The AP US History DBQ: What You Should Know

The AP US History DBQ: What You Should Know

Many test takers dread the AP US History DBQ, but there’s no need to fear! By knowing what to expect, you can come prepared for success.

AP US History DBQ Format

The AP US History DBQ consists of one essay question. You will have 55 minutes to complete the essay, which will count for 25% of your overall exam score.

You will be presented with an essay question, followed by a series of documents (typically 7) related to the theme of the question. These documents can be:

  • texts
  • maps
  • photographs
  • political cartoons
  • other artwork

You will be expected to use information from the documents as well as your outside knowledge to construct an essay response to the question. Your response should be a persuasive essay and must include a thesis statement backed by evidence.

AP US History DBQ Requirements and Scoring

In writing your essay, you must:

  • Have a strong thesis statement that directly answers the question asked and takes a clear position
  • Develop a cohesive argument in which you support your thesis with multiple pieces of strong, relevant evidence
  • Cite information from all or all but one of the documents (so if there are 7 documents, you have to use at least 6)
  • For each document, include analysis of its author’s point of view, purpose, intended audience, and/or historical context
  • Include outside information not found in the documents
  • Place your argument and evidence within a larger historical context (contextualization)
  • Make connections between the given topic and another time period, theme, or discipline (synthesis)

The DBQ is worth 25% of the overall APUSH exam score. The essay is graded on a 7-point rubric. You will receive one point for meeting each of the above seven requirements. Learn more about the rubric here.

AP US History DBQ Strategy

You have a total of 55 minutes to complete this essay. It is recommended that you spend 15 minutes planning and 40 minutes writing. Here’s how to spend that time:

  1. Read the question carefully. Make sure you understand what it is asking. Some questions have multiple parts. Be sure to address them all. Think about what you already know about the topic before you get into the documents.
  2. Read each document and take brief notes (quick bullet point reminders) about the main ideas and arguments.
  3. Decide on your argument and draft your thesis statement. Make sure you take a clear position and that you address all parts of the question.
  4. Make an outline. Figure out the main points of your argument and devote one paragraph to each. Include brief notes on which documents and outside information support each point. Make sure you follow a logical plan of organization that helps the reader follow your line of thinking as you convey your argument.
  5. Write! Follow your outline to make sure you stay organized. Include an intro and a conclusion.
  6. Check it over. Make sure you leave yourself a few minutes at the end to re-read and edit what you’ve written.

For even more tips on acing the AP US History DBQ, check out our DBQ essay guide.

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  • Sarah Bradstreet

    Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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