading period is crucial as once this is set, writing your actual response will be much easier!

4. Actively read the documents

Simply reading a document doesn’t normally suffice for creating a well-written and comprehensive response. You should focus on implementing your active reading skills, as this will make a huge difference as to how efficient you are during your work process. 

Active reading refers to reading with an intention to grab key words and fragments of important information, usually gone about by highlighting and separating important phrases. Annotations, underlining, and circling are all great ways to filter out important information from irrelevant text in the documents. 

An example of where you might find important information via active reading is the description. Circle important names or dates to contextualize the document. If you still can’t find contextual value from the title, that’s totally fine! Just scope out the rest of the document in relevance to your thesis – that is, pinpoint the specific information or text that best supports your argument. Finding one or two solid points of interest from one document is usually enough to write about and expand upon within your essay. 

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5. Make an Outline 

If you like outlines, making one before writing your essay might prove helpful, just be aware of the time limit and act accordingly. 

Start with your introduction, then work on the rest of your essay. This way, you can make sure your thesis is clear and strong, and it will help the graders form a clear view on what the general consensus of your paper is. Make sure to include evidence with your thesis within each paragraph and cite only relevant information, otherwise your citations could come across as filler as opposed to useful content. Every commentary or point you make should be tied in some way to the documents.

Format each body paragraph and organize your essay in a way that makes sense to you! The graders aren’t really looking at the structure of your essay; rather, they want to see that you analyzed the documents in a way that is supportive of your essay. As long as you have content from the documents which prove your thesis, the order or manner in which you present them doesn’t matter too much. What’s more important is that your essay is clear and comprehensive. As you write practice DBQs, try having someone else read your essays to make sure that the format is easy to follow.

Keep all these key details in mind as you construct your own DBQ response, and you’re well on your way to writing an effective essay!

Your chances of admission are actually not really impacted by your AP scores; however, the AP classes you take are more important than the exam scores themselves, meaning the impact of your AP scores isn’t as big as you think . 

Instead, focusing on the AP classes on your transcript and the relevance of those classes to your future major is more impactful. For a further detailed understanding of the role AP classes play in regards to your college admissions, use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator , which takes into account your GPA, standardized test scores, and more. 

Additional Information

To dive deeper into DBQs, AP classes, and learning how to tackle each exam check out other resources at CollegeVine:

  • Acing the Document Based Question on the AP US History Exam
  • Acing the AP World History Document Based Question
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP U.S. History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP European History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP World History Exam

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The DBQ, or document-based-question, is a somewhat unusually-formatted timed essay on the AP History Exams: AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History. Because of its unfamiliarity, many students are at a loss as to how to even prepare, let alone how to write a successful DBQ essay on test day.

Never fear! I, the DBQ wizard and master, have a wealth of preparation strategies for you, as well as advice on how to cram everything you need to cover into your limited DBQ writing time on exam day. When you're done reading this guide, you'll know exactly how to write a DBQ.

For a general overview of the DBQ—what it is, its purpose, its format, etc.—see my article "What is a DBQ?"

Table of Contents

What Should My Study Timeline Be?

Preparing for the DBQ

Establish a Baseline

Foundational Skills

Rubric Breakdown

Take Another Practice DBQ

How Can I Succeed on Test Day?

Reading the Question and Documents

Planning Your Essay

Writing Your Essay

Key Takeaways

What Should My DBQ Study Timeline Be?

Your AP exam study timeline depends on a few things. First, how much time you have to study per week, and how many hours you want to study in total? If you don't have much time per week, start a little earlier; if you will be able to devote a substantial amount of time per week (10-15 hours) to prep, you can wait until later in the year.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the earlier you start studying for your AP test, the less material you will have covered in class. Make sure you continually review older material as the school year goes on to keep things fresh in your mind, but in terms of DBQ prep it probably doesn't make sense to start before February or January at the absolute earliest.

Another factor is how much you need to work on. I recommend you complete a baseline DBQ around early February to see where you need to focus your efforts.

If, for example, you got a six out of seven and missed one point for doing further document analysis, you won't need to spend too much time studying how to write a DBQ. Maybe just do a document analysis exercise every few weeks and check in a couple months later with another timed practice DBQ to make sure you've got it.

However, if you got a two or three out of seven, you'll know you have more work to do, and you'll probably want to devote at least an hour or two every week to honing your skills.

The general flow of your preparation should be: take a practice DBQ, do focused skills practice, take another practice DBQ, do focused skills practice, take another practice DBQ, and so on. How often you take the practice DBQs and how many times you repeat the cycle really depends on how much preparation you need, and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice DBQs often enough that the format stays familiar, but not so much that you've done barely any skills practice in between.

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He's ready to start studying!

The general preparation process is to diagnose, practice, test, and repeat. First, you'll figure out what you need to work on by establishing a baseline level for your DBQ skills. Then, you'll practice building skills. Finally, you'll take another DBQ to see how you've improved and what you still need to work on.

In this next section, I'll go over the whole process. First, I'll give guidance on how to establish a baseline. Then I'll go over some basic, foundational essay-writing skills and how to build them. After that I'll break down the DBQ rubric. You'll be acing practice DBQs before you know it!

#1: Establish a Baseline

The first thing you need to do is to establish a baseline— figure out where you are at with respect to your DBQ skills. This will let you know where you need to focus your preparation efforts.

To do this, you will take a timed, practice DBQ and have a trusted teacher or advisor grade it according to the appropriate rubric.

AP US History

For the AP US History DBQ, you'll be given a 15-minute reading period and 45 minutes of writing time.

A selection of practice questions from the exam can be found online at the College Board, including a DBQ. (Go to page 136 in the linked document for the practice prompt.)

If you've already seen this practice question, perhaps in class, you might use the 2015 DBQ question .

Other available College Board DBQs are going to be in the old format (find them in the "Free-Response Questions" documents). This is fine if you need to use them, but be sure to use the new rubric (which is out of seven points, rather than nine) to grade.

I advise you to save all these links , or even download all the Free Response Questions and the Scoring Guides, for reference because you will be using them again and again for practice.

AP European History

The College Board has provided practice questions for the exam , including a DBQ (see page 200 in the linked document).

If you've already seen this question, the only other questions available through the College Board are in the old format, because the 2016 DBQ is in a new, seven-point format identical to the AP US History exam. Just be sure to use the new DBQ rubric if you want to use any of the old prompts provided by the College Board . (DBQs are in the documents titled "Free-Response Questions.")

I advise you to save all these links (or even download all the Free Response Questions and the Scoring Guides) for reference, because you will be using them again and again for practice.

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Who knows—maybe this will be one of your documents!

AP World History

For this exam, you'll be given a 15-minute reading period and 45 minutes of writing time . As for the other two history exams, the College Board has provided practice questions . See page 166 for the DBQ.

If you've already seen this question, the only other questions available through the College Board are in the old format, because the 2017 World History DBQ is in a new, seven-point format identical to the AP US History and AP European History exams. So be sure to use the new DBQ rubric if you want to use any of the old prompts provided by the College Board . (DBQs are in the documents titled "Free-Response Questions.")

Finding a Trusted Advisor to Look at Your Papers

A history teacher would be a great resource, but if they are not available to you in this capacity, here are some other ideas:

  • An English teacher.
  • Ask a librarian at your school or public library! If they can't help you, they may be able to direct you to resources who can.
  • You could also ask a school guidance counselor to direct you to in-school resources you could use.
  • A tutor. This is especially helpful if they are familiar with the test, although even if they aren't, they can still advise—the DBQ is mostly testing academic writing skills under pressure.
  • Your parent(s)! Again, ideally your trusted advisor will be familiar with the AP, but if you have used your parents for writing help in the past they can also assist here.
  • You might try an older friend who has already taken the exam and did well...although bear in mind that some people are better at doing than scoring and/or explaining!

