An ap u. S. History Document-Based Question

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An AP U.S. History

Document-Based Question



What is a DBQ?

The AP U.S. History test consists of a multiple-choice section, a short-answer response section, a Document-Based Question section, and a “Long Essay” section.

The DBQ is an essay question that requires you to answer the question using the sources provided.
You are given a mandatory 60 minutes for the DBQ section, part of which should be spent as a reading period in which you should analyze and evaluate the documents and plan your answer to the DBQ. It's recommended that you spend 45-50 minutes writing the DBQ essay.
What kind of documents are in the DBQ?
Although confined to no single format, the documents contained in the DBQ rarely features familiar classic documents like the Emancipation Proclamation or Declaration of Independence, though the documents' authors may be major historical figures. The documents vary in length and format, and are chosen to illustrate interactions and complexities within the material. In addition to calling upon a broad spectrum of historical skills, the diversity of materials will allow students to assess the value of different sorts of documents.
When appropriate, the DBQ will include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. This gives you the chance to showcase your ability to assess the value of a variety of documents.
What is the purpose of the DBQ?
The DBQ usually requires that you relate the documents to a historical period or theme and show your knowledge of major periods and issues. For this reason, outside knowledge is very important and must be incorporated into the student's essay if the highest scores are to be earned. To earn a high score it's also very important that you incorporate the information you learned in your AP U.S. History class. The emphasis of the DBQ will be on analysis and synthesis, not historical narrative.
Your DBQ essay will be judged on thesis, argument, and supporting evidence. The DBQ tests your ability to analyze and synthesize historical data, and assess verbal, quantitative, or pictorial materials as historical evidence.

How do you answer a DBQ?

  1. Read the question carefully

    1. Read the question more than once

    2. Circle the tasks demanded of you

    3. Also circle the terms that are unique to the question

  2. Identify the question prompt and translate it

    1. Ask yourself what is it that you have to prove?

  3. Establish where you are standing in history and the world

Make a list (outline) of outside information (as if you were writing a standard essay).
Use a grid or chart to organize your information.

The AP United States History 2006 DBQ Question:

Discuss the changing ideals of American womanhood between the American Revolution (1770’s) and the outbreak of the Civil War. What factors fostered the emergence of “republican motherhood” and the “cult of domesticity”? Assess the extent to which these ideals influenced the lives of women during this period. In your answer be sure to consider issues of race and class. Use the documents and your knowledge of the time period in constructing your response.
The Potential Outside Information List: (alphabetic order)

“Ar’n’t I a woman . . .”

“Remember the ladies . . .”

”Turning out” (1830’s early strikes)

Abolitionist movement

Academy movement

Adams, Abigail

American Anti-Slavery Society

Anthony, Susan B.

Beecher, Catherine/Hartford Female Seminary

Bloomer, Amelia

Camp followers

Chandler, Elizabeth

Child, Lydia Maria

Cold Water Army

Crandall, Prudence

Cult of true womanhood

Daughters of Liberty

Declarations of Sentiments

Dix, Dorothea

Douglass, Frederick

Female missionary societies

Female Moral Reform Society

Garrison, William Lloyd

Godey’s Lady’s Book

Greater equality on the frontier

Grimke sisters

Home manufacturing

Immigrant women

Lee, Mother Ann

London Anti-Slavery Conference

Lowell girls

Lowell/Waltham factory system

Lyon, Mary/Mount Holyoke

Martha Washington societies


Mott, Lucretia

Mount Holyoke

Oberlin College


Phelps, Elizabeth

Philadelphia Young Ladies Academy

Pitcher, Molly


Putting-Out System

Sampson, Deborah

Second Great Awakening

Sedgewick, Catherine

Seneca Falls Convention

Separate spheres


Slave auctions

Sojourner Turner

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady

Stone, Lucy

Stowe, Harriet Beecher/Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Temperance movement

The Dial


(and there is still more . . .)

1. Read the documents quickly, but very carefully.
Note similarities and differences between the document authors and topic.

What is the tension between the documents?

Is there bias?

Look for the point of view of the author of each document.

Look for the tone of each document. (Is there sarcasm? disdain? admiration?)

Look very carefully at the date of each document.

Look for change over time in the documents.

Look for possible solutions in the documents.

**Remember that the documents are not necessarily facts. Many times the documents simply express an opinion or perception.
Reference author’s you are citing (e.g. …“In the letter by Abraham Lincoln”)

Cite every document used, e.g., (Doc. A), (Doc. F)

3. Do not make a laundry list of or cluster the documents.
It is not necessary to use the sources in a chronological order either.
4. Do not explain the documents—that is not your task!
Assume the reader of the exam knows the documents inside and out.

You have to use your sources to reinforce your main points and outside information.

Do not quote more than a line of the document. If you want to use more than one line of the document, paraphrase.
5. Do not make a document say something it doesn't really say.

