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Advanced Placement (AP)


The DBQ, or document-based-question, is a somewhat unusually-formatted timed essay on the AP History Exams: AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History. Because of its unfamiliarity, many students are at a loss as to how to even prepare, let alone how to write a successful DBQ essay on test day.

Never fear! I, the DBQ wizard and master, have a wealth of preparation strategies for you, as well as advice on how to cram everything you need to cover into your limited DBQ writing time on exam day. When you're done reading this guide, you'll know exactly how to write a DBQ.

For a general overview of the DBQ—what it is, its purpose, its format, etc.—see my article "What is a DBQ?"

Table of Contents

What Should My Study Timeline Be?

Preparing for the DBQ

Establish a Baseline

Foundational Skills

Rubric Breakdown

Take Another Practice DBQ

How Can I Succeed on Test Day?

Reading the Question and Documents

Planning Your Essay

Writing Your Essay

Key Takeaways

What Should My DBQ Study Timeline Be?

Your AP exam study timeline depends on a few things. First, how much time you have to study per week, and how many hours you want to study in total? If you don't have much time per week, start a little earlier; if you will be able to devote a substantial amount of time per week (10-15 hours) to prep, you can wait until later in the year.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the earlier you start studying for your AP test, the less material you will have covered in class. Make sure you continually review older material as the school year goes on to keep things fresh in your mind, but in terms of DBQ prep it probably doesn't make sense to start before February or January at the absolute earliest.

Another factor is how much you need to work on. I recommend you complete a baseline DBQ around early February to see where you need to focus your efforts.

If, for example, you got a six out of seven and missed one point for doing further document analysis, you won't need to spend too much time studying how to write a DBQ. Maybe just do a document analysis exercise every few weeks and check in a couple months later with another timed practice DBQ to make sure you've got it.

However, if you got a two or three out of seven, you'll know you have more work to do, and you'll probably want to devote at least an hour or two every week to honing your skills.

The general flow of your preparation should be: take a practice DBQ, do focused skills practice, take another practice DBQ, do focused skills practice, take another practice DBQ, and so on. How often you take the practice DBQs and how many times you repeat the cycle really depends on how much preparation you need, and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice DBQs often enough that the format stays familiar, but not so much that you've done barely any skills practice in between.


He's ready to start studying!

The general preparation process is to diagnose, practice, test, and repeat. First, you'll figure out what you need to work on by establishing a baseline level for your DBQ skills. Then, you'll practice building skills. Finally, you'll take another DBQ to see how you've improved and what you still need to work on.

In this next section, I'll go over the whole process. First, I'll give guidance on how to establish a baseline. Then I'll go over some basic, foundational essay-writing skills and how to build them. After that I'll break down the DBQ rubric. You'll be acing practice DBQs before you know it!

#1: Establish a Baseline

The first thing you need to do is to establish a baseline— figure out where you are at with respect to your DBQ skills. This will let you know where you need to focus your preparation efforts.

To do this, you will take a timed, practice DBQ and have a trusted teacher or advisor grade it according to the appropriate rubric.

AP US History

For the AP US History DBQ, you'll be given a 15-minute reading period and 45 minutes of writing time.

A selection of practice questions from the exam can be found online at the College Board, including a DBQ. (Go to page 136 in the linked document for the practice prompt.)

If you've already seen this practice question, perhaps in class, you might use the 2015 DBQ question .

Other available College Board DBQs are going to be in the old format (find them in the "Free-Response Questions" documents). This is fine if you need to use them, but be sure to use the new rubric (which is out of seven points, rather than nine) to grade.

I advise you to save all these links , or even download all the Free Response Questions and the Scoring Guides, for reference because you will be using them again and again for practice.

AP European History

The College Board has provided practice questions for the exam , including a DBQ (see page 200 in the linked document).

If you've already seen this question, the only other questions available through the College Board are in the old format, because the 2016 DBQ is in a new, seven-point format identical to the AP US History exam. Just be sure to use the new DBQ rubric if you want to use any of the old prompts provided by the College Board . (DBQs are in the documents titled "Free-Response Questions.")

I advise you to save all these links (or even download all the Free Response Questions and the Scoring Guides) for reference, because you will be using them again and again for practice.


Who knows—maybe this will be one of your documents!

AP World History

For this exam, you'll be given a 15-minute reading period and 45 minutes of writing time . As for the other two history exams, the College Board has provided practice questions . See page 166 for the DBQ.

If you've already seen this question, the only other questions available through the College Board are in the old format, because the 2017 World History DBQ is in a new, seven-point format identical to the AP US History and AP European History exams. So be sure to use the new DBQ rubric if you want to use any of the old prompts provided by the College Board . (DBQs are in the documents titled "Free-Response Questions.")

Finding a Trusted Advisor to Look at Your Papers

A history teacher would be a great resource, but if they are not available to you in this capacity, here are some other ideas:

  • An English teacher.
  • Ask a librarian at your school or public library! If they can't help you, they may be able to direct you to resources who can.
  • You could also ask a school guidance counselor to direct you to in-school resources you could use.
  • A tutor. This is especially helpful if they are familiar with the test, although even if they aren't, they can still advise—the DBQ is mostly testing academic writing skills under pressure.
  • Your parent(s)! Again, ideally your trusted advisor will be familiar with the AP, but if you have used your parents for writing help in the past they can also assist here.
  • You might try an older friend who has already taken the exam and did well...although bear in mind that some people are better at doing than scoring and/or explaining!

Can I Prepare For My Baseline?

If you know nothing about the DBQ and you'd like to do a little basic familiarization before you establish your baseline, that's completely fine. There's no point in taking a practice exam if you are going to panic and muddle your way through it; it won't give a useful picture of your skills.

For a basic orientation, check out my article for a basic introduction to the DBQ including DBQ format.

If you want to look at one or two sample essays, see my article for a list of DBQ example essay resources . Keep in mind that you should use a fresh prompt you haven't seen to establish your baseline, though, so if you do look at samples don't use those prompts to set your baseline.

I would also check out this page about the various "task" words associated with AP essay questions . This page was created primarily for the AP European History Long Essay question, but the definitions are still useful for the DBQ on all the history exams, particularly since these are the definitions provided by the College Board.

Once you feel oriented, take your practice exam!

Don't worry if you don't do well on your first practice! That's what studying is for. The point of establishing a baseline is not to make you feel bad, but to empower you to focus your efforts on the areas you need to work on. Even if you need to work on all the areas, that is completely fine and doable! Every skill you need for the DBQ can be built .

In the following section, we'll go over these skills and how to build them for each exam.


You need a stronger foundation than this sand castle.

#2: Develop Foundational Skills

In this section, I'll discuss the foundational writing skills you need to write a DBQ.

I'll start with some general information on crafting an effective thesis , since this is a skill you will need for any DBQ exam (and for your entire academic life). Then, I'll go over outlining essays, with some sample outline ideas for the DBQ. After I'll touch on time management. Finally, I'll briefly discuss how to non-awkwardly integrate information from your documents into your writing.

It sounds like a lot, but not only are these skills vital to your academic career in general, you probably already have the basic building blocks to master them in your arsenal!

Writing An Effective Thesis

Writing a good thesis is a skill you will need to develop for all your DBQs, and for any essay you write, on the AP or otherwise.

Here are some general rules as to what makes a good thesis:

A good thesis does more than just restate the prompt.

Let's say our class prompt is: "Analyze the primary factors that led to the French Revolution."

Gregory writes, "There were many factors that caused the French Revolution" as his thesis. This is not an effective thesis. All it does is vaguely restate the prompt.

A good thesis makes a plausible claim that you can defend in an essay-length piece of writing.

Maybe Karen writes, "Marie Antoinette caused the French Revolution when she said ‘Let them eat cake' because it made people mad."

This is not an effective thesis, either. For one thing, Marie Antoinette never said that. More importantly, how are you going to write an entire essay on how one offhand comment by Marie Antoinette caused the entire Revolution? This is both implausible and overly simplistic.

A good thesis answers the question .

If LaToya writes, "The Reign of Terror led to the ultimate demise of the French Revolution and ultimately paved the way for Napoleon Bonaparte to seize control of France," she may be making a reasonable, defensible claim, but it doesn't answer the question, which is not about what happened after the Revolution, but what caused it!

A good thesis makes it clear where you are going in your essay.

Let's say Juan writes, "The French Revolution, while caused by a variety of political, social, and economic factors, was primarily incited by the emergence of the highly educated Bourgeois class." This thesis provides a mini-roadmap for the entire essay, laying out that Juan is going to discuss the political, social, and economic factors that led to the Revolution, in that order, and that he will argue that the members of the Bourgeois class were the ultimate inciters of the Revolution.

This is a great thesis! It answers the question, makes an overarching point, and provides a clear idea of what the writer is going to discuss in the essay.

To review: a good thesis makes a claim, responds to the prompt, and lays out what you will discuss in your essay.

If you feel like you have trouble telling the difference between a good thesis and a not-so-good one, here are a few resources you can consult:

This site from SUNY Empire has an exercise in choosing the best thesis from several options. It's meant for research papers, but the general rules as to what makes a good thesis apply. has another exercise in choosing thesis statements specifically for short essays. Note, however, that most of the correct answers here would be "good" thesis statements as opposed to "super" thesis statements.

  • This guide from the University of Iowa provides some really helpful tips on writing a thesis for a history paper.

So how do you practice your thesis statement skills for the DBQ?

While you should definitely practice looking at DBQ questions and documents and writing a thesis in response to those, you may also find it useful to write some practice thesis statements in response to the Free-Response Questions. While you won't be taking any documents into account in your argument for the Free-Response Questions, it's good practice on how to construct an effective thesis in general.

You could even try writing multiple thesis statements in response to the same prompt! It is a great exercise to see how you could approach the prompt from different angles. Time yourself for 5-10 minutes to mimic the time pressure of the AP exam.

If possible, have a trusted advisor or friend look over your practice statements and give you feedback. Barring that, looking over the scoring guidelines for old prompts (accessible from the same page on the College Board where past free-response questions can be found) will provide you with useful tips on what might make a good thesis in response to a given prompt.

Once you can write a thesis, you need to be able to support it—that's where outlining comes in!


This is not a good outline.

Outlining and Formatting Your Essay

You may be the greatest document analyst and thesis-writer in the world, but if you don't know how to put it all together in a DBQ essay outline, you won't be able to write a cohesive, high-scoring essay on test day.

A good outline will clearly lay out your thesis and how you are going to support that thesis in your body paragraphs. It will keep your writing organized and prevent you from forgetting anything you want to mention!

For some general tips on writing outlines, this page from Roane State has some useful information. While the general principles of outlining an essay hold, the DBQ format is going to have its own unique outlining considerations.To that end, I've provided some brief sample outlines that will help you hit all the important points.

Sample DBQ Outline

  • Introduction
  • Thesis. The most important part of your intro!
  • Body 1 - contextual information
  • Any outside historical/contextual information
  • Body 2 - First point
  • Documents & analysis that support the first point
  • If three body paragraphs: use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Body 3 - Second point
  • Documents & analysis that support the second point
  • Use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Be sure to mention your outside example if you have not done so yet!
  • Body 4 (optional) - Third point
  • Documents and analysis that support third point
  • Re-state thesis
  • Draw a comparison to another time period or situation (synthesis)

Depending on your number of body paragraphs and your main points, you may include different numbers of documents in each paragraph, or switch around where you place your contextual information, your outside example, or your synthesis.

There's no one right way to outline, just so long as each of your body paragraphs has a clear point that you support with documents, and you remember to do a deeper analysis on four documents, bring in outside historical information, and make a comparison to another historical situation or time (you will see these last points further explained in the rubric breakdown).

Of course, all the organizational skills in the world won't help you if you can't write your entire essay in the time allotted. The next section will cover time management skills.


You can be as organized as this library!

Time Management Skills for Essay Writing

Do you know all of your essay-writing skills, but just can't get a DBQ essay together in a 15-minute planning period and 40 minutes of writing?

There could be a few things at play here:

Do you find yourself spending a lot of time staring at a blank paper?

If you feel like you don't know where to start, spend one-two minutes brainstorming as soon as you read the question and the documents. Write anything here—don't censor yourself. No one will look at those notes but you!

After you've brainstormed for a bit, try to organize those thoughts into a thesis, and then into body paragraphs. It's better to start working and change things around than to waste time agonizing that you don't know the perfect thing to say.

Are you too anxious to start writing, or does anxiety distract you in the middle of your writing time? Do you just feel overwhelmed?

Sounds like test anxiety. Lots of people have this. (Including me! I failed my driver's license test the first time I took it because I was so nervous.)

You might talk to a guidance counselor about your anxiety. They will be able to provide advice and direct you to resources you can use.

There are also some valuable test anxiety resources online: try our guide to mindfulness (it's focused on the SAT, but the same concepts apply on any high-pressure test) and check out tips from Minnesota State University , these strategies from TeensHealth , or this plan for reducing anxiety from West Virginia University.

Are you only two thirds of the way through your essay when 40 minutes have passed?

You are probably spending too long on your outline, biting off more than you can chew, or both.

If you find yourself spending 20+ minutes outlining, you need to practice bringing down your outline time. Remember, an outline is just a guide for your essay—it is fine to switch things around as you are writing. It doesn't need to be perfect. To cut down on your outline time, practice just outlining for shorter and shorter time intervals. When you can write one in 20 minutes, bring it down to 18, then down to 16.

You may also be trying to cover too much in your paper. If you have five body paragraphs, you need to scale things back to three. If you are spending twenty minutes writing two paragraphs of contextual information, you need to trim it down to a few relevant sentences. Be mindful of where you are spending a lot of time, and target those areas.

You don't know the problem —you just can't get it done!