Can I Prepare For My Baseline?

If you know nothing about the DBQ and you'd like to do a little basic familiarization before you establish your baseline, that's completely fine. There's no point in taking a practice exam if you are going to panic and muddle your way through it; it won't give a useful picture of your skills.

For a basic orientation, check out my article for a basic introduction to the DBQ including DBQ format.

If you want to look at one or two sample essays, see my article for a list of DBQ example essay resources . Keep in mind that you should use a fresh prompt you haven't seen to establish your baseline, though, so if you do look at samples don't use those prompts to set your baseline.

I would also check out this page about the various "task" words associated with AP essay questions . This page was created primarily for the AP European History Long Essay question, but the definitions are still useful for the DBQ on all the history exams, particularly since these are the definitions provided by the College Board.

Once you feel oriented, take your practice exam!

Don't worry if you don't do well on your first practice! That's what studying is for. The point of establishing a baseline is not to make you feel bad, but to empower you to focus your efforts on the areas you need to work on. Even if you need to work on all the areas, that is completely fine and doable! Every skill you need for the DBQ can be built .

In the following section, we'll go over these skills and how to build them for each exam.

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You need a stronger foundation than this sand castle.

#2: Develop Foundational Skills

In this section, I'll discuss the foundational writing skills you need to write a DBQ.

I'll start with some general information on crafting an effective thesis , since this is a skill you will need for any DBQ exam (and for your entire academic life). Then, I'll go over outlining essays, with some sample outline ideas for the DBQ. After I'll touch on time management. Finally, I'll briefly discuss how to non-awkwardly integrate information from your documents into your writing.

It sounds like a lot, but not only are these skills vital to your academic career in general, you probably already have the basic building blocks to master them in your arsenal!

Writing An Effective Thesis

Writing a good thesis is a skill you will need to develop for all your DBQs, and for any essay you write, on the AP or otherwise.

Here are some general rules as to what makes a good thesis:

A good thesis does more than just restate the prompt.

Let's say our class prompt is: "Analyze the primary factors that led to the French Revolution."

Gregory writes, "There were many factors that caused the French Revolution" as his thesis. This is not an effective thesis. All it does is vaguely restate the prompt.

A good thesis makes a plausible claim that you can defend in an essay-length piece of writing.

Maybe Karen writes, "Marie Antoinette caused the French Revolution when she said ‘Let them eat cake' because it made people mad."

This is not an effective thesis, either. For one thing, Marie Antoinette never said that. More importantly, how are you going to write an entire essay on how one offhand comment by Marie Antoinette caused the entire Revolution? This is both implausible and overly simplistic.

A good thesis answers the question .

If LaToya writes, "The Reign of Terror led to the ultimate demise of the French Revolution and ultimately paved the way for Napoleon Bonaparte to seize control of France," she may be making a reasonable, defensible claim, but it doesn't answer the question, which is not about what happened after the Revolution, but what caused it!

A good thesis makes it clear where you are going in your essay.

Let's say Juan writes, "The French Revolution, while caused by a variety of political, social, and economic factors, was primarily incited by the emergence of the highly educated Bourgeois class." This thesis provides a mini-roadmap for the entire essay, laying out that Juan is going to discuss the political, social, and economic factors that led to the Revolution, in that order, and that he will argue that the members of the Bourgeois class were the ultimate inciters of the Revolution.

This is a great thesis! It answers the question, makes an overarching point, and provides a clear idea of what the writer is going to discuss in the essay.

To review: a good thesis makes a claim, responds to the prompt, and lays out what you will discuss in your essay.

If you feel like you have trouble telling the difference between a good thesis and a not-so-good one, here are a few resources you can consult:

This site from SUNY Empire has an exercise in choosing the best thesis from several options. It's meant for research papers, but the general rules as to what makes a good thesis apply.

About.com has another exercise in choosing thesis statements specifically for short essays. Note, however, that most of the correct answers here would be "good" thesis statements as opposed to "super" thesis statements.

  • This guide from the University of Iowa provides some really helpful tips on writing a thesis for a history paper.

So how do you practice your thesis statement skills for the DBQ?

While you should definitely practice looking at DBQ questions and documents and writing a thesis in response to those, you may also find it useful to write some practice thesis statements in response to the Free-Response Questions. While you won't be taking any documents into account in your argument for the Free-Response Questions, it's good practice on how to construct an effective thesis in general.

You could even try writing multiple thesis statements in response to the same prompt! It is a great exercise to see how you could approach the prompt from different angles. Time yourself for 5-10 minutes to mimic the time pressure of the AP exam.

If possible, have a trusted advisor or friend look over your practice statements and give you feedback. Barring that, looking over the scoring guidelines for old prompts (accessible from the same page on the College Board where past free-response questions can be found) will provide you with useful tips on what might make a good thesis in response to a given prompt.

Once you can write a thesis, you need to be able to support it—that's where outlining comes in!

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This is not a good outline.

Outlining and Formatting Your Essay

You may be the greatest document analyst and thesis-writer in the world, but if you don't know how to put it all together in a DBQ essay outline, you won't be able to write a cohesive, high-scoring essay on test day.

A good outline will clearly lay out your thesis and how you are going to support that thesis in your body paragraphs. It will keep your writing organized and prevent you from forgetting anything you want to mention!

For some general tips on writing outlines, this page from Roane State has some useful information. While the general principles of outlining an essay hold, the DBQ format is going to have its own unique outlining considerations.To that end, I've provided some brief sample outlines that will help you hit all the important points.

Sample DBQ Outline

  • Introduction
  • Thesis. The most important part of your intro!
  • Body 1 - contextual information
  • Any outside historical/contextual information
  • Body 2 - First point
  • Documents & analysis that support the first point
  • If three body paragraphs: use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Body 3 - Second point
  • Documents & analysis that support the second point
  • Use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Be sure to mention your outside example if you have not done so yet!
  • Body 4 (optional) - Third point
  • Documents and analysis that support third point
  • Re-state thesis
  • Draw a comparison to another time period or situation (synthesis)

Depending on your number of body paragraphs and your main points, you may include different numbers of documents in each paragraph, or switch around where you place your contextual information, your outside example, or your synthesis.

There's no one right way to outline, just so long as each of your body paragraphs has a clear point that you support with documents, and you remember to do a deeper analysis on four documents, bring in outside historical information, and make a comparison to another historical situation or time (you will see these last points further explained in the rubric breakdown).

Of course, all the organizational skills in the world won't help you if you can't write your entire essay in the time allotted. The next section will cover time management skills.

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You can be as organized as this library!

Time Management Skills for Essay Writing

Do you know all of your essay-writing skills, but just can't get a DBQ essay together in a 15-minute planning period and 40 minutes of writing?

There could be a few things at play here:

Do you find yourself spending a lot of time staring at a blank paper?

If you feel like you don't know where to start, spend one-two minutes brainstorming as soon as you read the question and the documents. Write anything here—don't censor yourself. No one will look at those notes but you!

After you've brainstormed for a bit, try to organize those thoughts into a thesis, and then into body paragraphs. It's better to start working and change things around than to waste time agonizing that you don't know the perfect thing to say.

Are you too anxious to start writing, or does anxiety distract you in the middle of your writing time? Do you just feel overwhelmed?

Sounds like test anxiety. Lots of people have this. (Including me! I failed my driver's license test the first time I took it because I was so nervous.)

You might talk to a guidance counselor about your anxiety. They will be able to provide advice and direct you to resources you can use.

