Since I am posting this guide under a pseudonym and have no credential-based statistics, my "credentials"-or ethos- are as followed:
- Dartmouth Undergraduate
- 2280 SAT
- 5 on AP Euro/AP World Exam (taken in same year)
I am here to offer a guide for struggling European History or World History students who aim for a 5 on their AP exam. It is certainly possible to still earn a 5 without achieving a 9 on any of the essay portions, but we can all agree that earning a 9 can dramatically increase one's chances for that desirable 5.
The DBQ essay can be very intimidating at first. However, the sooner you understand what the object of the DBQ is and what the authors/graders are looking for, it all comes down to how well you can comprehend the primary source documents.
This is how I define the DBQ (this type of mentality can also dramatically increase your score): An essay where you simply organize 10-12 documents into 3 categories (4 if you want, but it doesn't substantially increase your score), analyze the author's opinion/perspective, and ask yourself: "What does his or her title/position/job tell me about his perspective?".
For some, the only concern is analyzing POV (point-of-view) for the documents. For others, it may be doing the whole essay itself, so I will write my own personal strategy for the entire process of writing a successful DBQ as well as analyze some of the 2011 AP Euro DBQ.
Read the Historical Background. It can really help give you a perspective into the time period and possible tips for POV's. Here is an example from the 2011 Ap European History DBQ. *Note: I have not read through the DBQ, I am almost literally going through process as if I were doing the DBQ as I am writing this guide.
"Elizabeth I of England (reigned 1558-1603) was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Following the reigns of her half siblings, Edward VI and Mary I , Elizabeth I ascended to the throne at age twenty-five."
We can get a lot of information from this 2-sentence excerpt.
- General summary of the documents --> Something about Elizabeth I of England who ascended to the throne at age 25. We can assume there will probably be conflicting documents about how people felt about her rise to power or what she was like as a ruler.
- Time period (1558-1603) --> Some historical background could help, but the documents will most likely clarify what was happening during this period.
- Family --> This is where outside information can help you. Including outside information about her family and possible influences on Elizabeth will always help you. Any outside information even somewhat related can help you.
- Age she began ruling --> 25 seems like a somewhat young age. So this is good information to keep in mind while reading through the perspectives of documents.
As you can tell, there are 4 big points you can gain simply from the background.
Read all the documents and categorize them into 3 -four if you deem necessary- categories. This part solely relies on your ability to comprehend what the author of the document is saying and his perspective. I can't really help much in this step, but here is a simple list of things to watch out for:
- Negative terms: "against, may not, utterly impossible" etc.
- Sarcasm (My favorite to date I remember in a DBQ about imperialism: "philanthropy is great, but philanthropy at five-percent is even better." Not quite sarcasm, but the author is saying that philanthropy is great, but also earning a 5% interest is even better. It's an economic/humanitarian perspective.
- Prolonged sentences and excessive adjectives. Try and cut down the sentence in your mind if you can. Sometimes documents are in such a hatred tone that they will take 15 words to describe how awful something/someone is and arrive at the point much later.
As for defining categories, generally you should just try and fill these ubiquitous templates since they work 99% of the time.
- Humanitarian (White Man's Burden)
- Intellectual Development
These 8 categories will generally fit every DBQ the collegeboard can conjure up.
Step 3: (Least favorite amongst all)
Now let's get into analyzing author perspectives. I remember my history teacher had a hard time trying to explain this, and when I tutored students in AP History, I did as well. This skill I call the "weeder". It really distinguishes between students who can make connections, and those can cannot. POV, in my opinion, is simply the ability to make the connections. I find that using the template: " It makes sense that ______ (person) holds this position because he is ______" helps get the thoughts flowing.
Let's analyze a document from the 2011 DBQ that we talked about earlier.
In document 2, Nicholas Heath, archbishop of York, is against the leadership of Elizabeth. Since Heath is an archbishop, he has most likely read the bible and interpreted the role of women as inferior compared to men. * Being the religions man Heath is, it makes sense for him to be against the leadership of a woman.
* When talking about the bible, it is easy to blame the position of a person based on his/her interpretation of the bible since there is infinite number of the ways to interpret the bible.
I think the main problem for most students is that they over-think the POV. Some may question the validity of my example of POV, but it clearly works since I consistently received 8 - 9's on my DBQ's in class and on the AP Exam. POV is more straightforward and making the connections.
I do have one possible "trick" for how to do a lot better on the POV. Go to art museums and buy/listen to the art descriptions. There are constant POV analyses of art in these recordings and it could very well help you better understand how to analyze an author's -or in this case painter's- POV.
That is all I have to offer for the DBQ. Other than what I have said above, the only other way to get better is: practice, practice, practice. It may be hard/intimidating at first, but if you stick with it and work hard, it will pay off.
Good night, and good luck. (High-five to anyone who gets the reference.) :)
Post edited by maxconf on
5· Reply·Share on Facebook
Just like a touchdown and extra point, the new AP US History DBQ is worth seven points. The DBQ is 25% of your final score on the exam, so it is crucial for you to understand the changes to the rubric, as well as how to write the best DBQ possible.
Total Possible Points: 7
Thesis and Argument Development: 0-2 points
This strand of the rubric targets your historical argumentation skills. To do well on this strand, you must:
- Write a thesis that is “historically defensible” (i.e. that you can back up with historically accurate arguments. In other words, you must use facts)
- Respond to ALL parts of the question
- Use this thesis to develop a cogent argument that takes into account historical evidence AND demonstrates a relationship between different types of historical evidence
It is that last bullet point that may confound you the most. Remember, the question will be complex and ask about relationships between different types of evidence.
