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How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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What’s Covered:

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:

dbq thesis example

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. 

dbq thesis example

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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

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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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6 APUSH DBQ Examples to Review

Every subject is easier to study using concrete examples; APUSH essays are no exception. The data-based question, or DBQ, differs from typical essays in only one way – the inclusion of five to seven historical documents. Your goal is to read through each historical document, then write an essay that clearly answers the given prompt while demonstrating your overall understanding of APUSH content. The following sources for APUSH DBQ examples are helpful to review before beginning your own writing .

What should I look in each APUSH DBQ sample?

In each sample, study how each author:

  • formulates a thesis
  • constructs an argument
  • analyzes historical documents
  • provides additional examples
  • uses evidence to support argument
  • synthesizes information

APUSH DBQ Example #1: AP College Board

College Board is always the best source for up-to-date information and resources. This APUSH DBQ sample is from 2016 , but provides three different variations of student responses. You can see how and why which writing sample scored best, as well as determine how to incorporate those elements into your own writing. ( Examples from 2015 are also available.)

APUSH DBQ Example #2: AP US History Notes

Although this site doesn’t explain why each sample is successful, it does offer a large selection of examples to choose from. You can get a good sense of what type of writing goes into a high-quality essay. Read through both the DBQ and long essay examples.

APUSH DBQ Example #3: Kaplan Test Prep

Kaplan only provides one APUSH DBQ sample , but does go through the essay point by point, explaining how the author develops a well-supported argument. Another good view into the inner workings of a quality writing example.

APUSH DBQ Example #4: Khan Academy

If you haven’t already, visit Khan Academy. Khan’s Historian’s Toolkit is a four-part video series that not only explains how to approach the DBQ, but also deconstructs the thinking behind a question example. Definitely worth a look.

APUSH DBQ Example #5: Apprend

Although rather lengthy, the DBQ and rubric breakdown from Apprend is a comprehensive look into how a DBQ response can earn top points and why. Options are given for each step of the writing process, enabling you to see the best possible answer for all sections of the essay.

APUSH DBQ Example #6: Your Classroom

Looking for more examples? One of the easiest places to find APUSH DBQ samples is in your own classroom. Ask your current APUSH teacher to view previous students’ writing samples. As you know by now, reviewing other students’ work can be a very powerful and effective way to study for DBQ.

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Advanced Placement (AP)

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The dreaded DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on the AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you will be asked to analyze some historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources, or "documents," as evidence.

The DBQ is an unfamiliar type of in-class essay for many students, but it does not need to be a source of dread or panic. In this guide I'll go over the DBQ's purpose and format, what the documents are and how to use them, how this type of essay is scored, and how to prepare. I'll tell you everything you need torock this unique type of essay!

Note: The rubric, guidelines, and skills tested for all of the History APs are identical; only the historical source material is different.

The DBQ Essay Explained

As a veteran of the DBQ, I'm here to answer all your questions. Why do the AP History exams even have a document-based question? What will it look like on the exam? What are these documents, anyways? Let's dive right in.

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This baby is too young to be diving into the DBQ!

Why the DBQ?

The point of the document-based question is not to torment you but actually to put you in the historian's shoes as an interpreter of historical material. Cool, right?

The DBQ is testing your ability to:

  • create a strong thesis and support that thesis with the aid of the documents provided
  • analyze sources for characteristics such as author's point of view, the author's purpose, the audience, and context
  • make connections between the documents
  • bring in outside knowledge to strengthen the argument

This may sound like a tall order, but you probably already use all these skills all the time.

Here's an example:

Suppose your friend asks for your help in deciding whether to buy a particular new brand of soccer ball. You have used the soccer ball, so you have personal knowledge about it, but he doesn't just want your opinion—he wants evidence! (Your friend takes buying soccer balls very seriously).

So first, you collect information (your "documents"). These could include:

  • online reviews of the soccer ball
  • your brother's opinion
  • the price at the store
  • the cost of other soccer balls
  • ads for the soccer ball

Next, you'll analyze these "documents" to make a decision about whether the ball is a good purchase for your friend or not. For that, you might:

  • Assess bias (also known as the author's point of view): Maybe the soccer ball ad isn't the most objective measure of the ball's quality. Maybe your brother hates soccer.
  • Consider the author's audience: Maybe that review of the soccer ball was written for professional soccer players, and you want to know how it is for casual players!
  • Think about the context of your friend's decision: What time of year is it? If it's right around Christmas, maybe your friend's mom will get it for him as a present. What you already know about soccer is part of the context as well--you know your friend won't want a ball that's too bouncy, for example.

the-ball-488700_640.jpg

Buying the right soccer ball might have higher stakes than the AP exam.