If you can't exactly pinpoint what's taking you so long, I advise you to simply practice writing DBQs in less and less time. Start with 20 minutes for your outline and 50 for your essay, (or longer, if you need). Then when you can do it in 20 and 50, move back to 18 minutes and 45 for writing, then to 15 and 40.

You absolutely can learn to manage your time effectively so that you can write a great DBQ in the time allotted. On to the next skill!

Integrating Citations

The final skill that isn't explicitly covered in the rubric, but will make a big difference in your essay quality, is integrating document citations into your essay. In other words, how do you reference the information in the documents in a clear, non-awkward way?

It is usually better to use the author or title of the document to identify a document instead of writing "Document A." So instead of writing "Document A describes the riot as...," you might say, "In Sven Svenson's description of the riot…"

When you quote a document directly without otherwise identifying it, you may want to include a parenthetical citation. For example, you might write, "The strikers were described as ‘valiant and true' by the working class citizens of the city (Document E)."

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Now that we've reviewed the essential, foundational skills of the DBQ, I'll move into the rubric breakdowns. We'll discuss each skill the AP graders will be looking for when they score your exam. All of the history exams share a DBQ rubric, so the guidelines are identical.


Don't worry, you won't need a magnifying glass to examine the rubric.

#3: Learn the DBQ Rubric

The DBQ rubric has four sections for a total of seven points.

Part A: Thesis - 2 Points


One point is for having a thesis that works and is historically defensible. This just means that your thesis can be reasonably supported by the documents and historical fact. So please don't make the main point of your essay that JFK was a member of the Illuminati or that Pope Urban II was an alien.

Per the College Board, your thesis needs to be located in your introduction or your conclusion. You've probably been taught to place your thesis in your intro, so stick with what you're used to. Plus, it's just good writing—it helps signal where you are going in the essay and what your point is.

You can receive another point for having a super thesis.

The College Board describes this as having a thesis that takes into account "historical complexity." Historical complexity is really just the idea that historical evidence does not always agree about everything, and that there are reasons for agreement, disagreement, etc.

How will you know whether the historical evidence agrees or disagrees? The documents! Suppose you are responding to a prompt about women's suffrage (suffrage is the right to vote, for those of you who haven't gotten to that unit in class yet):

"Analyze the responses to the women's suffrage movement in the United States."

Included among your documents, you have a letter from a suffragette passionately explaining why she feels women should have the vote, a copy of a suffragette's speech at a women's meeting, a letter from one congressman to another debating the pros and cons of suffrage, and a political cartoon displaying the death of society and the end of the ‘natural' order at the hands of female voters.


A simple but effective thesis might be something like,

"Though ultimately successful, the women's suffrage movement sharply divided the country between those who believed women's suffrage was unnatural and those who believed it was an inherent right of women."

This is good: it answers the question and clearly states the two responses to suffrage that are going to be analyzed in the essay.

A super thesis , however, would take the relationships between the documents (and the people behind the documents!) into account.

It might be something like,

"The dramatic contrast between those who responded in favor of women's suffrage and those who fought against it revealed a fundamental rift in American society centered on the role of women—whether women were ‘naturally' meant to be socially and civilly subordinate to men, or whether they were in fact equals."

This is a "super" thesis because it gets into the specifics of the relationship between historical factors and shows the broader picture —that is, what responses to women's suffrage revealed about the role of women in the United States overall.

It goes beyond just analyzing the specific issues to a "so what"? It doesn't just take a position about history, it tells the reader why they should care . In this case, our super thesis tells us that the reader should care about women's suffrage because the issue reveals a fundamental conflict in America over the position of women in society.

Part B: Document Analysis - 2 Points


One point for using six or seven of the documents in your essay to support your argument. Easy-peasy! However, make sure you aren't just summarizing documents in a list, but are tying them back to the main points of your paragraphs.

It's best to avoid writing things like, "Document A says X, and Document B says Y, and Document C says Z." Instead, you might write something like, "The anonymous author of Document C expresses his support and admiration for the suffragettes but also expresses fear that giving women the right to vote will lead to conflict in the home, highlighting the common fear that women's suffrage would lead to upheaval in women's traditional role in society."

Any summarizing should be connected a point. Essentially, any explanation of what a document says needs to be tied to a "so what?" If it's not clear to you why what you are writing about a document is related to your main point, it's not going to be clear to the AP grader.

You can get an additional point here for doing further analysis on 4 of the documents. This further analysis could be in any of these 4 areas:

Author's point of view - Why does the author think the way that they do? What is their position in society and how does this influence what they are saying?

Author's purpose - Why is the author writing what they are writing? What are they trying to convince their audience of?

Historical context - What broader historical facts are relevant to this document?

Audience - Who is the intended audience for this document? Who is the author addressing or trying to convince?

Be sure to tie any further analysis back to your main argument! And remember, you only have to do this for four documents for full credit, but it's fine to do it for more if you can.

Practicing Document Analysis

So how do you practice document analysis? By analyzing documents!

Luckily for AP test takers everywhere, New York State has an exam called the Regents Exam that has its own DBQ section. Before they write the essay, however, New York students have to answer short answer questions about the documents.

Answering Regents exam DBQ short-answer questions is good practice for basic document analysis. While most of the questions are pretty basic, it's a good warm-up in terms of thinking more deeply about the documents and how to use them. This set of Regent-style DBQs from the Teacher's Project are mostly about US History, but the practice could be good for other tests too.

This prompt from the Morningside center also has some good document comprehensions questions about a US-History based prompt.

Note: While the document short-answer questions are useful for thinking about basic document analysis, I wouldn't advise completing entire Regents exam DBQ essay prompts for practice, because the format and rubric are both somewhat different from the AP.

Your AP history textbook may also have documents with questions that you can use to practice. Flip around in there!


This otter is ready to swim in the waters of the DBQ.

When you want to do a deeper dive on the documents, you can also pull out those old College Board DBQ prompts.

Read the documents carefully. Write down everything that comes to your attention. Do further analysis—author's point of view, purpose, audience, and historical context—on all the documents for practice, even though you will only need to do additional analysis on four on test day. Of course, you might not be able to do all kinds of further analysis on things like maps and graphs, which is fine.

You might also try thinking about how you would arrange those observations in an argument, or even try writing a practice outline! This exercise would combine your thesis and document-analysis skills practice.

When you've analyzed everything you can possibly think of for all the documents, pull up the Scoring Guide for that prompt. It helpfully has an entire list of analysis points for each document.

Consider what they identified that you missed.

Do you seem way off-base in your interpretation? If so, how did it happen?

Part C: Using Evidence Beyond the Documents - 2 Points


Don't be freaked out by the fact that this is two points!

One point is just for context—if you can locate the issue within its broader historical situation. You do need to write several sentences to a paragraph about it, but don't stress; all you really need to know to be able to get this point is information about major historical trends over time, and you will need to know this anyways for the multiple choice section. If the question is about the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, for example, be sure to include some of the general information you know about the Great Depression! Boom. Contextualized.

The other point is for naming a specific, relevant example in your essay that does not appear in the documents.

To practice your outside information skills, pull up your College Board prompts!

Read through the prompt and documents and then write down all of the contextualizing facts and as many specific examples as you can think of.

I advise timing yourself—maybe 5-10 minutes to read the documents and prompt and list your outside knowledge—to imitate the time pressure of the DBQ.

When you've exhausted your knowledge, make sure to fact-check your examples and your contextual information! You don't want to use incorrect information on test day.

If you can't remember any examples or contextual information about that topic, look some up! This will help fill in holes in your knowledge.

Part D: Synthesis - 1 Point


All you need to do for synthesis is relate your argument about this specific time period to a different time period, geographical area, historical movement, etc. It is probably easiest to do this in the conclusion of the essay. If your essay is about the Great Depression, you might relate it to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

You do need to do more than just mention your synthesis connection. You need to make it meaningful. How are the two things you are comparing similar? What does one reveal about the other? Is there a key difference that highlights something important?

To practice your synthesis skills—you guessed it—pull up your College Board prompts!

  • Read through the prompt and documents and then identify what historical connections you could make for your synthesis point. Be sure to write a few words on why the connection is significant!
  • A great way to make sure that your synthesis connection makes sense is to explain it to someone else. If you explain what you think the connection is and they get it, you're probably on the right track.
  • You can also look at sample responses and the scoring guide for the old prompts to see what other connections students and AP graders made.

That's a wrap on the rubric! Let's move on to skill-building strategy.


I know you're tired, but you can do it!

#5: Take Another Practice DBQ

So, you established a baseline, identified the skills you need to work on, and practiced writing a thesis statement and analyzing documents for hours. What now?

Take another timed, practice DBQ from a prompt you haven't seen before to check how you've improved. Recruit your same trusted advisor to grade your exam and give feedback. After, work on any skills that still need to be honed.

Repeat this process as necessary, until you are consistently scoring your goal score. Then you just need to make sure you maintain your skills until test day by doing an occasional practice DBQ.

Eventually, test day will come—read on for my DBQ-test-taking tips.

How Can I Succeed On DBQ Test Day?

Once you've prepped your brains out, you still have to take the test! I know, I know. But I've got some advice on how to make sure all of your hard work pays off on test day—both some general tips and some specific advice on how to write a DBQ.

#1: General Test-Taking Tips

Most of these are probably tips you've heard before, but they bear repeating:

Get a good night's sleep for the two nights preceding the exam. This will keep your memory sharp!

Eat a good breakfast (and lunch, if the exam is in the afternoon) before the exam with protein and whole grains. This will keep your blood sugar from crashing and making you tired during the exam.

Don't study the night before the exam if you can help it. Instead, do something relaxing. You've been preparing, and you will have an easier time on exam day if you aren't stressed from trying to cram the night before.


This dude knows he needs to get a good night's rest!

#2: DBQ Plan and Strategies

Below I've laid out how to use your time during the DBQ exam. I'll provide tips on reading the question and docs, planning your essay, and writing!

Be sure to keep an eye on the clock throughout so you can track your general progress.

Reading the Question and the Documents: 5-6 min

First thing's first: r ead the question carefully , two or even three times. You may want to circle the task words ("analyze," "describe," "evaluate," "compare") to make sure they stand out.

You could also quickly jot down some contextual information you already know before moving on to the documents, but if you can't remember any right then, move on to the docs and let them jog your memory.

It's fine to have a general idea of a thesis after you read the question, but if you don't, move on to the docs and let them guide you in the right direction.

Next, move on to the documents. Mark them as you read—circle things that seem important, jot thoughts and notes in the margins.

After you've passed over the documents once, you should choose the four documents you are going to analyze more deeply and read them again. You probably won't be analyzing the author's purpose for sources like maps and charts. Good choices are documents in which the author's social or political position and stake in the issue at hand are clear.


Get ready to go down the document rabbit hole.

Planning Your Essay: 9-11 min

Once you've read the question and you have preliminary notes on the documents, it's time to start working on a thesis. If you still aren't sure what to talk about, spend a minute or so brainstorming. Write down themes and concepts that seem important and create a thesis from those. Remember, your thesis needs to answer the question and make a claim!

When you've got a thesis, it's time to work on an outline . Once you've got some appropriate topics for your body paragraphs, use your notes on the documents to populate your outline. Which documents support which ideas? You don't need to use every little thought you had about the document when you read it, but you should be sure to use every document.

Here's three things to make sure of:

Make sure your outline notes where you are going to include your contextual information (often placed in the first body paragraph, but this is up to you), your specific example (likely in one of the body paragraphs), and your synthesis (the conclusion is a good place for this).

Make sure you've also integrated the four documents you are going to further analyze and how to analyze them.

Make sure you use all the documents! I can't stress this enough. Take a quick pass over your outline and the docs and make sure all of the docs appear in your outline.

If you go over the planning time a couple of minutes, it's not the end of the world. This probably just means you have a really thorough outline! But be ready to write pretty fast.

Writing the Essay - 45 min

If you have a good outline, the hard part is out of the way! You just need to make sure you get all of your great ideas down in the test booklet.

Don't get too bogged down in writing a super-exciting introduction. You won't get points for it, so trying to be fancy will just waste time. Spend maybe one or two sentences introducing the issue, then get right to your thesis.

For your body paragraphs, make sure your topic sentences clearly state the point of the paragraph . Then you can get right into your evidence and your document analysis.

As you write, make sure to keep an eye on the time. You want to be a little more than halfway through at the 20-minute mark of the writing period, so you have a couple minutes to go back and edit your essay at the end.

Keep in mind that it's more important to clearly lay out your argument than to use flowery language. Sentences that are shorter and to the point are completely fine.

If you are short on time, the conclusion is the least important part of your essay . Even just one sentence to wrap things up is fine just so long as you've hit all the points you need to (i.e. don't skip your conclusion if you still need to put in your synthesis example).

When you are done, make one last past through your essay. Make sure you included everything that was in your outline and hit all the rubric skills! Then take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.


You did it!! Have a cupcake to celebrate.

Key Tips for How to Write a DBQ

I realize I've bombarded you with information, so here are the key points to take away:

Remember the drill for prep: establish a baseline, build skills, take another practice DBQ, repeat skill-building as necessary.

Make sure that you know the rubric inside and out so you will remember to hit all the necessary points on test day! It's easy to lose points just for forgetting something like your synthesis point.

On test day, keep yourself on track time-wise !

This may seem like a lot, but you can learn how to ace your DBQ! With a combination of preparation and good test-taking strategy, you will get the score you're aiming for. The more you practice, the more natural it will seem, until every DBQ is a breeze.

What's Next?

If you want more information about the DBQ, see my introductory guide to the DBQ .

Haven't registered for your AP test yet? See our article for help registering for AP exams .

For more on studying for the AP US History exam, check out the best AP US History notes to study with .

Studying for World History? See these AP World History study tips from one of our experts.

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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What Is a DBQ? Understanding DBQs and How to Excel in Writing One

What Is a DBQ? Understanding DBQs and How to Excel in Writing One

What Is a DBQ?