There are also some valuable test anxiety resources online: try our guide to mindfulness (it's focused on the SAT, but the same concepts apply on any high-pressure test) and check out tips from Minnesota State University , these strategies from TeensHealth , or this plan for reducing anxiety from West Virginia University.

Are you only two thirds of the way through your essay when 40 minutes have passed?

You are probably spending too long on your outline, biting off more than you can chew, or both.

If you find yourself spending 20+ minutes outlining, you need to practice bringing down your outline time. Remember, an outline is just a guide for your essay—it is fine to switch things around as you are writing. It doesn't need to be perfect. To cut down on your outline time, practice just outlining for shorter and shorter time intervals. When you can write one in 20 minutes, bring it down to 18, then down to 16.

You may also be trying to cover too much in your paper. If you have five body paragraphs, you need to scale things back to three. If you are spending twenty minutes writing two paragraphs of contextual information, you need to trim it down to a few relevant sentences. Be mindful of where you are spending a lot of time, and target those areas.

You don't know the problem —you just can't get it done!

If you can't exactly pinpoint what's taking you so long, I advise you to simply practice writing DBQs in less and less time. Start with 20 minutes for your outline and 50 for your essay, (or longer, if you need). Then when you can do it in 20 and 50, move back to 18 minutes and 45 for writing, then to 15 and 40.

You absolutely can learn to manage your time effectively so that you can write a great DBQ in the time allotted. On to the next skill!

Integrating Citations

The final skill that isn't explicitly covered in the rubric, but will make a big difference in your essay quality, is integrating document citations into your essay. In other words, how do you reference the information in the documents in a clear, non-awkward way?

It is usually better to use the author or title of the document to identify a document instead of writing "Document A." So instead of writing "Document A describes the riot as...," you might say, "In Sven Svenson's description of the riot…"

When you quote a document directly without otherwise identifying it, you may want to include a parenthetical citation. For example, you might write, "The strikers were described as ‘valiant and true' by the working class citizens of the city (Document E)."

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Get a 5 On Your AP Exam

Now that we've reviewed the essential, foundational skills of the DBQ, I'll move into the rubric breakdowns. We'll discuss each skill the AP graders will be looking for when they score your exam. All of the history exams share a DBQ rubric, so the guidelines are identical.

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Don't worry, you won't need a magnifying glass to examine the rubric.

#3: Learn the DBQ Rubric

The DBQ rubric has four sections for a total of seven points.

Part A: Thesis - 2 Points

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One point is for having a thesis that works and is historically defensible. This just means that your thesis can be reasonably supported by the documents and historical fact. So please don't make the main point of your essay that JFK was a member of the Illuminati or that Pope Urban II was an alien.

Per the College Board, your thesis needs to be located in your introduction or your conclusion. You've probably been taught to place your thesis in your intro, so stick with what you're used to. Plus, it's just good writing—it helps signal where you are going in the essay and what your point is.

You can receive another point for having a super thesis.

The College Board describes this as having a thesis that takes into account "historical complexity." Historical complexity is really just the idea that historical evidence does not always agree about everything, and that there are reasons for agreement, disagreement, etc.

How will you know whether the historical evidence agrees or disagrees? The documents! Suppose you are responding to a prompt about women's suffrage (suffrage is the right to vote, for those of you who haven't gotten to that unit in class yet):

"Analyze the responses to the women's suffrage movement in the United States."

Included among your documents, you have a letter from a suffragette passionately explaining why she feels women should have the vote, a copy of a suffragette's speech at a women's meeting, a letter from one congressman to another debating the pros and cons of suffrage, and a political cartoon displaying the death of society and the end of the ‘natural' order at the hands of female voters.

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A simple but effective thesis might be something like,

"Though ultimately successful, the women's suffrage movement sharply divided the country between those who believed women's suffrage was unnatural and those who believed it was an inherent right of women."

This is good: it answers the question and clearly states the two responses to suffrage that are going to be analyzed in the essay.

A super thesis , however, would take the relationships between the documents (and the people behind the documents!) into account.

It might be something like,

"The dramatic contrast between those who responded in favor of women's suffrage and those who fought against it revealed a fundamental rift in American society centered on the role of women—whether women were ‘naturally' meant to be socially and civilly subordinate to men, or whether they were in fact equals."

This is a "super" thesis because it gets into the specifics of the relationship between historical factors and shows the broader picture —that is, what responses to women's suffrage revealed about the role of women in the United States overall.

It goes beyond just analyzing the specific issues to a "so what"? It doesn't just take a position about history, it tells the reader why they should care . In this case, our super thesis tells us that the reader should care about women's suffrage because the issue reveals a fundamental conflict in America over the position of women in society.

Part B: Document Analysis - 2 Points

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One point for using six or seven of the documents in your essay to support your argument. Easy-peasy! However, make sure you aren't just summarizing documents in a list, but are tying them back to the main points of your paragraphs.

It's best to avoid writing things like, "Document A says X, and Document B says Y, and Document C says Z." Instead, you might write something like, "The anonymous author of Document C expresses his support and admiration for the suffragettes but also expresses fear that giving women the right to vote will lead to conflict in the home, highlighting the common fear that women's suffrage would lead to upheaval in women's traditional role in society."

Any summarizing should be connected a point. Essentially, any explanation of what a document says needs to be tied to a "so what?" If it's not clear to you why what you are writing about a document is related to your main point, it's not going to be clear to the AP grader.

You can get an additional point here for doing further analysis on 4 of the documents. This further analysis could be in any of these 4 areas:

Author's point of view - Why does the author think the way that they do? What is their position in society and how does this influence what they are saying?

Author's purpose - Why is the author writing what they are writing? What are they trying to convince their audience of?

Historical context - What broader historical facts are relevant to this document?

Audience - Who is the intended audience for this document? Who is the author addressing or trying to convince?

Be sure to tie any further analysis back to your main argument! And remember, you only have to do this for four documents for full credit, but it's fine to do it for more if you can.

Practicing Document Analysis

So how do you practice document analysis? By analyzing documents!

Luckily for AP test takers everywhere, New York State has an exam called the Regents Exam that has its own DBQ section. Before they write the essay, however, New York students have to answer short answer questions about the documents.

Answering Regents exam DBQ short-answer questions is good practice for basic document analysis. While most of the questions are pretty basic, it's a good warm-up in terms of thinking more deeply about the documents and how to use them. This set of Regent-style DBQs from the Teacher's Project are mostly about US History, but the practice could be good for other tests too.

This prompt from the Morningside center also has some good document comprehensions questions about a US-History based prompt.

Note: While the document short-answer questions are useful for thinking about basic document analysis, I wouldn't advise completing entire Regents exam DBQ essay prompts for practice, because the format and rubric are both somewhat different from the AP.

Your AP history textbook may also have documents with questions that you can use to practice. Flip around in there!

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This otter is ready to swim in the waters of the DBQ.

When you want to do a deeper dive on the documents, you can also pull out those old College Board DBQ prompts.

Read the documents carefully. Write down everything that comes to your attention. Do further analysis—author's point of view, purpose, audience, and historical context—on all the documents for practice, even though you will only need to do additional analysis on four on test day. Of course, you might not be able to do all kinds of further analysis on things like maps and graphs, which is fine.

You might also try thinking about how you would arrange those observations in an argument, or even try writing a practice outline! This exercise would combine your thesis and document-analysis skills practice.

When you've analyzed everything you can possibly think of for all the documents, pull up the Scoring Guide for that prompt. It helpfully has an entire list of analysis points for each document.

Consider what they identified that you missed.

Do you seem way off-base in your interpretation? If so, how did it happen?

Part C: Using Evidence Beyond the Documents - 2 Points

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Don't be freaked out by the fact that this is two points!

