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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:

what is a dbq essay similar to

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. 

what is a dbq essay similar to

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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

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

Last Updated: February 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 680,535 times.

In the past, Document Based Questions (DBQ) were rarely found outside of AP history exams. However, they’re now used in social studies classes across grade levels, so you’re bound to take a DBQ test at some point. [1] X Research source Going into the test, you will need strong background knowledge of the time periods and geographical areas on which you will be tested. Your documents will always relate back directly to the major subjects and themes of your class. The key to success is to analyze the provided documents and use them to support an argument in response to the essay prompt. While DBQ tests are rigorous, they allow you to actually do historical work instead of merely memorize facts. Don’t stress, put on your historian hat, and start investigating!

Writing Help

what is a dbq essay similar to

Analyzing the Documents

Step 1 Review the documents for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • For an AP exam, you’ll then have 45 minutes to write your essay. Exact times may vary for other exams and assignments but, for all DBQ essays, document analysis is the first step.
  • For an AP exam, you will also need to include a thesis, set the prompt’s historical context, use 6 documents to support an argument, describe 1 piece of outside evidence, and discuss the point of view or context of at least 3 of the sources. Label these elements as you review and outline so you don’t forget something.

Step 2 Identify the prompt’s keywords and assigned tasks.

  • A prompt might ask you to analyze or explain the causes of a historical development, such as, “Explain how the Progressive Movement gained social, political, and cultural influence from the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States.”
  • You might need to use primary sources to compare and contrast differing attitudes or points of view toward a concept, policy, or event, such as, “Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in the United States from 1890 to 1920.”
  • Keywords in these examples inform you how to read your sources. For instance, to compare and contrast differing attitudes, you’ll need to identify your sources’ authors, categorize their points of view, and figure out how attitudes changed over the specified period of time.

Step 3 Note your documents’ authors, points of view, and other details.

  • Suppose one of the documents is a suffragette’s diary entry. Passages in the entry that detail her advocacy for the Women’s Rights Movement are evidence of her point of view. In contrast, another document is newspaper article written around the same time that opposes suffrage.
  • A diary entry might not have an intended audience but, for documents such as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, you’ll need to identify the author’s likely readers.
  • Most of your sources will probably be written documents, but you’ll likely encounter political cartoons, photographs, maps, or graphs. The U.S. Library of Congress offers a helpful guide to reading specific primary source categories at https://www.loc.gov/teachers/usingprimarysources/guides.html .

Step 4 Place your sources into categories based on the essay prompt.

  • Suppose you have a letter sent from one suffragette to another about the methods used to obtain the right to vote. This document may help you infer how attitudes vary among the movement’s supporters.
  • A newspaper article depicting suffragettes as unpatriotic women who would sabotage World War I for the United States helps you understand the opposing attitude.
  • Perhaps other sources include a 1917 editorial on the harsh treatment of imprisoned suffragists and an article on major political endorsements for women’s suffrage. From these, you’d infer that 1917 marked a pivotal year, and that the role women played on the home front during World War I would lead to broader support for suffrage.

Step 5 Think of relevant outside information to include in your essay.

  • For instance, perhaps you read that the National American Woman Suffrage association (NAWSA) made a strategic shift in 1916 from focusing on state-by-state suffrage to prioritizing a constitutional amendment. Mentioning this switch to a more aggressive strategy supports your claim that the stage was set for a 1917 turning point in popular support for women’s suffrage.
  • When you think of outside evidence during the planning stages, jot it down so you can refer to it when you write your essay. A good spot could be in the margin of a document that relates to the outside information.

Developing an Argument

Step 1 Review the prompt and form a perspective after reading the documents.

  • For example, after reviewing the documents related to women’s suffrage, identify the opposing attitudes, how they differed, and how they changed over time.
  • Your rough argument at this stage could be, “Those in opposition saw suffragettes as unpatriotic and unfeminine. Attitudes within the suffrage movement were divided between conservative and confrontational elements. By the end of World War I, changing perceptions of the role of women contributed to growing popular support for suffrage.”

Step 2 Refine your rough...

  • Suppose your DBQ is, “How did World War I affect attitudes toward women’s suffrage in the United States?” A strong tentative thesis would be, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.”
  • A weak thesis would be, “World War I affected how Americans perceived women’s suffrage.” This simply restates the prompt.

Step 3 Make an outline of your argument’s structure.

  • For example, under numeral I., write, “New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s.” This section will explain the 1890s concept of the New Woman, which rejected traditional characterizations of women as dependent and fragile. You’ll argue that this, in part, set the stage for shifting attitudes during and following World War I.
  • You can start your planning your essay during the reading portion of the test. If necessary, take around 5 minutes out of the writing portion to finish outlining your argument.

Step 4 Plug your document citations into the outline.

  • For instance, under “I. New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s,” write “(Doc 1),” which is a pamphlet praising women who ride bicycles, which was seen as “unladylike” at the time.
  • Beneath that line, write “(Doc 2),” which is an article that defends the traditional view that women should remain in the household. You’ll use this document to explain the opposing views that set the context for suffrage debates in the 1900s and 1910s.

Step 5 Refine your thesis after making the outline.

  • Suppose your tentative thesis is, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.” You decide that “contributed” isn’t strong enough, and swap it out for “led” to emphasize causation.

Drafting Your Essay

Step 1 Keep your eye on the clock and plan your time strategically.

  • If you have 45 minutes to write, take about 5 minutes to make an outline. If you have an introduction, 3 main points that cite 6 documents, and a conclusion, plan on spending 7 minutes or less on each of these 5 sections. That will leave you 5 minutes to proofread or to serve as a buffer in case you need more time.
  • Check the time periodically as you write to ensure you’re staying on target.

Step 2 Include your thesis and 1 to 2 sentences of context in your introduction.

  • To set the context, you might write, “The Progressive Era, which spanned roughly from 1890 to 1920, was a time of political, economic, and cultural reform in the United States. A central movement of the era, the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum as perceptions of the role of women dramatically shifted.”
  • If you’d prefer to get straight to the point, feel free to start your introduction with your thesis, then set the context.
  • A timed DBQ essay test doesn’t leave you much time to write a long introduction, so get straight to analyzing the documents rather than spell out a long, detailed intro.

Step 3 Write your body paragraphs.

  • Each body section should have a topic sentence to let the reader know you’re transitioning to a new piece of evidence. For example, start the first section with, “The 1890s saw shifts in perception that set the stage for the major advances in women’s suffrage during and following World War I.”
  • Be sure to cite your documents to support each part of your argument. Include direct quotes sparingly, if at all, and prioritize analysis of a source over merely quoting it.
  • Whenever you mention a document or information within a document, add parentheses and the number of the document at the end of the sentence, like this: “Women who were not suffragettes but still supported the movement wrote letters discussing their desire to help (Document 2).”

Step 4 Make sure to show how each body paragraph connects to your thesis.

  • For example, a private diary entry from 1916 dismissing suffrage as morally corrupt isn’t necessarily a reflection of broader public opinion. There's more to consider than just its content, or what it says.
  • Suppose a more reliable document, such as a major newspaper article on the 1916 Democratic and Republican national conventions, details the growing political and public support for women’s suffrage. You’d use this source to show that the diary entry conveys an attitude that was becoming less popular.

Step 5 Weave together your argument in your conclusion.

  • In your essay on World War I and women’s suffrage, you could summarize your argument, then mention that the war similarly impacted women’s voting rights on an international scale.

Revising Your Draft

Step 1 Proofread your essay for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • If you’re taking an AP history exam or other timed test, minor errors are acceptable as long as they don't affect your argument. Spelling mistakes, for instance, won’t result in a loss of points if the scorer can still understand the word, such as “sufrage” instead of “suffrage.”

Step 2 Make sure you’ve included all required elements.

  • A clear thesis statement.
  • Set the prompt’s broader historical context.
  • Support your argument using 6 of the 7 included documents.
  • Identify and explain 1 piece of historical evidence other than the included documents.
  • Describe 3 of the documents’ points of view, purposes, audiences, or context.
  • Demonstrate a complex understanding of the topic, such as by discussing causation, change, continuity, or connections to other historical periods.

Step 3 Check that your names, dates, and other facts are accurate.

  • As with spelling and grammar, minor errors are acceptable as long as the scorer knows what you mean. Little spelling mistakes are fine, but you’ll lose points if you write that a source supports suffrage when it doesn’t.

Community Q&A

wikiHow Staff Editor

  • Remember that you shouldn't just identify or summarize a document. Explain why a source is important, and tie each reference into your argument. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you’re taking an AP history exam, find exam rubrics, practice tests, and other resources at https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Taking a timed test can be tough, so time yourself when you take practice tests. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ http://www.gpb.org/blogs/education-matters/2016/10/14/getting-started-document-based-questions
  • ↑ https://sourceessay.com/tips-to-write-an-impressive-dbq-essay/
  • ↑ https://libguides.jcu.edu.au/writing/writing1
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-dbq-2018.pdf?course=ap-united-states-history
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-course-and-exam-description.pdf
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

Document-Based Questions, or DBQ essays, are often used in social studies classes to test your ability to do historical work rather than simply memorize facts. Start by spending some time reviewing the documents and developing an argument. Pay special attention to keywords in the prompt that will help you construct your argument. For example, if the prompt includes the words "compare and contrast," you'll need to include 2 different viewpoints in your essay and compare them. Then, as you read your sources, note the authors, points of view, and other key details that will help you figure out how to use the documents. Once you’ve reviewed all of the material, come up with your response. Sketch out a tentative thesis that encapsulates your argument and make an outline for your essay. You can then draft your essay, starting with an introduction that gives context and states your thesis, followed by supporting body paragraphs. To learn how to write a conclusion for your DBQ, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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what is a dbq essay similar to

How to Write a DBQ

what is a dbq essay similar to

A DBQ essay is an assigned task which tests a student’s analyzation and understanding skills. They also test a student in thinking outside the box. These skills are essential for success in gaining this academic qualification. In this article from EssayPro — professional essay writers team, we will talk about how to write a DBQ, we will go through the DBQ format, and show you a DBQ example.

What Is a DBQ?

Many students may prosper: “What is a DBQ?”. Long story short, DBQ Essay or “Document Based Question” is an assigned academic paper which is part of the AP U.S. History exam (APUSH) set by the United States College Board. It requires a student’s knowledge of a certain topic with evidence from around 3 to 16 reliable sources. Understanding the APUSH DBQ and its outline is essential for success in the exam, itself.

DBQ Outline

We understand that learning how to write a DBQ essay can be difficult for beginners. This is why our professional writers have listed the DBQ format for your own reference while preparing for the exam. Like all essays, this involves an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

How to Write a DBQ

Introduction

  • An introductory sentence to hook your audience.
  • State the background of the topic. Using a source relating to a historical occurrence or historical figure can be helpful at this time.
  • Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence.
  • Create a brief description of the evidence that will be included in the body paragraphs.
  • Write a paragraph which talks about how the DBQ essay question will be answered.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Include the strongest argument. This should be linked to the thesis statement. Read our example of thesis statement .
  • Include an analysis of the references which relate to the strongest argument.
  • Write a statement which concludes the analysis in a different point of view. Include a link to the thesis.
  • Write a transition sentence to the next body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the first argument in the previous body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the second argument in the previous body paragraph.
  • Write a transition sentence to the conclusion.
  • Create a summarizing argument of the whole paper.
  • Include the main points or important information in the sources.
  • Create a concluding sentence or question which challenges the point of view that argues against these sources.

Feeling Overwhelmed Writing a DBQ ESSAY?

Asking yourself 'who can write my research paper '? Our experts are able to produce an essay within hours.

How to Write a DBQ: Step-By-Step Instructions

For some students, writing a DBQ essay may be hard. Not to worry. Our easy-to-read step-by-step instructions talk about the essential points which includes how to write a DBQ thesis, analyzation, time-management and proofreading your work. It is always important to write your paper in accordance to the DBQ outline for achieving the success you’re capable of.

The DBQ involves:

  • Planning: 15 Minutes
  • Writing: 2 hours and 45 Minutes
  • Proofreading: 10 Minutes

Time management is essential for a successful grade in this form of examination. The general DBQ outline states that the duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Spend around 15 minutes planning, 2 hours and 45 minutes writing, and 10 minutes proofreading. Follow these easy-to-read step-by-step instructions to learn how to write a DBQ thesis, body and conclusion successfully.

Step 1: Planning (15 Minutes)

During the exam, it is important to study the provided sources. The exam is 3 hours, so 15 minutes for planning is a reasonable approach. During this time, analyze all of the important key-points from the sources provided. Then, take a note of all of the key points, and write them under the titles; introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

Step 2: Introduction (5 Minutes)

First impressions count. Keep the introduction short and brief. Don’t go straight into answering the question in this part of the paper. For a successful introduction, write a brief summary of the overall paper. It is also important to include an introductory sentence.

Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes)

This form of essay requires a separate 3 paragraphs for the DBQ thesis. Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence. The second paragraph should include a description of the paper. The third paragraph should include how you’re going to answer the question.

  • The key difference with other essays is that the thesis plays an important role in the DBQ structure.
  • The APUSH DBQ thesis should not be two sentences long.
  • The thesis should be written with act least 2 or 3 paragraphs long.

Step 4: Body (2 Hours and 16 Minutes)

Write well-structured, categorized paragraphs. Each paragraph should include one point. Avoid mixing ideas in the paragraphs. Include your answer to the assigned question with the provided documents. It is also important to read between the lines. Each paragraph should link to the thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion (10 Minutes)

The final part of your paper. The conclusion plays a vital role in persuading your audience. A poorly written conclusion means a skeptical audience. For well-written conclusion, summarize the entire paper. Link the conclusion to the thesis. Answer the question in a concluding sentence, “the big idea”.

Step 6: Proofreading (10 Minutes)

Spend around 10 minutes proofreading your work at the end of the exam. It is important to proofread your work to make sure it does not contain any grammatical mistakes. Any writing errors can lower one’s grade. Please make sure that the body paragraphs answer the question and link to the thesis, this is the most important part of the paper.

Writing Tips to Success with Your DBQ Essay

Understand: Before writing, make sure that you understand the sources and the essay question. Duration: Remember that the exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Study: Practice how to write a DBQ before the actual exam. Identify: Find the key-points from the sources to include in your essay.

How to Write a DBQ

Read Between the Lines: Don’t just write about what you read, but write about what the passages imply. Read all Documents: Make sure you have read all of the sources, prior to writing the paper. Read the Outline: Following the DBQ essay outline is essential for understanding how to structure the paper during the exam. Categorize: Put each point into categories. This will come in useful for writing the body paragraphs. Write the Author’s Opinion: Show an understanding of the writer’s point of view. Write a Temporary DBQ Thesis on your Notes: Doing so will assist you during the paper writing. Follow DBQ Examples: Following a DBQ essay example, while studying, is an excellent way to get a feel for this form of assignment.