Format of a dbq, what makes a good dbq essay, how to prepare for a dbq.

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Curious about what a DBQ is and how to excel in writing one? This blog post will demystify Document-Based Questions, explain how they are scored, and offer a step-by-step playbook filled with tested strategies. Whether you’re preparing for an AP History exam or seeking to boost your essay-writing skills, you’ll find the guidance you need right here.

If you’re considering or currently enrolled in an Advanced Placement (AP) course , you've likely heard the term "DBQ" mentioned either by your teacher or in test preparation materials. But what exactly is a DBQ? Understanding what a DBQ is and how it fits into AP testing is crucial for your success. This article explains what a DBQ is, their purpose and format, what's required in a DBQ response, how they're scored, and how to prepare.

Already enrolled in an AP class and wondering what it takes to write a DBQ essay? Don't worry, you'll also find a step-by-step method for writing your DBQ essay, with proven strategies from our Crimson experts.

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question . This type of essay question is on AP History Exams , such as AP United States History , AP European History , and AP World History .

The Key Features of a DBQ

  • A prompt presenting a critical thinking task about a historical period and topic
  • Several short primary source documents related to the prompt and historical topic for you to review, analyze, and use to make or support claims in your essay
  • The application of evidence-based reading and writing skills , including the application of your own knowledge (from your AP course) about the time period and topic presented in the prompt
  • Writing a response in the form of an essay that uses critical thinking and is guided by a thesis (a central claim or argument) that address the prompt and is defended with analysis and evidence.

The Purpose of a DBQ

The main purpose of a DBQ is to test your ability to apply your knowledge of history and think critically about history, in the ways historians do .

A DBQ is designed to assess what you've learned about the principles of historical research and analysis, as opposed to just testing your knowledge of rote facts, dates, and events.

A DBQ also tests your ability to assess and make defensible use of primary source documents in order to illustrate, interpret, and analyze historical periods, concepts, trends, or events.

  • Document analysis : in order to use primary source documents in a credible way, historians need to critically assess source documents in a historical context , taking into consideration the origin, meaning, and purpose of a document, its authorship, intended audience, and so forth, depending on what factors are most relevant to the document and to the research focus.
  • Making Sense of Sources : Historians need to think about how source documents can illuminate our understanding of history, such as how do various sources corroborate, qualify, or challenge existing views of historical events ? This typically involves synthesizing historical knowledge and assessments of source documents and looking for patterns, factual evidence, or inconsistencies across different viewpoints and sources.
  • Making Interpretive Claims: Beyond multiple choice and short answer questions, a DBQ involves synthesizing and applying knowledge and sources . For example, we all know the US Civil War started in 1861, but we don't all agree on the primary vs. secondary causes of the war, or if the war could have been avoided or not, or if the Civil War period offers meaningful parallels or insights into contemporary US events. These kinds of interpretive skills require making claims and defending them with analysis and evidence ; DBQs are formatted to test skills like these.

Principal Skills Tested

As a complex, critical thinking task, the DBQ tests a variety of course-related skills.

Background knowledge

DBQs test students' knowledge of important historical periods, concepts, developments, people, events, and trends studied in the AP course and aligned with learning objectives in the course syllabus.

Critical thinking and applied knowledge

Your DBQ response requires you to analyze and interpret historical sources using higher order thinking skills such as analysis, comparison, cause and effect, and synthesis. You also need to apply the knowledge you've studied in class along with academic principles of historical investigation in order to make and defend an interpretive thesis.

Expository writing skills

You need to create a clear and ordered essay that presents and supports a clear interpretive thesis. This tests your ability to write about historical events and topics using expository and argumentative writing skills .

Learn more about AP History Exams:

AP US History Exam: Everything You Need to Know

Navigating AP World History: A Comprehensive Guide

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DBQs have a predictable format, with four key components:

  • The Prompt: This sets the stage for your essay by providing a specific question or statement that you need to address. The prompt will guide your entire approach, so read it carefully. 
  •   Historical Documents: You will be given a series of primary and secondary source documents, usually between 5 and 7. These documents can include textual sources, such as letters, speeches, and excerpts from historical books, as well as non-textual sources like photographs, maps, and charts.
  • Essay Writing: To respond to the DBQ, you'll write a timed essay that addresses the kind of analysis task, the time period, and topic set forth in the prompt.
  • Time Limits: The DBQ format provides a 15-minute period to review the prompt and historical documents and a 45-minute period for planning and writing your essay.

Examples of DBQ Prompts

  AP United States History (APUSH) :

    Prompt : "Analyze the ways in which the Vietnam War heightened social, political, and economic tensions in the United States. Focus your answer on the period 1964 to 1975."

  AP European History :

    Prompt : "Evaluate the extent to which the religious policies of sixteenth-century monarchs contributed to the growth of Protestantism. Use specific examples from England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire."

AP World History :

    Prompt : "Analyze the economic and social effects of the Columbian Exchange on the Americas and Europe during the period from 1492 to 1750."

  AP World History: Modern :

    Prompt : "Evaluate the extent to which the political, economic, and social goals of movements for national unification in nineteenth-century Germany and Italy were realized by 1871."

One of the key concerns for students tackling a DBQ is understanding what differentiates a good DBQ essay from an average one. You’ll find a much more detailed guide on writing a strong DBQ in Part II below. For now, here are some crucial elements that typically make a DBQ essay stand out, followed by the official DBQ Scoring Rubric.

Clear Thesis Statement

A clear thesis responds directly to the key critical thinking task presented in the prompt (analysis, causation, change vs. continuity…) laying out your main argument and providing a clear roadmap for your essay. It must be specific and assertive, telling the reader the claim you’ll be discussing, analyzing, and supporting with historical knowledge and with evidence from the documents accompanying the prompt.

Effective Use of Documents

A good DBQ essay incorporates a majority, if not all, of the provided documents. Each document should be accurately interpreted and utilized to help support, illuminate, or explain your thesis. It’s important to apply the source documents thoughtfully, this typically includes considerations of the author and/or author’s perspective, the type of document and purpose of the document, and the document’s historical context.


A strong essay includes broader historical context to frame your argument. This means explaining the more relevant events, trends, or policies that are part of the historical backdrop for the period, prompt, and your arguments.

Coherent Structure and Organization

You’ll want it to have the essential elements of essay structure, logic, and flow, but you’ll probably want to use a fairly straightforward organization given the time constraints, similar to a standard 5-paragraph essay.

Pick three or four subtopics around which to group the key points, arguments, and evidence (body of the essay).

Write clear and purposeful paragraphs. Use topic sentences to introduce the main idea of each paragraph and ensure each paragraph transitions smoothly to the next.

Be sure your introduction paragraph provides some context, rephrases key elements in the prompt, and presents your thesis (overarching claim or argument).

Solid Evidence and Analysis

A good DBQ uses evidence-based reading and writing strategies and critical thinking to make clear and historically nuanced arguments. Use evidence thoughtfully to corroborate, qualify (limit), or modify your claims and interpretations.

Evidence should include meaningful references to contextual information from the time period and the historical documents provided with the DBQ prompt.

Include observations and analysis of a document’s purpose, point of view, historical context, authorship, and intended audience when relevant to the historical context, the DBQ topic, or your claims.

The DBQ Scoring Rubric

Now that you've seen the qualities of a strong DBQ essay, understanding the scoring rubric can also help you target your efforts effectively.

DBQ Scoring

Preparation for a DBQ is both an ongoing and intensive process . Here are some steps to help you get ready:

  • Understand the Format : Familiarize yourself with the structure of DBQs by reviewing practice questions and sample responses. The College Board website and various AP study materials and prep books are excellent resources. Pro Tip: Pay attention to common types of analysis required by different prompts, such as comparison, causation, or change vs. continuity.
  • Practice Writing : Regularly practice writing DBQ responses. Start with untimed practice to get a feel for the structure, then gradually work up to timed practice to simulate test conditions.
  • Analyze Sample Essays : Review high-scoring sample essays to understand what makes them effective. Pay attention to how these essays integrate documents and historical information.
  • Build Knowledge with Effective Study Habits : A strong background in the broader historical context will help you contextualize and support your DBQ claims and analysis, and should help you understand and integrate documents. Make use of timelines, summaries, and flashcards as study aids . Be sure to give yourself a long runway of consistent study time to build up mastery of your history curriculum.
  • Develop Analytical Skills : Work on skills that are critical for analyzing documents, such as identifying the author's perspective, understanding the historical context, identifying and analyzing causation, identifying influential concepts and their origins, tracking trends or movements over time (and how they progress, evolve, change, or stay the same).
  • If the AP history courses you want are not available at your school, or you need a more flexible option, the Crimson Global Academy has online AP courses across a wide range of subjects. Courses help you learn the required content and provide additional guidance, practice, and coaching for test items, including DBQs.

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PART II: How to Write a DBQ Essay


Writing a Document-Based Question (DBQ) response on the day of your AP History exam can be an intimidating task, but with a solid plan, you can tackle it confidently. Below are tips and strategies to help you navigate the entire exam-day writing process , from deconstructing the prompt, to developing a thesis, through writing and reviewing your essay.

1. Analyzing and Deconstructing the Prompt

Recommended Time Allocation: 5 minutes

Even if only takes 5 minutes, the first step in writing a strong DBQ response — thoroughly analyzing and deconstructing the prompt — is pivotal.

Before we show you exactly how to deconstruct a DBQ prompt, let's look at the most common types of DBQ prompts, reviewing the main types of analysis required by DBQs.

Common Prompts by Type of Analysis

  • Change and Continuity Over Time : Directs you to focus and analyze what has changed and what has remained the same across a specified time period in relation to a specified historical movement, trend, concept, or political or social policy.
  • Comparison : Asks you to compare different societies, events, processes, or policies to identify similarities or differences, or to rank them in terms of significance or impact.
  • Causation : Inquires about the causes and/or effects of a particular historical event or phenomenon.

Watch out for miscues when reading a prompt.

For example, the prompt "Describe the causes of the Civil War" requires you to explore and discuss causation .

But another prompt may mention causation but not be about analyzing causation. For example, the prompt "Among different causes of the US Civil War during the period 1818 to 1861, which played a bigger role in putting the North and South on a path to conflict, economic differences between the North and South or evolving views on social reforms?" This prompt refers to "causes of the US Civil War" but directs students to make a comparison of the relative importance and impact of two different kinds of causes.

How to Analyze the Prompt

  • Read the Prompt Carefully : Look for keywords and phrases to understand exactly what is being asked.
  • Identify the Task : Determine what the essay requires you to address—change over time, comparison, causation, etc.
  • Look for Time Periods and Geographical Context : Note any specific time periods or regions mentioned in the prompt, as these will guide your research and outline.

When deconstructing the prompt, write down the tasks and requirements. By writing them down, you’ll be super clear about them, can refer back, and won’t waste valuable brain cells as you proceed to tackle all the next steps of the essay!

Decoding DBQ Prompts

This chart should help you effectively decode DBQ prompts, enabling you to identify the type of analysis and the specific tasks required in preparation for planning your response.

Remember, after reading the prompt, check your understanding by writing down the specific kinds of analysis the prompt is asking you to perform.

This may seem like unnecessary effort, but under the pressure of a timed exam, it's easier than you think to misinterpret a DBQ prompt, steering yourself down the wrong path!

2. Review and Analyze Documents

Suggested Time Allocation: 10 to 15 minutes

Efficiently reading and analyzing the documents provided is crucial. You need to think about how they relate to the prompt, and how they might shape and/or relate to your thesis.

Skim the Documents : Quickly skim the documents to get an overview and look for initial patterns and how each document might be most useful.

Annotate Key Points : While reading each document more carefully, underline or highlight key points, authorship information, and any relevant dates.

Make critical historical assessments of each document related to:

  • the author’s perspective, intentions, or bias
  • the purpose of the document
  • the intended audience
  • the historical context

Assess the evidence and formulate your thesis. Identify which documents corroborate or support your thesis and if any qualify or challenge your thesis, or indicate you need to adjust your thesis before proceeding.

Align the documents and evidence with key elements of your essay ahead of writing an outline. Group the documents into categories based on the topic, the analysis required, and the key supporting arguments for different points of your thesis.

3. Make an Outline

Suggested Time Allocation: 5 to 7 minutes

Planning your response before diving into writing is critical for a well-structured essay.

Create an Outline that includes the following:

  • An introduction that includes your thesis statement
  • Two to four body paragraphs presenting 2-3 main points or arguments
  • A conclusion that reiterates or adds nuance to your central claim and highlights any key insights or understanding you've uncovered

Incorporate and Align Evidence : Note where each document fits into your outline. Indicate where you’ll bring in outside information.

4. Write the Essay

Suggested Time Allocation: 25 to 30 minutes

When you're ready to write, follow your outline, keeping these tips in mind:

  • Style & Voice: Use your best academic diction, spelling, and punctuation possible; keep the voice and style formal.
  • Concision: Avoid unnecessary detail or digressions; focus on clarity and supporting each claim with evidence and analysis
  • Topic Sentences : Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph and ties it back to your thesis.
  • Document Integration : Incorporate evidence from the documents in a way that supports your argument. Make sure to reference the documents appropriately (e.g., "Document A suggests...").
  • Outside Evidence : Include relevant historical facts, events, or processes that aren't covered in the documents but support your thesis.
  • Analysis : Go beyond just summarizing the documents. Discuss the significance of the evidence and what it shows. Analyze the point of view, purpose, historical context, and audience of the documents.
  • Sourcing : For at least three documents, include a discussion on the author's perspective, the document’s purpose, and its audience. Reflect on how these elements affect the document's reliability or viewpoint.
  • Introduction & Conclusion Paragraphs : Provide context in your introduction and present your thesis. Reiterate the conclusion and highlight key insights from the essay.