One point is just for context—if you can locate the issue within its broader historical situation. You do need to write several sentences to a paragraph about it, but don't stress; all you really need to know to be able to get this point is information about major historical trends over time, and you will need to know this anyways for the multiple choice section. If the question is about the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, for example, be sure to include some of the general information you know about the Great Depression! Boom. Contextualized.

The other point is for naming a specific, relevant example in your essay that does not appear in the documents.

To practice your outside information skills, pull up your College Board prompts!

Read through the prompt and documents and then write down all of the contextualizing facts and as many specific examples as you can think of.

I advise timing yourself—maybe 5-10 minutes to read the documents and prompt and list your outside knowledge—to imitate the time pressure of the DBQ.

When you've exhausted your knowledge, make sure to fact-check your examples and your contextual information! You don't want to use incorrect information on test day.

If you can't remember any examples or contextual information about that topic, look some up! This will help fill in holes in your knowledge.

Part D: Synthesis - 1 Point

Rubric_part_4-1.png

All you need to do for synthesis is relate your argument about this specific time period to a different time period, geographical area, historical movement, etc. It is probably easiest to do this in the conclusion of the essay. If your essay is about the Great Depression, you might relate it to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

You do need to do more than just mention your synthesis connection. You need to make it meaningful. How are the two things you are comparing similar? What does one reveal about the other? Is there a key difference that highlights something important?

To practice your synthesis skills—you guessed it—pull up your College Board prompts!

  • Read through the prompt and documents and then identify what historical connections you could make for your synthesis point. Be sure to write a few words on why the connection is significant!
  • A great way to make sure that your synthesis connection makes sense is to explain it to someone else. If you explain what you think the connection is and they get it, you're probably on the right track.
  • You can also look at sample responses and the scoring guide for the old prompts to see what other connections students and AP graders made.

That's a wrap on the rubric! Let's move on to skill-building strategy.

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I know you're tired, but you can do it!

#5: Take Another Practice DBQ

So, you established a baseline, identified the skills you need to work on, and practiced writing a thesis statement and analyzing documents for hours. What now?

Take another timed, practice DBQ from a prompt you haven't seen before to check how you've improved. Recruit your same trusted advisor to grade your exam and give feedback. After, work on any skills that still need to be honed.

Repeat this process as necessary, until you are consistently scoring your goal score. Then you just need to make sure you maintain your skills until test day by doing an occasional practice DBQ.

Eventually, test day will come—read on for my DBQ-test-taking tips.

How Can I Succeed On DBQ Test Day?

Once you've prepped your brains out, you still have to take the test! I know, I know. But I've got some advice on how to make sure all of your hard work pays off on test day—both some general tips and some specific advice on how to write a DBQ.

#1: General Test-Taking Tips

Most of these are probably tips you've heard before, but they bear repeating:

Get a good night's sleep for the two nights preceding the exam. This will keep your memory sharp!

Eat a good breakfast (and lunch, if the exam is in the afternoon) before the exam with protein and whole grains. This will keep your blood sugar from crashing and making you tired during the exam.

Don't study the night before the exam if you can help it. Instead, do something relaxing. You've been preparing, and you will have an easier time on exam day if you aren't stressed from trying to cram the night before.

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This dude knows he needs to get a good night's rest!

#2: DBQ Plan and Strategies

Below I've laid out how to use your time during the DBQ exam. I'll provide tips on reading the question and docs, planning your essay, and writing!

Be sure to keep an eye on the clock throughout so you can track your general progress.

Reading the Question and the Documents: 5-6 min

First thing's first: r ead the question carefully , two or even three times. You may want to circle the task words ("analyze," "describe," "evaluate," "compare") to make sure they stand out.

You could also quickly jot down some contextual information you already know before moving on to the documents, but if you can't remember any right then, move on to the docs and let them jog your memory.

It's fine to have a general idea of a thesis after you read the question, but if you don't, move on to the docs and let them guide you in the right direction.

Next, move on to the documents. Mark them as you read—circle things that seem important, jot thoughts and notes in the margins.

After you've passed over the documents once, you should choose the four documents you are going to analyze more deeply and read them again. You probably won't be analyzing the author's purpose for sources like maps and charts. Good choices are documents in which the author's social or political position and stake in the issue at hand are clear.

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Get ready to go down the document rabbit hole.

Planning Your Essay: 9-11 min

Once you've read the question and you have preliminary notes on the documents, it's time to start working on a thesis. If you still aren't sure what to talk about, spend a minute or so brainstorming. Write down themes and concepts that seem important and create a thesis from those. Remember, your thesis needs to answer the question and make a claim!

When you've got a thesis, it's time to work on an outline . Once you've got some appropriate topics for your body paragraphs, use your notes on the documents to populate your outline. Which documents support which ideas? You don't need to use every little thought you had about the document when you read it, but you should be sure to use every document.

Here's three things to make sure of:

Make sure your outline notes where you are going to include your contextual information (often placed in the first body paragraph, but this is up to you), your specific example (likely in one of the body paragraphs), and your synthesis (the conclusion is a good place for this).

Make sure you've also integrated the four documents you are going to further analyze and how to analyze them.

Make sure you use all the documents! I can't stress this enough. Take a quick pass over your outline and the docs and make sure all of the docs appear in your outline.

If you go over the planning time a couple of minutes, it's not the end of the world. This probably just means you have a really thorough outline! But be ready to write pretty fast.

Writing the Essay - 45 min

If you have a good outline, the hard part is out of the way! You just need to make sure you get all of your great ideas down in the test booklet.

Don't get too bogged down in writing a super-exciting introduction. You won't get points for it, so trying to be fancy will just waste time. Spend maybe one or two sentences introducing the issue, then get right to your thesis.

For your body paragraphs, make sure your topic sentences clearly state the point of the paragraph . Then you can get right into your evidence and your document analysis.

As you write, make sure to keep an eye on the time. You want to be a little more than halfway through at the 20-minute mark of the writing period, so you have a couple minutes to go back and edit your essay at the end.

Keep in mind that it's more important to clearly lay out your argument than to use flowery language. Sentences that are shorter and to the point are completely fine.

If you are short on time, the conclusion is the least important part of your essay . Even just one sentence to wrap things up is fine just so long as you've hit all the points you need to (i.e. don't skip your conclusion if you still need to put in your synthesis example).

When you are done, make one last past through your essay. Make sure you included everything that was in your outline and hit all the rubric skills! Then take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.

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You did it!! Have a cupcake to celebrate.

Key Tips for How to Write a DBQ

I realize I've bombarded you with information, so here are the key points to take away:

Remember the drill for prep: establish a baseline, build skills, take another practice DBQ, repeat skill-building as necessary.

Make sure that you know the rubric inside and out so you will remember to hit all the necessary points on test day! It's easy to lose points just for forgetting something like your synthesis point.

On test day, keep yourself on track time-wise !

This may seem like a lot, but you can learn how to ace your DBQ! With a combination of preparation and good test-taking strategy, you will get the score you're aiming for. The more you practice, the more natural it will seem, until every DBQ is a breeze.

What's Next?

If you want more information about the DBQ, see my introductory guide to the DBQ .

Haven't registered for your AP test yet? See our article for help registering for AP exams .

For more on studying for the AP US History exam, check out the best AP US History notes to study with .

Studying for World History? See these AP World History study tips from one of our experts.

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What is a DBQ? An Essential Guide to Document-Based Questions

As you prepare for your upcoming AP tests, you’ll likely hear the term DBQ thrown around multiple times. DBQs are crucial to your overall AP test score and help demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and analytical abilities.

