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What is the DBQ?
DBQ stands for "Document Based Question". It is the first question on the essay section of the AP
Exam in U.S. HIstory. You will have one (1) hour to complete it. The DBQ requires youto first
analyze and interpret a set of primary source documents (i.e. diaries, news articles, photos; speeches,
laws, maps, graphs, letters, and cartoons) and then construct an essay response that blends your analysis
of the documents with outside knowledge to answer the question at hand: Thus, the: DBQ will assess
your ability to combine historical research and analytical skill with factual recalL The AP Exam allows
you only 15 minutes to review the documents and plan your essay; the remaining 45 minutes are for the
actual writing.
How to Do the DSQ
Analyze the Question. Read the entire question carefully! What is it asking? DQ YO,ll
understand the complete question? Examine all its parts. What are the key points or key words
of the question? What is your opinion on.the subject? What would you discuss about. the
subject? What must I discuss in order to write a successfulessay?
Brainstorm for Outside Knowledge. List everything you know about the question and its time
period in history, before you read any of the documents. In doing this, you, should already have
an opinion on the side you might take. At this time, you could construct a grid, chart, or table
based o~ what the question asks for and which you can fill in with outside info and later the
documents. Such "pre-writing" thought processes can lead. to ahigh score on.the DBQ.
Read the Documents. Analyze/Interpret,
Take Notes, When analyzing, consider the source,
the time period, and the historical context (what else was going on at the time oftIiis document).
Ask yourself how gender, political beliefs, race, social class, and religion may contribute to the
viewpointsexpressed inthe documents. The documents are usually in a specific order (i.e.
chronological, grouped by point of view) and do not always agree with each other. They will
present different positions on important issues and opposinginterpretations of historical events.
Look for inconsistencies among the documents. And, try to figure out why the test-maker
included each document - how does it fit? What is the importance of the document? You are
encouraged-to write directly on the documents (underline, circle, notes in margin, etc.).
Organize Your Information.
If time permits, create a brief outline or web that includes where
and how you will use each document. Be sure to look at any notes you made in reading the
documents along with your initial brainstorming on the question and time period. Save your
most powerful idea for the fmal part of your essay.
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Create a THESIS. The thesis is the most important element of the DBQ essay.
Wri~e the Essay. Incorporating the documents and outside knowledge.
for writing an effective argument.
Follow the procedures
Additional Tips for Success
Do not RUSH!!!
Brainstorm outside information FIRST, before you read any ofthe documents. (2:3 min.)
You must demonstrate outside knowledge of the issues involved with the question if you want
to earn a high score on the DBQ. Remember to include references to historical information from
outside the documents.
The documents may contradict each other. Choose the ones that best fit your argument.
Use as many documents as possible.
There is no correct answer. Your score is based entirely on your insightful use of the
documents and incorporation of outside knowledge to logically ax:gu~a sound THESI~~
Identify the documents by source or as "Doc A", "Document A", etc. You may parenthetically
cite the documents as well- (Doc A).
Do not quote directly from a document. Summarize or paraphrase, but more importantly,
analyze the document and clearly connect it to the question.
Be sure to clearly demonstrate your analysis of the documents and understanding of the question
and time period.
Do not simply list the documents. You must show higher order thinking about the documents in
connection with the question and greater context of U.S. History>
Try to place the question, and your answer, in the bigger picture of U.S. History.
Build your argument around your THESIS. Use the documents to support it thoroughly. The
people who score your essay place the most importance on a "well developed thesis."
You must also thoroughly address ALL aspects of the question to earn a high score.
You will find that some documents are more valuable to you than others. However, do not
simply ignore those that advocate opposing positions. Look for refuting evidence and
incorporate it into your essay. By acknowledging it, you show that you understand the
complexities of history ..
Officially; The College Board says that essay questions will be judged on the strength of the
thesis developed, the quality of historical argument, and the evidence 'offered in support of the
The people who grade your essay spend an average of3 minutes per DBQ. With such a quick
review, your essay needs to not only meet their requirements but also stand out! Think of ways
that you can do that and demonstrate your higher understanding of history (i.e, use' slang terms
from the 1920's on a DBQ about that decade).