5. Checking Over Your Work

Suggested Time Allocation: 3 to 5 minutes

  • Review Thesis and Arguments : Ensure your thesis is clear and that all body paragraphs consistently support it.
  • Check for Completeness : Make sure you have used and appropriately cited all or most of the documents. Verify that you’ve incorporated outside information effectively.
  • Accuracy : Double-check facts and dates. Ensure all your information is historically accurate and relevant to the prompt.
  • Clarity and Coherence : Read through your essay to ensure it flows logically. Each paragraph should seamlessly transition to the next.
  • Grammar and Spelling : Quickly scan for any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Proper language use can make your argument more persuasive and easier to understand.

7. Managing Your Time

Time management on test day is vital. Here’s an efficient way to allocate your time:

  • Deconstructing the Prompt : 5 minutes
  • Reviewing and Analyzing Documents : 10-15 minutes
  • Outlining the Response : 5-7 minutes
  • Writing the Essay : 25-30 minutes
  • Checking Over Your Work : 3-5 minutes

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Final Thoughts

Now that you know what a DBQ is, its format and purpose, how to prepare for DBQs, and how to approach a DBQ, and even exactly how to write a DBQ essay, you can use these insights to guide how you prepare for the DBQ and feel much more confident about your next steps.

If you want more support for high stakes tests, or for other university admissions challenges, Crimson Education Advisors can answer any questions you have. And, they'll be happy to explain our personalized approach and why Crimson students get amazing results. Finding out more is as easy as booking a free consultation . Hope to hear from you today!

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types of dbq essays

How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

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What is the document based question, steps to writing an effective dbq, how do ap scores affect my college chances.

If you’re taking a history AP exam, you’ll likely encounter the Document Based Question (DBQ). This essay question constitutes a significant portion of your exam, so it’s important that you have a good grasp on how best to approach the DBQ. In this post, we’ll cover what exactly a document based question is, and how to answer it successfully.

A Document Based Question (DBQ) is a measure of the skills you learned in your AP classes in regard to recalling history and analyzing related documents. These documents can be primary or secondary sources, and your responses are expected to be in the form of an essay. Your ability to relate the context of documents to concepts beyond the given text and creating meaningful connections between all your sources will help demonstrate your skills as a knowledgeable writer.

The number of documents for a DBQ varies from exam to exam, but typically will fall between five to seven documents. The following AP exams will require you to write a DBQ:

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP World History

We’ve listed the formats for each exam below, and keep in mind that the number of documents is prone to changing from year to year:

  • Up to seven Documents
  • One hour recommended time (includes 15-minute reading period)
  • Up to seven Documents 
  • 25% of total exam score

With that in mind, let’s jump right into how to craft a strong DBQ response!

We’ve summarized how to write an effective DBQ into the following five steps:

1. Read the prompt first

Though you may be tempted to jump into the documents right away, it’s very important that you first look at what exactly the prompt is asking for. This way, when you eventually look at the documents, your focus will be narrower. A DBQ tests your reading comprehension and analysis skills more than the content itself, making it very important to understand your prompt thoroughly.

2. Skim the document titles

Each document will contain vital information regarding the context, and it’s important to scout key words regarding dates, authors, and anything pertaining to the general sense of what the documents are about. Skimming through your documents like this could save time and allow you to form a more structurally sound thesis.

Let’s take a look at the following graph and figure out how to skim the figure:

types of dbq essays

This document was in a real exam from the AP World History free response questions in 2019. It’s important to pay attention to data provided and what context can be drawn from it. In this case, we’re provided with a graph that displays the life expectancy of a country in relation to the GDP per capita of said country. Being able to skim this graph and notice the common trends in the data points could provide convenient information into the context of the document, without any further intensive reading. 

For example, seeing how countries with a GDP below 4,000 to 5,000 have lower life expectancies already gives us a potential correlation between the two factors. We can use this information to start formulating a thesis, depending on what the prompt is specifically asking for.

Remember, just skim! Don’t worry about reading the entire document yet; this strategy can keep you calm and level-headed before tackling the rest of the document. Methods like this can make acing the AP World History DBQ less intimidating! 

3. Formulate a tentative thesis

A thesis is a statement that should be proved and discussed upon. It’s important to have a strong thesis as the foundation of your DBQ, as it guides the rest of your response in relation to the context. Understanding the difference between weak and strong theses will be imperative to your success, so here is an example of a weak thesis:

“The Cold War originated from some scenarios of conflict between Soviets and some groups of oppressors.” 

Such a thesis can be considered weak for its lack of specificity, focal point, and usability as a constructive tool to write further detail on the subject. This thesis does not take a clear stance or communicate to the reader what the essay will specifically focus on. Here’s how the same thesis can be restructured to be stronger and more useful:

“The Cold War originated from tense diplomatic conflicts relating to propaganda and conspiratorial warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The information that’s been included into the second thesis about the two groups involved with the Cold War gives you more room to build a structured essay response. In relation to the rubric/grading schema for this DBQ, forming a structurally sound thesis or claim is one of the seven attainable points. Being able to contextualize, analyze, and reason off of this thesis alone could provide for two to four points – this means that five out of seven of your points revolve around your thesis, so make sure that it’s strong! Doing all of this in your fifteen minute reading period is crucial as once this is set, writing your actual response will be much easier!

4. Actively read the documents

Simply reading a document doesn’t normally suffice for creating a well-written and comprehensive response. You should focus on implementing your active reading skills, as this will make a huge difference as to how efficient you are during your work process. 

Active reading refers to reading with an intention to grab key words and fragments of important information, usually gone about by highlighting and separating important phrases. Annotations, underlining, and circling are all great ways to filter out important information from irrelevant text in the documents. 

An example of where you might find important information via active reading is the description. Circle important names or dates to contextualize the document. If you still can’t find contextual value from the title, that’s totally fine! Just scope out the rest of the document in relevance to your thesis – that is, pinpoint the specific information or text that best supports your argument. Finding one or two solid points of interest from one document is usually enough to write about and expand upon within your essay. 

types of dbq essays

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5. Make an Outline 

If you like outlines, making one before writing your essay might prove helpful, just be aware of the time limit and act accordingly. 

Start with your introduction, then work on the rest of your essay. This way, you can make sure your thesis is clear and strong, and it will help the graders form a clear view on what the general consensus of your paper is. Make sure to include evidence with your thesis within each paragraph and cite only relevant information, otherwise your citations could come across as filler as opposed to useful content. Every commentary or point you make should be tied in some way to the documents.

Format each body paragraph and organize your essay in a way that makes sense to you! The graders aren’t really looking at the structure of your essay; rather, they want to see that you analyzed the documents in a way that is supportive of your essay. As long as you have content from the documents which prove your thesis, the order or manner in which you present them doesn’t matter too much. What’s more important is that your essay is clear and comprehensive. As you write practice DBQs, try having someone else read your essays to make sure that the format is easy to follow.

Keep all these key details in mind as you construct your own DBQ response, and you’re well on your way to writing an effective essay!

Your chances of admission are actually not really impacted by your AP scores; however, the AP classes you take are more important than the exam scores themselves, meaning the impact of your AP scores isn’t as big as you think . 

Instead, focusing on the AP classes on your transcript and the relevance of those classes to your future major is more impactful. For a further detailed understanding of the role AP classes play in regards to your college admissions, use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator , which takes into account your GPA, standardized test scores, and more. 

Additional Information

To dive deeper into DBQs, AP classes, and learning how to tackle each exam check out other resources at CollegeVine:

  • Acing the Document Based Question on the AP US History Exam
  • Acing the AP World History Document Based Question
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP U.S. History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP European History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP World History Exam

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Are you a student preparing for APUSH, or AP World History, or AP European History, who hasn’t quite mastered the art of writing the DBQ essay? Don’t worry — it’s a reasonably complex essay, but when broken down into steps, easy to figure out.

Read on for DBQ essay tips: how to annotate the documents, draft your DBQ essay outline, craft your DBQ thesis and argument, write the DBQ, and revise your essay. Included are DBQ examples from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam.

First Things First: What is a DBQ Essay?

A DBQ, or Document Based Question, is an essay question present on many of the history-based AP Exams , including AP U.S. History , AP European History , and AP World History .

The DBQ is one somewhat specific prompt about a historical context, and it includes six documents (either primary text excerpts, art pieces, political cartoons, or other types of archival media).

The goal of the DBQ is to write an essay arguing your specific stance on the question and to support your position with both a selection of the documents and other knowledge of historical events.

You’ll have to provide historical context for the prompt and demonstrate how some factor of each document supports your argument. You’ll also need a firm conclusion that restates your thesis and analysis.

The DBQ will be worth 25% of your score, so it’s essential to do well.

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

How to Outline a DBQ Essay (with Examples)

After you read the prompt, look through the packet of documents and take a second to analyze each in conjunction with the prompt. Does the message of the document seem to support or refute the prompt?

Jot down a few keywords about the historical context of the document — is it from a specific historical event or written by a member of a prominent historical movement? If so, make sure to reference that in your essay.

Also, note whether you can easily use the document to support the prompt.

Make sure to manage your time here — if you’re stuck on a document, just skip it. Don’t waste time trying to figure out something you may not even need in your essay. Don’t make detailed notes either — only one or two keywords you can reference later in your essay.

After you’ve looked at every document, you can determine your argument and your thesis. Are there enough documents that you can easily support the prompt statement? Pick three key points to use in your thesis, with one or two documents for each.

Your outline should not be long or detailed because the last thing you want to do is waste time. All you need is 5 points, one for each paragraph: intro, thesis points 1-3, conclusion (which is just restating the thesis).

types of dbq essays

For each point, write down the main idea of the paragraph, summed up into two or three words, any historical buzzwords you plan to use, and the documents you plan to reference. That should provide enough of a skeleton to get you writing.

Here’s an example, from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam DBQ , released by The College Board. The prompt is as follows:

Evaluate the relative importance of different causes for the expanding role of the United States in the world in the period from 1865 to 1910.

For the outline, look at the documents and devise a thesis. In this case, the writer can group the documents by topic: 2 documents about the importance of a strong foreign presence, two documents warning about federal expansion, and two documents lamenting a divergence from social traditionalism. This means you might want to consider making those three categories your thesis points.

Then, figure out how to make an argument and answer the prompt.

Also, consider the historical context of the time.

Example outline (2018 question):

Contextualization: Post Civil War South in shambles, expansion of industrialization, favorable tariffs, prior isolationism halted in seeking new markets.

Thesis: Imperialism — attitudes of American superiority, foreign conflicts leading to territory gains/opportunities (Manifest Destiny idea), but also backlash to imperialism.

1. Attitudes of American superiority

  • If Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will. (Doc 2)
  • A strong navy/military is necessary to defend superior American interests (Doc 3)
  • America as a country can take whatever territories it desires (Doc 4)
  • Attitude that America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad (Doc 6)
  • Efforts to oppose America unsuccessful (ie in the Philippines)

2. Foreign conflicts and territory gains

  • US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia (Doc 1)
  • Teddy Roosevelt & the importance of foreign affairs (Doc 7)

Conclusion: These attitudes of American superiority continue into the 20th century.

Your outline doesn’t need to be detailed, just provide a roadmap for you to reference as you’re writing your essay, so you don’t lose the focus of your argument.

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

What Makes an Effective Thesis?

Start drafting your thesis by looking at the prompt and the documents in conjunction. Make sure you can support your thesis with some of the documents. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to back it up.

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Figure out what the prompt is asking: College Board tends to use an “action word” in the prompt, each one asking a slightly different thing. Underline the verb — what the prompt wants you to do. Examples:

  • Analyze, Discuss, Consider: Write about the causes and mechanizations of the prompt: basically how and why something occurred the way it did historically. Use evidence (the documents) to back up your claims.
  • Assess: Generally, in reference to a statement. Write about how historically defensible, or accurate the statement is. You can take any stance, but whichever one you choose needs to be backed up by evidence (the documents).
  • Evaluate: Determine which cause, or historical factor, proved most influential in the way a past event or movement played out. You can discuss several factors or causes, and figure out the extent to which each impacted the historical event, back up your evaluation with evidence.
  • Compare/Contrast: Identify key historical characteristics (social, political, economic) of the two movements/events/etc. listed in the prompt, and then draw comparisons between them and point out their differences. For your three-point essay, choose either two to be similarities and one to be a difference or two to be differences and one to be a similarity, depending on what you have evidence for/documents to back up.
  • Explain: Provide lots of detail about the causes or contributing factors to the historical event/movement/etc. listed in the prompt. Look at the social, political, and economic factors, and back up your explanation with the documents and other outside evidence.

Make sure your thesis answers the prompt, but moreover, makes a historically defensible claim that can be supported by the documents. You can then develop your thesis points using the context of the documents.

Your thesis also functions as a sort of roadmap for where your paper will go. Include your thesis points in an order that will make sense in your essay, especially if they build on each other.

Your thesis only has to be one to three sentences. Don’t start writing your body paragraph while still in your thesis statement — save all the evidence for later in your paper.

Here’s an introduction and thesis paragraph scoring full points, released by the College Board from the 2018 AP U.S. History exam. The first part of the paragraph functions as contextualization, and it introduces the period, setting up the prompt.

The next part is the thesis:

 The United States primarily sought to increase its role in the world due to the notion that America and the American lifestyle was superior and to also gain strategic territory to expand their influence globally. Despite these strong imperialist sentiments, however, there were still many who were against the movement and considered it a moral wrongdoing.

The student takes a clear stance here: The US deliberately sought to increase their role in global affairs, and a rhetoric of American superiority and the quest to gain more territory together caused this increase.

  • The general assumption of American superiority
  • The government gaining strategic territory for global affairs
  • Pushback to imperialism

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

How to Develop a DBQ Argument

Again, develop your argument by looking at the documents. What about the goal or message of each document supports your argument? What does each document say about its historical period? Ask these questions and jot down some other buzzwords from the time period you could reference to support your argument.