But what is a DBQ, and how can you use it to your advantage on the AP exams? This article will answer your questions about DBQs, from what they look like and how they’re scored to what the rubric means. We’ll also look at the purpose of the DBQ as well as which exams include a DBQ. Read on for more information about DBQs and how to use them to your advantage.

What is a DBQ?

Let’s start by answering the essential question: what is a DBQ? The document-based question, or DBQ, is an essay question included in many Advanced Placement (AP) exams. DBQs are worth a significant portion of your overall grade on the AP test and are meant to assess your ability to analyze primary sources.

Which Exams Include a DBQ?

DBQs are included in many Advanced Placement (AP) exams, including AP History, AP English Language and Composition, and AP World History. They are also included in some SAT subject tests, such as SAT II US History, SAT II World History, and SAT II Literature. To correctly answer a DBQ, you must analyze historical documents as evidence to answer a primary question regarding historical events or issues.

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What Does the DBQ Format Look Like?

Students can format a DBQ response in the same way they would with a standard analytical essay. Generally speaking, you should format your DBQ as follows:

  • Introduction: In the introduction, you should explain what the essay is about, introduce your argument, write your thesis statement, and describe the main points that you will be addressing in the essay.
  • Body: The essay’s body should consist of several paragraphs, each focusing on one central point you outlined in the introduction. Each paragraph should begin with a comprehensive topic sentence and be supported with evidence from the documents.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion should summarize the central points of your essay and restate your argument. It should also explain how your argument supports the prompt.

When writing your DBQ essay during an AP exam, you will be given 15 minutes to look over the documents provided for the essay. You will spend the remaining 45 minutes writing the essay following this period. Most DBQs provide numerous documents to consider when supporting your argument, so understanding each document is crucial.

AP exams usually include two DBQs. Students have 90 minutes to write their essays after reviewing the documents.

How is the DBQ Scored?

Your DBQ will be scored based on how thoroughly you answer the prompt, the strength of your argument, the quality of your evidence, and how effectively you use the source material. DBQs are the second-highest contributor to your final score. The DBQ rubric emphasizes your essay’s thesis, analysis, evidence, and synthesis. These essays are scored based on the following categories and points system:

  • Thesis (0-1 point)
  • Contextualization (0-1 point)
  • Evidence (0-3 points)
  • Analysis (0-2 points)

How Much is the Document-Based Question Worth?

The DBQ is worth a significant portion of your grade on the AP test. Typically, the DBQ will be worth 25% of your overall score.

What Does the Rubric Mean?

The DBQ rubric is a set of criteria used to evaluate essays. It is divided into the categories listed above. But what does the rubric mean, and what should you expect to be graded on for each category? Below is a breakdown of each category and how points are determined.

  • Thesis: You earn a point on your DBQ thesis if you successfully make a claim responding to the prompt and addressing all of your central points that will be argued in the body. The thesis statement should be no more than two sentences, though one is preferable.
  • Contextualization: The context of your essay is crucial to a comprehensive and highly graded DBQ response. This portion relates to whether your thesis and arguments are connected to broader historical contexts central to the question.
  • Evidence: Students will earn anywhere from one to three points based on how successfully they incorporate the document-based evidence. Two points are earned when a student’s response describes the document’s content. The third point is earned if students integrate a document’s evidence throughout the essay rather than taking large chunks and quotes from the documents without providing analysis.
  • Analysis: Finally, you can earn one point for your analysis if you can accurately depict the content from each document, including its purpose and perspective. Students earn two points for responses that display a nuanced understanding of historical events relating to the documents.

What’s the Purpose of a DBQ?

The purpose of a DBQ is to assess your ability to analyze primary historical sources. DBQs test your skills and whether you can comprehensively respond to each question with a detailed explanation of the documents. DBQs focus on your analytical skills, overall knowledge of the subject, and ability to understand and break down historical documents.

It tests your ability to identify critical points and analyze how the documents support them. Additionally, it tests your ability to write a strong argument and support it with evidence. DBQs also demonstrate your understanding of the political and cultural contexts behind historical documents and their related events.

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Colleges of Distinction ensure that students are prepared for anything as they move toward a new chapter. Through our comprehensive resources and advice for students , you can master your DBQ responses and get into the colleges you’ve set your sights on. Check out our cohort of top-recognized colleges today by visiting Colleges of Distinction’s website. With some practice, preparation, and resources from Colleges of Distinction, you’ll be ready to ace your next AP test!

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What Is DBQ Format for AP US History?

apush dbq format

The AP US History Document-Based Question , or DBQ, can seem daunting to even the most experienced essay-writers. But never fear! The DBQ format differs from typical essays in only one way – the inclusion of historical documents. Otherwise it follows the same essay outline you have been turning in since middle school!   If the thought of completing a DBQ format essay still fills you with anxiety, try using our simple tips to make the DBQ format essay a bit more workable.

About the DBQ format for AP US History

The APUSH DBQ format is very similar to a traditional essay, with one exception – the inclusion of historical documents. Just like ordinary essays, every DBQ begins with a prompt of some kind. Unlike ordinary essays, you are also given a set of historical documents (usually 5-7) that function as your primary sources of information. Expect to read through each of the documents, then compose a clear, concise, well-written essay all under 60 minutes.

How to write an essay in DBQ format

The goal of a DBQ format essay is to use provided historical sources plus prior knowledge to show your overall understanding of historical themes and content. Essays that achieve a high score always write within the historical context – don’t just analyze the documents without explaining how and why they are important to US History .   With only 60 minutes to write an entire essay (and make it great), AP College Board recommends taking the first 10-15 minutes just to plan. No writing. Just planning. Although it may seem ridiculous to dedicate ¼ of your time to something other than writing, planning will actually save you time in the long run.

1. Figure out what the question prompt is asking you to do

Read the question prompt. Then read it again. Maybe even a third time. Make sure you understand what the prompt is actually asking you to write. No matter how great your essay, if you don’t answer the question, you aren’t getting a good score.   From there, find “action words” to help determine which direction your essay should take. Do you need to analyze source information? Compare and contrast? Evaluate or prove something? Always remember that no matter what the prompt is asking, your answer needs to revolve around the historical sources provided.

2. Review the historical documents

Each historical document is a potential information source. Before you even begin to write your DBW format essay, read through each document, noting any similarities and differences between them. Are they from the same time period? Do they reflect an event in US history? Look for main ideas and concepts that capture what each document is really about.

3. Make an outline

Sometimes it’s easiest to start your outline with a thesis statement. Take a look at the DBQ essay prompt one more time, and use that to formulate your introductory paragraph. Go for the 5-paragraph rule here: 1 opening paragraph, 3 body paragraphs and 1 closing paragraph. A quality essay requires at least 3 body paragraphs to persuasively support your point of view. You will almost definitely write more than 3, but never write less.   Make sure to include main ideas and supporting details/facts from your evidence. Taking a few moments here to figure out how best to incorporate the historical documents into your DBQ format essay will help keep your paper organized and concise.

Finally, you can start writing! As you write, use your outline to help maintain focus. Don’t get “lost” in your paper. Keep sight of the DBQ question prompt, making sure each paragraph you write connects back to the original question. As you write, be sure to include both specific examples from the historical documents, as well as outside thematic knowledge you learned in APUSH. This is the time to really show how well you understand US History!

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Unit 7 DBQ (International Expansion)

4 min read • november 17, 2021

AP US History Document-Based Question for International Expansion

👋 Welcome to the AP US History Unit 7 DBQ (International Expansion) . These are longer questions, so grab some paper and a pencil, or open up a blank page on your computer. After you finish, you can see how you did with the Unit 7 DBQ (International Expansion) Answers .