DBQ Example

Do you need more help? Following a sample DBQ essay can be very useful for preparation. Usually, when practicing for exams, students commonly refer to an example for understanding the DBQ structure, and other revision purposes. Click on the button to open our DBQ example from one of our professional writers. Feel free to use it as a reference when learning how to write a DBQ.

The Great War and the second ordeal of conflict in Europe, played a fundamental in the increase of the rights for women. During the second world war, the British government encouraged house-wives to do the work of what was primarily traditional for men to do.Such as growing crops and butchering animals, which was generally considered to be“men’s work”. One of the slogans was “dig for victory”. The reason for this was for people to take care of themselves during the difficult times of rationing.

If you think that it's better to pay someone to write my dissertation instead of writing it by your own, get help from our law essay writing team.

Following steps and outlines for custom writing is a great way to learn how to write a DBQ essay. As well as writing tips. Time management is vital for the positive result. Following our advice will enable you to get a good grade by learning how to write a good DBQ. Because learning the DBQ format is essential. Practice is very important for any form of examination. Otherwise, one could not do as well as his or her potential allows him or her to do so.

You might be interested in information about this type of essay, such as the definition essay .

Are you still stuck? Do you sometimes think to yourself: 'Can someone write essay for me '? You’re in luck. Our essay writing service is designed to allow you to easily find custom essay writers at your convenience. Every DBQ essay we deliver is completely original.

Do You Need Help From A PROFESSIONAL ESSAY WRITER?

Our experts are able to produce a DBQ essay example within hours. Why not give it a try to improve your knowledge?

Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

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How to Write a DBQ Essay: The Ultimate Guide

  • Post by: Professor Conquer
  • Last updated on: August 28, 2021

Spread the love

Are you a student preparing for APUSH, or AP World History, or AP European History, who hasn’t quite mastered the art of writing the DBQ essay? Don’t worry — it’s a reasonably complex essay, but when broken down into steps, easy to figure out.

Read on for DBQ essay tips: how to annotate the documents, draft your DBQ essay outline, craft your DBQ thesis and argument, write the DBQ, and revise your essay. Included are DBQ examples from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam.

First Things First: What is a DBQ Essay?

A DBQ, or Document Based Question, is an essay question present on many of the history-based AP Exams , including AP U.S. History , AP European History , and AP World History .

The DBQ is one somewhat specific prompt about a historical context, and it includes six documents (either primary text excerpts, art pieces, political cartoons, or other types of archival media).

The goal of the DBQ is to write an essay arguing your specific stance on the question and to support your position with both a selection of the documents and other knowledge of historical events.

You’ll have to provide historical context for the prompt and demonstrate how some factor of each document supports your argument. You’ll also need a firm conclusion that restates your thesis and analysis.

The DBQ will be worth 25% of your score, so it’s essential to do well.

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

After you read the prompt, look through the packet of documents and take a second to analyze each in conjunction with the prompt. Does the message of the document seem to support or refute the prompt?

Jot down a few keywords about the historical context of the document — is it from a specific historical event or written by a member of a prominent historical movement? If so, make sure to reference that in your essay.

Also, note whether you can easily use the document to support the prompt.

Make sure to manage your time here — if you’re stuck on a document, just skip it. Don’t waste time trying to figure out something you may not even need in your essay. Don’t make detailed notes either — only one or two keywords you can reference later in your essay.

After you’ve looked at every document, you can determine your argument and your thesis. Are there enough documents that you can easily support the prompt statement? Pick three key points to use in your thesis, with one or two documents for each.

Your outline should not be long or detailed because the last thing you want to do is waste time. All you need is 5 points, one for each paragraph: intro, thesis points 1-3, conclusion (which is just restating the thesis).

what is a dbq essay similar to

For each point, write down the main idea of the paragraph, summed up into two or three words, any historical buzzwords you plan to use, and the documents you plan to reference. That should provide enough of a skeleton to get you writing.

Here’s an example, from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam DBQ , released by The College Board. The prompt is as follows:

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.

For the outline, look at the documents and devise a thesis. In this case, the writer can group the documents by topic: 2 documents about the importance of a strong foreign presence, two documents warning about federal expansion, and two documents lamenting a divergence from social traditionalism. This means you might want to consider making those three categories your thesis points.

Then, figure out how to make an argument and answer the prompt.

Also, consider the historical context of the time.

Example outline (2018 question):

Contextualization: Post Civil War South in shambles, expansion of industrialization, favorable tariffs, prior isolationism halted in seeking new markets.

Thesis: Imperialism — attitudes of American superiority, foreign conflicts leading to territory gains/opportunities (Manifest Destiny idea), but also backlash to imperialism.

1. Attitudes of American superiority

  • If Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will. (Doc 2)
  • A strong navy/military is necessary to defend superior American interests (Doc 3)
  • America as a country can take whatever territories it desires (Doc 4)
  • Attitude that America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad (Doc 6)
  • Efforts to oppose America unsuccessful (ie in the Philippines)

2. Foreign conflicts and territory gains

  • US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia (Doc 1)
  • Teddy Roosevelt & the importance of foreign affairs (Doc 7)

Conclusion: These attitudes of American superiority continue into the 20th century.

Your outline doesn’t need to be detailed, just provide a roadmap for you to reference as you’re writing your essay, so you don’t lose the focus of your argument.

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

Start drafting your thesis by looking at the prompt and the documents in conjunction. Make sure you can support your thesis with some of the documents. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to back it up.

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Figure out what the prompt is asking: College Board tends to use an “action word” in the prompt, each one asking a slightly different thing. Underline the verb — what the prompt wants you to do. Examples:

  • Analyze, Discuss, Consider: Write about the causes and mechanizations of the prompt: basically how and why something occurred the way it did historically. Use evidence (the documents) to back up your claims.
  • Assess: Generally, in reference to a statement. Write about how historically defensible, or accurate the statement is. You can take any stance, but whichever one you choose needs to be backed up by evidence (the documents).
  • Evaluate: Determine which cause, or historical factor, proved most influential in the way a past event or movement played out. You can discuss several factors or causes, and figure out the extent to which each impacted the historical event, back up your evaluation with evidence.
  • Compare/Contrast: Identify key historical characteristics (social, political, economic) of the two movements/events/etc. listed in the prompt, and then draw comparisons between them and point out their differences. For your three-point essay, choose either two to be similarities and one to be a difference or two to be differences and one to be a similarity, depending on what you have evidence for/documents to back up.
  • Explain: Provide lots of detail about the causes or contributing factors to the historical event/movement/etc. listed in the prompt. Look at the social, political, and economic factors, and back up your explanation with the documents and other outside evidence.

Make sure your thesis answers the prompt, but moreover, makes a historically defensible claim that can be supported by the documents. You can then develop your thesis points using the context of the documents.

Your thesis also functions as a sort of roadmap for where your paper will go. Include your thesis points in an order that will make sense in your essay, especially if they build on each other.

Your thesis only has to be one to three sentences. Don’t start writing your body paragraph while still in your thesis statement — save all the evidence for later in your paper.

Here’s an introduction and thesis paragraph scoring full points, released by the College Board from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam. The first part of the paragraph functions as contextualization, and it introduces the period, setting up the prompt.

The next part is the thesis:

 The United States primarily sought to increase its role in the world due to the notion that America and the American lifestyle was superior and to also gain strategic territory to expand their influence globally. Despite these strong imperialist sentiments, however, there were still many who were against the movement and considered it a moral wrongdoing.

The student takes a clear stance here: The US deliberately sought to increase their role in global affairs, and a rhetoric of American superiority and the quest to gain more territory together caused this increase.

  • The general assumption of American superiority
  • The government gaining strategic territory for global affairs
  • Pushback to imperialism

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

Again, develop your argument by looking at the documents. What about the goal or message of each document supports your argument? What does each document say about its historical period? Ask these questions and jot down some other buzzwords from the time period you could reference to support your argument.

You can put the documents into categories depending on what they’re saying — then you can use these categories to develop your thesis points, which back up your argument.

In the case of the 2018 DBQ referenced above, the student grouped their documents by body paragraphs.

For their first thesis point, the general assumption of American superiority,

  • A document telling Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will.
  • A document stating the importance of a strong navy to defend American interests
  • A cartoon portraying America as a country in a position to take whatever territories it desires
  • A document suggesting America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad.

Together, they used these documents to demonstrate attitudes both political and social driving American imperialism, and how the rhetoric of American superiority pushed the US to imperialism and into global affairs.

For their second thesis point, gaining strategic territory for global affairs

  • A document about the US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia
  • A document from Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of foreign affairs.

These demonstrated how the US’s direct intervention in foreign affairs could get them more territory and power — which increased the US’s global influence.

Since their third thesis point wasn’t a cause, more of a qualifying point, the student didn’t use any of the documents.

By grouping documents together based on their message, it’s easier to develop supportable thesis points. However, if you can think of several thesis points after reading the prompt, you can also jot them down and then see what documents fit under each.

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

You should contextualize/analyze at least three documents in your essay. Here are some options to analyze. For the examples, we’ll use document 3 from the same 2018 DBQ. For each example, sample notes and a sample essay analysis sentence are included. Remember, you only have to analyze one characteristic of each document for your essay.

Source: Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, 1897.

To affirm the importance of distant markets, and the relation to them of our own immense powers of production, implies logically the recognition of the link that joins the products and the markets, that is, the carrying trade; the three together constituting that chain of maritime power to which Great Britain owes her wealth and greatness. Further, is it too much to say that, as two of these links, the shipping and the markets, are exterior to our own borders, the acknowledgement of them carries with it a view of the relations of the United States to the world radically distinct from the simple idea of self-sufficingness? … There will dawn the realization of America’s unique position, facing the older worlds of the East and West, her shores washed by the oceans which touch the one or the other, but which are common to her alone.

Despite a certain great original superiority conferred by our geographical nearness and immense resources, due, in other words, to our natural advantages, and not to our intelligent preparation, the United States is woefully unready, not only in fact but in purpose, to assert in the Caribbean and Central America a weight of influence proportioned to the extent of her interests. We have not the navy, and, what is worse, we are not willing to have the navy, that will weigh hersiously in any disputes with those nations whose interests will conflict there will or our own. We have not, and we are not anxious to provide, the defence of the seaboard which will leave the navy free for its work at sea. We have not, but many other powers have, positions, either within or on the borders of the Caribbean.

1. Author’s point of view

Was the author a member of a political party opposed to specific issues, or an activist leading a prominent social movement? Identify their outlook on the document.

Notes to take: 2018 example: importance of navy, military strength for imperialism

Analysis: 2018 example: The author, like some military leaders at the time, advocated for the strengthening of domestic fortification and the enlargement of the navy to extend America’s influence abroad.

2. The intended audience

Is the document a news article from a major newspaper? An excerpt from a political pamphlet? A diary entry? Ask yourself who would have read the document — this will help you identify the author’s intended message.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Military interests abroad

Analysis: 2018 example: The intended audience was military leaders interested in hearing how better to increase the US’s influence abroad and fortify the country domestically.

3. The message or purpose of the document

Was the document’s purpose to inform readers objectively? Was it to persuade them to join a political movement? Or to entertain them? Identifying the purpose can help you better understand the document, and use the document to strengthen your argument.

Notes to take: 2018 example: fortify the navy, influence military/political leaders

Analysis: 2018 example: The author attempted to influence United States political leaders to enlarge the United States Navy to extend its reach into Central America and the Far East

4. Historical influences on the document

Did a specific historical event motivate the author to create the document? Did the actions of other scholars, activists, or politicians noticeably inspire the author? This one might not be easy, but if you know about other historical movements or figures during the same or an earlier time period with a similar message, they might be related. Take note.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Federal expansion, desegregation, civil rights movt

Analysis: 2018 example: European endeavors in Latin America and in the Far East increased the need for the United States to extend its reach into the region to protect its growing economic interests.

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

1. Be familiar with the rubric , and follow it.

The DBQ rubric is as follows:

Thesis: 1 point. Must answer the prompt with a historically defensible claim.

Contextualization: 1 point. Contextualization can be part of your introduction paragraph. Introduce the broader historical context of the time period — what, outside the specific events of the prompt, influenced public attitudes or policy during the time period? How might these other factors have influenced the events of the prompt?

Evidence: 3 points. Using at least 3 of the documents to address the prompt and strengthen your argument is 1 point. Using at least 6 of the documents to address the prompt and reinforce your argument will get you 2 points. Using outside evidence not discussed in any of the documents from your historical knowledge will get you 1 point.

If you use six documents and some outside evidence, you’ll get the full 3 points.

Analysis and reasoning: 2 points. One point if, for at least 3 of the documents, you analyze the author’s point of view, purpose, audience, or historical influences in reference to the prompt and support your argument. Explain why the author’s purpose, or audience, etc. is relevant to your case to get this point.

For the second point, you have to use evidence to demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of the topic of the prompt. Does your argument answer the question in a way that’s supported with both the documents and other evidence? Does your writing show that you know what you’re talking about?

If you’ve reviewed the rubric ahead of time, make sure to mentally check off boxes as you go through and write. You could potentially miss something small (ie, only integrating five documents, or forgetting to reference outside evidence) and lose a whole point.

2. Use the documents as a guide.

Since you have to include at least six documents in your essay for the full 2 points, you should make sure they can fit into your thesis points and support your argument. When you’re stuck writing one of your body paragraphs, reference a document and analyze how it reflects historical attitudes at the time.

You should also add in the documents you plan to reference in your outline, so if you follow your outline, you can let the documents and other outside evidence guide your writing.

However, also remember to bring in at least one piece of outside historical knowledge — treat that as another document and analyze it to support your argument.

3. Use your historical knowledge to supplement the documents.

Bring in your knowledge beyond the documents and their contexts. Is one of the documents from a suffragette in the 19th century? Bring in some of the other knowledge you have about the early feminist movement and the push for women’s voting rights. Add in critical buzzwords the documents may not have directly stated, and talk about similar events and movements at the time that may have affected or been affected by the document.

You can also reference historical events, movements, or people not discussed in any of the documents at all, assuming they support your argument, to strengthen your essay outside the scope of the documents.

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

In the updated 2017 DBQ, you don’t need to write a synthesis paragraph. So conclude your DBQ essay by reiterating the main analysis points of your body paragraph briefly, and restate your thesis. Together, this will distill your essay down to its main points for a clear, strong conclusion.

Don’t add any new material — all your analysis should be in your body paragraphs, and anything more will just confuse your reader.

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

If you have time before the end of the writing period and you’ve finished writing your DBQ, go back and revise it. Read through everything again, paying close attention to the following.

