|How to Crack an APUSH Document Based Question (DBQ)
1. Planning and Prewriting (15 minutes)
A. Read the question carefully to determine what it is asking. Look for key command words. Is there more than one part to the question? You must understand the question in order to answer it.
B. Think first of the question as if it were a standard free response essay. Try to recall anything you know about the topic. Write brief notes in the margin. Plan a possible answer.
C. Now scan the documents. Get an idea of what each is about. Look at the author and the date. Underline or circle key words, phrases, author and date. What is the context of each? Are the documents selected trying to “trigger” other information? If so, what? Look for “invisible elephants.”
D. Re-read the question. Double check to be absolutely certain you understand what it is asking. Home in on the question.
E. Now go back and carefully re-read each document. How do the documents inter-relate? Rip the heart out of each. Summarize each in one line in your own words in the margins.
F. STOP. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Outline your answer. Plan. Think. Relax. Combine both the documents and outside information in the margins or wherever space permits. Form your thesis. Organize the data to prove the thesis. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. ONCE YOU HAVE DONE THIS, THE WRITING WILL EASILY FOLLOW.
2. Writing the Essay (45 minutes)
A. Do NOT merely paraphrase the documents! This is a cardinal sin. Evaluate the evidence and use it to prove your thesis. Ask what it means. Rearrange by topics, subjects, or chronology. Avoid excessive (any?) quotations.
B. You must use outside information either to interpret the document or to place them in context or to supplement information in the documents. Failure to include outside information automatically places your essay 4 or lower.
C. Make your thesis specific. Show awareness of the complexity and subtlety of the documents and the question. Be certain your introduction contains your thesis and your essay consistently follows it.
D. Do any of the documents contradict each other or widely held beliefs about an event or person? If so, account for the discrepancy in your essay.
E. If an opinion expressed in the documents is questionable, then criticize it. Sources are real, but the are not necessarily reliable or 100% accurate. Again, who is the author? What do you know about the author? Why might the author hold the view expressed in the document? When was the document produced? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
F. Refer to the documents by title or cite by letter (Document A) or both if this makes you feel more comfortable.
G. Use transitions at the end of each paragraph or at the beginning of the next.
H. Write as neatly and as legibly as possible. Print if your handwriting is impossible to read. Avoid excessive scratch-outs & arrows to other blocks of text. Appearances tend to make conscious or subconscious impressions.
K. Write essays only in black ballpoint pen. No pencils or odd colored pens.
L. Proofread if time permits.