⏱ The AP US History exam has a mixture of free-response questions and allotted times. For these types of questions, there will be 1 DBQ, and you will be given 60 minutes to complete it. It is suggested that you spend 15 minutes to read the documents and spend 45 minutes to draft your response .

🤔 Need a quick refresher of the unit as a whole? Check out the Unit 7 Overview .

😩 Getting stumped halfway through answering? Look through all of the available Unit 7 Resources .

🤝 Prefer to study with other students working on the same topic? Join a group in Hours .

In your response you should do the following:

Respond to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis or claim that establishes a line of reasoning.

Describe a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.

Support an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents.

Use at least one additional piece of specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt.

For at least three documents, explain how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument.

Use evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the prompt.

Adapted from College Board DBQ Instructions

Evaluate the extent to which international expansion fostered changes in the United States from 1890 to 1914.

Document 1 (Thayer Mahan)

Source : The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. Alfred Thayer Mahan.

“The history of sea power is largely, though by no means solely, a narrative of contests between nations, of mutual rivalries, of violence frequently culminating in war. The profound influence of sea commerce upon the wealth and strength of countries was clearly seen long before the true principles which governed its growth and prosperity were detected. To secure to one's own people a disproportionate share of such benefits, every effort was made to exclude others, either by the peaceful legislative methods of monopoly or prohibitory regulations, or, when these failed, by direct violence. The clash of interests, the angry feelings roused by conflicting attempts thus to appropriate the larger share, if not the whole, of the advantages of commerce, and of distant unsettled commercial regions, led to wars….

Document 2 (Schurz)

Source : The Policy of Imperialism: Address by Hon. Carl Schurz at the Anti-Imperialist Conference in Chicago. Oct 17, 1899.

We earnestly condemned the policy of the present national administration in the Philippines. It seeks to extinguish the spirit of 1776 in those islands. We deplore the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, whose bravery deserves admiration even in an unjust war. We denounce the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless horror. We protest against the extension of American sovereignty by Spanish methods...We demand the immediate cessation of the war against liberty, begun by Spain and continued by us.

Document 3 (Library of Congress, Illustration )

Source : Library of Congress, 1905.

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Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Document 4 (Hay to White)

Source : John Hay to Andrew D. White, First Open Door Note, September 6, 1899.

The present moment seems a particularly opportune one for informing Her Britannic Majesty’s Government of the desire of the United States to see it make a formal declaration and to lend its support in obtaining similar declarations from the various powers claiming “spheres of influence” in China, to the effect that each in its respective spheres of interest or influence — First. Will in no way interfere with any treaty port or any vested interest within any so-called “sphere of interest” or leased territory it may have in China. Second. That the Chinese treaty tariff of the time being shall apply to all merchandise landed or shipped to all such ports as are within said “sphere of interest” (unless they be “free ports”), no matter to what nationality it may belong, and that duties so leviable shall be collected by the Chinese Government.

Document 5 (Queen Liliuokalani)

Source : Letter from Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii to U.S. House of Representatives, December 19, 1898.

The House of Representatives of the United States: I, Liliuokalani of Hawaii, named heir apparent on the 10th day of April, 1877, and proclaimed Queen of the Hawaiian islands on the 28th day of January, 1891, do hereby and earnestly and respectfully protest against the assertion of the ownership by the United States of America of the so-called Hawaiian Crown Islands amounting to about one million acres and which are my property, and I especially protest against such assertion of ownership as a taking of property without due process of law and without just or other compensation….

Document 6 (Harper's Weekly)

Source : Harper's Weekly, Nov 21, 1903.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Document 7 (Platt Amendment)

Source : Transcript of Platt Amendment, 1903.

That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island."

Answers & Rubric

💯 Ready to see how you did? Take a look at the Unit 7 DBQ (International Expansion) Answers .

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How to earn the synthesis point on the dbq and leq.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

How to Earn the Synthesis Point on the DBQ and LEQ

Disclaimer: Please note that synthesis is no longer a component of the DBQ or LEQ rubrics for the AP® Histories as of the 2017-2018 school year.

In this post, we will explore one of these points students will be looking to earn to help their chances at passing the APUSH exam this Spring: the Synthesis point.

What is the Synthesis Point?

According to the College Board, Synthesis refers to:

Historical thinking involves the ability to develop understanding of the past by making meaningful and persuasive historical and/or cross-disciplinary connections between
a given historical issue and other historical contexts, periods, themes, or disciplines.

(College Board AP® Course and Exam Description, AP® US History, Fall 2015)

Synthesis is a crucial critical thinking skill that is featured in the newly redesigned course.  In my opinion, this is a great skill to actively address in the classroom.  Making connections between different time periods, events and various contexts throughout American history is something I have always attempted to do in my classroom, but the College Board explicitly defining this skill has made me much more cognizant and proactive in helping students see interconnectedness between our past and today.

The place it is most relevant in the course is as one potential point students can earn on both the  Document Based Question (DBQ)  and Long Essay Question (LEQ).  In order to earn the synthesis point, students must “extend the argument.”  This means that in addition to making an argument with a thesis and supported by evidence, students must do something beyond answering the specific prompt.  There are two different ways that the College Board has defined that students can “extend the argument:”

A. Make connections between a given historical issue and related developments in a different historical context, geographical area, period, or era, including the present. (College Board AP® Course and Exam Description, AP® US History, Fall 2015)

The first way to earn the synthesis point is to take a part of the essay and compare it to something else that was covered in the course.  This could be something from another one of the nine time periods, another region or part of America, or a similar event.

B. Make connections between different course themes and/or approaches to history (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual) for a given historical issue. (College Board AP® Course and Exam Description, AP® US History, Fall 2015)

The second way essentially gives students the ability to add an additional category of analysis: If the question asks for political and economic factors, students could additionally discuss social factors for a particular issue or event.

Note: There is also an additional way in that  AP® European History  and AP® World History students can earn the synthesis point, by using another discipline like anthropology or government to explore a historical issue.  This third option is not open as a possibility for  APUSH students .

Synthesis can technically happen at any time throughout the essay.  However, I encourage students to write their synthesis in a conclusion paragraph.  I think it makes the most sense there because going beyond the argument of the essay is a good way for students to tie up their thoughts, which typically occurs in the final paragraph.  It also ensures that students are thorough and don’t just treat the connection in a superficial way (more on this below).  Finally, it makes it less likely that their synthesis attempt will get confused with evidence they are using to build their argument.

Examples of Successful Student Synthesis Points

Regardless of which way students try to earn the synthesis point, one of the biggest pitfalls that students fall into is simply referencing the connection in a few words or a phrase without going into substantive depth.  Students need to go into detail explaining  what  the connection is and  why  there is a relationship between their essay and the examples they chose.

Comparing Different Time Periods and Events

For example, if students are writing an essay about the causes and effects of the abolitionist movement, they may write:

This is similar to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

This is not enough depth to be awarded a Synthesis point.  Students need to explain  what  the Civil Rights movement is: who are the main leaders, what were some of their goals, and/or what were successes and failures of the movement.  Students also need to be clear on  why  the  abolitionist movement  and Civil Rights movement are related.  What are similarities and differences?  What specific connections can be made between the two?  A better response would be:

Similar to the abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s continued to promote better conditions and increased equality for African Americans.  Like David Walker and Nat Turner, some leaders of the Civil Rights era advocated for violence, including Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.  However, like the Free Soil Party and the orator Frederick Douglass, Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee supported peaceful and political tactics to bring attention to their goals of increased social equality and basic rights for African Americans.  

Note the dramatic difference.  The first is an offhand vague reference that lacks evidence of a depth of understanding.  The second example has specific pieces of information that provide substantial evidence of a connection between the two movements.