Contextualization:

  • Have you successfully “set the scene” by describing some of the relevant historical context of the time period, including other prominent social movements, policies and legislation, economic market changes, or religious movements?
  • Are your three original thesis points used as the foundation for your three body paragraphs? If not, change your thesis to make sure it lines up with the rest of your essay.
  • Does your thesis take a stance and make a historically defensible claim? Read it over in conjunction with the prompt and make sure it’s answering the entirety of the question and not just restating the prompt.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Do you use two or more documents per body paragraph for a total of 6 or more documents total? If not, look over which documents you haven’t used and integrate them into one of your body paragraphs.
  • Each time you use a document, do you effectively contextualize it? Do you discuss how the author’s purpose, intended audience, point of view, or historical influences support your argument? If not, add that.
  • Is your argument logically supported by each piece of evidence you offer?
  • Do you have at least one piece of evidence outside of the documents that supports your argument?
  • Does each body paragraph flow logically into the next? Make sure your transitions are smooth.

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

You only have a limited amount of time for the entire essay, so manage your time intelligently . I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 10, 15 minutes max thinking about your argument and drafting an outline.

During the AP exam, they’ll give you a specific time period of 15 minutes to spend reading the documents and thinking about your argument, then 45 minutes to write the essay.

But 45 minutes isn’t a ton of time, use the 15 minutes intelligently, so you’re ready to start writing as soon as possible. You want the maximum possible amount of time for writing since that’s what’s going to be graded.

Ideally, you should try and finish with five minutes or so to revise your finished essay, check for readability errors, factual errors, parts where your argument isn’t cohesive.

Make sure to coordinate with the other essay: the LEQ to make sure you have enough time to write both essays successfully. You get 55 minutes for the DBQ and 35 minutes for the LEQ, so the longer you spend on the DBQ, the less time you get on the LEQ.

This is why practice is so important! You won’t be able to write a good DBQ in 45-55 minutes on your first try.

You shouldn’t need a ton of time to look over each document, just jot down a few keywords about what it’s saying and how that might fit into your essay. Your outline doesn’t need to be more than 5 points: an intro, conclusion, and three body paragraphs, each based on a thesis point, with the documents you plan to use for each.

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

Good DBQs have theses with a strong stance and defensible claim, as well as three specific points that build on each other and can be backed up logically using six of the documents provided.

Good thesis examples (from the 2018 question):

“While some historians may argue that the US desire to expand its role in the world was due to the fact that the US felt it was its duty to civilize nations and act as a global police, the most important reason for America expanding its role in the world can be attributed to its competition with Europe over global influence, its desire to expand its economy through trading opportunities, and the U.S. ideal of manifest destiny.”

This thesis makes a claim and reflects the cause and effect prompt. You can tell where their essay is going to go: to discuss the US as global police and its competition with other global influencers.

“The country was doing this for a few reasons, such as expanding its territory, (manifest destiny or imperialism) preserving its national interests such as trading with China, and helping other nations.”

Same with this thesis — though this one isn’t as wordy. It outlines 3 body paragraph points and makes a defensible argument.

Bad DBQ theses don’t make a strong claim, instead opting for a vague statement that can’t be defended well either way. They pick thesis points that cannot be backed up well with the documents or other outside evidence.

Bad thesis example:

Due to this, America began to embark on an imperialistic mission in the latter half of the 1800’s in the name of economic, social, and political ‘necessities.’

Different causes and events had a major importance in expanding the role of the US in the world.

These theses aren’t specific to the time period. They restate the prompt, and we have no idea what the “necessities” might be.

Good DBQs integrate their documents logically, in a way that supports their claim. They analyze the historical context of the documents and note how the author’s intended audience, purpose, point of view, or historical influences play into their argument.

They also reference the specific names of related historical events or influences to strengthen their argument and bring in other outside evidence not related to the document that supports their point.

Bad DBQs don’t use the documents to support their argument, instead of discussing the documents outside of the context of their argument, or forgetting to use the documents. They might draw illogical or loose-fitting connections between the documents and their argument, while unable to entirely explain why they fit together.

They don’t use any evidence outside the documents, and they’re unable to provide specific historical names for events or movements related to the documents.

Conclusion:

Good DBQs go back to the prompt and restate the thesis, as well as a few main points of your analysis.

Bad DBQs add more material that should have gone in a body paragraph, that will just further confuse the reader.

College Board Resources for DBQs

College Board Resources for DBQs

The College Board website has lots of practice DBQs and DBQ resources to use. Make sure you look some over before the exam to get a sense of how the College Board tends to grade them and what easy mistakes you can avoid.

Most Updated DBQ Rubric : Here are the rubrics for all the AP History essays.

Practice DBQs:

Practice writing DBQs then read some sample essays and grade them with the rubric for more familiarity with the DBQ essay rubric.

AP U.S. History past DBQs

AP European History past DBQs

AP World History past DBQs

More information: AP Classroom

Specific information about AP History, including timing and question numbers, FAQs, plus practice resources:

AP World History

Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways on Writing a Good DBQ Essay

The biggest takeaways to writing a good DBQ should be: starting prepared by annotating the documents and drafting your thesis and a clear outline to guide you through the writing process. You need to make sure you have a robust and defensible argument and that your documents can back up your key points.

Hopefully, the listed tips have helped you better understand the DBQ rubric and the skills you need to ace the DBQ, but don’t forget the next step: practice! The DBQ essay style is a little complex, and the best way to better remember it for the test is to look at some of the sample prompts on the College Board website and practice! Then, go through the grading rubrics and identify your weak point, so next time you’ll be even better.

Did you enjoy this post? Then you may also want to check out some of our guides to the best AP review books .

We also created extensive tips guides for many of the AP History courses:

> AP US Government Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP US History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP World History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

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How to Write a DBQ Essay?

01 October, 2020

20 minutes read

Author:  Richard Pircher

AP (Advanced Placement) examinations are standardized tests designed to evaluate how well American students have mastered the course and acquired skills on specific subjects. Most AP courses presuppose final paper-and-pencil tests at the end of the year, but some courses come with different ways to assess students’ knowledge. AP tests cover the full content of each course and give college students an opportunity to obtain college credits and placements.

dbq essay

What Is a DBQ?

A DBQ essay is a type of academic paper written on the basis of a Document Based Question. It implies that students will have some documents to be used as sources of information for writing an essay. Since 2002, the DBQ essay format has been used to test college students for understanding historical development.

The time of US history usually covers a period from 1607 to 1980. At present, the DBQ method is also used to test students in AP European and world history, as well as social studies. The approach is the same, but sources of information are different. For writing DBQ essays, students are offered to analyze some historical events or problems based on the sources or materials provided.

The Purpose of A DBQ Essay

The point of document based question essays is that students are provided with seven documents to be analyzed and used to present evidence-based argumentation in their writings. Students have to formulate the thesis, which should be typically presented in the last sentence of the introduction. Further, this thesis has to be supported by evidence and historical facts. This test is aimed to evaluate the students’ abilities of:

  • Analyzing documents, taking into account their authors’ points of view, their purposes, and general context;
  • Formulating a strong thesis and substantiating it in an essay;
  • Using personal knowledge for supporting the thesis with additional facts.

However, students should not wholly rely on knowledge of historical facts during the test. They rather have to analyze the information contained in the provided documents. To successfully pass this test, students need to have the skills of logical thinking, as well as profound knowledge of civilization development, historical facts, and geographical regions. The task is to interpret historical material, draw conclusions based on existing knowledge, and answer the main question.

Preparing For The DBQ Essay

The DBQ test is based on the skills of historical analysis that you can acquire and put into practice. For writing a strong DBQ essay, you need to use the evidence provided to support an argument, make connections between different documents, and apply specific information in a broader context. Also, a historical essay with a Document Based Question answers the issues of the author’s intentions, general conditions, target audience, and so on.

It is recommended to practice writing this type of essays to be well prepared for the DBQ essays. When you exercise, you do not have to write a complete essay every time. The main point is to understand the main issue and related documents and then sketch out the thesis. Make sure you are aware of the general historical trends and periods.

The general flow of your preparation should include taking a practice of the DBQ test and focusing on analysis and exposing your suggestions in writing. How much you take the practice DBQs depends on how perfect preparation you need and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice to write DBQ essays so that this format becomes familiar to you, but not so much that you fail to apply other skills.

How to write a DBQ essay? Firstly, do not intend to fudge your way through the DBQ test by using only beautiful writing with no substance. Secondly, you should focus on the meaning of your essay. Thirdly, you can get your essay peer-reviewed online. Fourthly, ask somebody who has experience in this matter to review your practice with a DBQ essay. Listen to comments and ideas of that person to take these recommendations into consideration.

Stuck on writing an DBQ essay? Our Essay writers is always ready to help you!

DBQ Outline

The process of writing a DBQ essay requires a proper outline. Plan how much time you can spend on each paragraph. Read the main question carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked. As you read the documents, take notes about what information they contain, who the author is, and which historical period it belongs to. Before you start writing, think about the thesis. The materials provided and your notes will help you compose a thesis.

Read the essential hints and objectives carefully. Make sure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what the instructors want to see in your essay. Most probably, you might be asked to analyze or explain the reasons for the historical development. Use your knowledge to compare and contrast different perspectives on a concept. Show how public opinion has changed over a specified period.

The outline to plan and write a DBQ essay is similar to an FRQ (Free Response Question) test, but your evidence should be based on the supplied documents. When you read these documents, ask yourself what grabs your attention and what is the background information on the topic (date, place, and surrounding situation). State the question with key terms. Tell what the reasons to prove your point of view are.

Think about the thesis or roadmap of what the essay will be about. Typically, a statement credited as evidence from outside the documents will be more specific and relevant to an argument, analogous to the function of evidence drawn from the papers. In the body paragraphs, outline sub theses based on the information from either documents or sources, as well as provide two to three examples. Each sub thesis should be grounded by evidence.

Support details for reasons with references to the specific documents or sources and connect your evidence to your thesis. In the central argument or conclusion, restate your thesis. It should not be its exact duplication, but a periphrasis of your thesis statement in differing words. Explain and not simply identify how or why the documents, their purposes, historical situation, and audience are relevant to an argument. In the end, clarify relevant and insightful connections across time and space and explain why the issue is significant today.

DBQ Structure

Here are the main parts of the DBQ essay a student cannot forget about:

DBQ Essay Introduction: Starting DBQ Format

Problems and discussions usually characterize the DBQ essay outline. In this work, it is not enough to retell what is written in a textbook, as is often the case in a DBQ essay, or to apply a problem-solving technique, as in a test. When writing the DBQ essay outline, you can be guided by the example of the logic of construction, become familiar with the DBQ essay, and start with the relevance of the topic.

Strong Thesis Statement: What Should It Include?

The strength of your thesis statement influences how you write a DBQ. The standard number of theses for a DBQ essay is from 2 to 5. To determine the exact number of ideas, you must be guided by the required work. The larger the text, the stronger the thesis statement should be. It isn’t easy to write a DBQ on one thesis statement.

There are specific ways to write a DBQ with a strong thesis statement in the paper. The main DBQ essay outline has only four points:

  • DBQ outline requires you to determine why you are convincing the reader of the truth or falsity of the thesis statement. To do this, it is desirable to be clear about the target audience. Your thesis statement should be interesting to the reader. Otherwise, he will not read further;
  • Gathering information. You can write a good DBQ essay only if you have read enough literature on the topic before. In the process, you will be able to understand the relevance of your document-based question;
  • In any DBQ format, it is essential to identify keywords that will be the anchor points and skeleton of the DBQ essay outline.

DBQ Essay Example: Describe Your Main Ideas in Body Paragraph

It reveals the DBQ essay outline from the introduction from different angles. The central part of the DBQ format is not a continuous text; it is divided into smaller pieces. In the first part, you need to state your DBQ outline and describe how you understand and feel about the topic. Next, justify your opinion with arguments. DBQ outline demands facts from life, scientific studies, and views of scientists. You can cite facts from history to write a DBQ.

DBQ Essay Example: Logical Conclusion

The conclusion of a document-based question essay can contain such an essential, complementary element to the article as an indication of the application (implication) of your research, not excluding the relationship with other problems. DBQ essay example: “The DBQ essay is mainly about gender relations in agricultural labor, but a fuller examination would also require an examination of class relations,” followed by a few sentences explaining how the DBQ essay does that.

How to Write a DBQ essay With a Strong Thesis Statement

DBQ stands for a document based question. Such assignments require a student to demonstrate their ability to create well-researched arguments. If you have never written such tasks, read about the DBQ format.

Steps of Writing a DBQ

Create dbq essay outline: write an intro.

You will be provided with a historical context to help write a DBQ introduction. In addition, it will allow you to develop several ideas for writing your text.

Make sure to write a DBQ first sentence that answers 4 questions:

It will allow you to provide your reader with a context and briefly indicate what problem you will solve. This sentence should be the first part of your DBQ essay outline. It is followed by a couple of sentences preceding a thesis statement.

Write a Powerful Thesis Statement

To write a DBQ that will look well-researched, pay careful attention to this part of your essay. Likewise, consider the question you need to answer when writing a thesis statement.

To get tops marks for your document based question essay, follow these steps:

  • Make claims and provide pieces of evidence
  • When creating a DBQ essay outline, remember to describe the information that you will base your statements on
  • Write a paragraph explaining how you will answer the main question

If you have never written a thesis statement before, look at a DBQ essay example to see how another author coped with this task.

Correctly Structure a Body Paragraph in Your DBQ Essay Outline

A DBQ format doesn’t require you to limit the number of body paragraphs. However, when creating a DBQ outline, include at least 3 paragraphs to cover the main points.

The first paragraph should follow your thesis statement. Experienced writers start a DBQ essay outline by selecting the strongest point and analyzing it from several points of view. Then, use a transition sentence to move smoothly to the next part of your DBQ outline. It will enable you to write a DBQ more easily.

The second and third paragraphs of your DBQ essay outline should also refer to the thesis statement. You can also find a DBQ essay example with four or more paragraphs if you need to provide a detailed answer to your question.

DBQ format is quite easy to use. You can make your text logical by creating an easy-to-follow DBQ outline. Don’t forget to add another transition sentence at the end of this part of your text.

Draw a Conclusion

The last part of your DBQ outline should summarize your argument and show that you have answered the question. Use a DBQ essay example to see how such parts of these essays are usually written. The main thing is to list your main points and show that the opposing views are biased.

Wrapping Up

Following these tips, you can write a DBQ essay demonstrating that you can analyze complex issues and draw independent conclusions. Practice a lot to hone your skills and get the highest marks!

DBQ Essay Examples

If you are not sure of how to write a DBQ essay, you can always search and find good examples online. You can find them on the College Board website. This organization administers AP tests, and therefore, the provided DBQ essay samples can give you some prompts and responses to many questions. These samples are not only evaluated, but the score system is explained in accordance with the rubric.

Writing Tips to Succeed with Your DBQ Essay

The AP test typically consists of one or two DBQ essays, and 45 minutes is given to writing each of them. So, students have up to 90 minutes to draw up a plan and finish two papers. When you see the task for writing a DBQ essay, you will see instructions, a hint, and attached documents. Usually, up to seven different sources are provided. These can be newspaper clippings, articles, maps, drawings, photographs, and so on. However, you do not need to use all the documents, but at least four of them.

