The DBQ: 11 Steps to Success

May 19, 2007 at 6:22 pm 5 comments

Posted by Michael

Here are 11 tips that I used to ace the document-based question (DBQ) essay part of the AP US History exam.

1. Use the reading period to its full extent.
And, if you’re not done planning, spend an extra five minutes or so doing so. Planning helps to write a better (maybe shorter) essay as opposed to a longer and badly written one. Readers only have such little time to read each essay, and after reading thousands each day, they’ll look for the most clearly and well thought out to grade higher, and will frown down upon super long, unorganized essays.

2. (n/2) + 1.
This is the golden rule in terms of how many documents to use (n = number of docs). It is not important to use all the documents, just use half of them given, plus one more, as a minimum.

3. Most important information first, or chronological.
Again, since readers don’t get too much time to read each person’s essay, put the information you know best or the most important information towards the front of your essay.

4. DBQ documents are in order chronologically.
This fact may be useful if you don’t know specific dates, as it can help you plan and figure out where events fall in comparison to others.

5. Don’t quote from the document.
Unless you are quoting one word or a short phrase, readers want you to analyze, not repeat, so as a general rule, don’t quote.

6. Make a good thesis or topic sentence.
Again, readers don’t have much time, so if they know exactly what you are planning to write about (via your thesis) it makes their job in assessing your knowledge of the information easier. Plus, and you run out of time in writing your entire essay, they will still give you points.

7. To analyze a document, use APPARTS.
Author (assess who the writer of the document is, or where the doc originated from – from this you may be able to tell what the authors opinions and biases are), Place and Time, Prior knowledge (outside information you know regarding the doc), Audience (who this doc was intended for (ex: private diary (most truthful because not meant to be read by others) vs. speech vs. letter)), Reason (purpose of author in creating this document), The main idea (be able to summarize what the doc is talking about), and Significance (why is this doc important), respectively.

8. Do use documents that may go against your argument.
The AP readers know all the documents and they don’t like when you leave out important information that shows another viable response to the DBQ prompt. Instead of leaving out opposing docs, either write something like “others may say…” or analyze why your docs are better (ex: a private diary entry from George Washington may be a better source for the prompt than a speech that his friend gave).

9. Conclusion’s aren’t necessary.
If you’re feeling low on time, you don’t need to have a conclusion paragraph that sums up your essay.

10. Don’t read the documents first.
If you feel that you don’t know anything about a question, don’t read the documents first. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll only read one, but then you’ll go on to the second, the third, and then finish them all. If you limit yourself to the documents, you will lose all the outside information points, which carries the most percentage of points. So do a brain-dump of all the information you know about a topic firsts, then go to the docs.

It’s OK to be worried for the DBQ, but hopefully your teacher prepared you well, you studied, and you know you’re on your way to a 5.


Entry filed under: Answer, AP, AP US History, Brainstorm, College Board, Debate, Description, Document-based question, Essays, European history, Government, History, Myth, News, Organization, Question, Reading, Reading comprehension, Research, Stress, Technique, Testing, Timing, Tips/Tricks, US history, Writing.

A “duh” tip #6 Just got a comment…

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kacie  |  May 20, 2007 at 4:24 am

    yay for timely information…I guess if we all take it on the make-up dates, we might be able to ace the DBQ.

  • 2. Dee  |  May 20, 2007 at 7:09 am

    Yup, you’re right… sorry about that Kacie — you know how it is… all our college writers have finals right now and all our high school writers had APs, so this month’s been a little tough getting content up, but hopefully it’ll come in handy for next year’s AP takers anyway…

  • 3. eyeingtenure  |  January 12, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    I took the AP US History test in 2003, and, in addition to most of the above, my teacher advocated one specific tip. We were all supposed to start our essays with the following:

    “The preponderance of evidence shows…”

    I guess it worked.

  • 4. Joe Mama  |  May 8, 2008 at 6:08 am

    is this true?
    every year there is a conference in a near by city has three lectures a few weeks before the test. Every year one of the three lectures is the DBQ for that year’s test. the conferences topics this year were: the 60’s, electoral college/jaskonian, and Consolidation of Racism.

    if not what do you think the dbq will be?

  • 5. Siilenced  |  May 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for the TIPS..

    they helped much..

    and the Test is Today …but ..woke up early to jog Memory

    ^ ^

    wish us luck…..


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