You can put the documents into categories depending on what they’re saying — then you can use these categories to develop your thesis points, which back up your argument.

In the case of the 2018 DBQ referenced above, the student grouped their documents by body paragraphs.

For their first thesis point, the general assumption of American superiority,

  • A document telling Anglo-Saxon Americans that if they don’t compete in global affairs, other nations and races will.
  • A document stating the importance of a strong navy to defend American interests
  • A cartoon portraying America as a country in a position to take whatever territories it desires
  • A document suggesting America should not only use military power abroad but also indoctrinate people into American culture and education abroad.

Together, they used these documents to demonstrate attitudes both political and social driving American imperialism, and how the rhetoric of American superiority pushed the US to imperialism and into global affairs.

For their second thesis point, gaining strategic territory for global affairs

  • A document about the US’s purchase of Alaska from Russia
  • A document from Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of foreign affairs.

These demonstrated how the US’s direct intervention in foreign affairs could get them more territory and power — which increased the US’s global influence.

Since their third thesis point wasn’t a cause, more of a qualifying point, the student didn’t use any of the documents.

By grouping documents together based on their message, it’s easier to develop supportable thesis points. However, if you can think of several thesis points after reading the prompt, you can also jot them down and then see what documents fit under each.

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

What to Look for When Analyzing the DBQ Documents

You should contextualize/analyze at least three documents in your essay. Here are some options to analyze. For the examples, we’ll use document 3 from the same 2018 DBQ. For each example, sample notes and a sample essay analysis sentence are included. Remember, you only have to analyze one characteristic of each document for your essay.

Source: Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, 1897.

To affirm the importance of distant markets, and the relation to them of our own immense powers of production, implies logically the recognition of the link that joins the products and the markets, that is, the carrying trade; the three together constituting that chain of maritime power to which Great Britain owes her wealth and greatness. Further, is it too much to say that, as two of these links, the shipping and the markets, are exterior to our own borders, the acknowledgement of them carries with it a view of the relations of the United States to the world radically distinct from the simple idea of self-sufficingness? … There will dawn the realization of America’s unique position, facing the older worlds of the East and West, her shores washed by the oceans which touch the one or the other, but which are common to her alone.

Despite a certain great original superiority conferred by our geographical nearness and immense resources, due, in other words, to our natural advantages, and not to our intelligent preparation, the United States is woefully unready, not only in fact but in purpose, to assert in the Caribbean and Central America a weight of influence proportioned to the extent of her interests. We have not the navy, and, what is worse, we are not willing to have the navy, that will weigh hersiously in any disputes with those nations whose interests will conflict there will or our own. We have not, and we are not anxious to provide, the defence of the seaboard which will leave the navy free for its work at sea. We have not, but many other powers have, positions, either within or on the borders of the Caribbean.

1. Author’s point of view

Was the author a member of a political party opposed to specific issues, or an activist leading a prominent social movement? Identify their outlook on the document.

Notes to take: 2018 example: importance of navy, military strength for imperialism

Analysis: 2018 example: The author, like some military leaders at the time, advocated for the strengthening of domestic fortification and the enlargement of the navy to extend America’s influence abroad.

2. The intended audience

Is the document a news article from a major newspaper? An excerpt from a political pamphlet? A diary entry? Ask yourself who would have read the document — this will help you identify the author’s intended message.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Military interests abroad

Analysis: 2018 example: The intended audience was military leaders interested in hearing how better to increase the US’s influence abroad and fortify the country domestically.

3. The message or purpose of the document

Was the document’s purpose to inform readers objectively? Was it to persuade them to join a political movement? Or to entertain them? Identifying the purpose can help you better understand the document, and use the document to strengthen your argument.

Notes to take: 2018 example: fortify the navy, influence military/political leaders

Analysis: 2018 example: The author attempted to influence United States political leaders to enlarge the United States Navy to extend its reach into Central America and the Far East

4. Historical influences on the document

Did a specific historical event motivate the author to create the document? Did the actions of other scholars, activists, or politicians noticeably inspire the author? This one might not be easy, but if you know about other historical movements or figures during the same or an earlier time period with a similar message, they might be related. Take note.

Notes to take: 2018 example: Federal expansion, desegregation, civil rights movt

Analysis: 2018 example: European endeavors in Latin America and in the Far East increased the need for the United States to extend its reach into the region to protect its growing economic interests.

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

3 Strategies to Use When Drafting Your DBQ

1. Be familiar with the rubric , and follow it.

The DBQ rubric is as follows:

Thesis: 1 point. Must answer the prompt with a historically defensible claim.

Contextualization: 1 point. Contextualization can be part of your introduction paragraph. Introduce the broader historical context of the time period — what, outside the specific events of the prompt, influenced public attitudes or policy during the time period? How might these other factors have influenced the events of the prompt?

Evidence: 3 points. Using at least 3 of the documents to address the prompt and strengthen your argument is 1 point. Using at least 6 of the documents to address the prompt and reinforce your argument will get you 2 points. Using outside evidence not discussed in any of the documents from your historical knowledge will get you 1 point.

If you use six documents and some outside evidence, you’ll get the full 3 points.

Analysis and reasoning: 2 points. One point if, for at least 3 of the documents, you analyze the author’s point of view, purpose, audience, or historical influences in reference to the prompt and support your argument. Explain why the author’s purpose, or audience, etc. is relevant to your case to get this point.

For the second point, you have to use evidence to demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of the topic of the prompt. Does your argument answer the question in a way that’s supported with both the documents and other evidence? Does your writing show that you know what you’re talking about?

If you’ve reviewed the rubric ahead of time, make sure to mentally check off boxes as you go through and write. You could potentially miss something small (ie, only integrating five documents, or forgetting to reference outside evidence) and lose a whole point.

2. Use the documents as a guide.

Since you have to include at least six documents in your essay for the full 2 points, you should make sure they can fit into your thesis points and support your argument. When you’re stuck writing one of your body paragraphs, reference a document and analyze how it reflects historical attitudes at the time.

You should also add in the documents you plan to reference in your outline, so if you follow your outline, you can let the documents and other outside evidence guide your writing.

However, also remember to bring in at least one piece of outside historical knowledge — treat that as another document and analyze it to support your argument.

3. Use your historical knowledge to supplement the documents.

Bring in your knowledge beyond the documents and their contexts. Is one of the documents from a suffragette in the 19th century? Bring in some of the other knowledge you have about the early feminist movement and the push for women’s voting rights. Add in critical buzzwords the documents may not have directly stated, and talk about similar events and movements at the time that may have affected or been affected by the document.

You can also reference historical events, movements, or people not discussed in any of the documents at all, assuming they support your argument, to strengthen your essay outside the scope of the documents.

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

How to Conclude Your DBQ Essay

In the updated 2017 DBQ, you don’t need to write a synthesis paragraph. So conclude your DBQ essay by reiterating the main analysis points of your body paragraph briefly, and restate your thesis. Together, this will distill your essay down to its main points for a clear, strong conclusion.

Don’t add any new material — all your analysis should be in your body paragraphs, and anything more will just confuse your reader.

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

How to Revise Your DBQ Essay Effectively

If you have time before the end of the writing period and you’ve finished writing your DBQ, go back and revise it. Read through everything again, paying close attention to the following.


  • Have you successfully “set the scene” by describing some of the relevant historical context of the time period, including other prominent social movements, policies and legislation, economic market changes, or religious movements?
  • Are your three original thesis points used as the foundation for your three body paragraphs? If not, change your thesis to make sure it lines up with the rest of your essay.
  • Does your thesis take a stance and make a historically defensible claim? Read it over in conjunction with the prompt and make sure it’s answering the entirety of the question and not just restating the prompt.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Do you use two or more documents per body paragraph for a total of 6 or more documents total? If not, look over which documents you haven’t used and integrate them into one of your body paragraphs.
  • Each time you use a document, do you effectively contextualize it? Do you discuss how the author’s purpose, intended audience, point of view, or historical influences support your argument? If not, add that.
  • Is your argument logically supported by each piece of evidence you offer?
  • Do you have at least one piece of evidence outside of the documents that supports your argument?
  • Does each body paragraph flow logically into the next? Make sure your transitions are smooth.

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

General Time Management Tips When Writing DBQs

You only have a limited amount of time for the entire essay, so manage your time intelligently . I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 10, 15 minutes max thinking about your argument and drafting an outline.

During the AP exam, they’ll give you a specific time period of 15 minutes to spend reading the documents and thinking about your argument, then 45 minutes to write the essay.

But 45 minutes isn’t a ton of time, use the 15 minutes intelligently, so you’re ready to start writing as soon as possible. You want the maximum possible amount of time for writing since that’s what’s going to be graded.

Ideally, you should try and finish with five minutes or so to revise your finished essay, check for readability errors, factual errors, parts where your argument isn’t cohesive.

Make sure to coordinate with the other essay: the LEQ to make sure you have enough time to write both essays successfully. You get 55 minutes for the DBQ and 35 minutes for the LEQ, so the longer you spend on the DBQ, the less time you get on the LEQ.

This is why practice is so important! You won’t be able to write a good DBQ in 45-55 minutes on your first try.

You shouldn’t need a ton of time to look over each document, just jot down a few keywords about what it’s saying and how that might fit into your essay. Your outline doesn’t need to be more than 5 points: an intro, conclusion, and three body paragraphs, each based on a thesis point, with the documents you plan to use for each.

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

What Delineates a Good DBQ from a Bad DBQ?

Good DBQs have theses with a strong stance and defensible claim, as well as three specific points that build on each other and can be backed up logically using six of the documents provided.

Good thesis examples (from the 2018 question):

“While some historians may argue that the US desire to expand its role in the world was due to the fact that the US felt it was its duty to civilize nations and act as a global police, the most important reason for America expanding its role in the world can be attributed to its competition with Europe over global influence, its desire to expand its economy through trading opportunities, and the U.S. ideal of manifest destiny.”

This thesis makes a claim and reflects the cause and effect prompt. You can tell where their essay is going to go: to discuss the US as global police and its competition with other global influencers.

“The country was doing this for a few reasons, such as expanding its territory, (manifest destiny or imperialism) preserving its national interests such as trading with China, and helping other nations.”

Same with this thesis — though this one isn’t as wordy. It outlines 3 body paragraph points and makes a defensible argument.

Bad DBQ theses don’t make a strong claim, instead opting for a vague statement that can’t be defended well either way. They pick thesis points that cannot be backed up well with the documents or other outside evidence.

Bad thesis example:

Due to this, America began to embark on an imperialistic mission in the latter half of the 1800’s in the name of economic, social, and political ‘necessities.’

Different causes and events had a major importance in expanding the role of the US in the world.

These theses aren’t specific to the time period. They restate the prompt, and we have no idea what the “necessities” might be.

Good DBQs integrate their documents logically, in a way that supports their claim. They analyze the historical context of the documents and note how the author’s intended audience, purpose, point of view, or historical influences play into their argument.

They also reference the specific names of related historical events or influences to strengthen their argument and bring in other outside evidence not related to the document that supports their point.

Bad DBQs don’t use the documents to support their argument, instead of discussing the documents outside of the context of their argument, or forgetting to use the documents. They might draw illogical or loose-fitting connections between the documents and their argument, while unable to entirely explain why they fit together.

They don’t use any evidence outside the documents, and they’re unable to provide specific historical names for events or movements related to the documents.


Good DBQs go back to the prompt and restate the thesis, as well as a few main points of your analysis.

Bad DBQs add more material that should have gone in a body paragraph, that will just further confuse the reader.

College Board Resources for DBQs

College Board Resources for DBQs

The College Board website has lots of practice DBQs and DBQ resources to use. Make sure you look some over before the exam to get a sense of how the College Board tends to grade them and what easy mistakes you can avoid.

Most Updated DBQ Rubric : Here are the rubrics for all the AP History essays.

Practice DBQs:

Practice writing DBQs then read some sample essays and grade them with the rubric for more familiarity with the DBQ essay rubric.

AP U.S. History past DBQs

AP European History past DBQs

AP World History past DBQs

More information: AP Classroom

Specific information about AP History, including timing and question numbers, FAQs, plus practice resources:

AP World History

Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways on Writing a Good DBQ Essay

The biggest takeaways to writing a good DBQ should be: starting prepared by annotating the documents and drafting your thesis and a clear outline to guide you through the writing process. You need to make sure you have a robust and defensible argument and that your documents can back up your key points.

Hopefully, the listed tips have helped you better understand the DBQ rubric and the skills you need to ace the DBQ, but don’t forget the next step: practice! The DBQ essay style is a little complex, and the best way to better remember it for the test is to look at some of the sample prompts on the College Board website and practice! Then, go through the grading rubrics and identify your weak point, so next time you’ll be even better.

Did you enjoy this post? Then you may also want to check out some of our guides to the best AP review books .

We also created extensive tips guides for many of the AP History courses:

> AP US Government Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP US History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

> AP World History Tips and Test Taking Strategies

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

Last Updated: February 27, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a Private Tutor and Life Coach in Santa Cruz, California. In 2018, she founded Mindful & Well, a natural healing and wellness coaching service. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. Emily also received her Wellness Coach Certificate from Cornell University and completed the Mindfulness Training by Mindful Schools. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 680,771 times.

In the past, Document Based Questions (DBQ) were rarely found outside of AP history exams. However, they’re now used in social studies classes across grade levels, so you’re bound to take a DBQ test at some point. [1] X Research source Going into the test, you will need strong background knowledge of the time periods and geographical areas on which you will be tested. Your documents will always relate back directly to the major subjects and themes of your class. The key to success is to analyze the provided documents and use them to support an argument in response to the essay prompt. While DBQ tests are rigorous, they allow you to actually do historical work instead of merely memorize facts. Don’t stress, put on your historian hat, and start investigating!