It is recommended that you first read the materials and schedule your time carefully. Organize these sources into categories and define how each document relates to your main question. Think about how to use documents to support your argument. If you are comparing different points of view, classify your sources based on opposing opinions.

Also, try to include relevant external information in your essay. You need to provide at least one piece of evidence besides the data from the provided documents. List some external evidence on a draft to refer to when writing your essay. As you write your DBQ essay, support your arguments with links to provided documents. Make sure that both your argument structure and supporting evidence back up your preliminary thesis.

You should describe how a particular event, movement, or somebody’s beliefs can support your statement. Outline the structure of your arguments in your DBQ essay. Start with your preliminary thesis and break your essay into multiple parts. In each of them, write one statement or element for the argument. Under each idea, list a few points supporting that part of your argument. Also, do not just cite sources without analysis.

Make sure you use documents to craft and highlight your point of view. Refine your thesis and make sure again that your thesis is clear, does not contain unnecessary words, and fully answers the main question. When writing an essay, general historical accuracy is essential, but not details. If minor details are not indicated correctly without affecting the general meaning, then this will not lead to a decrease in the overall test score.

How To Be Successful On The DBQ Test Day?

The matter of how to write a DBQ essay may seem challenging, but you are able to pass an AP test and get a high score provided that you have particular skills. It is recommended to get acquainted with the DBQ essay rubric that instructors use to evaluate AP tests. Information about this rubric can be found on the College Board website. It has four categories: abstracts, document analysis, use of third-party evidence, and synthesis.

You can get one point for the thesis and argument. An extra point is given for a perfect thesis presenting the close relationship between historical events and their causes. A strong thesis, supported by information from documents or any other source, is of great importance. Also, you need to reinforce this thesis in your paper. Demonstrate that you have generated a critical understanding of the given sources by focusing on what they mean rather than what they say.

Another three points are provided for the use of the maximum number of documents and their detailed analysis. This analysis refers to the authors’ points of view, target audience, or historical context. Be sure to reveal the connection between your research and your main argument. Providing an external example and establishing a link with another historical period or topic is estimated as one additional point. You are advised to give an extra specific example that is relevant to your argument.

When passing an AP History exam with a DBQ essay, you will lose one point out of seven if you do not relate your arguments to the broader historical context. Also, you will miss one point if you just mention sources or add quotes at random. You have to establish logical connections between the documents and the conclusions you draw.

For synthesis, you need to show the link between your arguments about a specific period with another historical time, social processes, geographic regions, etc. It is best done in the final part of your essay. This task will earn you one more point. In the end, take at least a few minutes to check everything and make corrections. Make sure the names, dates, and other facts are provided correctly.

Thus, the maximum number of points that you can get in the AP exam with DBQ essays is 7. For that, you have to clearly state your thesis, establish a broader historical context, support your argument with as many documents as possible, provide external evidence, and describe several points of view. However, you do not need to obtain the highest score to achieve your goals. You can get 5 or 6 points out of 7 on this exam, and it will be a success. Even 3 points can give you a credit score in many colleges.

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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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AP World Document-Based Question (DBQ) Overview

19 min read • november 18, 2021

Melissa Longnecker

Melissa Longnecker

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Overview of the Document-Based Question (DBQ)

The one thing you need to know about this question:

Section II of the AP Exam includes the one required Document-Based Question (DBQ.) Unlike the other free-response sections (SAQ and LEQ), there isn’t any choice in what you write about for this essay.

You will be given a prompt and a set of seven documents to help you respond to the prompt. The documents will represent various perspectives relating to the prompt, and they will always include a mixture of primary source text documents and primary or secondary source visuals . Your task is to use these documents, and your knowledge of history, to answer the prompt.

The DBQ is designed to test your knowledge of history, your ability to analyze a variety of sources, and your skill in crafting and supporting a clear and complex argument. It is the single most complicated task on the exam; however, it is very doable with practice and preparation.

Your answer should include the following:

A valid thesis

A discussion of relevant historical context

Use of evidence from the documents (all) and evidence not found in the documents to support your thesis

A discussion of relevant factors that affect the document

Complex understanding of the topic of the prompt.

We will break down each of these aspects in the next section. For now, the gist is that you need to write an essay that answers the prompt, using the documents and your knowledge as evidence. You will also need to discuss some additional factors that impact your use of the documents.

Many of the skills you need to write a successful DBQ essay are the same skills you will use on the LEQ. In fact, some of the rubric points are identical, so you can use a lot of the same strategies on both writing tasks!

The topic of your DBQ will come from the following time periods, depending on your course:

AP World History: Modern - 1200-1900

AP US History - 1754-1980

AP European History - 1600-2001

The writing time on the AP Exam includes both the DBQ and the Long Essay Question (LEQ), but it is suggested that you spend 60 minutes completing the DBQ. You will need to read and analyze the documents and write your essay in that time.

A good breakdown would be: 15 min. (reading & analysis) + 45 min. (writing) = 60 min.

The DBQ is scored on a rubric out of seven points and is weighted at 25% of your overall exam score. We’ll break down the rubric next.

The DBQ is scored on a seven-point rubric, and each point can be earned independently. That means you can miss a point on something and still earn other points with the great parts of your essay.

Let’s break down each rubric component...

The thesis is a brief statement that introduces your argument or claim and can be supported with evidence and analysis. This is where you answer the prompt.

This is the only element in the essay that has a required location. The thesis needs to be in your introduction or conclusion of your essay. It can be more than one sentence, but all of the sentences that make up your thesis must be consecutive in order to count.

The most important part of your thesis is the claim , which is your answer to the prompt. The description the College-Board gives is that it should be “historically defensible,” which really means that your evidence must be plausible. On the DBQ, your thesis needs to be related to information from the documents, as well as connected to the topic of the prompt.

Your thesis should also establish your line of reasoning. Translation: address why or how something happened - think of this as the “because” to the implied “how/why” of the prompt. This sets up the framework for the body of your essay since you can use the reasoning from your thesis to structure your body paragraph topics later.

The claim and reasoning are the required elements of the thesis. And if that’s all you can do, it will earn you the point.

Going above-and-beyond to create a more complex thesis can help you in the long run, so it’s worth your time to try. One way to build in complexity to your thesis is to think about a counter-claim or alternate viewpoint that is relevant to your response. If you are thinking about using one of the course reasoning processes to structure your essay (and you should!) think about using that framework for your thesis too.

In a causation essay, a complex argument addresses causes and effects .

In a comparison essay, a complex argument addresses similarities and differences.

In a continuity and change over time essay, a complex argument addresses change and continuity.

This counterclaim or alternate viewpoint can look like an “although” or “however” phrase in your thesis.

Sample complex thesis: While some cultural traditions and belief systems, such as Confucianism, actively warned against the accumulation of wealth through trade, other societies reliant on trade used their belief systems to rationalize the behavior of merchants despite moral concerns. Still, others used religion as a means to promote trade and the activities of merchants.

👉🏾 Watch Patrick Lasseter break down the thesis and craft this sample here!

Contextualization

Contextualization is a brief statement that lays out the broader historical background relevant to the prompt.

There are a lot of good metaphors out there for contextualization, including the “previously on…” at the beginning of some TV shows, or the famous text crawl at the beginning of the Star Wars movies.

Both of these examples serve the same function: they give important information about what has happened off-screen that the audience needs to know to understand what is about to happen on-screen.

In your essay, contextualization is the same. You give your reader information about what else has happened, or is happening, in history that will help them understand the specific topic and argument you are about to make.

There is no specific requirement for where contextualization must appear in your essay. The easiest place to include it, however, is in your introduction . Use context to get your reader acquainted with the time, place, and theme of your essay, then transition into your thesis.

Good contextualization doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to go into a ton of detail, but it does need to do a few very specific things.

Your contextualization needs to refer to events, developments and/or processes outside the time and place of the prompt. It could address something that occurred in an earlier era in the same region as the topic of the prompt, or it could address something happening at the same time as the prompt, but in a different place. Briefly describe this outside information.

Then, connect it to your thesis/argument. The language from the College Board is that contextualization must be “relevant to the prompt,” and in practical terms; this means you have to show the connection. A transition sentence or phrase is useful here (plus, this is why contextualization makes the most sense in the introduction!).

Also, contextualization needs to be multiple consecutive sentences, so it’s all one argument (not sprinkled around in a paragraph). The introduction is the best place for contextualization, but not the only place. 

Basically, choose a connected topic that “sets the stage” for your thesis, and briefly describe it in a couple of sentences. Then, make a clear connection to the argument of your thesis from that outside information.

Sample contextualization: The period 1200-1600 saw the growth of centralized empires such as the Song in China or the Ottoman Empire. These empires promoted trade and growth as state policy, and this economic growth created new economic elites. In response to this change, religious leaders, thinkers, and scholars weighed in to promote, criticize, or simply comment on the moral aspects of trade and economic growth. 

👉🏾 Watch Evan Liddle break down contextualization and write an example here!

Evidence is the historical detail, the specific facts, and examples that prove your argument. In the DBQ, your evidence comes from two places: the documents themselves, and your outside knowledge of history. You should plan to use all seven documents as evidence AND bring in your knowledge on top of that.

Having evidence is important, and one of the rubric points on the DBQ is just about having evidence. Of course, it’s not enough just to know the facts. You also need to use those facts to support your argument/claim/thesis, and the other two possible rubric points for evidence on the DBQ are about using the evidence you have to support what you’re trying to say.

Evidence goes in your body paragraphs. In fact, the bulk of your body paragraphs will be made up of evidence and supporting analysis or commentary that connects that evidence to other evidence and/or to the argument you are making.

Good evidence is specific, accurate, and relevant to the prompt.

Don’t simply summarize the documents. Use a specific idea or argument from the document as your evidence.

Evidence from the documents should come directly from part or all of a document, ideally without quoting.

Paraphrasing allows you to transition directly into your argument without all the work of embedding a quote like you might for an English essay. Take a specific idea from the document, phrase it in your own words, and use it in support of your argument.

You earn a point of using evidence from at least three of the documents. There’s an additional point up for grabs for using evidence from at least six documents and supporting your argument with that evidence, which means you should always link your evidence back to your topic sentence or thesis.

Example: Ibn Khaldun observed that trade benefitted merchants at the expense of their customers, and he feared that participating in trade, though legal under Islamic law, would weaken the moral integrity of merchants.

Evidence from your outside knowledge is much the same, except that you won’t have a document to structure it for you. Describe a specific example of something you know that is relevant to the prompt, and use it to support your argument. Using course-specific vocabulary is a great strategy here to know that you are writing specific evidence.

Example: Muhammad himself was a merchant before becoming the Prophet of Islam, which accounts for the support of merchants and trade by Muslim societies.

👉🏾 Watch Caroline Castellanos break down the sample DBQ and pull out key pieces of evidence here.

Analysis and Reasoning: Sourcing

What is it? For at least three of the documents, you need to analyze the source of the document as well as the content. There are four acceptable categories of sourcing analysis:

Historical situation - this is like a miniature version of contextualization. Ask: when/where was this document created? How does that historical situation influence what the document is or what it says?

Intended audience - every document was created with an audience in mind. A document created for a king will likely be very different from a document created for a lover. Ask: for whom was this document created? How would that person have understood it? What did they know or understand that the creator could leave unsaid? What did they need to be explained?

Point of view - every document was created by someone, and that person has specific knowledge, opinions, and limitations that impact what they create. Ask: who created this document? How well did they understand the topic of the document? What would limit their understanding or reliability on this topic? What characteristics might influence them (race, gender, age, religion, status, etc.)

Purpose - all documents were created for a reason. Figure out the reason and understand why a document says or shows what it does. Ask: why was this document created, and how does that impact what it is?

Any of these characteristics will have an impact on how you use a document to support your argument. Sometimes a characteristic will weaken a document’s reliability. Sometimes a characteristic will strengthen a document’s usefulness. In addition to describing the relevant characteristic of a document, you should also explain how or why it impacts your argument.

Where do I write it? You should connect sourcing directly to your discussion of evidence from a particular document. This will occur throughout your body paragraphs.

How do I know if mine is good? Your sourcing should describe a relevant characteristic of the document and explain why/how that characteristic is relevant to your argument.

Sample sourcing statement: As a Muslim scholar, Ibn Khaldun would have had a deep understanding of religious laws, but perhaps limited knowledge of common trade practices in his day and culture. This could factor into his low view of the morality of merchants, whom he saw as less moral than someone devoting their life to their faith.

The second part of the Analysis and Reasoning scoring category is complexity. This is by far the most challenging part of the DBQ, and the point earned by the fewest students. It isn’t impossible, just difficult. Part of the difficulty comes in that it is the least concrete skill to teach and practice.

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the DBQ, don’t stress about complexity. Focus on writing the best essay you can that answers the prompt. Plenty of students earn 5’s without the complexity point.

If you are ready to tackle this challenge, keep reading!

The College Board awards this point for essays that “demonstrate a complex understanding” of the topic of the prompt.

Complexity cannot be earned with a single sentence or phrase. It must show up throughout the essay. 

A complex argument starts with a complex thesis. A complex thesis must address the topic of the prompt in more than one way. Including a counter-claim or alternate viewpoint in the thesis is a good way to set up a complex argument because it builds in room within the structure of your essay to address more than one idea (provided your body paragraphs follow the structure of your thesis!)

A complex argument may include corroboration - evidence that supports or confirms the premise of the argument. A clear explanation that connects each piece of evidence to the thesis will help do this. In the DBQ, documents may also corroborate or support one another, so you could also include evidence that shows how documents relate to one another.

A complex argument may also include qualification - evidence that limits or counters an initial claim. This isn’t the same as undoing or undermining your claim. Qualifying a claim shows that it isn’t universal. An example of this might be including continuity in an essay that is primarily about change.

A final way to introduce complexity to your argument is through modification - using evidence to change your claim or argument as it develops. Modification isn’t quite as extreme as qualification, but it shows that the initial claim may be too simple to encompass the reality of history.

Since no single sentence can demonstrate complexity on its own, it’s difficult to show examples of complex arguments. Fully discussing your claim and its line of reasoning, and fairly addressing your counterclaim or alternate view is the strongest structure to aim for a complexity point!

Watch Melissa Longnecker break down documents and describe Analysis and Reasoning here.

Understanding the Process of Writing a DBQ

Before you start writing....

Because the DBQ has so many different components, your prep work before writing is critical. Don’t feel like you have to start writing right away. You are allotted a 15 min. “reading period” as part of your DBQ time - you should use it!

The very first thing you should do with any prompt is to be sure you understand the question . Misunderstanding the time period, topic, or geographic region of a prompt can kill a thoughtful and well-argued essay. When you’re practicing early in the year, go ahead and rewrite the prompt as a question. Later on, you can re-phrase it mentally without all the work.

