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How to Write a DBQ Essay?

October 1, 2020
Richard Pircher

AP (Advanced Placement) examinations are standardized tests designed to evaluate how well American students have mastered the course and acquired skills on specific subjects. Most AP courses presuppose final paper-and-pencil tests at the end of the year, but some courses come with different ways to assess students’ knowledge. AP tests cover the full content of each course and give college students an opportunity to obtain college credits and placements.

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dbq essay

What Is a DBQ?

A DBQ essay is a type of academic paper written on the basis of a Document Based Question. It implies that students will have some documents to be used as sources of information for writing an essay. Since 2002, the DBQ essay format has been used to test college students for understanding historical development.

The time of US history usually covers a period from 1607 to 1980. At present, the DBQ method is also used to test students in AP European and world history, as well as social studies. The approach is the same, but sources of information are different. For writing DBQ essays, students are offered to analyze some historical events or problems based on the sources or materials provided.

The Purpose of A DBQ Essay

The point of document based question essays is that students are provided with seven documents to be analyzed and used to present evidence-based argumentation in their writings. Students have to formulate the thesis, which should be typically presented in the last sentence of the introduction. Further, this thesis has to be supported by evidence and historical facts. This test is aimed to evaluate the students’ abilities of:

  • Analyzing documents, taking into account their authors’ points of view, their purposes, and general context;
  • Formulating a strong thesis and substantiating it in an essay;
  • Using personal knowledge for supporting the thesis with additional facts.

However, students should not wholly rely on knowledge of historical facts during the test. They rather have to analyze the information contained in the provided documents. To successfully pass this test, students need to have the skills of logical thinking, as well as profound knowledge of civilization development, historical facts, and geographical regions. The task is to interpret historical material, draw conclusions based on existing knowledge, and answer the main question.

Preparing For The DBQ Essay

The DBQ test is based on the skills of historical analysis that you can acquire and put into practice. For writing a strong DBQ essay, you need to use the evidence provided to support an argument, make connections between different documents, and apply specific information in a broader context. Also, a historical essay with a Document Based Question answers the issues of the author’s intentions, general conditions, target audience, and so on.

It is recommended to practice writing this type of essays to be well prepared for the DBQ essays. When you exercise, you do not have to write a complete essay every time. The main point is to understand the main issue and related documents and then sketch out the thesis. Make sure you are aware of the general historical trends and periods.

The general flow of your preparation should include taking a practice of the DBQ test and focusing on analysis and exposing your suggestions in writing. How much you take the practice DBQs depends on how perfect preparation you need and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice to write DBQ essays so that this format becomes familiar to you, but not so much that you fail to apply other skills.

How to write a DBQ essay? Firstly, do not intend to fudge your way through the DBQ test by using only beautiful writing with no substance. Secondly, you should focus on the meaning of your essay. Thirdly, you can get your essay peer-reviewed online. Fourthly, ask somebody who has experience in this matter to review your practice with a DBQ essay. Listen to comments and ideas of that person to take these recommendations into consideration.

DBQ Outline

The process of writing a DBQ essay requires a proper outline. Plan how much time you can spend on each paragraph. Read the main question carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked. As you read the documents, take notes about what information they contain, who the author is, and which historical period it belongs to. Before you start writing, think about the thesis. The materials provided and your notes will help you compose a thesis.

Read the essential hints and objectives carefully. Make sure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what the instructors want to see in your essay. Most probably, you might be asked to analyze or explain the reasons for the historical development. Use your knowledge to compare and contrast different perspectives on a concept. Show how public opinion has changed over a specified period.

The outline to plan and write a DBQ essay is similar to an FRQ (Free Response Question) test, but your evidence should be based on the supplied documents. When you read these documents, ask yourself what grabs your attention and what is the background information on the topic (date, place, and surrounding situation). State the question with key terms. Tell what the reasons to prove your point of view are.

Think about the thesis or roadmap of what the essay will be about. Typically, a statement credited as evidence from outside the documents will be more specific and relevant to an argument, analogous to the function of evidence drawn from the papers. In the body paragraphs, outline sub theses based on the information from either documents or sources, as well as provide two to three examples. Each sub thesis should be grounded by evidence.