You may be asked to demonstrate how different types of evidence contradict one another, corroborate or strengthen one another, or change one another. The important thing is that you demonstrate a strong understanding of all the evidence as well as how each piece is related to the other.
A few more helpful tips…
You may be used to writing a standard five-paragraph essay with one opening paragraph, of which the thesis is the last line. Forget this style.
For a DBQ, you must locate your thesis in either the introduction OR conclusion of your essay, but remember: your intro and conclusion can be LONGER than one paragraph. This flexibility gives you room to write a thesis that explicitly addresses all parts of the question, makes an accurate and well-supported argument, and uses complex reasoning to illustrate historical relationships and reasoning. In other words, a thesis for a DBQ will never look like a spitback answer, like “World War One started on July 28, 1914.” You can expect your thesis to be longer than that, and in fact, the College Board takes into account that your thesis may well be longer than one sentence.
Document Analysis (0-2 points)
This strand of the rubric targets your ability to analyze evidence and use the evidence to support the argument laid out in your thesis.
The DBQ is comprised of multiple documents. These can include primary sources, secondary scholarship, images, text… You may not be familiar with all of the documents, but you must be able to use what you know (either background information or context clues from the documents themselves) in order to make a coherent historical argument that supports your thesis. You must use at least six of the documents to support your thesis.
Of those six, you must be able to explicitly explain four of the documents. An explicit explanation can comprise a discussion of:
- The point of view evinced in the document (what argument does this document support or negate?)
- The author’s purpose (what was the creator’s aim in writing or disseminating this document?)
- The historical context (where is this document coming from? What was it used for?)
- The audience (who was meant to see this document, and why?)
Again, all discussions of the documents must demonstrate that you can use the documents to strengthen your argumentand support your thesis.
Using Evidence Beyond the Documents: 0-2 points
This skill targets your ability to contextualize and argue historically.
There are two strands here. Contextualization means that you must locate your argument within a larger historical context; i.e. you must explain how the argument connects to other historical events or processes.
So if the question is about, for example, warfare during the Civil War versus the French and Indian War, you must give enough background information about one or both of those events to convince the grader that you know what you are talking about when you make claims about one or both of those processes.
- When contextualizing, you will be using information you already know. You cannot merely summarize the information that is already in the documents, but must instead give an account of the relevant historical time periods or evidence.
- To properly contextualize, you will need to write more than just one sentence. The College Board expects at least a paragraph of contextualization, if not more.
Related to contextualization is your ability to give evidence from beyond the documents themselves. In other words, though you may have used outside evidence in the previous strand (Document Analysis), you must now refer to additional evidence that explains the documents and their relationship to your broader historical argument. Don’t just summarize information you have already given.
Again, to do this properly, you must be able to write at least a paragraph giving additional context on the specific documents. One sentence will not cut it.
Synthesis (0-1 point)
The final strand is your ability to synthesize. This just means that you can show a relationship between your argument and a different type of argument.
Those different “types” of argument can comprise of:
- A relevant development in a different time period, situation, area, or era. (For example, if the argument is about President Lincoln’s suspension of certain liberties during the Civil War, you might want to point to President Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, President Roosevelt’s Alien Enemies Act, which was in fact an extension of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, and the continuing argument over government usurpation of civil liberties in the present day. These are relevant to one another and show continuity even though they happened in vastly different time periods in response to different issues.)
- A different approach to history (i.e. if your argument focuses on economic history, you may want to synthesize this with a social approach to history)
While the AP World and AP European history tests also award the synthesis point for your connection of your argument to a different field of study (anthropology, art history, government and politics, etc.), the AP US History exam will only award the synthesis point in the cases outlined by the bullet points above.
As with contextualization, you can only earn a point for synthesis if your synthesis is well-developed and clear. In other words, you must do more than merely refer to a different historical time period, development, process, or approach.
You must instead write a well-thought-out paragraph (at least) that demonstrates that you are familiar both with the event/issue about which you are writing the essay as well as the event/issue/process/approach you are attempting to synthesize.
Go do it!
The DBQ can seem daunting. You are supposed to be able to juggle multiple skills (argumentation, contextualization, periodization, synthesis… as well as actual content knowledge) and use them all at once to make a concrete argument.
However, the more you practice, the easier this will become. Do not put pressure on yourself to write a perfect DBQ on your first, second, or third try. This rubric is broken into component skills so that you can test yourself on each one. While they are all related – and while no knowledge exists in a vacuum – give yourself the freedom to focus on different skills each time you practice. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do a perfect job right away. Instead, focus on one or two skills at a time.
Some helpful tips…
Though this question tests your ability to think and describe relationships and arguments in context of one another, there is no replacement for content knowledge.
Flashcards that list the salient facts about a big event (or relevant document) can be very helpful here.
Don’t get hung up on trivia like dates or names; it’s more important to be able to describe the point of the Alien and Sedition Acts than to be able to list the date they were passed.
With enough practice, you will be able to make a well-supported historical argument in time for the AP exam. Spend time in and out of class practicing how to write these, and you might even come to enjoy the process come May.
For a more comprehensive article regarding the AP US History DBQ, be sure to check out our How-To Guide here.
Looking for AP US History practice?
Kickstart your AP US History prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.