As you think about the question, start thinking about which reasoning skill might apply best for this prompt: causation, comparison, or continuity and change over time. You don’t necessarily have to choose one of these skills to organize your writing, but it’s a good starting place if you’re feeling stuck.

Original prompt : Evaluate the extent to which cultural traditions or belief systems affected attitudes toward merchants and trade in the period 1200-1600.

Revised : How much did religion and culture impact attitudes about merchants/trade 1200-1600?

Once you know what to write about, take one minute to brainstorm what you already know about this time period and topic. This will help you start thinking about contextualization and outside knowledge as you read the documents.

Now it’s time to read the documents . As you read, pay attention to the source line that introduces the author, date, etc. about each document. It should contain information that will help you with your sourcing analysis. Mark this info with a symbol that is relevant for you, such as H for the historical situation, I for the intended audience, etc. 

If the source line doesn’t give you much, it’s ok to skip sourcing for some of the documents. Try to analyze each one though, since you have to choose at least three to write about sourcing in your essay.

Read the document for content next. Think about what the document is saying or showing. Summarize it briefly in the margin or in your head and note how it connects to the prompt and to other documents in the set.

Example (download modified DBQ prompts here ):

Documents that reject merchants on moral grounds: 2, 3, (4?)

Confucianism = mistrust of merchants: 2, 7

Documents that permit trade, despite dishonesty of merchants: 4, 6 Documents that see wealth a religious blessing: 1, 5

Islam = support of trade as a custom: 4, 6

Rationalizing/compromising morals in areas that rely on trade: 1, 4, 5, 6

Note: you wouldn’t use all of these groupings in one essay. This list shows a sample of different ways the documents might connect to build a thesis and structure an essay. The three bolded notations here correspond to the topics selected for the sample thesis.

After reading all of the documents, take a minute to organize your thinking and plan your thesis. Decide which documents fit best to support the topics of your body paragraphs and choose your three or more documents for sourcing analysis.

Once you have a plan you like, start writing!

How to Write The DBQ

Your introduction should include your contextualization and thesis. Start with a statement that establishes your time and place in history, and follow that with a brief description of the historical situation. Connect that broader context to the theme

and topic of the prompt. Then, make a claim that answers the prompt, with an overview of your reasoning and any counterclaim you plan to address.

Body paragraphs will vary in length, depending on how many documents or other pieces of evidence you include, but should follow a consistent structure. Start with a topic sentence that introduces the specific aspect of the prompt that paragraph will address. There aren’t specific points for topic sentences, but they will help you stay focused.

Follow your topic sentence with a piece of evidence from one of the documents. This should be paraphrased in your own words, and you should explain how that evidence specifically supports your argument. 

After 1-2 sentences of evidence, make an argument about sourcing . This is where you explain the specific characteristic and how it impacts your argument (“because...” or “in order to…” are good phrases here.)

Follow the sourcing with additional pieces of evidence, sourcing, and explanation. Ideally, you would do this with 2-3 documents relating to one topic sentence per paragraph. Somewhere in your body paragraph, you should also introduce a piece of outside evidence and connect it back to your topic sentence as well.

Each body paragraph will follow this general format, and there are no set number of paragraphs for the DBQ (minimum or maximum.) Write as many paragraphs as you need to both use all seven documents and fully answer the prompt by developing the argument (and counter-argument if applicable) from your thesis.

If you have time, you may choose to write a conclusion . It isn’t necessary, so you can drop it if you’re rushed. BUT, the conclusion is the only place where you can earn the thesis point outside the introduction, so it’s not a bad idea. You could re-state your thesis with different words, or give any final thoughts in terms of analysis about your topic. You might solidify your complexity point in the conclusion if written well.

When you finish, it’s time to write the Long Essay Question (if you haven’t already), so turn the page in your prompt booklet and keep going!

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What is a DBQ? - What You Need to Know

Document-based questions

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As you prepare for your AP exams, you might be wondering about the meaning of a Document-Based Question. This article provides you with everything you need to know about this topic.

As high school students think about applying for colleges, some take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible to increase their chances of getting into the college they want. While AP classes are not necessary for getting admitted into college, these classes do help your chances of being accepted. 

The Document-Based Question is an essay you’ll have to write as a requirement for all AP History exams. In the sections below, we’ll cover how to answer this essay in detail.

What is a DBQ Essay?

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question in a timed essay used in AP History exams. Students are provided with 7-12 historical documents and must use their content to write a thesis-driven essay that answers a prompt. 

DBQ essays test skills like document analysis, evidence usage, contextualization, complex understanding, and historical argumentation. Students have 15 minutes to review the documents and 45 minutes to write the essay response citing at least 6 documents. 

Strong DBQ essays have a clearly stated thesis, strong organization, multi-faceted analysis, and integrate both the provided evidence and outside knowledge.

If you are taking multiple AP history courses, you may have to write multiple DBQ essays for each exam.

Here are key details about the historical documents provided on the DBQ:

  • The DBQ will include 7 documents offering different perspectives related to the prompt's historical topic or theme. The documents are a mix of primary source texts, images, graphs, maps, etc. from the time period.
  • The documents will represent a variety of viewpoints and purposes. Students need to analyze potential biases, the author's perspective, the audience, etc. when using them as evidence.
  • The topics and time periods covered align with the curriculum. For AP US History that's units 3-7 (1754-1980). For AP World History it's units 1-6 (1200-1900).
  • The types of documents are not pre-determined and can vary from exam to exam. Students should practice analyzing all formats - written texts, images, quantitative data, maps, etc.
  • While the documents provide critical evidence, students also need to bring in outside information and historical context to earn the highest scores. The documents alone are not enough to answer the prompt.
  • Authentic published DBQ questions and documents from past exams are available on the College Board website for practice. Teachers also create unofficial questions with the documents they select.

The purpose of a DBQ essay is to test the individual’s ability to identify and analyze patterns, issues, and trends from historical documents. The essay tests you on what you have learned and the skills you have gained throughout your AP History courses. 

A DBQ medical assessment is completely different from a Document-Based Question as it stands for Disability Benefits Questionnaire. These are medical evaluation forms used to document a veteran's disability, so don’t mix the two up!

The DBQ format is similar to other essays, with an emphasis on extensive analysis of documents. A good DBQ essay will follow this format:

Introduction

  • Hook and background context
  • Clear thesis statement answering the prompt

Body Paragraphs

  • Each paragraph supports part of the thesis with evidence from the documents and outside information
  • Documents are analyzed, not just quoted
  • Documents are properly cited using [document #]
  • Restates thesis
  • Summarizes overall argument with closing thoughts

Key aspects of the format include:

  • Having at least 3 body paragraphs citing 6+ documents
  • Balancing evidence from provided docs and outside info
  • Explaining how outside historical factors affect the issue
  • Analyzing the documents rather than just describing them

Following the standard DBQ format, analyzing the prompt, planning effective body paragraphs, and managing time are all critical skills for success.

During your AP exam , you will have 15 minutes to read over and familiarize yourself with the documents provided. You will have 45 minutes to write the essay. 

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How to Write a DBQ

what is a dbq essay similar to

To craft a compelling Document-Based Question, start by thoroughly understanding the prompt and documents. Next, devise a thesis that addresses the prompt and organize body paragraphs to cite at least 6 documents for evidence, incorporating external context.

Begin with an introductory paragraph that sets the stage and presents your thesis. In the body, analyze, rather than merely describe, the documents, linking evidence back to your thesis. Conclude by reaffirming your argument and offering final insights.

Make sure your argument directly responds to the essay question. You will need to provide strong evidence from the documents to support your observations throughout your essay. Like other essays, you must build a persuasive case for your argument. 

Here is a breakdown of the writing process for the DBQ:

1. Read Over Your Materials 

Read and familiarize yourself with the essay question before looking at the documents so you know what you are looking for. 

2. Begin Your Analysis of the Documents

Read over the documents and identify patterns (or lack of), rhetoric, and other relevant information that relates to the essay question. 

3. Present Your Thesis Statement

Once you have collected evidence and have an argument, write your thesis statement. 

4. Plan What You Will Write, and in What Order

Ensure that you create an outline for your essay before you begin writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and make writing easier.

5. Start Writing! 

Some people find it easier to write their body paragraphs first (with the thesis statement in mind) and then write their introductory and concluding paragraphs after, but write in the way that best suits you. 

6. Finish With a Strong Conclusion

Your concluding paragraph will be the last piece of your essay that the markers read. Remember to avoid introducing any new ideas or arguments in the final paragraph. 

7. Proofread and Edit

If you have time, proofread and edit your essay. The clearer your writing is, the easier it will be for the reader to get through your essay. Clear and concise writing will reflect in your final mark. 

Keep in mind the time limit while you are writing. You only have forty-five minutes to write the essay, so you want to make sure you are using your time effectively. 

Document-Based Question Examples

Here is an example of a Document-Based Question from the AP US History exam :

Analyze the responses of Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to the problems of the Great Depression. How effective were the responses? Use the documents and your knowledge of the period 1929-1941 to construct your response.

In this DBQ, the main topic or subject is the responses of FDR's administration to the Great Depression during the period from 1929-1941. The key aspects examined are:

  • The types of responses from FDR's administration - programs and policies such as the New Deal agencies and reforms
  • The effectiveness of these responses in addressing the economic problems caused by the Great Depression

To write a successful Document-Based Question response, you would need to:

  • Provide background context on the Great Depression
  • Present and analyze the evidence provided in the documents about the responses from FDR's administration
  • Include outside information about other relevant programs and policies
  • Make an argument about how effective FDR's responses were in dealing with the Great Depression

Some examples of outside information you could provide:

  • Background on the economic situation before the Great Depression
  • Details about the impact of events like the Dust Bowl
  • Information on the opposition FDR faced to his New Deal programs

Types of DBQ Prompts

There are three main types of prompts in a Document-Based Question. These questions test skills like analyzing evidence, making comparisons, explaining causation, and assessing change and continuity over time in relation to historical events, periods, geographical regions, social issues, and cultural trends.

  • Continuity and change over time - e.g. analyze changes and continuities in the women's rights movement from 1848 to 1920
  • Causation - e.g. analyze the causes of the rise of the New Conservatism movement in the 1960s and 1970s
  • Comparison - e.g. compare and contrast the responses of Hoover's administration and FDR's administration to the Great Depression

Outside of these main types, the topics of DBQ prompts can vary widely, covering different time periods, geographical regions, events, movements, etc. But they tend to have some common themes like imperialism, revolutions, cultural trends, economic developments, demographic changes, etc.

How is a DBQ Scored?

The DBQ is worth 25% of the total exam score. Students have a 15-minute reading period to review the documents, followed by 45 minutes to write their responses. The DBQ is scored out of 7 possible points based on criteria such as thesis, context, evidence, analysis, reasoning, sourcing, and complexity.

Colleges consider your AP exam scores during the admissions process, so performing as best as you can on your AP exams does matter.

The DBQ essay is marked based on the following categories: 

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

Here is an overview of the rubric for the DBQ essay: 

Source : NEISD

The entire essay is worth seven points, each category carrying a different number of points. Keep the points system in mind when writing. It will help you strategize how much time to spend on each piece of the essay. Doing this will allow you to better manage your time and put in extra work on the factors that matter most. 

You may still have other questions about the specifics of the essay. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the DBQ essay. 

1. How Do You Write a DBQ?

Approach writing the DBQ like you would other persuasive history essays. Understand the question, address it directly, and use it as an opportunity to showcase your analytical and critical thinking skills. Also, prioritize well-written, grammatically correct content to enhance your essay's impact on your score.

2. What is the Purpose of a DBQ?

A DBQ tests your historian skills by checking how well you can analyze historical documents while considering their historical context. It's a way to see if you can apply what you've learned in your history classes.

3. How Long is a DBQ Essay?

You have 45 minutes for the DBQ essay, so aim for 5-6 paragraphs: an intro with your thesis, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Keep your thesis short, and each paragraph 5-7 sentences. Quality is more important than quantity; focus on a clear and concise argument.

Final Thoughts

If AP classes are a good fit for you, you should consider taking as many as you can in areas that interest you. Top schools such as Yale , Cornell , Columbia , and Harvard take AP classes seriously when considering applicants and sometimes even give students credit for their AP classes. 

Ultimately, the DBQ is similar to other essays you will find on exams but has a larger focus on the application of knowledge and skills. If you study and prepare before taking the exam, there is nothing to worry about.

While taking the exam, be aware of your time and use it wisely, develop a strong thesis statement, and create an outline for your essay. If you take all the right steps, writing your essay should be easier than you thought!

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

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As you prepare for college, you will want to learn as much as possible about a DBQ essay. This type of essay is found in AP history exams and social studies classes in different grades.

A DBQ , or Document-Based Question essay  requires students to develop an argument using evidence from a set of primary source documents provided to them. The DBQ essay tests a student's ability to critically analyze multiple documents, connect them to the historical context, and form a coherent, well-argued response. These documents may include written texts, images, graphs, or maps, and typically relate to a specific historical period or theme.

It deals with way more of historical documents then you might have thought. So, at some point, you can certainly find yourself at a loss. “How to write a DBQ Essay?”, you may ask. Don't worry! In this article, we will talk about how to write it. We will look at its format and show you an example. Are you ready to learn more now from proficient essay writers online ?

What Is a DBQ Essay: Main Definition

In simple terms, a DBQ Essay is an assignment that tests student's analytical and comprehension skills. There is a more formal definition of this term. DBQ stands for Document-Based Question. This type of essay is part of the AP US History (APUSH) exam established by the US College Board. Student's task is to provide their foliage knowledge and back it up with facts. Three to 16 reliable sources of information are required. To write quality work, you must understand more about the DBQ essay schema.

How to Write a DBQ Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

The first question that students have is “how to write a DBQ essay?” Students must familiarize themselves with an issue posed in a document. They should interpret presented material with particular historical period in mind. Student will have 15 minutes to read paper, take notes, and then 45 minutes to write their DBQ. Sounds a little complicated? No worries. We’ve prepared a basic step-by-step guide to help you complete this challenge for the highest score.

Step 1. Analyze the Documents Before Starting a DBQ Essay

If you are on an AP exam , you will have 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the hint and document for writing a DBQ essay. During this short period, you need to read your given tip carefully (we recommend re-reading it several times), analyze attached documents, and develop your own argumentation. Document analysis is the first and most crucial step in writing a DBQ. Be sure to highlight the question for yourself. Otherwise, you risk losing points even for the most adequately structured and competent essay if it does not answer the question posed in the tip.

Step 2. Create Your Thesis for DBQ Essay

After reading an essay recommendation, you will need to highlight a DBQ thesis sentence. It is a summary of your arguments. Make sure your thesis is a well-founded statement that responds to clues rather than just repeats them. There should be several arguments in the thesis itself. Let's suppose that the question of your document is, “Why did movement for women's suffrage start in the 20th century?”. "Significant contributions of women in support of the war formed a movement for women's suffrage to the right” is a strong thesis. In this case, thesis speaks of participation in hostilities during the First World War. Therefore, it will be easier for you and your future reader to form some strong point of view when reading your work. Support your arguments with around 6 documents. Always highlight one of them whose vision of the situation is closer to you. You will decide on the main answer to the question based on your thesis and read the documents.  