Comparing Different Geographic Regions

In addition to referencing similarities between different time periods, students can earn the synthesis point by comparing geographic areas.  For example, if students are asked to identify the causes of industrialization before the Civil War, students could look at the lack of industrialization in the South in this same time period.  One example of a solid student example is below:

While the Northeast began rapid industrialization in the 1830s and 1840s, the South remained predominantly rural and agricultural.  Large cities were few and far between, and with the invention of the cotton gin, the plantation economy and an emphasis on farming and agriculture was reasserted.  The South shipped their cash crops to European and Northern factories, remaining mostly unindustrialized in the years before the Civil War. These economic differences created stark differences between the North and South on a variety of issues, including protective tariffs, which northern industrialists favored and southern consumer opposed. 

Making Connections to Different Course Themes

One effective strategy students can use to earn the synthesis point is to add an additional course theme (or category of analysis).  This works best when the prompt explicitly calls for specific themes.  For example, if a prompt calls for economic and political causes and effects of the Vietnam War, students could write an additional paragraph on social causes and effects.  A good response for students would include class tensions, war protesters, racial tensions in the armed forces, etc.  In this scenario, students could also reference specific social documents if it is a DBQ.  Again, it is crucial to make sure that students don’t do this in a drive-by sort of way, but go into depth with a variety of specific examples.

Strategies for Teaching Synthesis to Students

Strategies for Teaching Synthesis - AP® US History

1. Make Connections Early and Often

Synthesis is all about making connections between different time periods and situations. After each unit or chapter, have students make 2-3 connections to something else they learned in the class.  For example when your class is studying the Espionage and Sedition Acts in 1917, students could connect these laws to the  United States Constitution’s  freedom of speech and press, President Adam’s Sedition Act of 1798, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, or even the Patriot Act during the War on Terror.  This could be done formally as a written assignment, or informally as a warm-up or exit ticket as a formative assessment.  The more comfortable students are in making these connections, the better off they will be on the exam date.

2. Incorporating In-Class Activities

Making teaching Synthesis a part of your class time is crucial in observing student growth on this skill.  I have done a few activities that have been especially useful.  One is to find a news story that makes a comparison to historical events in the past (one recent piece compared Trump to Andrew Jackson) and ask students to discuss or debate on the similarities and differences (more on current events below).

Additionally, I printed out a variety of terms and events from the first semester cut them out, and randomly handed them out to students.  Students had to go around the room and try to figure out how their term was related to another students’ term.  Some inevitably were not really related at all, but it forced students to try to make connections between the various periods and subjects we focused on (many times beyond just basic surface-level stuff), which is essentially what synthesis is all about.

3. Assign Many DBQ and LEQ Assessments and Share Specific Examples

The more often students  write DBQ’s  and LEQ’s, the more comfortable students will get with the entire process and skill set involved, including Synthesis.  One thing that has been especially successful in my classroom is to collect a handful of student attempts at the Synthesis point and share them with students.  Students then get to examine them and look at effective and less effective attempts at earning Synthesis.  Often the best way for students to learn what to do or how to improve is to see what their classmates have done.

4. Review Historical Themes Throughout the Year

The College Board has broken all of the learning objectives into a handful of themes (identity, culture, politics and power, etc.) that are relevant throughout United States history.  By relying on these themes, students can see these connections throughout the year, making Synthesis more approachable for students.

For example, one theme I follow throughout the year is immigration and demographic changes.  By tracing America’s immigration from  colonization  to Irish and German in the 1840s to New Immigrants after the Civil War and so on, students are able to find ample opportunities to make historical connections throughout American history.

Additionally, being explicit about covering events through a variety of historical categories of analysis (political, economic, social, cultural and intellectual), allows students to see multiple factors that play a role in key events in American history.  For example, when covering the causes of US imperialism in the late 19 th  and early 20 th  centuries, breaking them down for students into economic factors (such as business markets), social factors (such as Social Darwinism and religious missionaries) and political factors (such as increased government and military power) is useful in helping student organizing their thoughts in a potential essay, as well as giving them some possible ways to go beyond the prompt in adding synthesis.

5. Make Connections to Current Events

I know what you are thinking, I have one school year (less if your school year starts in September) to get through 1491 to Present and now I am supposed to make this a current events class as well?  The answer is yes and no.  Will stuff from the news pages be content the students need to know for the exam: absolutely not.  However, it is a great opportunity for synthesis.

For example, examining the LGBT movement could offer some interesting comparisons for other reform movements in the past.  Looking at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act as a continuation of Social Security or Medicare could offer students a synthesis opportunity.  Examining similarities and differences between the Boston Tea Party and the Tea Party movement or how the 2016 election compares to some presidential races in the past allows students unique ways to earn their synthesis point.  I have found this approach makes the class more interesting and meaningful for students and allows students to observe that history has continuities and changes that evolve over time.

Any time changes happen, there is a temptation to be reactionary and reject them.  I have found that by being more deliberate about helping students make connections between historical events, their engagement and understanding has improved significantly.  Teachers always are fighting that battle between covering the content (which is daunting in an AP® course) and helping students understand the “so what?” question.  Why does this matter to me?  By making connections, students can see that history does not every happen in a vacuum.  Our shared narrative is a series of events and ideas that continuously evolve and build off of each other.  When students gain a firm understanding of how the past impacts their lives today, it makes learning way more meaningful and fun.

Synthesis is tough for students at first, particularly because they have little to connect with in the first period, but especially as you enter second semester, it is a skill application that can be perfected and improved to maximize your students’ chances of earning that point and rocking the AP® exam.

Looking for AP® US History practice?

Kickstart your AP® US History prep with Albert.  Start your AP® exam prep today .

Ben Hubing

Ben Hubing is an educator at Greendale High School in Greendale, Wisconsin.  Ben has taught AP® U.S. History and AP® U.S. Government and Politics for the last eight years and was a reader last year for the AP® U.S. History Short Answer.  Ben earned his Bachelors degree at The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Masters degree at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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AP®︎/College US History

Course: ap®︎/college us history   >   unit 10, ap us history periods and themes.

  • AP US History multiple choice example 1
  • AP US History multiple choice example 2
  • AP US History short answer example 1
  • AP US History short answer example 2
  • AP US History DBQ example 1
  • AP US History DBQ example 2
  • AP US History DBQ example 3
  • AP US History DBQ example 4
  • AP US History long essay example 1
  • AP US History long essay example 2
  • AP US History long essay example 3
  • Preparing for the AP US History Exam (5/4/2016)
  • AP US History Exam Prep Session (5/1/2017)

AP US history periods and themes

Example ap us history problems, key terms, documents, and court cases to know, primary documents:.

