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AP US History DBQ

A DBQ/FRQ Writing Guide

How the Exam Works.

The APUSH exam consists of two parts. Part 1 is the 80 question multiple choice section in which you have 55 minutes to complete. Part 2 consists of writing a total of three essays. The first essay is called the document-based question (DBQ) because you are given 9-13 documents which should be used to answer the essay prompt. The next two essays are the free-response questions (FRQ). You will be given four essay prompts to read. Two prompts are from pre-civil war era and the other two are from post-civil war era. Test takers are expected to write one essay from each set for a total of two essays. Timing for part 2 of the exam is as follows:

15 minutes - Mandatory reading for Document-Based Question (DBQ) and free-response questions.

115 minute - Essay writing. Which should be utilized in the fashion below.

  • 45 minutes - Essay writing for the DBQ
  • 35 minutes - Writing free-response to one of the questions in part A
  • 35 minutes - Writing free-response to one of the questions to part B

It is important to note that the DBQ is worth more than each of the FRQs, so more time should be spent on that essay. The essays are scored on a scale of 1 to 9. One being poor and 9 being great. These are the characteristics that each essay should have:

The 8-9 essay:

  • Contains a well-developed thesis that clearly addresses the nature of the question
  • Presents an effective analysis of both sides of the item in question; treatment may be uneven (the better essays try to devote about equal coverage to both sides)
  • Supports thesis with substantial and relevant information
  • Is clearly organized and well written
  • May contain minor errors
  • In a DBQ question, a substantial number of documents are used
  • In a DBQ question. significant outside information is also included in the response

The 5-7 essay:

  • Contains a thesis which addresses the topic of the question (limited development)
  • Has limited analysis and exhibits limited understanding of complexity
  • Is mostly descriptive
  • Deals with only one aspect of the question in some depth or deals with both aspects in a more general way
  • Supports thesis with some information
  • Shows evidence of acceptable organization and writing; language errors do not interfere with comprehension
  • May contain factual errors that do not seriously detract from the quality or argument of the essay
  • In a DBQ question, some documents are used effectively
  • In a DBQ question, supports thesis with some outside information

The 2-4 essay:

  • Presents a limited, confused and/or poorly developed thesis
  • Contains little or no analysis and is mostly descriptive
  • Deals with one aspect of the question in a general way or both aspect in a superficial way; simplistic explanation
  • Has minimal or irrelevant supporting information
  • Confusing organization and writing; organization and language errors interfere with comprehension
  • May contain major factual or interpretive errors
  • In a DBQ question, quotes or briefly cites documents
  • In a DBQ question, contains little outside information, or information that is generally comprehension

The 0-1 essay:

  • Contains no thesis, or a thesis which does not address the question
  • Exhibits inadequate or inaccurate understanding of the question (analysis is absent)
  • Contains no supporting information, or only irrelevant information
  • Is so poorly organized or written that it inhibits understanding
  • May simply paraphrase or restate the question
  • Contains numerous errors, both major and minor
  • In a DBQ question, exhibits little or no understanding of documents, or ignores them completely
  • In a DBQ question, offers inappropriate or no outside information

The Document-Based Question

Now that you know exactly what to expect during the exam lets cover how to write a very effective APUSH exam essay. I like to teach the essay writing in such a fashion that we break down each paragraph into smaller section and ultimately, give you a sentence by sentence guide on how to write the essay. Remember, all complex tasks are simply a series of simpler tasks. In reality, writing a very good APUSH essay is not difficult at all when you break it down. Being prepared and knowing what to expect on the exam is critical to doing well. So let’s get started.

The Five Paragraph Essay

When writing both the FRQs and DBQ you will be utilizing an essay writing style called the five paragraph essay. It is a very common academic essay style (so you might as well learn to write a good essay early!). The five paragraph essay consists of 5 paragraphs of 5-6 sentences each. Each sentence carries out a specific goal. In total your essay will consist of about 25-30 sentences. That shouldn't be too hard. The five paragraphs are as follows:

1. Introductory

2. Body

3. Body

4. Body

5. Conclusion

The next step in this guide we will show you exactly how to write the 5 paragraph essays, step by step, with emphasis on the DBQ/FRQs.

Standard AP US History Essay Template

Here is the template we will be using to explain how to write a very good APUSH essay.

Introductory Paragraph (4 sentences)

1. General Statement that relates to the question.

2. Establish basis for analysis.

3. Roadmap sentence (3 subtopics)

4. Clear thesis statement

Body Paragraph (5 sentences)

1. Topic Sentence (subtopic 1 from Intro)

2. Evidence 1 with significance/explanation

3. Analysis (relate to thesis)

4. Evidence 2 with significance/explanation

5. Analysis (relate to thesis)

Body Paragraph (5 sentences)

1. Topic Sentence (subtopic 2 from Intro)

2. Evidence 1 with significance/explanation

3. Analysis (relate to thesis)

4. Evidence 2 with significance/explanation

5. Expand (relate to thesis)

Body Paragraph (5 sentences)

1. Topic Sentence (subtopic 3 from Intro)

2. Evidence 1 with significance/explanation

3. Expand (relate to thesis)

4. Evidence 2 with significance/explanation

5. Expand (relate to thesis)

Conclusion Paragraph (4 sentences)

1. Remind how thesis was prove.

2. Round Off

The Introductory Paragraph

Sample Question: To what extent did the Civil War constitute a revolution in American society?

1. General Statement. Briefly introduce the reader to the subject.

  • Example: “The Civil War, occurring between the years 1861 and 1865, was the most devastating conflict in American history.”

2. Establish your basis for analysis: Using the topic from the question and what you wrote in your general statement, why is this topic worth discussing?

  • Example: “In many ways, the conflict forever altered the way Americans viewed their government and their nation.”

3. Provide roadmap sentences that establishes three major sub-topics you plan to discuss.

  • Example: "Constitutionally, the war established the supremacy of the federal government over the states. Politically, the war established the supremacy of the Republican Party in national politics for much of the next fifty years. And socially, the war saw significant gains in African American rights."

Writing tip: Remember, the AP US History exam is designed to teach students the social, political, economic and foreign relations history of the US. As such, the AP readers will expect you know to demonstrate this knowledge in your essay. The above example sentence uses two political based arguments (argument one relating to the constitution and argument two relating to political party politics). The final argument is relating to the social aspects of the Civil War. As the writer of the essay, you could also use an economic argument to discuss the social impacts of the civil war. Keep this in mind when writing your essays.

4. Finish paragraph with a clear thesis statement that establishes the purpose of the essay.

  • Example: "Therefore, the Civil War did, in fact, represent a revolution in American society."

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