Step 3. Read the Documents and Note the Details Before Writing a DBQ Essay

As we said above, correctly highlighted abstracts are key to successful DBQ essay writing. Be careful when reading any information. Read the documentation carefully and take your time looking for answers. We have a few recommendations for you:

  • Indicate the document's author, their audience, and point of view.
  • Determine percentage of reliability of this source and try to identify what influenced the author's opinion (perhaps this is particular historical period that will help you in further analysis).
  • Highlight key points such as “evaluate,” “analyze,” and “compare and contrast.” Also, look for keywords such as "social,” "political," and "economical,” as well as information about the period and society in question (it is convenient to take notes in document margins so that you can return to desired passage).

Kindly note that not all sources will be written documents. Occasionally, you will come across diagrams, maps, or political cartoons. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with some nuances of reading primary sources in advance.

Step 4. Create a DBQ Essay Outline

Before you start writing your text:

  • Make a brief DBQ essay template outline.
  • Organize your brief and write your central thesis at page's top.
  • Write a possible structure for your document.
  • Next to each item, write one statement that does not contradict your view.

If you indicate some sources as a confirmation to sections, it is recommended to draw up an essay in chronological order. Keep in mind that an essay structure should not be broken. Start with an introduction, then write at least three paragraphs with arguments. Your DBQ should end with a conclusion in which you again repeat your thesis, only in an affirmative manner.

Step 5. Write Your DBQ Essay

Find out time management tips when writing DBQ essays. Remember that you will have 45 minutes during which you must complete the entire paper. We recommend that you plan how much time you are willing to spend on each of your sections. Be sure that you take a few minutes and correct your essay at the very end. DBQ essays have a clear structure that cannot be deviated from introduction with a thesis sentence, body with enough evidence supporting your arguments, and conclusion. We will tell you more about what each section should include later in this blog post.

How to Start a DBQ Essay

It would help if you started with DBQ essay introduction. In this part of your text, indicate your thesis and several appropriate sentences in context. It is a natural and easy way that you can start your essay right and not get lost in thought. It should be noted that you must link your thesis with its historical implications. If you don’t, you will probably lose one point.

How to Write a Body Paragraph for a DBQ Essay

It is crucial to know how to write a body paragraph . DBQ essay body paragraphs occupy more than 80% of your text. It typically consists of at least three paragraphs. All sections should be logically related with each other. Stay tuned to chronology of events, especially if you mention periods or information that supports your arguments with documents' date. Each of the paragraphs can indicate some component of your thesis. You should mention dates, historical figures and cite papers as often as possible. Include document's number in parentheses when using a quotation.

How to Write a Conclusion Essay for a DBQ

Writing a conclusion in a DBQ essay is as easy as shelling pears. You shouldn't really indicate anything new that was not in your text. Summarize your arguments and point out to your reader that you have been able to prove your claim. You will most likely get an extra point if you can connect your arguments with history of other periods or other countries. Scale your thoughts. For example, if you are talking about the First World War period in the United States, then indicate that it had similar impact on citizens of other countries.

The Best DBQ Essay Example

Still, have some more questions? DBQ essay sample will be beneficial for you when preparing for an exam. An example helps you understand the structure and formation of arguments in your future text. You can check out our sample if you are in need of further help. Do not hesitate to contact professionals! After all, high-quality assistance is key to your good grade.

DBQ Essay: Bottom Line

We have detailed the way and structure of a DBQ essay. Its purpose is based on analyzing, drawing conclusions or tracing trends of events from the past. Writing a strong essay includes all your skills learned in the AP class. This way professors can assess student's knowledge, experience and evaluate their efforts. Your dbq score is one-quarter of your score on the entire AP exam. In general, you can achieve up to seven points for this assignment. Article above describes a few ways of getting more points...

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Frequently Asked Questions About DBQ Essay

1. do i need to use quotes in my dbq essay.

Yes. Use quotes in your DBQ essay as often as possible. In this way, you will provide evidence to support your argument. But do not forget to analyze these quotes every time and talk about your point of view. Use quotation marks when writing quotes.

2. Can I start a DBQ essay introduction with a question?

Yes, you can start the DBQ essay introduction with a question. Keep in mind that you must answer this question using an argument. Further down a text, you should not ask questions.

3. Is a DBQ essay an LEQ with documents?

A DBQ essay should consist of evidence from the documents provided in your task. LEQ (that stands for thesis-based response) should not contain any evidence at all.

4. How many documents usually need to be analyzed for DBQ essay?

Usually, before writing a DBQ essay, you need to analyze about 5 to 7 documents. But it is always a good idea to check with your professors for clear instructions.

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What Is a Document-Based Question (DBQ)?

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As you prepare for your college career, you’ll want to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as you can manage. In addition to offering an extra challenge, these courses can help you get college credit, which can save you time and money. Before you can claim that college credit, however, you’ll need to pass the AP exam, which may include a document-based question (DBQ). Find out what a DBQ is and how to write an impressive essay for your AP exam.

What’s the Purpose of a DBQ?

A DBQ is a type of essay question, which means you’ll have to write several paragraphs in response. These DBQs require you to use historical documents to analyze a trend or issue from the past. Each DBQ typically has five to seven documents for you to analyze. The documents can be primary or secondary sources, including maps, newspapers, letters, and more.

Essentially, when you answer a DBQ, you use all the skills you learned in your AP class and become a historian. As you write your essay, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have the ability to:

  • Assess the context behind the documents, including the author’s perspective and the target audience.
  • Find connections between the various documents.
  • Write a solid thesis statement and use your analysis of the documents to support it.
  • Apply your knowledge of the historical issue to develop a stronger case.

Which Exams Include a DBQ?

Document-based questions appear on select AP exams only. If you take the AP U.S. History, AP European History, or AP World History exam, you’ll have to answer a DBQ. Each exam includes one DBQ, and all follow the same format while using relevant source material.

How Is a DBQ Formatted?

The DBQ appears at the beginning of the writing section, which is Part II of the AP exam. First, you’ll see the instructions for the section at the top of the page. Underneath, you’ll find the essay question and the historical documents.

Every test taker has 15 minutes to read over the documents. Then, you have about 40 minutes to write the essay. Each AP history exam has a total of two essay questions (one DBQ and one long essay), with up to 90 minutes to write your response. However, the proctor won’t tell you to finish the first question and start working on the long essay halfway through. That means it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the time and make sure you can complete both essays successfully.

How Do You Write a DBQ?

When you answer a DBQ, you need at least a basic understanding of the issue at hand. Yet, your historical knowledge is a minor part of this essay question. Instead, your ability to analyze the sources and draw a conclusion is the most important factor. Follow the tips below to get as high of a score as possible on the DBQ.

1. Read and Reread the Question

You could write the best essay the College Board has ever read, but if it doesn’t address the question, it automatically loses at least a point during the scoring process. Before you even think about writing your response, read the prompt a few times. Ask yourself what the DBQ wants you to do. For example, you may have to compare sources, contrast differing documents, or describe a historical account.

2. Analyze the Documents Carefully

Next, turn your attention to the sources. Read over each one carefully, paying close attention to how the documents are similar or different. Assess their time period, their point of view, and any other context you can glean.

3. Outline and Organize Your Essay

To make the most of your limited time, create a brief outline to organize your thoughts. Be sure to include at least five paragraphs in your essay. It should start with an introduction, end with a conclusion, and have at least three body paragraphs in between.

4. Start With a Strong Introduction

After organizing your essay, start writing a compelling introduction. Along with drawing in the reader and explaining what the essay covers, the introduction should include your thesis statement. Since the entire essay depends on a good thesis statement, take an extra moment to make sure you are making a solid argument and responding to the original question.

5. Write and Edit Your Argument

Finally, write the essay, and take care to support your thesis statement throughout. Reference the historical sources repeatedly, and use your analytical skills to examine what the documents say and why. End with a conclusion that wraps up your argument, and if possible, mention how the issue affected history.

How Are DBQs Scored?

When you take any AP exam, you have limited time to work with. Knowing how the exam is scored can help you focus your time and energy in the right place.

Your DBQ score makes up a quarter of your grade on the entire AP exam. Overall, you can score up to seven points on the DBQ. According to the College Board guidelines , here’s how you can earn each point:

  • Write a strong thesis that answers all components of the question.
  • Present an argument that includes historical context and references the sources.
  • Link at least six of the provided sources to your argument.
  • Analyze the context, point of view, purpose, and audience for four or more of the sources.
  • Discuss the greater historical context to give the argument more weight.
  • Mention a piece of supporting evidence that isn’t included in the sources.
  • Connect the argument with another historical development, a different discipline, or another theme or approach.

While scoring a perfect seven might seem impossible, getting a high score can go a long way toward college credit. Many colleges offer course credit for a three or above on an AP exam.

Whether you’re considering a major in history, political science, or any other subject, we can help with the college admissions process. Contact Spark Admissions for a free consultation, and get the guidance you need to get into the top schools on your list.

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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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I'm starting to prep for the AP US History exam and I've seen the term DBQ (document-based question) a few times. What exactly is a DBQ and how should I approach it in my studying?

A DBQ, or document-based question, is a type of question you'll encounter on the AP US History exam. It's designed to assess your ability to analyze historical documents, synthesize information from different sources, and construct a well-reasoned and cohesive argument in response to a provided prompt.

When approaching a DBQ, you'll be given a set of primary and secondary source documents (usually 5-7) related to a specific historical topic or period. Your task is to use evidence from these documents, along with your own knowledge of US History, to craft an essay addressing the prompt. The key is to effectively analyze the content of the documents, cite relevant information, and develop a clear argument supported by the sources.

In your studying, focus on practicing close reading and analysis of historical documents, and get familiar with key events and periods in US History. Make sure you're comfortable with time management, too, since you'll typically have about an hour to complete the DBQ section during the exam.

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DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

Adela B.

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As a student, you’ll come across different types of essays throughout your college journey. Essays provide a great way to portray your understanding of a topic and display your writing skills .

One of the most common types of essays in college is a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay. You’ll occasionally be asked to write these types of essays, and it’s therefore important to understand the essentials of writing them.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what DBQ essays are and the step-by-step process you can use to write the best DBQ essays in college.

What are DBQ Essays?

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document.

This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S. History exam.

To write a good DBQ essay, you must portray an understanding of the topic and link it to evidence from reliable sources.

How to Format a DBQ Essay?

Like any other essay, your DBQ essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Let’s review the components of each section and how to write them for the best performance.

1. Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay is the introductory paragraph . Here, you review the historical background of the document and the main idea covered in the essay. Take five minutes to write this section, and keep it short and brief. Include a brief statement that summarizes the points you are going to discuss in the essay body.

2. Thesis statement

The final paragraph of the introduction should be your thesis statement. A thesis is a concise statement or a claim that summarizes your overall argument. Identify the claims you’ll make in your paper, which shall be backed by evidence.

Your thesis should be one to two sentences long, describing your opinion or stand on the idea under discussion.

3. Body paragraph 1

After the thesis stamen, start writing the first paragraph of your essay. Here, you identify the strongest argument that links to the thesis statement, then provide supporting details from your evidence sources. Start with a topic sentence to let the reader know what this paragraph is about.

After the topic sentence, discuss your argument and cite each piece of evidence that supports every argument you make. Analyze the evidence in relation to the main idea rather than merely quoting it. Use direct quotes sparingly if you have to.

4. Body Paragraph 2

In the second paragraph, you identify the second relevant argument and link it to the thesis statement. The argument in this paragraph should be less superior to the first paragraph but still relevant to the main idea.

Make a logical connection between your second argument and the relevant sources of evidence. Remember to cite the evidence appropriately and demonstrate that you’ve understood what they mean and not just what they say.

5. Body Paragraph 3

In the third paragraph, identify your third relevant argument, and like the other arguments, link it to the thesis statement. State your argument in the topic sentence and explain it in subsequent sentences citing the evidence.

Your argument in this paragraph can be inferior to the ones in the first and second paragraphs but relevant to the thesis statement.

6. Concluding paragraph

After discussing all your argumentative points in the essay body, it’s time to conclude your DBQ essay. Weave your arguments together in a conclusion paragraph , which links back to your thesis statement and shows you’ve sufficiently proven your claims.

Summarize the main points in the essay and let the reader see that you’ve adequately responded to the essay prompt. Don’t use this section to merely rephrase the introduction and your thesis statement. Instead, provide a conclusive analysis that reconnects the historical context to the main idea and your arguments.

How to Write a DBQ Essay in 9 Steps

So, how do you write a DBE essay so that it flows effortlessly and satisfactorily answers the essay prompt? Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams.

1. Read and understand

Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt. Understand the document and develop your argument.

Identify all the key points and write them down as draft notes. As you analyze the main document, figure out how it relates to the other sources provided.

2. Identify the main idea

Once you’ve reviewed and understood the document, identify the main idea and note the keywords in the essay prompt. The keywords will help you understand what you need to accomplish in your assay and the type of evidence to look for in the provided sources.

For instance, the essay prompt may ask you to:

  • Compare and contrast

Also, take note of common keywords like ‘Social, Political, or Economic.’ Always keep the prompt in mind while writing to avoid being irrelevant and losing points. The prompts will also help you develop your arguments based on the main idea of the document.

3. Gather evidence

Now that you know the main idea, pick out the sources of evidence that support the main idea. Identify how each source relates to your essay prompt and categorize them based on the prompt.

Figure out how each source can support an argument. For instance, if you're comparing the attitudes towards women's rights in different historical times, you can categorize your sources of evidence based on the contrasting ideologies they represent.

4. Find external sources

When writing your DBQ essay, you’ll also need to cite other external sources that support the ideas in the main document.

Identify at least one external source that's relevant to your claims and use the events in the document to support your arguments in the essay. Jot it down somewhere so you can refer to it later when you start writing.

5. Identify the writer’s point of view

As you analyze your document and prepare to start writing, identify the author’s point of view concerning the main idea.

Who influenced them to write the document and what did they intend to achieve with it? How do they feel and what’s their take on the documented events? Also, identify their intended audience and how his writing might have influenced them.

6. Write your thesis statement

Now that you have the main idea and your sources of evidence, it’s time to develop your argument and put it down as a thesis statement.

Review the essay prompt again and form your own perspective or opinion that responds to the prompt without simply restating it. Remember the claim you make should be specific and supported by your sources of evidence.

For instance, when writing a DBQ essay about The Effects of World War II on Women's Rights, your thesis statement can be:

“ The selfless efforts of women in World War II promoted their human rights and empowered them to a higher social status in the society. ”

Here’s a useful video by Heimler's History on writing DBQ essays.