Writing Help

types of dbq essays

Analyzing the Documents

Step 1 Review the documents for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • For an AP exam, you’ll then have 45 minutes to write your essay. Exact times may vary for other exams and assignments but, for all DBQ essays, document analysis is the first step.
  • For an AP exam, you will also need to include a thesis, set the prompt’s historical context, use 6 documents to support an argument, describe 1 piece of outside evidence, and discuss the point of view or context of at least 3 of the sources. Label these elements as you review and outline so you don’t forget something.

Step 2 Identify the prompt’s keywords and assigned tasks.

  • A prompt might ask you to analyze or explain the causes of a historical development, such as, “Explain how the Progressive Movement gained social, political, and cultural influence from the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States.”
  • You might need to use primary sources to compare and contrast differing attitudes or points of view toward a concept, policy, or event, such as, “Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in the United States from 1890 to 1920.”
  • Keywords in these examples inform you how to read your sources. For instance, to compare and contrast differing attitudes, you’ll need to identify your sources’ authors, categorize their points of view, and figure out how attitudes changed over the specified period of time.

Step 3 Note your documents’ authors, points of view, and other details.

  • Suppose one of the documents is a suffragette’s diary entry. Passages in the entry that detail her advocacy for the Women’s Rights Movement are evidence of her point of view. In contrast, another document is newspaper article written around the same time that opposes suffrage.
  • A diary entry might not have an intended audience but, for documents such as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, you’ll need to identify the author’s likely readers.
  • Most of your sources will probably be written documents, but you’ll likely encounter political cartoons, photographs, maps, or graphs. The U.S. Library of Congress offers a helpful guide to reading specific primary source categories at .

Step 4 Place your sources into categories based on the essay prompt.

  • Suppose you have a letter sent from one suffragette to another about the methods used to obtain the right to vote. This document may help you infer how attitudes vary among the movement’s supporters.
  • A newspaper article depicting suffragettes as unpatriotic women who would sabotage World War I for the United States helps you understand the opposing attitude.
  • Perhaps other sources include a 1917 editorial on the harsh treatment of imprisoned suffragists and an article on major political endorsements for women’s suffrage. From these, you’d infer that 1917 marked a pivotal year, and that the role women played on the home front during World War I would lead to broader support for suffrage.

Step 5 Think of relevant outside information to include in your essay.

  • For instance, perhaps you read that the National American Woman Suffrage association (NAWSA) made a strategic shift in 1916 from focusing on state-by-state suffrage to prioritizing a constitutional amendment. Mentioning this switch to a more aggressive strategy supports your claim that the stage was set for a 1917 turning point in popular support for women’s suffrage.
  • When you think of outside evidence during the planning stages, jot it down so you can refer to it when you write your essay. A good spot could be in the margin of a document that relates to the outside information.

Developing an Argument

Step 1 Review the prompt and form a perspective after reading the documents.

  • For example, after reviewing the documents related to women’s suffrage, identify the opposing attitudes, how they differed, and how they changed over time.
  • Your rough argument at this stage could be, “Those in opposition saw suffragettes as unpatriotic and unfeminine. Attitudes within the suffrage movement were divided between conservative and confrontational elements. By the end of World War I, changing perceptions of the role of women contributed to growing popular support for suffrage.”

Step 2 Refine your rough...

  • Suppose your DBQ is, “How did World War I affect attitudes toward women’s suffrage in the United States?” A strong tentative thesis would be, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.”
  • A weak thesis would be, “World War I affected how Americans perceived women’s suffrage.” This simply restates the prompt.

Step 3 Make an outline of your argument’s structure.

  • For example, under numeral I., write, “New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s.” This section will explain the 1890s concept of the New Woman, which rejected traditional characterizations of women as dependent and fragile. You’ll argue that this, in part, set the stage for shifting attitudes during and following World War I.
  • You can start your planning your essay during the reading portion of the test. If necessary, take around 5 minutes out of the writing portion to finish outlining your argument.

Step 4 Plug your document citations into the outline.

  • For instance, under “I. New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s,” write “(Doc 1),” which is a pamphlet praising women who ride bicycles, which was seen as “unladylike” at the time.
  • Beneath that line, write “(Doc 2),” which is an article that defends the traditional view that women should remain in the household. You’ll use this document to explain the opposing views that set the context for suffrage debates in the 1900s and 1910s.

Step 5 Refine your thesis after making the outline.

  • Suppose your tentative thesis is, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.” You decide that “contributed” isn’t strong enough, and swap it out for “led” to emphasize causation.

Drafting Your Essay

Step 1 Keep your eye on the clock and plan your time strategically.

  • If you have 45 minutes to write, take about 5 minutes to make an outline. If you have an introduction, 3 main points that cite 6 documents, and a conclusion, plan on spending 7 minutes or less on each of these 5 sections. That will leave you 5 minutes to proofread or to serve as a buffer in case you need more time.
  • Check the time periodically as you write to ensure you’re staying on target.

Step 2 Include your thesis and 1 to 2 sentences of context in your introduction.

  • To set the context, you might write, “The Progressive Era, which spanned roughly from 1890 to 1920, was a time of political, economic, and cultural reform in the United States. A central movement of the era, the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum as perceptions of the role of women dramatically shifted.”
  • If you’d prefer to get straight to the point, feel free to start your introduction with your thesis, then set the context.
  • A timed DBQ essay test doesn’t leave you much time to write a long introduction, so get straight to analyzing the documents rather than spell out a long, detailed intro.

Step 3 Write your body paragraphs.

  • Each body section should have a topic sentence to let the reader know you’re transitioning to a new piece of evidence. For example, start the first section with, “The 1890s saw shifts in perception that set the stage for the major advances in women’s suffrage during and following World War I.”
  • Be sure to cite your documents to support each part of your argument. Include direct quotes sparingly, if at all, and prioritize analysis of a source over merely quoting it.
  • Whenever you mention a document or information within a document, add parentheses and the number of the document at the end of the sentence, like this: “Women who were not suffragettes but still supported the movement wrote letters discussing their desire to help (Document 2).”

Step 4 Make sure to show how each body paragraph connects to your thesis.

  • For example, a private diary entry from 1916 dismissing suffrage as morally corrupt isn’t necessarily a reflection of broader public opinion. There's more to consider than just its content, or what it says.
  • Suppose a more reliable document, such as a major newspaper article on the 1916 Democratic and Republican national conventions, details the growing political and public support for women’s suffrage. You’d use this source to show that the diary entry conveys an attitude that was becoming less popular.

Step 5 Weave together your argument in your conclusion.

  • In your essay on World War I and women’s suffrage, you could summarize your argument, then mention that the war similarly impacted women’s voting rights on an international scale.

Revising Your Draft

Step 1 Proofread your essay for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • If you’re taking an AP history exam or other timed test, minor errors are acceptable as long as they don't affect your argument. Spelling mistakes, for instance, won’t result in a loss of points if the scorer can still understand the word, such as “sufrage” instead of “suffrage.”

Step 2 Make sure you’ve included all required elements.

  • A clear thesis statement.
  • Set the prompt’s broader historical context.
  • Support your argument using 6 of the 7 included documents.
  • Identify and explain 1 piece of historical evidence other than the included documents.
  • Describe 3 of the documents’ points of view, purposes, audiences, or context.
  • Demonstrate a complex understanding of the topic, such as by discussing causation, change, continuity, or connections to other historical periods.

Step 3 Check that your names, dates, and other facts are accurate.

  • As with spelling and grammar, minor errors are acceptable as long as the scorer knows what you mean. Little spelling mistakes are fine, but you’ll lose points if you write that a source supports suffrage when it doesn’t.

Community Q&A

wikiHow Staff Editor

  • Remember that you shouldn't just identify or summarize a document. Explain why a source is important, and tie each reference into your argument. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you’re taking an AP history exam, find exam rubrics, practice tests, and other resources at . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Taking a timed test can be tough, so time yourself when you take practice tests. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

types of dbq essays

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About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

Document-Based Questions, or DBQ essays, are often used in social studies classes to test your ability to do historical work rather than simply memorize facts. Start by spending some time reviewing the documents and developing an argument. Pay special attention to keywords in the prompt that will help you construct your argument. For example, if the prompt includes the words "compare and contrast," you'll need to include 2 different viewpoints in your essay and compare them. Then, as you read your sources, note the authors, points of view, and other key details that will help you figure out how to use the documents. Once you’ve reviewed all of the material, come up with your response. Sketch out a tentative thesis that encapsulates your argument and make an outline for your essay. You can then draft your essay, starting with an introduction that gives context and states your thesis, followed by supporting body paragraphs. To learn how to write a conclusion for your DBQ, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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types of dbq essays

How to Write a DBQ

types of dbq essays

A DBQ essay is an assigned task which tests a student’s analyzation and understanding skills. They also test a student in thinking outside the box. These skills are essential for success in gaining this academic qualification. In this article from EssayPro — professional essay writers team, we will talk about how to write a DBQ, we will go through the DBQ format, and show you a DBQ example.

What Is a DBQ?

Many students may prosper: “What is a DBQ?”. Long story short, DBQ Essay or “Document Based Question” is an assigned academic paper which is part of the AP U.S. History exam (APUSH) set by the United States College Board. It requires a student’s knowledge of a certain topic with evidence from around 3 to 16 reliable sources. Understanding the APUSH DBQ and its outline is essential for success in the exam, itself.

DBQ Outline

We understand that learning how to write a DBQ essay can be difficult for beginners. This is why our professional writers have listed the DBQ format for your own reference while preparing for the exam. Like all essays, this involves an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

How to Write a DBQ


  • An introductory sentence to hook your audience.
  • State the background of the topic. Using a source relating to a historical occurrence or historical figure can be helpful at this time.
  • Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence.
  • Create a brief description of the evidence that will be included in the body paragraphs.
  • Write a paragraph which talks about how the DBQ essay question will be answered.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Include the strongest argument. This should be linked to the thesis statement. Read our example of thesis statement .
  • Include an analysis of the references which relate to the strongest argument.
  • Write a statement which concludes the analysis in a different point of view. Include a link to the thesis.
  • Write a transition sentence to the next body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the first argument in the previous body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the second argument in the previous body paragraph.
  • Write a transition sentence to the conclusion.
  • Create a summarizing argument of the whole paper.
  • Include the main points or important information in the sources.
  • Create a concluding sentence or question which challenges the point of view that argues against these sources.

Feeling Overwhelmed Writing a DBQ ESSAY?

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How to Write a DBQ: Step-By-Step Instructions

For some students, writing a DBQ essay may be hard. Not to worry. Our easy-to-read step-by-step instructions talk about the essential points which includes how to write a DBQ thesis, analyzation, time-management and proofreading your work. It is always important to write your paper in accordance to the DBQ outline for achieving the success you’re capable of.

The DBQ involves:

  • Planning: 15 Minutes
  • Writing: 2 hours and 45 Minutes
  • Proofreading: 10 Minutes

Time management is essential for a successful grade in this form of examination. The general DBQ outline states that the duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Spend around 15 minutes planning, 2 hours and 45 minutes writing, and 10 minutes proofreading. Follow these easy-to-read step-by-step instructions to learn how to write a DBQ thesis, body and conclusion successfully.

Step 1: Planning (15 Minutes)

During the exam, it is important to study the provided sources. The exam is 3 hours, so 15 minutes for planning is a reasonable approach. During this time, analyze all of the important key-points from the sources provided. Then, take a note of all of the key points, and write them under the titles; introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

Step 2: Introduction (5 Minutes)

First impressions count. Keep the introduction short and brief. Don’t go straight into answering the question in this part of the paper. For a successful introduction, write a brief summary of the overall paper. It is also important to include an introductory sentence.

Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes)

This form of essay requires a separate 3 paragraphs for the DBQ thesis. Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence. The second paragraph should include a description of the paper. The third paragraph should include how you’re going to answer the question.

  • The key difference with other essays is that the thesis plays an important role in the DBQ structure.
  • The APUSH DBQ thesis should not be two sentences long.
  • The thesis should be written with act least 2 or 3 paragraphs long.

Step 4: Body (2 Hours and 16 Minutes)

Write well-structured, categorized paragraphs. Each paragraph should include one point. Avoid mixing ideas in the paragraphs. Include your answer to the assigned question with the provided documents. It is also important to read between the lines. Each paragraph should link to the thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion (10 Minutes)

The final part of your paper. The conclusion plays a vital role in persuading your audience. A poorly written conclusion means a skeptical audience. For well-written conclusion, summarize the entire paper. Link the conclusion to the thesis. Answer the question in a concluding sentence, “the big idea”.

Step 6: Proofreading (10 Minutes)

Spend around 10 minutes proofreading your work at the end of the exam. It is important to proofread your work to make sure it does not contain any grammatical mistakes. Any writing errors can lower one’s grade. Please make sure that the body paragraphs answer the question and link to the thesis, this is the most important part of the paper.

Writing Tips to Success with Your DBQ Essay

Understand: Before writing, make sure that you understand the sources and the essay question. Duration: Remember that the exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Study: Practice how to write a DBQ before the actual exam. Identify: Find the key-points from the sources to include in your essay.

How to Write a DBQ

Read Between the Lines: Don’t just write about what you read, but write about what the passages imply. Read all Documents: Make sure you have read all of the sources, prior to writing the paper. Read the Outline: Following the DBQ essay outline is essential for understanding how to structure the paper during the exam. Categorize: Put each point into categories. This will come in useful for writing the body paragraphs. Write the Author’s Opinion: Show an understanding of the writer’s point of view. Write a Temporary DBQ Thesis on your Notes: Doing so will assist you during the paper writing. Follow DBQ Examples: Following a DBQ essay example, while studying, is an excellent way to get a feel for this form of assignment.