The thesis must not simply a restatement of the question. The thesis statement is your answer the question/directive. It should be based on your stance or assessment of the patterns in the evidence that you see. (See: How to Write a Thesis Statement Handout and How to Develop a Stance Handout)
You thesis must be clear! If your thesis is a mystery to you, than it will be a mystery to the reader as well. Make your life easier and construct a thesis that includes most if not all of the documents. It is better to be “practical” than “right.”
Create a brief outline of how you plan to write your response using the 7-Paragraph method
Incorporate information from your inventory—begin to assign where specific information will go in your supporting arguments.
Incorporate where each document will go in your essay
Your essay should be an analysis of the documents and their content.
You are demonstrating analysis if you are doing the following:

a. The essay contains a thesis which divides your answer into categories.

b. The documents are used as evidence to support your thesis.

c. Frequent reference is made to the terms of the question.

d. Be certain that your answer is always focused directly on the question. Do not drift away from the question at hand.
Do not ramble.
Be certain that, if the question allows, you exploit all of the following in writing your answer:

a. Point of View—is both indicated and discussed from several angles.

b. Validity—of the documents is noted.

c. Change Over Time—is recognized and discussed (if this occurs in the documents)

An adequate introduction is provided to give a frame of reference.
Remember that there is no one right answer on the DBQ.

Cite specific evidence from the documents but avoid long quotations.

Include specific examples to support generalizations or to make distinctions.

Use a separate paragraph for each topic, issue, or argument.

Integrate information from the documents and outside knowledge in responding to the questions.
Do not ramble.

When writing a DBQ – never, ever, ever…
Offer a factual statement as a thesis – A factual statement might be a controlling statement, but a factual statement, by definition, can never be a thesis.
For example, do not write, “France suffered a major revolution in 1789.” This statement is factual & fits the definition of a controlling statement. A thesis is always embedded with controversy & forces people to take a position. A thesis is provocative & provokes people to argue a point.
Forget to cite your documents –For example, write, “Even Louis XV was aware of the impeding disaster (Doc 2.) & the king’s observation of 1774 reveals a gloomy sense of national doom & unavoidable catastrophe.”
Cluster documents together - For example never cite documents all together, such as (Docs. 2, 5, 7, & 9.) Document clusters represent lazy scholarship & leaves the reader with the impression that you lack the desire to individually analyze & interpret each document on an individual basis.
Use direct quotes – The purpose of the DBQ is for you to take on the role of a historian. You are no longer a history student. Quoting documents word for word leaves the reader with the impression that you have no idea what you are doing. Quoting documents demonstrates no original analysis, insight or creative interpretation. Quoting documents shows the reader you have absolutely no idea what the documents means & sends the message that you either do not understand the documents or that you are

too lazy to take the time to interpret the documents’ intent.

Use phrases like, “Document 17 says…” – or “it says in Document 15 that…” or “In Document 7 it says that…” In a DBQ use proper historical citation, integrating the name of the source & the author into the body of your writing. For instance, instead of writing, “It says in Document 12 that the horrible poverty in France’s most visible social problem…” write, “According to Author Young, author of Travels in France in 1978, 1788, & 1789…”
Reword, rephrase & restate the text of the documents – The purpose of a DBQ is for you to engage in critical thinking & original analysis of historical documents. When you simply restate the documents you leave the reader with the impression that all you can do is summarize & regurgitate historical narrative. The style of a DBQ is one of deep & provocative historical analysis, demonstrating original thinking, not gray & boring historical narrative. We all can read. We all have the documents in front of us. Create,

don’t reword: think, don’t restate: write, don’t copy. Find your own original historical voice.

What do AP Graders have to say about the DBQ?
Frank Warren, a history professor at Queens College and a former Chief Faculty Consultant for AP U.S. History, offers the following suggestions for writing a good response to a document-based question (DBQ) or free-response essay question.
Write More Often

AP students need to write, and to write often. This practice is an excellent way to develop the skill of casting a thesis statement and marshalling evidence in support of a valid generalization.

Define Your Terms Where Necessary

Look especially at terms like liberal or conservative, radical or progressive. Be prepared to define other central terms, such as major change, that may appear to be obvious but can be ambiguous.

Start with a Clearly Stated Thesis

Some good essay writers begin with a thesis statement, back it up with supporting evidence from documents and outside knowledge, and, if time permits, restate the thesis at the end. Other writers analyze the material and build up logically to their thesis statement. On an AP Exam, you should use whichever method you feel most comfortable with. In any case, exam day is probably not a good time to experiment with a new, unfamiliar method of writing.

Organize Your Response Carefully

In addition to having a strong thesis, it is a good idea to have a guiding organizational principle—a stated agenda for making your point. Try to integrate your outside information into your response. Your exam shouldn't read as if you threw in a few tidbits of outside information at the end.

Make Sure Thesis Matches Assessment & Knowledge

Many good essay writers demonstrate a sense of complexity in the documents, showing that most of the evidence may point in one direction but that part of the evidence points in a different direction. It is better, however, to support a clear, simple thesis than to create artificially a complexity that you can't support using the documents or outside knowledge. Almost every essay—including the DBQ—is designed to allow the student to agree or disagree with the statement. Your ultimate goal should be to present a well-argued and well-supported thesis, not merely to give the people scoring the essay what you think they want.

Build an Argument

The best essays—in terms of arguing their case—are those that marshal the positive arguments in favor of their position but that also refute or answer possible rival theses. Even if you think a statement is completely true, it is better to confront and negate the evidence that seems to refute it than to ignore the counterevidence completely.

Integrate the Documents and Your Analysis

Don't merely explain what is stated in the documents. Rather, use the documents as part of an integrated essay in support of your thesis.

Don't Quote Large Portions of the Documents

The readers of the essays are already familiar with the documents. You can quote a short passage or two if necessary, to make your point, but don't waste time or space reciting them.

Choose Your Essays Wisely

Select the questions you are best prepared to answer. The questions that invite the easiest generalizations are not always the ones you should answer. As you read through the questions and make your choices, ask yourself for which of the questions are you best prepared to support your thesis.

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