If you were going to go back and write an essay for your friend about this after you've reviewed your "documents," your thesis might be something like one of these examples:

  • "This soccer ball is a good purchase for my friend because it has all the elements of a good soccer ball at a great price point."
  • "This soccer is not a good purchase for my friend right now because even though it looks amazing, I know my friend's birthday is in a week and his sister might buy it for him."

Then you would use the "documents" and your outside knowledge (for example, your experience with the soccer ball and your knowledge about soccer) to support that claim.

That's a document-based question! In fact, I would assert that the DBQ is the easiest essay to score highly on in the AP History exams. As overwhelming as it might be now to think about all of that information getting thrown at you at once, think of it this way:

Instead of relying primarily on your knowledge, the DBQ gives you a bunch of sources to use in your analysis. This means you don't have to be worried you'll waste five minutes racking your brain trying to remember the name of that guy who did that thing. It's important to bring in some outside information for a top score, but the main thing you need to do is analyze.

95% of the info you really need is there. You just have to learn how to use it.

Let's move on to test formatting so you know what to expect from document-based questions.

What Does the DBQ Format Look Like?

Each of the AP history tests has one DBQ, and it is always the first question in the test booklet for the writing section (Part II of the exam). When you open your booklet and turn to the DBQ, you will see the instructions, the prompt, and then the documents.

You will have a 15-minute reading period, with a recommended 40 minutes of writing time. The test has two essays, and you will have 90 minutes total to plan and write them. You won't be forced to move on from one essay to the other, so be sure to budget your time carefully.

You are not required to use the entire reading/planning period. You can begin writing whenever you wish. However, be sure you plan carefully because the writing will go much faster if you have a good outline.

That covers the general format, but no doubt you want to hear more about these mysterious documents. Stay tuned!

What's the Deal With These Documents?

You will receive up to seven sources. These could be primary or secondary, and they could take almost any form: letters, newspaper articles, maps, pictures, cartoons, charts, and so on.

You will need to use all or all but one of the documents in your essay. You should go further in-depth on at least four of the documents. (See the rubric breakdown section below for more details).

For US History, no DBQ will focus exclusively on the time period prior to 1607 or after 1980, although they may focus on a broader time period that includes one of those time periods.

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Don't worry, they won't be original copies.

Now that we've discussed the purpose, format, and document protocol of the DBQ, we need to discuss scoring.

How Is the DBQ Scored?

How much is the DBQ worth on your exam? And how do those pesky AP graders even score it?

How Much Is the Document-Based Question Worth?

The DBQ is 25% of your total grade. The entire second section of exam is 50% of your grade, and there are two equally weighted essays.

What Does the Rubric Mean?

The rubric the graders use is freely available to you on the College Board website.

  • Click here for the AP DBQ grading rubric .

Don't worry if these look like gibberish to you. I'll break it down briefly here, and go even more in-depth on my article about how to prepare for and write a DBQ .

DBQ Rubric Breakdown

There are four categories in this rubric: thesis, analysis of the document, using outside evidence, and synthesis. You can score up to seven points.

Thesis and Argument—2 points

Rubric_part1.png

The breakdown:

  • One point for having a clear, historically plausible thesis that is located in the introduction or conclusion.
  • You can get another point here for having a particularly good thesis that presents a nuanced relationship between historical factors, and doing a good job supporting that thesis in your essay.

Document Analysis—2 points

Rubric_part_2.png

  • One point for using 6-7 of the documents in your essay. Easy-peasy.
  • author's point of view
  • author's purpose
  • historical context

Just be sure to tie any further analysis back to your main argument!

Using Outside Evidence—2 points

Rubric_part_3.png

  • One point is just for context—if you can locate the issue within its broader historical situation. You do need to write several sentences about it but the contextual information can be very general.
  • One point is for being able to name an additional specific example relevant to your argument that is not mentioned in the documents. Don't stress if you freeze up and can't remember one on test day. This is only one point and it will not prevent you from getting a 5 on the exam.

