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.
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 Students are provided with 7-12 historical documents and must use their content to write a thesis-driven essay that answers a prompt.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Here are key details about the historical documents provided on the DBQ: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 purpose of a DBQ essay is to test the individual’s ability to identify and analyze patterns, issues, and trends from historical documents.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:
Key aspects of the format include:
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.
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:
Read and familiarize yourself with the essay question before looking at the documents so you know what you are looking for.
Read over the documents and identify patterns (or lack of), rhetoric, and other relevant information that relates to the essay question.
Once you have collected evidence and have an argument, write your thesis statement.
Ensure that you create an outline for your essay before you begin writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and make writing easier.
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.
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.
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.
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:
To write a successful Document-Based Question response, you would need to:
Some examples of outside information you could provide:
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.
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.
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:
Here is an overview of the rubric for the DBQ essay:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!