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  • Writer's pictureAmani Alvi

Tips on Acing the DBQ for the AP Test- Preparation and Thesis

I recently got a 5 on the APUSH AP test. The College Board gave a different AP test than normal because of the COVID-19 circumstances. The AP test was one Document Based Question (DBQ). I have a lot of experience writing DBQ's with not only AP US History, but with AP World history as well and I have learned how to get perfect scores on them. Here are some very helpful tips that I have used to help me score a 5 on APUSH and AP World History. I will also link my graphic organizer that I use. I am going to teach you how to fully maximize your 15-20 minute planning period and the thesis.

  1. Read the prompt actively: Circle the time period and underline the historical thinking skill (compare and contrast, cause and effect, continuity and change over time).

  2. Brainstorm for 1 minute: Anticipate 3 reasons for your body paragraphs and 2-3 pieces of evidence for each. This tip has been so beneficial to me. Often times, I get caught up in the documents. I forget what pieces of outside evidence are relevant to the prompt after I read the documents. This tip helps me make sure that I keep relevant evidence in my paper.

  3. Read the source of the document: We can get so much information just from doing this first. Circle the year the document and underline who the document was written by. By keeping this in mind, I could easily put the document into historical context or its point of view.

  4. Read the documents: Keep in mind the main idea of the document and how you could source it. Write down the main idea right next to it and what you could use for sourcing. If you think of any pieces of outside evidence, write them down.

  5. Sourcing: In order to source the document, I used the acronym HAPPY. From personal experience, I found it the easiest to use historical context and point of view.

H=Historical Context- This is probably one of the easiest ways to source the document. Look at the time period and point out a historical event that would make it better to understand what is happening in the document.

A=Audience- This one is a bit harder. In order to achieve the point for sourcing, you have to use a vocabulary term. Think about who the document was written for. You cannot just say the document was written for the people in the state. You would have to be very specific to get the point.

P=Purpose- Think about what the author's goal was in writing/making this document. Remember to use a vocabulary term.

P= Point of View- Who would write this document? Why is their point of view relevant and how does their point of view affect their beliefs?

Y (Does not stand for anything)

6. Brainstorm and write contextualization: Contextualization becomes easy once you understand how to do it. Write down 3 events that would put whatever you are going to write about in context. First, start off with the event that is about 100 years before the time period. Then, have 1 specific event from a little bit more recent time. Finally, have a transition event that would most clearly put your thesis into context. Make sure not to include anything in the contextualization that you are including in your essay. An example of contextualization for a prompt about slavery in the 1800s may include talking about the Atlantic Slave Trade first, then the 3/5 Compromise, then the Missouri Compromise.

7. Write the thesis: Make sure to use 3 BROAD reasons. Do not add evidence into your thesis. I was taught to write a complex-split thesis which argues two reasons and a counterpoint. For example, "One way US foreign policy stayed the same is that it tried to keep an isolationist policy. However, US foreign policy changed in that they increasingly engaged in diplomatic affairs. Additionally, Americans foreign policy changed in that they sought to protect their economy and trade. Therefore, American foreign policy changed more than not." Notice how this example is multiple sentences and points out changes and continuities. By writing a thesis like this, it will be easier to earn the "Complexity" point.

Make sure to check out the DBQ organizer I have linked below. The most important thing is to use these tips and not to panic while you are writing. Be on the lookout for my next couple posts on how to write the rest of the DBQ.

DBQ organizer
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