DBQ Example

Do you need more help? Following a sample DBQ essay can be very useful for preparation. Usually, when practicing for exams, students commonly refer to an example for understanding the DBQ structure, and other revision purposes. Click on the button to open our DBQ example from one of our professional writers. Feel free to use it as a reference when learning how to write a DBQ.

The Great War and the second ordeal of conflict in Europe, played a fundamental in the increase of the rights for women. During the second world war, the British government encouraged house-wives to do the work of what was primarily traditional for men to do.Such as growing crops and butchering animals, which was generally considered to be“men’s work”. One of the slogans was “dig for victory”. The reason for this was for people to take care of themselves during the difficult times of rationing.

If you think that it's better to pay someone to write my dissertation instead of writing it by your own, get help from our law essay writing team.

Following steps and outlines for custom writing is a great way to learn how to write a DBQ essay. As well as writing tips. Time management is vital for the positive result. Following our advice will enable you to get a good grade by learning how to write a good DBQ. Because learning the DBQ format is essential. Practice is very important for any form of examination. Otherwise, one could not do as well as his or her potential allows him or her to do so.

You might be interested in information about this type of essay, such as the definition essay .

Are you still stuck? Do you sometimes think to yourself: 'Can someone write essay for me '? You’re in luck. Our essay writing service is designed to allow you to easily find custom essay writers at your convenience. Every DBQ essay we deliver is completely original.


Our experts are able to produce a DBQ essay example within hours. Why not give it a try to improve your knowledge?

Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

types of dbq essays

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How to Write a DBQ Essay?

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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.

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.

Stuck on writing an DBQ essay? Our Essay writers is always ready to help you!

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 Structure

Here are the main parts of the DBQ essay a student cannot forget about:

DBQ Essay Introduction: Starting DBQ Format

Problems and discussions usually characterize the DBQ essay outline. In this work, it is not enough to retell what is written in a textbook, as is often the case in a DBQ essay, or to apply a problem-solving technique, as in a test. When writing the DBQ essay outline, you can be guided by the example of the logic of construction, become familiar with the DBQ essay, and start with the relevance of the topic.

Strong Thesis Statement: What Should It Include?

The strength of your thesis statement influences how you write a DBQ. The standard number of theses for a DBQ essay is from 2 to 5. To determine the exact number of ideas, you must be guided by the required work. The larger the text, the stronger the thesis statement should be. It isn’t easy to write a DBQ on one thesis statement.

There are specific ways to write a DBQ with a strong thesis statement in the paper. The main DBQ essay outline has only four points:

  • DBQ outline requires you to determine why you are convincing the reader of the truth or falsity of the thesis statement. To do this, it is desirable to be clear about the target audience. Your thesis statement should be interesting to the reader. Otherwise, he will not read further;
  • Gathering information. You can write a good DBQ essay only if you have read enough literature on the topic before. In the process, you will be able to understand the relevance of your document-based question;
  • In any DBQ format, it is essential to identify keywords that will be the anchor points and skeleton of the DBQ essay outline.

DBQ Essay Example: Describe Your Main Ideas in Body Paragraph

It reveals the DBQ essay outline from the introduction from different angles. The central part of the DBQ format is not a continuous text; it is divided into smaller pieces. In the first part, you need to state your DBQ outline and describe how you understand and feel about the topic. Next, justify your opinion with arguments. DBQ outline demands facts from life, scientific studies, and views of scientists. You can cite facts from history to write a DBQ.

DBQ Essay Example: Logical Conclusion

The conclusion of a document-based question essay can contain such an essential, complementary element to the article as an indication of the application (implication) of your research, not excluding the relationship with other problems. DBQ essay example: “The DBQ essay is mainly about gender relations in agricultural labor, but a fuller examination would also require an examination of class relations,” followed by a few sentences explaining how the DBQ essay does that.

How to Write a DBQ essay With a Strong Thesis Statement

DBQ stands for a document based question. Such assignments require a student to demonstrate their ability to create well-researched arguments. If you have never written such tasks, read about the DBQ format.

Steps of Writing a DBQ

Create dbq essay outline: write an intro.

You will be provided with a historical context to help write a DBQ introduction. In addition, it will allow you to develop several ideas for writing your text.

Make sure to write a DBQ first sentence that answers 4 questions:

It will allow you to provide your reader with a context and briefly indicate what problem you will solve. This sentence should be the first part of your DBQ essay outline. It is followed by a couple of sentences preceding a thesis statement.

Write a Powerful Thesis Statement

To write a DBQ that will look well-researched, pay careful attention to this part of your essay. Likewise, consider the question you need to answer when writing a thesis statement.

To get tops marks for your document based question essay, follow these steps:

  • Make claims and provide pieces of evidence
  • When creating a DBQ essay outline, remember to describe the information that you will base your statements on
  • Write a paragraph explaining how you will answer the main question

If you have never written a thesis statement before, look at a DBQ essay example to see how another author coped with this task.

Correctly Structure a Body Paragraph in Your DBQ Essay Outline

A DBQ format doesn’t require you to limit the number of body paragraphs. However, when creating a DBQ outline, include at least 3 paragraphs to cover the main points.

The first paragraph should follow your thesis statement. Experienced writers start a DBQ essay outline by selecting the strongest point and analyzing it from several points of view. Then, use a transition sentence to move smoothly to the next part of your DBQ outline. It will enable you to write a DBQ more easily.

The second and third paragraphs of your DBQ essay outline should also refer to the thesis statement. You can also find a DBQ essay example with four or more paragraphs if you need to provide a detailed answer to your question.

DBQ format is quite easy to use. You can make your text logical by creating an easy-to-follow DBQ outline. Don’t forget to add another transition sentence at the end of this part of your text.

Draw a Conclusion

The last part of your DBQ outline should summarize your argument and show that you have answered the question. Use a DBQ essay example to see how such parts of these essays are usually written. The main thing is to list your main points and show that the opposing views are biased.

Wrapping Up

Following these tips, you can write a DBQ essay demonstrating that you can analyze complex issues and draw independent conclusions. Practice a lot to hone your skills and get the highest marks!

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.

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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types of dbq essays

What is a DBQ? - What You Need to Know

Document-based questions

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/12/24

As you prepare for your AP exams, you might be wondering about the meaning of a Document-Based Question. This article provides you with everything you need to know about this topic.

As high school students think about applying for colleges, some take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible to increase their chances of getting into the college they want. While AP classes are not necessary for getting admitted into college, these classes do help your chances of being accepted. 

The Document-Based Question is an essay you’ll have to write as a requirement for all AP History exams. In the sections below, we’ll cover how to answer this essay in detail.

What is a DBQ Essay?

DBQ stands for Document-Based Question in a timed essay used in AP History exams. Students are provided with 7-12 historical documents and must use their content to write a thesis-driven essay that answers a prompt. 

DBQ essays test skills like document analysis, evidence usage, contextualization, complex understanding, and historical argumentation. Students have 15 minutes to review the documents and 45 minutes to write the essay response citing at least 6 documents. 

Strong DBQ essays have a clearly stated thesis, strong organization, multi-faceted analysis, and integrate both the provided evidence and outside knowledge.

If you are taking multiple AP history courses, you may have to write multiple DBQ essays for each exam.

Here are key details about the historical documents provided on the DBQ:

  • The DBQ will include 7 documents offering different perspectives related to the prompt's historical topic or theme. The documents are a mix of primary source texts, images, graphs, maps, etc. from the time period.
  • The documents will represent a variety of viewpoints and purposes. Students need to analyze potential biases, the author's perspective, the audience, etc. when using them as evidence.
  • The topics and time periods covered align with the curriculum. For AP US History that's units 3-7 (1754-1980). For AP World History it's units 1-6 (1200-1900).
  • The types of documents are not pre-determined and can vary from exam to exam. Students should practice analyzing all formats - written texts, images, quantitative data, maps, etc.
  • While the documents provide critical evidence, students also need to bring in outside information and historical context to earn the highest scores. The documents alone are not enough to answer the prompt.
  • Authentic published DBQ questions and documents from past exams are available on the College Board website for practice. Teachers also create unofficial questions with the documents they select.

The purpose of a DBQ essay is to test the individual’s ability to identify and analyze patterns, issues, and trends from historical documents. The essay tests you on what you have learned and the skills you have gained throughout your AP History courses. 

A DBQ medical assessment is completely different from a Document-Based Question as it stands for Disability Benefits Questionnaire. These are medical evaluation forms used to document a veteran's disability, so don’t mix the two up!

The DBQ format is similar to other essays, with an emphasis on extensive analysis of documents. A good DBQ essay will follow this format:


  • Hook and background context
  • Clear thesis statement answering the prompt

Body Paragraphs

  • Each paragraph supports part of the thesis with evidence from the documents and outside information
  • Documents are analyzed, not just quoted
  • Documents are properly cited using [document #]
  • Restates thesis
  • Summarizes overall argument with closing thoughts

Key aspects of the format include:

  • Having at least 3 body paragraphs citing 6+ documents
  • Balancing evidence from provided docs and outside info
  • Explaining how outside historical factors affect the issue
  • Analyzing the documents rather than just describing them

Following the standard DBQ format, analyzing the prompt, planning effective body paragraphs, and managing time are all critical skills for success.

During your AP exam , you will have 15 minutes to read over and familiarize yourself with the documents provided. You will have 45 minutes to write the essay. 

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How to Write a DBQ

types of dbq essays

To craft a compelling Document-Based Question, start by thoroughly understanding the prompt and documents. Next, devise a thesis that addresses the prompt and organize body paragraphs to cite at least 6 documents for evidence, incorporating external context.

Begin with an introductory paragraph that sets the stage and presents your thesis. In the body, analyze, rather than merely describe, the documents, linking evidence back to your thesis. Conclude by reaffirming your argument and offering final insights.

Make sure your argument directly responds to the essay question. You will need to provide strong evidence from the documents to support your observations throughout your essay. Like other essays, you must build a persuasive case for your argument. 

Here is a breakdown of the writing process for the DBQ:

1. Read Over Your Materials 

Read and familiarize yourself with the essay question before looking at the documents so you know what you are looking for. 

2. Begin Your Analysis of the Documents

Read over the documents and identify patterns (or lack of), rhetoric, and other relevant information that relates to the essay question. 

3. Present Your Thesis Statement

Once you have collected evidence and have an argument, write your thesis statement. 

4. Plan What You Will Write, and in What Order

Ensure that you create an outline for your essay before you begin writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and make writing easier.

5. Start Writing! 

Some people find it easier to write their body paragraphs first (with the thesis statement in mind) and then write their introductory and concluding paragraphs after, but write in the way that best suits you. 

6. Finish With a Strong Conclusion

Your concluding paragraph will be the last piece of your essay that the markers read. Remember to avoid introducing any new ideas or arguments in the final paragraph. 

7. Proofread and Edit

If you have time, proofread and edit your essay. The clearer your writing is, the easier it will be for the reader to get through your essay. Clear and concise writing will reflect in your final mark. 

Keep in mind the time limit while you are writing. You only have forty-five minutes to write the essay, so you want to make sure you are using your time effectively. 

Document-Based Question Examples

Here is an example of a Document-Based Question from the AP US History exam :

Analyze the responses of Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to the problems of the Great Depression. How effective were the responses? Use the documents and your knowledge of the period 1929-1941 to construct your response.

In this DBQ, the main topic or subject is the responses of FDR's administration to the Great Depression during the period from 1929-1941. The key aspects examined are:

  • The types of responses from FDR's administration - programs and policies such as the New Deal agencies and reforms
  • The effectiveness of these responses in addressing the economic problems caused by the Great Depression

To write a successful Document-Based Question response, you would need to:

  • Provide background context on the Great Depression
  • Present and analyze the evidence provided in the documents about the responses from FDR's administration
  • Include outside information about other relevant programs and policies
  • Make an argument about how effective FDR's responses were in dealing with the Great Depression

Some examples of outside information you could provide:

  • Background on the economic situation before the Great Depression
  • Details about the impact of events like the Dust Bowl
  • Information on the opposition FDR faced to his New Deal programs

Types of DBQ Prompts

There are three main types of prompts in a Document-Based Question. These questions test skills like analyzing evidence, making comparisons, explaining causation, and assessing change and continuity over time in relation to historical events, periods, geographical regions, social issues, and cultural trends.

  • Continuity and change over time - e.g. analyze changes and continuities in the women's rights movement from 1848 to 1920
  • Causation - e.g. analyze the causes of the rise of the New Conservatism movement in the 1960s and 1970s
  • Comparison - e.g. compare and contrast the responses of Hoover's administration and FDR's administration to the Great Depression

Outside of these main types, the topics of DBQ prompts can vary widely, covering different time periods, geographical regions, events, movements, etc. But they tend to have some common themes like imperialism, revolutions, cultural trends, economic developments, demographic changes, etc.

How is a DBQ Scored?

The DBQ is worth 25% of the total exam score. Students have a 15-minute reading period to review the documents, followed by 45 minutes to write their responses. The DBQ is scored out of 7 possible points based on criteria such as thesis, context, evidence, analysis, reasoning, sourcing, and complexity.

Colleges consider your AP exam scores during the admissions process, so performing as best as you can on your AP exams does matter.

The DBQ essay is marked based on the following categories: 

  • Thesis statement (0-1 point)
  • Contextualization (0-1 point)
  • Evidence (0-3 points)
  • Analysis and reasoning (0-2 points)

Here is an overview of the rubric for the DBQ essay: 

Source : NEISD

The entire essay is worth seven points, each category carrying a different number of points. Keep the points system in mind when writing. It will help you strategize how much time to spend on each piece of the essay. Doing this will allow you to better manage your time and put in extra work on the factors that matter most. 

You may still have other questions about the specifics of the essay. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the DBQ essay. 

1. How Do You Write a DBQ?

Approach writing the DBQ like you would other persuasive history essays. Understand the question, address it directly, and use it as an opportunity to showcase your analytical and critical thinking skills. Also, prioritize well-written, grammatically correct content to enhance your essay's impact on your score.