Support details for reasons with references to the specific documents or sources and connect your evidence to your thesis. In the central argument or conclusion, restate your thesis. It should not be its exact duplication, but a periphrasis of your thesis statement in differing words. Explain and not simply identify how or why the documents, their purposes, historical situation, and audience are relevant to an argument. In the end, clarify relevant and insightful connections across time and space and explain why the issue is significant today.

DBQ Essay Examples

If you are not sure of how to write a DBQ essay, you can always search and find good examples online. You can find them on the College Board website. This organization administers AP tests, and therefore, the provided DBQ essay samples can give you some prompts and responses to many questions. These samples are not only evaluated, but the score system is explained in accordance with the rubric.

Writing Tips to Succeed with Your DBQ Essay

The AP test typically consists of one or two DBQ essays, and 45 minutes is given to writing each of them. So, students have up to 90 minutes to draw up a plan and finish two papers. When you see the task for writing a DBQ essay, you will see instructions, a hint, and attached documents. Usually, up to seven different sources are provided. These can be newspaper clippings, articles, maps, drawings, photographs, and so on. However, you do not need to use all the documents, but at least four of them.

It is recommended that you first read the materials and schedule your time carefully. Organize these sources into categories and define how each document relates to your main question. Think about how to use documents to support your argument. If you are comparing different points of view, classify your sources based on opposing opinions.

Also, try to include relevant external information in your essay. You need to provide at least one piece of evidence besides the data from the provided documents. List some external evidence on a draft to refer to when writing your essay. As you write your DBQ essay, support your arguments with links to provided documents. Make sure that both your argument structure and supporting evidence back up your preliminary thesis.

You should describe how a particular event, movement, or somebody’s beliefs can support your statement. Outline the structure of your arguments in your DBQ essay. Start with your preliminary thesis and break your essay into multiple parts. In each of them, write one statement or element for the argument. Under each idea, list a few points supporting that part of your argument. Also, do not just cite sources without analysis.

Make sure you use documents to craft and highlight your point of view. Refine your thesis and make sure again that your thesis is clear, does not contain unnecessary words, and fully answers the main question. When writing an essay, general historical accuracy is essential, but not details. If minor details are not indicated correctly without affecting the general meaning, then this will not lead to a decrease in the overall test score.

How To Be Successful On The DBQ Test Day?

The matter of how to write a DBQ essay may seem challenging, but you are able to pass an AP test and get a high score provided that you have particular skills. It is recommended to get acquainted with the DBQ essay rubric that instructors use to evaluate AP tests. Information about this rubric can be found on the College Board website. It has four categories: abstracts, document analysis, use of third-party evidence, and synthesis.

You can get one point for the thesis and argument. An extra point is given for a perfect thesis presenting the close relationship between historical events and their causes. A strong thesis, supported by information from documents or any other source, is of great importance. Also, you need to reinforce this thesis in your paper. Demonstrate that you have generated a critical understanding of the given sources by focusing on what they mean rather than what they say.

Another three points are provided for the use of the maximum number of documents and their detailed analysis. This analysis refers to the authors’ points of view, target audience, or historical context. Be sure to reveal the connection between your research and your main argument. Providing an external example and establishing a link with another historical period or topic is estimated as one additional point. You are advised to give an extra specific example that is relevant to your argument.

When passing an AP History exam with a DBQ essay, you will lose one point out of seven if you do not relate your arguments to the broader historical context. Also, you will miss one point if you just mention sources or add quotes at random. You have to establish logical connections between the documents and the conclusions you draw.

For synthesis, you need to show the link between your arguments about a specific period with another historical time, social processes, geographic regions, etc. It is best done in the final part of your essay. This task will earn you one more point. In the end, take at least a few minutes to check everything and make corrections. Make sure the names, dates, and other facts are provided correctly.

Conclusion

Thus, the maximum number of points that you can get in the AP exam with DBQ essays is 7. For that, you have to clearly state your thesis, establish a broader historical context, support your argument with as many documents as possible, provide external evidence, and describe several points of view. However, you do not need to obtain the highest score to achieve your goals. You can get 5 or 6 points out of 7 on this exam, and it will be a success. Even 3 points can give you a credit score in many colleges.

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