Synthesis—1 point

Rubric_part_4.png

  • All you need to do for synthesis is relate your argument about this specific time period to a different time period, geographical area, historical movement, etc.
  • It is probably easiest to do this in the conclusion of the essay.

Still with me? Just remember: the most important thing is having a strong thesis that is supported by the information in the documents and whatever other related information you have around in your brain.

If you are an auditory learner, I recommend this video , which breaks down all the components you need to get a seven.

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!

Parting Thoughts on Scoring

If this seems like a lot to take in, don't worry. You don't have to get a perfect score on the DBQ to get a five on the AP. Somewhere in the 5-6 range can definitely get you there. To get a 3 on the exam (which still gives you course credit at a lot of colleges), you only need a 3 on the DBQ. (See page eight of this DBQ rubric document .)

Additionally, overall historical accuracy is important but not 100% necessary for every tiny detail of the essay. Anything that is in the documents should be correct, but when you start to bring in outside sources for your DBQ essay on unionization and working conditions and you can't remember if the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was in 1911 or 1912, just pick one and don't sweat it. If minor details are incorrect and don't detract from the overall meaning of the essay, you won't lose points.

Now that you understand the purpose, format, and rubric for document-based questions, I'll give you some tips on how to get the score you're aiming for.

How Can I Rock the DBQ?

Two things will help you crush the DBQ: prepping beforehand, and hitting all the right notes on test day!

jimi-1089298_640.png

Rock the DBQ like Jimi rocked the 1960s.

Preparing for the DBQ

As you might expect, the most important thing you can do to prepare is to practice writing this type of essay.

  • Try out the practice DBQs available online at the College Board website: look here for AP US History (and here for a complete APUSH practice test ), here for AP European History , and here for AP World History . You don't necessarily have to write an entire essay every time you practice—it's also helpful to read the question and texts and then create outlines with a thesis.

Ask a trusted teacher or advisor to look over your practice drafts and/or outlines with the rubric and advise what you might be missing.

Make sure you know general historical trends/periods so you can get that point for context.

You can find more prep tips in my article on how to write a DBQ .

During the Test

  • Read the question carefully . Make sure you know what is being asked before you start trying to answer.
  • While you read the documents, take notes on what they mean, who is writing, etc.
  • Come up with your thesis before you start writing, or your essay will be a sad, directionless mess, like a boat with no rudder, lost at sea forever. If you aren't sure of your thesis yet, brainstorm in your notes—not while you are writing.
  • Once you have a thesis, stay on topic. If you're writing about how Smaug wrecked the Forbidden Mountain, don't start talking about how amazing and clever Bilbo is, even if it's true.
  • Make sure you use all the documents—doing so gets you easy points.
  • However, don't simply regurgitate sources with no analysis. If you find yourself doing a lot of "Source A says blah, and Source B says blah, and Source C says blah..." make sure you are using the documents to make a point , and not letting the documents use you.
  • A great way to analyze the documents is to make connections between them! Who agrees? Who disagrees? Why?
  • Don't forget to provide context, one outside example, and a connection to another period/area/historical theme if you can! That's three points right there.

And there you have it! You are ready to start prepping for success.

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Abraham Lincoln believes in you!

Final Thoughts

I know I just threw a lot of information at you. So here are some key takeaway points:

  • The document-based question is a way for the AP to test your skills as a historian!
  • Don't panic! It doesn't have to be overwhelming, even though you are getting tons of information thrown at you in a short time.
  • The DBQ is based on skills that you can learn and practice: writing a strong thesis, using given evidence to support an argument, making connections between different documents and pieces of evidence, placing specific information in a broader context, analyzing an author's intent, bias, audience, etc.

What's Next?

Need more study resources for AP World History ? See our Best AP World History Study Guide or get more practice tests from our complete list.

Need more resources for AP US History ? Try this article on the best notes to use for studying from one of our experts. Also check out her review of the best AP US History textbooks !

Or just looking for general information about your upcoming APs ? See here for instructions on how to register for AP exams , complete AP test dates , and information on how much AP tests cost (and how to get AP financial aid).

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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dbq thesis example

How to Write a DBQ

dbq thesis example

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?

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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.

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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.

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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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  1. AP World History: Sample DBQ Thesis Statements

    Learn how to write a strong thesis statement for a DBQ (document-based question) in AP World History. See examples of effective and ineffective thesis statements and tips for analyzing the documents and the question.