7. Polish your thesis statement

Re-read your thesis statement and polish it to ensure it’s clear and concise. Delete any unnecessary words that do not impact the meaning of the statement.

A good thesis statement has no fluff and responds directly to the essay prompt without being too short or too long.

8. Start writing by creating an outline

Once you’ve encapsulated your arguments into a thesis statement, it’s time to start writing. You start writing by creating an outline of your arguments first.

An effective outline should include:

  • The introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • First argument
  • Second argument
  • Third argument

After creating the outline, explain your arguments and fill in the evidence while citing the sources.

Creating an outline will help you organize your points and make your work easier when you start writing the main essay. Following the outline will also save you time and help you finish writing your essay on time.

9. Proofread and polish

After you finish writing, spare 10 minutes to proofread and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. Identify and rewrite weird sentence structures, add missing words, and replace those that complicate meaning.

While proofreading, delete fluffy sentences that don’t add value to your essay. Also, check that you’ve appropriately cited the evidence sources and that your essay is well structured before submitting it.

Final Thought

DBQ essays will significantly contribute to your final grade. It’s, therefore, necessary to take time to learn how to write an excellent one and practice before the final exams.

Remember your DBQ essay test will be timed, and that doesn’t leave you much time to include fluff. Go directly to your points and explain them in clear and concise sentences.

If you’ve been having trouble writing these types of essays, use the tips in this article to make it hassle-free onwards.

Need more help? Writers Per Hour is here to assist you with this writing assignment of yours. Our professional writers can help you research, outline, write, revise and proofread high-quality DBQ essays that are sure to give your grades a boost.

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Writing a DBQ Essay

Dbq essay generator.

what is a dbq essay similar to

If you’re a History major or enrolled in a History class, you may be appalled to know that your instructor has assigned your class to write a DBQ essay. You probably haven’t got the faintest idea what’s that supposed to mean. You don’t even know what DBQ stands for. If you’re stuck in a situation like this, you need to familiarize yourself with DBQ before your exams will take place. If your instructor has not taught you what DBQ is all about (and they probably have not since you are here!), here are some ways on how to prepare and write a DBQ essay. You may also see Descriptive Essay Examples .

  • Academic Essay Examples
  • Parts of an Essay

DBQ is known as document-based-question is an unusual type of a formatted timed essay on most AP History Exams; whatever your major is; AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History. This kind of essay is given during exams where students are required to analyze a certain and important event or issues that happened in history with the help of the provided sources or documents as evidence. You may also see Formal Essay Example .

what is a dbq essay similar to

Preparing for the DBQ essay

1. Familiarize yourself what to do when writing a DBQ essay.

During the exam, students are given 15 minutes to read the given prompt, analyze the documents and make some draft to write your reference essay . When the time is up, you are to start writing your essay. The actual writing process only takes around 15 minutes. The 15-minute mark may depend whether it covers only one prompt or more.

2. Take note of the prompt.

You need to determine what kind of evidence you will need to find in the documents or data that you have, based on the prompt question. Always circle or underline the specific society, organizations, or any groups of people being asked about, the time period, and the key concepts (such as the social, economic, or cultural issues that were prevalent at that time period) that are mentioned in the prompt. Here are some prompt DBQ essays samples that are likely to be asked for you to do the following: You may also see  Evaluation Essay Examples .

The sample prompts are discussions related to the Progressive Era in the United States of America. You are asked to do the following:

  • Prompt 1: Analyze the extent to which a historical stereotype is true for a given period or concept. Example: Analyze the extent to which the Suffragettes were depicted as manly, uncivilized women during the 1890s to the 1920s.
  • Prompt 2: Analyze multiple reasons that cause a particular movement to develop.

Example: Analyze the reasons that the Progressive Movement gained momentum during the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States.

  • Prompt 3: Compare and contrast differing attitudes toward a concept or policy.

Example: Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in America from 1890 to 1920.

  • Prompt 4: Analyze the degree of truth in particular statement examples . Take a stance on the statement.

Example: Analyze the degree of truth in the statement: Women’s rights were a major part of the Progressive Era in America from the 1890s to the 1920s.

  • Prompt 5: Analyze the impact of an event or concept on some part of American society.

Example: Analyze the impact of the Progressive era on American society in the 1890s to the 1920s.

  • Prompt 6: Analyze the relative importance of a specific factor or factors on an event or concept.

Example: Analyze the importance of women’s roles in WWI to the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

(All sample prompts are from www.wikihow.com)

3. Think up for more information about the societies, time period, or theme related to the given prompt.

This kind of information is what you may have learned in class or read about in your textbook. The additional information that you have will support your answers in your essay writing . You may use the documents provided to support your additional information. Additional information may be events in history, themes you studied about the time period you are writing about, revolutions, prominent people, and more. Take note of this information as they will be relevant to your essay later.

Here is an example from www.wikihow.com:

Think about the major career goals of the Progressive era, such as increased health and safety codes in factories, limiting child labor, more innovations in technology, the rise of the number of immigrants, the WWI, the rise of unions, and the monopoly of major men such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.

The best thing to remember this for you to study in advance or take notes of this information when your professor discusses them during class.

what is a dbq essay similar to

4. Formulate your own opinion in the given subject. 

Determine what you can say about the given topic. What perspective do you have in mind during the issues in this era? What do you think is the importance of this issue? Is it worth studying it? What lessons did you obtain from these issues? These answers must be based from your own point of view, not others. You may also see  Comparative Essay Samples .

An example from www.wikihow.com:

What stands out about the Progressive era? What do you think about woman’s fight for suffrage?

5. Formulate your own assumption before you look at the documents. 

Of course, the prominent issues in a certain era happened because of a reason. While there is a given theory as an explanation why things happened, you could create your own theory based what are the other possible reasons why these events happened, what may be the hushed controversies during that time period, etc. When you’ve formulated these assumptions, you will be able to determine quickly how the given documents are effective in your essay. You may also see  Argumentative Essay Examples .

Here are some examples of assumptions from www.wikihow.com you could come up with based on the given prompt listed above.

  • Prompt 1: Suffragettes were seen as unpatriotic, unfeminine women by the people who opposed the idea of women having the right to vote during the 1890s-1920s in the United States.
  • Prompt 2: The Progressive movement gained power in the 1890s to 1920s since lots of American citizens were shocked by the poor living conditions and the economic climate in which trusts dominated the major sources of income in America.
  • Prompt 3: In the United States; during the 1890s to the 1920s, some women joined the suffragettes to fight for the right to vote. However other women, particularly the elite class, snubbed at the suffragettes because they believed that women were meant to be housewives.
  • Prompt 4: The Women’s Rights movement was a big part of the Progressive era from the years 1890 to 1920 in the United States.
  • Prompt 5: The Progressive era majorly impacted American society drastically in terms of economics, politics, and culture during the 1890s to the 1920s.
  • Prompt 6: Women were able to gain the right to vote, due to the fact that they made up most of the workforce during WWI.

6. Analyze the given documents

The documents that have been provided can include historical writings or publications like quotations, journal entries, letters, book excerpts, newspaper clippings, charts, maps, tables, photographs, illustrations, artifacts, cartoons, archived videos or as from the time period. Ask the question to yourself: You may also see  Persuasive Essay with Examples .

  • What is the main idea of each document?
  • How does a document relate to the prompt?
  • How does the document will help your assumptions?

Jot down the notes you need from the given documents. This will help you formulate your essay easier instead of repeatedly scanning the documents during the writing examples . Pay some attention to the chronology of the documents. Look for any changes over time. Pay attention also to the contrasting information that was provided in the documents.

Example (from www. wikihow.com):

A letter about the methods used to obtain the right to vote sent from one suffragette to another is in contrast with an article in a newspaper depicting suffragettes as unpatriotic women who hoped to sabotage WWI for the United States.

You may also add additional information such as laws being passed, treaties between nations, letter from past rulers of every country, etc. to support your assumptions and proving your point. You may also see Last Minute Essay Example .

  • The Bill of Rights. The Women’s Rights movement resulted in the establishment of the 19th Amendment.
  •  A list made by suffragettes at a meeting about their strategies for getting the right to vote.

DBQ Sample Essay

DBQ Sample Essay

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DBQ Essay Outline

DBQ Essay Outline

Writing the essay

Your introduction should start about writing a sentence or two of the historical context about the time period you are writing about. You may also see Outline Essay Example .

The Progressive Era, which took place roughly from 1890-1920, was a time of  political, economic, and cultural reform in the United States. The Women’s Rights Movement was one of the movements that gained momentum during this time.

6. Write your assumption statements.

Follow these statements with a brief sentence that focuses on the topic or themes that will be covered in each following paragraph. You may also see Informative Essay Example .

During the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States, some women joined the suffragettes in their fight for the right to vote, while other women, particularly those of the elite class, looked down at the suffragettes because they believed that women were meant to stay in the home. In the following paragraphs, these two different reactions to suffragettes will be compared and contrasted.

7. Write your content paragraphs.

Your content paragraphs should be placed in a logical order. When referring to documents, use the title of the documents that you used. Each paragraph must have a topic sentence. This explains what your paragraphs are going to be about. Put as many paragraphs as this will help make sense for your prompt. You may also see Essay Examples in DOC .

List and analyze the documents you presented in the DBQ essay. Quotations that directly came from your documents must be done in a meaningful way. Remember to use quotes sparingly.

8. Add citations

If you ever mention a document that was the sources from your given documents; add parentheses and the number of the document at the end of the sentence.

  • Women who were not suffragettes but still supported the movement wrote letters discussing their desire to help (doc 2).

9. Provide your conclusion 

Write your conclusions after you put the important points that support your analysis in your essay. Your conclusion will restate your assumptions and summarizes what you have proved in your essay. This is a crucial part of your essay as this will provide higher points in your analysis essay if your conclusion is adequate states what you have written in your essay.

10.Review your essay

Don’t forget to double check the dates and places you put in your essay by looking at the documents and make sure what you have written down match the information with the documents. The last thing you need is for your essay to be invalid since you put down wrong information just because you misspelled a name or forgot to put down the name of the place where the event took place. You may also see Free Essay Examples .

Now that you are familiar with writing a DBQ essay, it would not be too hard in your part to write a good and strong essay to land yourself a good grade. Not only you get to have a good grade, in the grueling process, you also learned some new knowledge. You may also see Reflective Essay Examples .

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AP World History is a challenging class, and in order to get credit for it you’ll have to take an equally challenging exam. And one of the toughest parts of the test is the AP World History document-based question, or AP World DBQ. This question asks you to read and analyze documents on the fly, then write an argumentative essay…all in one hour. 

It can be hard to know what–and how–to study for the AP World History DBQ, especially when you don’t know which documents you’ll receive on test day. But don’t worry: we’ll break down everything you need to know about the AP World History DBQ so you can ace it on test day. (We’ll even give you AP World History DBQ example questions and an AP World History DBQ rubric example!) 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • An explanation of what the AP World History DBQ is 
  • A look at how the DBQ works on the AP World History exam
  • A step-by-step process for tackling the AP World History DBQ
  • A guide to studying for and answering the AP World History DBQ

Let’s get going!

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What Is an AP World History DBQ? 

The document-based question (DBQ) is a question on the AP World History exam in which you are given a selection of seven documents and are asked to write an essay that incorporates information from at least six of them in a coherent argument based on a given prompt.

In other words: you’ll be writing an essay on a topic and incorporating resources that you’re given on the day of the exam! 

The DBQ tests over a wide range of skills , like writing, organizing thoughts, making arguments, making connections between different perspectives, and having a knowledge of world history. Yeah, the DBQs are definitely tough! That’s why it’s important to understand what the DBQ APWH is and how to best tackle it. 

How DBQs Work on the AP World History Exam

The DBQ format AP World History uses consists of a single open-ended prompt , and will focus on the time period of 1450-2001 .

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 AP World History exam.  

Here are some actual AP World History DBQ examples from previous years’ AP World History exams:

  • “Evaluate the extent to which economic factors led to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920).” ( 2021 )
  • “Evaluate the extent to which the Portuguese transformed maritime trade in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century.” ( 2019 )
  • “Evaluate the extent to which railroads affected the process of empire-building in Afro-Eurasia between 1860 and 1918.” ( 2018 )

Of course, one of the things that makes AP DBQ questions unique is that you’ll be given seven documents to analyze as part of your essay response. Not only will you have to read and analyze these documents on exam day, you’ll have to include them as evidence in your essay to prove your argument! 

The seven documents you’ll receive will be a mixture of: 

  • Primary texts : texts that were actually written in the time period you’re being asked about 
  • Secondary texts : texts written by later historians that explain or interpret the time period 
  • Images: usually either political cartoons or artwork from the time period 

How many of each type of document you get varies by year, so you’ll need to be comfortable using all three types to support an essay-based argument. 

To answer the AP World History DBQ, you’ll have to read through all seven documents and write an argumentative essay that answers the prompt. So not only will you have to come up with an arguable point, you’ll have to prove that thesis using evidence contained in at least three of the seven documents. If you want to earn full credit for your DBQ, you’ll actually have to use six of the seven documents to support your position! 

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Just like in a sport, understanding how to score points on your DBQ is key to doing well on your exam. 

Understand the AP World DBQ Rubric

First, y ou need to understand what the expectations are and how your answer will be graded. Doing this will help you figure out what you need to study and which skills you need to brush up on. It’ll also ensure that you know exactly what a great DBQ response requires so that you earn as many points as possible! 

The good news is that the College Board has provided the AP World History DBQ rubric 2021 as part of their 2021 AP World History: Modern Sample Student Responses and Scoring Commentary document. The AP World History DBQ rubric contains all the information you need to know about how your response will be scored. 

Here’s how the rubric breaks down:

Thesis (1 Point) 

First you’ll need to create a thesis that “responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning.” In order to get this point you’ll need to make an arguable claim based on the documents that answers the question of the prompt.  

Contextualization (1 Point) 

In order to get a point for contextualization you’ll need to “accurately describe a context relevant” to the time period covered by the prompt. What this means is that you’ll have to describe the political, social, or economic events and trends that contributed to the topic you’re writing about. 

Some of this you’ll know from the provided documents, but some of it you will also be expected to know based on what you’ve studied in AP World History class. You’ll also need to relate your knowledge to “broader historical events, developments, or processes that occur before, during, or continue after the time frame of the question.” In other words, you’ll have to show how the events of this time period are relevant now or how they are similar to some other historical situation.

Evidence (3 Points) 

This category assigns points based on how well you use the documents provided to you on the test. 

For this category, you get one of the potential three points solely for if you incorporate specific evidence that does not come from the provided documents in a way that is relevant to your thesis. 

However, in order to earn the other two points, you must support your argument by using even more evidence from the documents provided . If you use three to five documents, you’ll earn an additional point. If you integrate six or more documents in your response, you can earn up to two points…and full credit for this category!  

Just remember: You can’t just randomly throw information from the documents into your essay, though, you have to use it in a way that supports your argument and accurately represents what the documents are saying . 

