Beth Gonzales

How to Prep for APUSH Essays

prep apush essays

Preparation is key to writing a quality APUSH essay. Knowing what and how to write are both skills that you can improve and cultivate through practice. Use the following suggestions to help you prep for your upcoming APUSH essays.

APUSH essays: long essay, short answer or DBQ?

APUSH exams actually contain three different types of essays: long essay, short answer and Data-Based Question (DBQ). Each asks you to analyze and synthesize historical data, but vary in response format and content. Visit AP College Board to take a closer look at individual APUSH essay requirements.

Short Answer Response: 3 questions, 40 minute response time

Technically, short answer is not an essay at all, but rather a paragraph (or two) that concisely explain your ideas on a topic or prompt. Even though you are not writing a full-length essay for this section, keep in mind that your response still needs to read coherently and maintain focus – just like a standard writing. Short answer responses require three individual answers (parts A, B, C), each worth one point.

Data-based Question Essay: 1 question, 60 minutes response time

The DBQ essay focuses on topics exclusively from periods 3-8. In this section, you are given a series of historical documents that you must cite as evidence throughout your essay. Documents come in various forms: written materials, illustrations, graphs, charts or pictures.

A successful DBQ answer demonstrates the relationship between the provided document and a historical time period or theme. Cite the documents as evidence as well as use them to formulate an argument or express an opinion in order to maximize your DBQ score.

Long Essay: 1 question, 40 minutes response time

An update for the 2017-18, you can now choose from a selection of three essay topics: periods 1-3, 4-6 or 7-9. Each APUSH essay option focuses on the same themes and writing requirements, so choose the time period that best fits your skill set.

The long essay section is exactly what you expect from a typical essay: topic sentence, body paragraphs that cite historical evidence, strong closing. Add more paragraphs as necessary, but never write less than 5. This is your opportunity to demonstrate the depth of your APUSH knowledge, as well as your ability to make connections between historical time periods and content.

How to prepare an APUSH essay format

Regardless of format, APUSH essay responses that fully answer the question prompt and cite evidence tend to score the best. However, if essay-writing is not one of your current strengths, there are some tips you can follow to make writing in an APUSH essay format much easier.

1. Read the question prompt.

All the way through. At least twice. You may see the term “AP” in this section. In this case, “AP” does not stand for “Advance Placement”, but rather “address prompt”.

2. Determine your task.

What is this prompt actually asking you to write? How are they asking you to write your response? Look for keywords such as compare/contrast, analyze or evaluate. These words are good indicators into which direction your APUSH essay should head.

3. Read the provided documents.

There may be several, especially if you are being asked to state an opinion or formulate an argument. Note any commonalities between the documents. Do they share similar themes? Are they written by the same author? Do they represent ideals or events of a certain time period?

4. List outside information you can use to support your claim.

In order to best recall main events of a historical time period, AP College Board recommends using the acronym PERSIA. Essays that include the Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual and Artistic aspects of a certain time period show an overall understanding of historical context.

5. Create a quick outline.

For short answer or DBQ essays, this may not be necessary, so use your best judgement. However, we recommend using a quick outline to help focus your thinking before writing your long essay. Taking a few minutes to organize your thoughts by jotting down notes or ideas that will help frame your thinking and make writing a structured essay much easier.

Practice makes perfect

Writing a quality essay is a skill. Like any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. Over the course of your APUSH study sessions, aim to write a total of 3-4 essays per section. If writing essays proves to be difficult, consider writing more often in order to hone your skills.

Even though it may seem daunting, also remember to practice your writing during timed sessions. Timing your writing helps you become aware of areas you may need to work on. It also forces you to focus your efforts into completing the prompt in its entirety each time you write. This is a great way to assess different areas of your writing process, so that you can make adjustments accordingly.

About Beth Gonzales

Beth is an educator and freelance creative designer who devises innovative and fun-loving solutions for clients. She works with families, students, teachers and small businesses to create and implement programs, campaigns and experiences that help support and maximize efforts to grow communities who critically think, engage and continue to learn.


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