  2. PDF 2022 AP Student Samples and Commentary

    Learn how to write a thesis/claim, provide contextualization, and use evidence from documents for a DBQ on imperialism and Asian and African economies. See examples of student essays and commentary from the College Board.

  3. DBQ Thesis Formula (With AP World & APUSH Thesis Examples!)

    If you're not sure how to write a DBQ thesis, check out this post for a failproof DBQ thesis formula and AP World History and APUSH DBQ thesis examples! If you're taking AP World History or AP United States History and feel unsure about how to approach the DBQ thesis, you've come to the right place!

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

    Learn how to prepare and write a successful DBQ essay for AP History exams with this comprehensive guide. Find out how to establish a baseline, practice skills, break down the rubric, and plan your essay.

  5. AP World DBQ Contextualization and Thesis Practice

    DBQ Student Practice Sample 5. In the years leading up to 1450, The Mongols gained power all over Afro-Eurasia through their harsh warfare lead by Genghis Khan. The Mongols controlled many of the trade routes such as the Silk Roads. When they eventually fell they split up into 4 Khanates spread out over Afro-Eurasia.

  6. PDF 2019 APUSH DBQ Sample Responses

    See how to write a DBQ thesis and analyze documents for the 2019 APUSH exam. Compare five sample essays with different approaches and scores on the topic of political reform in the Progressive Era.

  7. The Ultimate APUSH DBQ Guide: Rubric, Examples, and More!

    Learn how to write a persuasive essay using documents and outside information for the APUSH DBQ, which is worth 25% of your exam score. See the official rubric and examples of past DBQ prompts and answers.

  8. Where to Find the Best DBQ Examples

    Find official College Board sample essays for the DBQ (document-based question) on AP European History, AP US History, and AP World History exams. Learn how to use the sample essays to prepare for the DBQ format, scoring, and content.

  9. PDF AP® UNITED STATES HISTORY

    Question 1 — Document-Based Question Explain the reasons why a new conservatism rose to prominence in the United States between 1960 and 1989. A. Thesis: 0-1 point Skills assessed: Argumentation + Causation States a thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question. The thesis must do more than restate the question. 1 point

  10. AP US History DBQ example 1 (video)

    AP US History DBQ example 1. Google Classroom. Microsoft Teams. About. Transcript. The document-based question (DBQ) is one of two main essays on the AP US History exam and usually requires analyzing changes or continuities over time in US history. In this video, learn about the structure of DBQs and tips and tricks to help you succeed on this ...

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    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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    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. ... Sample complex thesis: While some cultural traditions and belief systems, such as Confucianism, actively warned against the accumulation of ...

  16. 6 APUSH DBQ Examples to Review

    APUSH DBQ Example #1: AP College Board. College Board is always the best source for up-to-date information and resources. This APUSH DBQ sample is from 2016, but provides three different variations of student responses. You can see how and why which writing sample scored best, as well as determine how to incorporate those elements into your own ...

  17. How to WRITE a THESIS for a DBQ & LEQ [AP World, APUSH, AP Euro]

    Resources from Heimler's History: To master all the WRITING SKILLS you need, get my ESSAY CRAM COURSE: +AP Essay CRAM Course (DBQ, LEQ, SAQ Help): https://bi...

  18. PDF AP European History

    Question 1 — Document-Based Question Maximum Possible Points: 7 "Evaluate whether or not the Catholic Church in the 1600s was opposed to new ideas in science." Points Rubric Notes Thesis/Claim (0-1) Responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning. (1 point)

  19. PDF 2019 AP Euro DBQ Sample Response by Tom Richey

    SAMPLE RESPONSE A (7/7) Public Condemnation. Private Openness. Jesuit Inquiries. Doc 4 - Galileo OI - Vesalius. Doc 1 - Criticism of Copernicus Doc 2 - Cardinal open to empirical demonstration Doc 5 - Private praise from pope. Doc 3 - Wants Academic Freedom Doc 6 - Jesuits playing w/ Telescopes Doc 7 - Jesuits vs. Descartes.

  20. What is a DBQ? The Document-Based Question Explained

    The Document-Based Question Explained. The dreaded DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on the AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you will be asked to analyze some historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources, or "documents," as evidence.

  21. 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.