John Winthrop, “City on a Hill” / “A Model of Christian Charity”
Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
Thomas Jefferson, “Declaration of Independence”
James Madison, “Constitution of the United States”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, “Declaration of Sentiments”
Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (main ideas)
Abraham Lincoln, “House Divided” speech, Second Inaugural Address
Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Andrew Carnegie, “The Gospel of Wealth” (main ideas)
Josiah Strong, “Our Country” (main ideas)
Upton Sinclair “The Jungle” (main ideas)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, December 8 1941 address
George Kennan, “Long Telegram”
Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, “I Have a Dream” speech
Betty Friedan “The Feminine Mystique” (main ideas)
Ronald Reagan “Evil Empire” speech

Supreme Court cases:

Marbury v. Madison
Dred Scott v. Sanford
Plessy v. Ferguson
Brown v. Board of Education
Roe v. Wade
Bush v. Gore

Foreign policy doctrines:

Monroe Doctrine
Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
Truman Doctrine
Nixon Doctrine
Bush Doctrine
virgin soil epidemic
salutary neglect / benign neglect
mercantilism
Anti-Federalist
isolationism
judicial review
Democratic-Republican
Jacksonian Democracy
nullification
popular sovereignty
Emancipation
Jim Crow segregation
sharecropping
mass production
labor union
imperialism
self-determination
prohibition
laissez-faire economics
liberalism (economics/politics)
Soviet Union
containment
Domino Theory
non-violent protest (Civil Rights)
Vietnamization
conservatism

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IMAGES

  1. APUSH Unit 5 DBQ STudent Example of a 7 docx Compatibility Mode Word 2

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  2. A Formula for HOW TO WRITE a DBQ [for AP World, APUSH, & AP Euro]

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  3. PPT

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  4. APUSH DBQ Writing

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  5. How to write a DBQ in APUSH

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COMMENTS

  1. The Ultimate APUSH DBQ Guide: Rubric, Examples, and More!

    Of the two free response questions, one is a long essay (worth 15%) and one is a DBQ. This means that the sole DBQ is, by itself, worth 25% of your total grade, making it the single most heavily-weighted question on the APUSH exam.. The APUSH DBQ will consist of a single open-ended prompt.To answer it, you'll have to create a persuasive argument that uses the documents you've been given on ...

  2. How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

    Steps to Writing an Effective DBQ. We've summarized how to write an effective DBQ into the following five steps: 1. Read the prompt first. Though you may be tempted to jump into the documents right away, it's very important that you first look at what exactly the prompt is asking for.

  3. What Is a DBQ in AP US History?

    Importance of a DBQ. A DBQ is a significant component of the AP U.S. History exam, making up 25% of the total exam score. A well-crafted DBQ essay can substantially boost one's performance on the AP exam and demonstrate a mastery of historical thinking skills. Writing a DBQ goes beyond simply regurgitating information from the provided ...

  4. How to Earn the Contextualization Point on the APUSH DBQ

    Use the documents and your knowledge of the years 1860-1877 to construct your response. This was the third DBQ we had written, and students were now getting brave enough to move beyond a thesis and document analysis and started attempting to tackle the contextualization point. However, the attempts were all over the map.

  5. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Tips

    The DBQ, or document-based-question, is a somewhat unusually-formatted timed essay on the AP History Exams: AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History. Because of its unfamiliarity, many students are at a loss as to how to even prepare, let alone how to write a successful DBQ essay on test day. Never fear!

  6. What is a DBQ? An Essential Guide to Document-Based Questions

    The purpose of a DBQ is to assess your ability to analyze primary historical sources. DBQs test your skills and whether you can comprehensively respond to each question with a detailed explanation of the documents. DBQs focus on your analytical skills, overall knowledge of the subject, and ability to understand and break down historical documents.

  7. AP US History DBQ example 1 (video)

    AP US History DBQ example 1. Google Classroom. About. Transcript. The document-based question (DBQ) is one of two main essays on the AP US History exam and usually requires analyzing changes or continuities over time in US history. In this video, learn about the structure of DBQs and tips and tricks to help you succeed on this challenging part ...

  8. How to Write a New AP® US History DBQ

    3. Don't forget to contextualize. Things that happen in history are not isolated events, and the circumstances surrounding things matter. Don't forget to address that. 6. Wrap it up with a ballin' conclusion. Don't draw it out and don't introduce new ideas in the conclusion. Make it short and to the point.

  9. How to Write a DBQ Essay for APUSH

    As I stated in a previous post on what the APUSH exam is all about, the goal of the exam is to test your historical thinking skills. Historians write arguments based on documents, and for this exam, you will, too. For a DBQ essay, you will receive several documents of varying length. You will be asked to respond to some historical prompt that ...

  10. What Is DBQ Format for AP US History?

    The AP US History Document-Based Question, or DBQ, can seem daunting to even the most experienced essay-writers. But never fear! The DBQ format differs from typical essays in only one way - the inclusion of historical documents. Otherwise it follows the same essay outline you have been turning in since middle school!

  11. AP United States History Exam

    We've updated the AP U.S. History document-based question (DBQ) and long essay question (LEQ) rubrics for the 2023-24 school year. This change only affects the DBQ and LEQ scoring, with no change to the course or the exam: the exam format, course framework, and skills assessed on the exam all remain unchanged.

  12. PDF AP United States History

    Accurately describe a context relevant to how the definitions of United States citizenship changed from 1865 to 1920. Row B Contextualization. (0-1 points) Examples that do not earn this point: Do not provide context relevant to the topic of the prompt. "The market revolution changed the economy a lot before 1865.".

  13. AP United States History Past Exam Questions

    Download free-response questions from past exams along with scoring guidelines, sample responses from exam takers, and scoring distributions. If you are using assistive technology and need help accessing these PDFs in another format, contact Services for Students with Disabilities at 212-713-8333 or by email at [email protected]. The ...

  14. APUSH Unit 7 DBQ Practice Prompt (International Expansion)

    After you finish, you can see how you did with the Unit 7 DBQ (International Expansion) Answers. ⏱ The AP US History exam has a mixture of free-response questions and allotted times. For these types of questions, there will be 1 DBQ, and you will be given 60 minutes to complete it. It is suggested that you spend 15 minutes to read the ...

  15. PDF AP United States History

    AP Central is the official online home for the AP Program: apcentral.collegeboard.org Inside: ... www.collegeboard.org. Question 1 — Document-Based Question Evaluate the relative importance of different causes for the expanding role of the United States in the world in the period from 1865 to 1910. Maximum Possible Points: 7 . Points Rubric ...

  16. APUSH: reform DBQ Flashcards

    Paragraph 2. Some of the most influential movements of 1825-1850 were the social reforms of education, women's suffrage, and abolition. 1. education. - horace mann "father of education," promote free, universal education for diverse people by qualified teachers. -- democratic because equal opportunity, more education = better citizen.

  17. PDF 2022 AP Student Samples and Commentary

    AP Central is the official online home for the AP Program: apcentral.collegeboard.org. Inside: Document-Based Question. 5. ... Question 1: Document-Based Question, Imperialism and Asian and African economies 7 points . General Scoring Notes • Except where otherwise noted, each point of these rubrics is earned independently; for example, a ...

  18. How to Earn the Synthesis Point on the DBQ and LEQ

    In order to earn the synthesis point, students must "extend the argument.". This means that in addition to making an argument with a thesis and supported by evidence, students must do something beyond answering the specific prompt. There are two different ways that the College Board has defined that students can "extend the argument:".

  19. AP US History periods and themes

    We've put together some video examples of how to tackle each section of the AP US history exam. Find them here: Multiple choice section: How to approach multiple choice questions. Short answer section: How to approach short answer questions. Document-based essay: How to approach the DBQ. Long essay: How to approach the long essay question/LE.

  20. PDF Revised APUSH DBQ

    A course theme and/or approach to history that is not the focus of the essay (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual history). 1. To what extent was organized labor successful in improving the position of workers in the period from 1875 to 1900? Editorial, The New York Times, July 18, 1877.

  21. APUSH Second Great Awakening Flashcards

    Terms in this set (25) The Second Great Awakening and Protestant Revivalism. A series of religious revivals starting in 1801, based on Methodism and Baptism. Stressed a religious philosophy of salvation through good deeds and tolerance for all Protestant sects. The revivals attracted women, Blacks, and Native Americans.

  22. AP U.S. History Past Exam Questions

    Visit The AP U.S. History Exam. See also: AP U.S. History Document-Based Questions, 1973-1999 (.pdf/32.2MB) Note about "Form B" Exams. Prior to the May 2012 exam administration, for selected AP subjects, another version of the exam called "Form B" was administered outside of North, Central, and South America.