Analysis and Reasoning (2 Points) 

For the analysis and reasoning section, you get one point for explaining “how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument,” and you get one point for “complexity,” showing that you understand the time period that the prompt covers and use evidence to prove your understanding and back up your argument . 

Here’s what that means: you’ll have to prove how the documents are relevant to your argument, and your argument has to show that you understand the period you’re writing about. Additionally, you’ll need to write an essay that proves your argument in a way that shows you understand that there are a variety of possible perspectives about that time period or issue, and that not everyone in that period had the same experiences. 

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If all that sounds like a lot...that's because it is! But don't worry. We'll walk you through the steps you can take to get prepared for your DBQ.

5 Steps for Tackling an AP World History DBQ

The AP World History DBQ is a complicated question that tests you over several different skills, so there isn’t a simple technique to ace it. However, if you master each of the individual skills it takes to do well on the DBQ examples, you’ll set yourself up to write a successful DBQ! response! 

Here are five steps you can follow to prepare for–and tackle!--the AP World History DBQ. 

Step 1: Use Past AP World DBQ Prompts to Practice

Taking practice exams is a great way to prepare for any standardized test–including the AP World exam. Not only do you get a chance to test your knowledge, practice tests also give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the test format…which is really important when it comes to AP World DBQs.

There’s good news when it comes to AP World DBQ prompts, though. College Board’s website has the actual AP World DBQ prompts from 2002-2020 available to download. This means you can take almost 20 practice AP World History exams, as well as access AP World History DBQ example responses and AP World History DBQ rubrics, for free!  

It’s good to take one practice test before you start studying intensely for it because that will let you know where your skills are now (and it’ll let you track your progress). However, the nature of a free response means that it won’t be easy for you to grade by yourself. When it comes to assessing your response, use the AP World History DBQ rubric and honestly assess whether or not you incorporated the information thoroughly and accurately. If that doesn’t work for you, you can always ask a family member, tutor, or teacher to give you feedback on your response as well! 

Don’t be afraid to use multiple AP World DBQ prompts as part of your test prep strategy. The more DBQs you do, the better prepared you’ll be on test day! 

Step 2: Practice Creating a Thesis

A thesis statement is a sentence or two, located in your essay’s introduction, that explains what your essay will be about. In this case, your thesis will outline the argument you make in your AP World DBQ. 

The most important aspect of your thesis is that it has to make a claim that is both arguable and relevant to the prompt you’re given. However, you don’t want to just restate the prompt in your thesis! 

Here’s what we mean. Say you’re given the following prompt:

“Evaluate the extent to which economic factors led to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920).” 

You don’t want your thesis to be “Economic factors led to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution,” since that just restates the prompt without adding in your own argument. To write a great DBQ, you want to make a specific claim about how and why economic factors led to the Mexican Revolution, and you want to be able to use the AP World History DBQ documents provided to prove it!

Here are two AP World History DBQ examples that College Board considers acceptable theses for this prompt:

  • “Mexico’s inability to resist the political dominance of the United States and European powers was the most significant factor in leading to the revolution because foreign dominance prevented the Mexican government from enacting economic reforms.”
  • “Ethnic tensions were just as important in leading to the Mexican Revolution as economic factors because much of the economic exploitation that was occurring in Mexico affected poor indigenous communities.”

See how these two examples both make specific claims? The first argues that foreign influences prevented the Mexican government from enacting economic reforms. This is a claim that the author can prove by showing how foreign governments interfered with the Mexican government, and how that action led to reforms being stalled. 

The second AP World History DBQ example thesis addresses something more complex: how ethnic tensions led to economic exploitation. The author can then use the provided documents as evidence that poor indigenous communities were exploited, and can argue that those actions led to the Mexican Revolution.

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Outlines take a little time, but they'll keep your DBQ from derailing. (Staying on topic is key!)

Step 3: Practice Creating an Outline

Remember the AP World History DBQ is timed, and you’ll only have one hour to complete it! To keep your writing organized and on track, it’s a good idea for you to create a quick outline before you jump into writing your essay. 

Having said that, you’ll need to be careful not to spend too much time on your outline so you have enough time to write your DBQ. That’s why we recommend spending 15 minutes reading documents, 5 minutes outlining your essay, and 40 minutes writing your response. 

The most important things that your outline will need are an introduction and conclusion ! Your introduction sets up your thesis while your conclusion restates your thesis and explains how it’s relevant to the reader in some way–perhaps by showing that a similar claim could be made about another time period, or that the effects of the thesis are still being felt today. 

Apart from your intro and conclusion, you’ll need body paragraphs. Since you only have about 45 minutes to write this essay, you don’t want too many of them. Three or four body paragraphs will be enough to make your argument. The most important thing about your body paragraphs is that each of them supports your argument and incorporates information from the documents!

To help you out, here is an example of a usable outline for the AP World History DBQ:

  • Set up your argument and include your thesis.
  • You can break down your thesis into several steps, which will then become the topics of each body paragraph
  • Tell the reader what they need to know about the historical situation. 
  • Include any information you might already know from outside the provided documents.
  • Make the first point you mentioned in your introduction.
  • Use information from the documents to illustrate and prove your point.
  • Include two or three documents that support your point 
  • Just like the previous paragraph, use two or three different documents to prove the second point of your thesis
  • If you make a third point in your thesis, explain it here using one or two different documents as evidence 
  • Restate your thesis and summarize the main points you’ve made.
  • Show how it’s relevant to the reader.

Your outline doesn’t need to be anything fancy–it just needs to give you an idea of how to structure your DBQ. Trust us: outlining might seem like a waste of time, but having a guide will make writing go much faster. 

Step 4: Practice Incorporating Quotes and References

As you write your essay, you’ll need to use examples from the documents provided–and each time you do, you’ll need to indicate which documents you pulled the information from . You’ll do this whether you are quoting your source or just paraphrasing it. 

Here are two attribution examples that College Board considers acceptable for the AP World History DBQ:

  • (Document 1): “The finance minister tells strikers that unemployment is the result of supply and demand and is out of the government’s hands, a position which probably increased people’s discontent with the government because they were unwilling to help.”
  • (Document 2): “The newspaper cartoon shows that the government was willing to use violence to put down popular protests against a rigged election system. Such oppressive government policies may have contributed to increased support for the eventual revolution.”

Note that both of these connect the contents of the document to the argument the author is trying to make. They don’t just paraphrase or quote the contents of the document for the sake of using them– you should use documents to support your argument!

Keep in mind that the College Board is pretty specific about how they want you to use AP World history DBQ documents. In the 2021 AP World History Scoring Guidelines rubric, College Board makes the point that you should “ describe and explain ” the contents of the document: By “describe'' they mean you should point out to your reader what about the document is relevant and illustrate it as if the reader did not have the document in front of them. 

From there, you’ll need to explain the document. That means you should use the document to show the reader why changes or situations in history have happened or why there is a relationship between two factors you’re writing about. 

Step 5: Understand Time Management

One of the most important skills you can acquire by taking multiple attempts at the AP World DBQ practice test will be time management. 

When you’re in the actual test environment, you won’t be able to use your phone to set a timer or alarm, so it’ll be difficult to keep track of how much time you’re spending on reading and re-reading the documents, brainstorming, and outlining. You want to leave yourself the majority of the time allowed (which will be one hour) for writing. 

College Board’s AP World History DBQ rubric recommends that you spend 15 minutes reading the documents and 45 minutes writing the essay . When you write your practice DBQs, be sure to use this format so you can get a feel for how much time you do (or don’t!) have for the question. Practicing with a timer is a great way to make sure you’re using your time wisely on test day! 

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4 Tips for Studying for and Answering the AP World History DBQs

Now that you’ve read our step-by-step process for tackling the AP World History DBQ and have seen several AP World History DBQ examples, here are some expert tips on doing well on the AP World History DBQ . We’ve developed these tips based on the AP World History rubric to make sure you earn as many points as possible! 

Tip 1: Know Your Rubric

Go through the AP World History DBQ rubric 2021 and notice that it tells you exactly how to earn points in each category . Most categories are worth multiple points, so you need to know how to earn all the points possible. 

For example, the rubric is clear about how to earn points for your thesis statement. You’ll have to make sure that you have a thesis that states outright what argument you are trying to make if you want to earn credit for that category of the rubric! 

The scoring for the DBQ is pretty objective, and knowing exactly what the scorers are looking for will help you earn the most points possible.

Tip 2: Your Essay Can Contain Errors

In an AP World History DBQ, you’ll be able to make tiny errors and still be able to earn full credit for your response. 

Before you get too excited, there are big (and we mean big!) limits to this rule. For instance, you can’t misrepresent a document by saying an author makes one claim when they clearly aren’t. You also can’t write something that is obviously wrong, like that America continues under British rule because the revolution was unsuccessful! 

But you can make minor errors that don’t detract from your argument as long as you are demonstrating a knowledge of the time period and the ability to incorporate evidence to make an argument. So for example, you can make the mistake of saying that President Nixon’s impeachment hearings began in July 1974 (instead of May, when they actually began), and still earn full credit as long as you aren’t making an argument that depends on the accuracy of those dates.  

Tip 3: Write for Clarity 

One thing to keep in mind is that you’re graded on the quality of your argument and how well you prove it– you don’t get graded on how beautifully or fluently you write ! 

So, while you’ll want to use correct grammar and write as clearly as you can, don’t spend too much time making your writing beautiful. Instead, focus on clearly explaining your ideas! 

To this end, you won’t have points taken away for grammatical errors unless they make it difficult for the graders to see how you’ve used the evidence to make an argument. So while you want your writing to be as error-free as possible, it’s more important that you’re making your argument as clearly–and as persuasively–as possible. 

Tip 4: Write for Relevance

As you’re outlining and writing your AP World DBQ, ask yourself, why is this relevant to today’s readers? To earn a perfect score, you’ll have to tie your argument to another time period or historical situation. 

This is your chance to show that while the period you’re writing about may have been long in the past, the events are still relevant to us today ! This is why we read, write, and study history in the first place. So as you outline and write your DBQ, make sure you’re doing your best to show your reader why this historical moment or event is still important.

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What’s Next? 

No matter what AP course you’re taking, you’ll want to have a study plan in place when it comes to exam time. This blog article can help you put together a prep strategy that works.

Not sure what a “good” AP test score is for AP World History? This list of the average AP test scores for every exam will help you understand how your scores stack up. 

Perfect test scores are great, but do you really need a perfect AP World History score? Our experts will explain the pros and cons of getting perfect 5s on your AP exams . 

Looking for help studying for your AP exam? Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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COMMENTS

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

    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.

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

    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.

  3. How to Write a DBQ Essay (with Pictures)

    2. Identify the prompt's keywords and assigned tasks. Ensure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what your essay needs to accomplish. Circle or underline task-oriented words such as "evaluate," "analyze," and "compare and contrast.".

  4. How to Write a DBQ: Definition, Step-By-Step, & DBQ Example

    Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes) This form of essay requires a separate 3 paragraphs for the DBQ thesis. Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence. The second paragraph should include a description of the paper. The third paragraph should include how you're going to answer the question.

  5. How to Write a DBQ Essay: The Ultimate Guide

    For each point, write down the main idea of the paragraph, summed up into two or three words, any historical buzzwords you plan to use, and the documents you plan to reference. That should provide enough of a skeleton to get you writing. Here's an example, from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam DBQ, released by The College Board.

  6. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Full Guide by HandmadeWriting

    DBQ Essay Example: Describe Your Main Ideas in Body Paragraph. It reveals the DBQ essay outline from the introduction from different angles. The central part of the DBQ format is not a continuous text; it is divided into smaller pieces. In the first part, you need to state your DBQ outline and describe how you understand and feel about the topic.

  7. 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 ...

  8. 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 ...

  9. AP World Document-Based Question (DBQ) Overview

    You will have 45 minutes total to analyze documents and write your essay, and 5 minutes to upload your response. A good breakdown would be. 15 min. (reading & analysis) + 30 min. (writing) = 45 min. + 5 min. (upload) The DBQ is scored on a rubric out of seven points and is weighted at 25% of your overall exam score.

  10. What is a DBQ?

    What is a DBQ Essay? DBQ stands for Document-Based Question in a timed essay used in AP History exams. Students are provided with 7-12 historical documents and must use their content to write a thesis-driven essay that answers a prompt. DBQ essays test skills like document analysis, evidence usage, contextualization, complex understanding, and ...

  11. How to Write a DBQ Essay Step by Step + Example

    Support your arguments with around 6 documents. Always highlight one of them whose vision of the situation is closer to you. You will decide on the main answer to the question based on your thesis and read the documents. Step 3. Read the Documents and Note the Details Before Writing a DBQ Essay.

  12. What is DBQ & Why is it Important?

    Underneath, you'll find the essay question and the historical documents. Every test taker has 15 minutes to read over the documents. Then, you have about 40 minutes to write the essay. Each AP history exam has a total of two essay questions (one DBQ and one long essay), with up to 90 minutes to write your response.

  13. What Is DBQ Format for AP US History?

    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 ...

  14. PDF How to Write a DBQ Essay

    the essay. These questions will help get you thinking about how to shape your essay. Writing a DBQ: A step by step guide . Step 1: Read the Historical Context and write the first sentence of your essay. This step will let you know what the essay is about and give you ideas for writing your introduction.

  15. What is a DBQ (document-based question)?

    A DBQ, or document-based question, is a type of question you'll encounter on the AP US History exam. It's designed to assess your ability to analyze historical documents, synthesize information from different sources, and construct a well-reasoned and cohesive argument in response to a provided prompt. When approaching a DBQ, you'll be given a set of primary and secondary source documents ...

  16. DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

    Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams. 1. Read and understand. Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt.

  17. 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.

  18. Writing a DBQ

    This kind of essay is given during exams where students are required to analyze a certain and important event or issues that happened in history with the help of the provided sources or documents as evidence. You may also see Formal Essay Example. Preparing for the DBQ essay. 1. Familiarize yourself what to do when writing a DBQ essay.

  19. PDF 2022 AP Student Samples and Commentary

    The intent of this question was to assess students' ability to articulate and defend an argument based on evidence provided by a select set of historical documents. The Document-Based Question (DBQ) asked students to evaluate the extent to which European imperialism had an impact on the economies of Africa and/or Asia.

  20. How to Ace the AP World History DBQ: Rubric, Examples, and Tips

    The DBQ tests over a wide range of skills, like writing, organizing thoughts, making arguments, making connections between different perspectives, and having a knowledge of world history. Yeah, the DBQs are definitely tough! ... 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 ...

  21. Linking AP United States History and AP English Language and

    Similar to the Document-Based Question (DBQ) on the AP U.S. History Exam, the synthesis question requires students to develop a thesis and support that thesis through the integration of sources. This year I attempted to illustrate the similar objectives of the synthesis essay and the DBQ in a classroom activity. I asked a student to leave the room.