2. What is the Purpose of a DBQ?

A DBQ tests your historian skills by checking how well you can analyze historical documents while considering their historical context. It's a way to see if you can apply what you've learned in your history classes.

3. How Long is a DBQ Essay?

You have 45 minutes for the DBQ essay, so aim for 5-6 paragraphs: an intro with your thesis, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Keep your thesis short, and each paragraph 5-7 sentences. Quality is more important than quantity; focus on a clear and concise argument.

Final Thoughts

If AP classes are a good fit for you, you should consider taking as many as you can in areas that interest you. Top schools such as Yale , Cornell , Columbia , and Harvard take AP classes seriously when considering applicants and sometimes even give students credit for their AP classes. 

Ultimately, the DBQ is similar to other essays you will find on exams but has a larger focus on the application of knowledge and skills. If you study and prepare before taking the exam, there is nothing to worry about.

While taking the exam, be aware of your time and use it wisely, develop a strong thesis statement, and create an outline for your essay. If you take all the right steps, writing your essay should be easier than you thought!

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types of dbq essays

How to Write a DBQ Essay: A Comprehensive Guide

types of dbq essays

Welcome to The Knowledge Nest's comprehensive guide on how to write a DBQ essay. Whether you are a student learning the ropes or an experienced writer looking to polish your skills, this guide will provide you with invaluable insights and techniques to excel in your DBQ writing.

Understanding the DBQ Essay

A DBQ (Document-Based Question) essay is a unique type of academic writing that tests your ability to analyze historical documents to form a coherent, well-supported argument. This essay format is commonly used in history and social sciences courses, and mastering it will greatly enhance your ability to evaluate historical sources and construct persuasive arguments.

The DBQ Essay Writing Process

Writing a successful DBQ essay requires careful planning and execution. To ensure your essay stands out from the rest, follow these step-by-step instructions:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Prompt

Before diving into the document analysis, thoroughly read and understand the prompt. Identify the historical context, main question, and any sub-questions that guide your analysis.

2. Analyze the Documents

Begin by examining each document provided, paying close attention to the author's perspective, purpose, and bias. Take notes on key points, themes, and connections between the documents.

3. Develop a Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement should be a clear and concise argument that addresses the main question of the prompt. Use the evidence from the documents to support your thesis.

4. Organize Your Essay

Create an outline that organizes your essay into logical sections. Each paragraph should address a specific aspect of your argument, supported by relevant evidence from the documents.

5. Introduce and Analyze the Documents

In your essay, introduce each document by providing context and explaining its significance. Analyze the content and purpose of each document, relating it back to your thesis statement.

6. Address Counterarguments

To strengthen your argument, acknowledge and address counterarguments. Anticipate opposing viewpoints and provide compelling evidence to refute them.

7. Craft a Strong Conclusion

End your essay with a powerful conclusion that summarizes your main points and restates your thesis in a compelling way. Leave the reader with a lasting impression and a sense of closure.

Tips for Success

Acing your DBQ essay requires more than just following the steps. Here are some additional tips to help you excel:

1. Practice Time Management

Allocate enough time to read, analyze, and write your essay. Be mindful of the time limit and aim to complete each section within the allocated timeframe.

2. Use Primary and Secondary Sources

Expand your research beyond the provided documents. Incorporate additional primary and secondary sources to strengthen your argument and showcase your knowledge.

3. Develop Strong Analytical Skills

The key to a successful DBQ essay is the ability to analyze and interpret historical documents effectively. Practice extracting essential information and identifying bias and historical context.

4. Revise and Edit

Once you have finished writing your essay, take the time to revise and edit it thoroughly. Ensure your argument flows logically, and there are no grammatical or spelling errors that could distract the reader.

Writing a DBQ essay may seem daunting at first, but with the right approach and preparation, you can excel in this format. By understanding the prompt, analyzing the documents, and constructing a well-supported argument, you will showcase your historical knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you engage with DBQ essays, the better you will become at crafting compelling arguments and drawing meaningful insights from historical documents. So, start applying the strategies outlined in this comprehensive guide and embark on your journey to becoming a DBQ essay writing master!

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How to Write a DBQ Essay

March 29, 2024

Navigating the complexities of a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay can be daunting, especially given its unique blend of historical analysis and critical writing skills. This guide is meticulously crafted to demystify the process of writing a DBQ essay, ensuring you have a comprehensive, one-stop resource for every aspect of this challenging assignment. We aim to transform what may initially appear as an overwhelming challenge into a manageable and enjoyable academic endeavor.

Definition of DBQ Essay

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay is a unique academic assignment primarily encountered in Advanced Placement (AP) history exams in the United States. This form of essay challenges students to engage with various historical documents and their background knowledge of the historical period.

A DBQ essay provides students with a series of documents, including written texts, speeches, letters, maps, photographs, or other historical records. These documents are not just sources of facts; they represent different perspectives, contexts, and interpretations of historical events. The student’s task is to analyze these documents critically, identify what is said, and understand the sources’ underlying biases, perspectives, and motives.

The skills tested in a DBQ essay are manifold. They include critical reading, analytical writing, and the ability to discern and articulate relationships between historical sources and events. Furthermore, it demands a balance between subjective interpretation and objective analysis, requiring students to make reasoned judgments based on the evidence.

Brief Overview of the DBQ Essay Writing Process

The core of a DBQ essay lies in synthesizing this information. Students must weave together these diverse strands of history to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument. This argument must directly address the question or prompt provided at the beginning of the essay. Unlike traditional essays, where students might primarily draw on secondary sources and scholarly analysis, a DBQ requires them to base their argument heavily on the primary sources provided, supplemented by their own knowledge of the historical context.

The journey to writing a DBQ essay involves several key steps:

  • Understanding the DBQ Prompt: Grasp the central question or theme.
  • Research and Evidence Gathering: Collect information from provided documents and additional sources.
  • Developing a Thesis: Formulate a strong, arguable thesis statement.
  • Creating an Outline: Organize thoughts and evidence coherently.
  • Composing the Introduction: Set the stage for your argument.
  • Writing Body Paragraphs: Develop and support your thesis with evidence.
  • Crafting a Conclusion: Conclude by summarizing and reinforcing your argument.
  • Revising and Editing: Enhance clarity, coherence, and correctness.

Understanding the DBQ Prompt

It is the first critical step if you have to write a DBQ essay. This process begins with a meticulous reading of the prompt to fully grasp the historical context and the questions posed. It is not just about reading the words, but also about comprehending the nuances and underlying themes central to the prompt.

The prompt typically provides a period or specific historical event, along with a question or a series of questions. Identifying key terms and phrases in the prompt is essential, as they often hold clues to what the examiners expect in your response. For instance, words like “compare,” “contrast,” “analyze,” or “evaluate” suggest different types of responses and will guide how you use the documents in your essay.

Moreover, deciphering the DBQ prompt involves predicting the types of documents that may be presented and thinking about the various viewpoints or arguments that could emerge from them. This foresight assists in formulating a flexible thesis that can be adapted and refined once you have analyzed the documents.

Researching and Gathering Evidence

Researching and gathering evidence for a DBQ essay is a critical process that goes beyond a cursory glance at the provided documents. It requires a detailed and thoughtful examination of each source, noting key points, perspectives, and potential biases related to the prompt. This step is about understanding what the documents say and interpreting their significance in the historical context and how they contribute to your overall argument.

Supplementing the information from the documents with your own historical knowledge is equally important. This additional knowledge, derived from your studies and readings, fills in the gaps that the documents alone may not cover. It provides a broader context, helping to enrich your argument and demonstrate a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

However, it’s critical to balance the use of document evidence and your own knowledge. While the documents are central to your argument, your own historical understanding allows you to provide analysis, rather than just a summary of the sources. This balance is key in building a well-rounded, persuasive, and informed argument.

Developing a Thesis

Developing a thesis for a DBQ essay is a critical step that sets the direction and tone of your entire essay. Your thesis should be clear, argumentative, and meticulously crafted to respond to the DBQ prompt directly. This statement is more than just a summary of your argument; it is the central claim you will defend throughout your essay. It serves as the backbone of your essay, providing a framework for your analysis and argumentation.

Moreover, your thesis should guide the structure of your essay. Each paragraph should connect back to your thesis, providing supporting evidence and analysis. This consistency ensures that your essay remains focused and coherent, making your argument more persuasive.

Creating an Outline with a Sample Example

Creating an effective outline for a DBQ essay is crucial for organizing your thoughts and ensuring that each point flows logically into the next. An outline serves as a roadmap for your essay, helping you to structure your arguments coherently and keep your writing focused. Below is a detailed sample outline to illustrate how you can use the structure to write a DBQ essay:


  • Contextual Background: Begin with a few sentences providing the historical background relevant to the prompt.
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with your thesis statement, which clearly presents your main argument in response to the DBQ prompt.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Main point: Start with a topic sentence that states the paragraph’s main point, directly supporting your thesis.
  • Evidence from documents: Include specific examples and quotes from the provided documents that support your main point.
  • Additional historical evidence: Supplement the document evidence with your own historical knowledge to strengthen your argument.
  • Analysis: Analyze how your evidence supports your main point and ties back to your thesis.

Additional Body Paragraphs

  • Follow the same structure as the first body paragraph, using different evidence and analysis to support the new point.
  • Summarize arguments: Briefly recap the main points of your essay, showing how they support your thesis.
  • Reinforce thesis: Restate your thesis in a new way, reinforcing how the evidence presented in your essay supports your original argument.
  • Final Thought: It could be a reflection on the importance of the topic, its relevance to the present, or a question that encourages further thought.

Remember, the strength of your essay lies not just in the information you present, but also in how well you organize and communicate your ideas.

Composing the Introduction

Composing the introduction of a DBQ essay is a crucial step in engaging your reader and setting the stage for your argument. The introduction should start with a compelling hook, an engaging statement, or a thought-provoking question that grabs the reader’s attention right from the start. This hook should be relevant to the topic and designed to draw the reader into the historical world you are about to explore.

After the hook, it’s essential to provide the necessary historical context. This involves giving a brief overview of the period or events central to the DBQ prompt. The goal is to equip your reader with the background knowledge needed to understand the rest of your essay. This background should be concise but informative, highlighting key events, figures, or ideologies relevant to your thesis.

Writing Body Paragraphs

Writing body paragraphs in a DBQ essay is where you delve deeply into your argument, supporting your thesis with concrete evidence. Each paragraph should be dedicated to exploring a single point that directly supports your thesis statement. This focused approach ensures that your essay remains coherent, and your arguments are presented clearly.

To write a DBQ essay, start each paragraph with a topic sentence that clearly states the main point or idea of the paragraph. This sentence acts as a mini-thesis, outlining the paragraph’s discussion and how it relates to your overall argument. It should be direct and specific, providing a clear direction for the rest of the paragraph. Each body paragraph should also include your own analysis and interpretation. This is where you showcase your critical thinking skills, drawing connections between the evidence and your main argument. Discuss the significance of the evidence, address potential counterarguments, and demonstrate how it all ties together to support your thesis.

Crafting a Conclusion

Crafting a conclusion for your DBQ essay is a crucial final step in your writing process. It’s more than just a summary; it’s your last opportunity to reinforce your argument and leave a lasting impression on your reader. A well-crafted conclusion should restate your thesis, but it should do so in a fresh way that reinforces the insights you’ve shared throughout your essay.

In your final sentences, aim to leave a strong, lasting impact. You could end with a powerful quote, a thought-provoking question, or a call to action, encouraging your reader to continue thinking about the topic. The goal is to make your conclusion memorable, ensuring that your essay stands out in the reader’s mind.

Streamline your DBQ essay writing with our AI writing tool , quickly forming a thesis and arguments from your ideas.

Revising and Editing

Carefully revise for content and organization. Then, edit for grammar, style, and clarity. This step is essential for a polished, compelling essay. Additionally, consider the overall tone and voice of your essay. It should be formal and academic, yet engaging. Avoid colloquialisms and ensure that your writing maintains a consistent tone throughout. Also, be mindful of passive voice, which can make your writing seem less direct and dynamic. Where possible, use active voice for a stronger impact. Remember that revising and editing can be a multi-step process. Reviewing your essay several times is often beneficial, focusing on different aspects each time. You might even find it helpful to read your essay out loud or have someone else review it. Fresh eyes can catch errors and inconsistencies that you might have overlooked.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When writing a DBQ essay, certain pitfalls can detract from the quality and effectiveness of your work. Being aware of these common mistakes can help you steer clear of them and strengthen your essay.

  • Ignoring the prompt’s specifics.
  • Over-reliance on documents without incorporating additional knowledge.
  • Vague thesis statement.
  • Repetitive or off-topic arguments.
  • Neglecting to revise and edit.
  • Failure to analyze documents.
  • Ignoring document bias or perspective.
  • Inadequate conclusion.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can enhance the quality of your DBQ essay. Considering these pitfalls during the writing process can lead to a more structured, insightful, and compelling essay.

To write a DBQ essay effectively, focus on understanding the prompt, developing a strong thesis, and supporting it with a mix of evidence from both documents and broader historical knowledge. Remember, clarity, coherence, and a strong argument are your keys to success. Additionally, always approach your essay critically, ensuring that your analysis is nuanced, and your perspective is well-supported. The ability to interweave document evidence with your own historical understanding will showcase your analytical skills and demonstrate a deep engagement with the material. In mastering these elements, you’ll excel in writing DBQ essays and enhance your overall historical thinking skills.

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Winning DBQ Essay

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DBQ Essay Writing Guide

DBQ essays are a type of history exam or course where students analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources to construct an argument. They consist of components such as historical context, thesis statement, evidence from provided documents, analysis of evidence, and synthesis of information. Mastering DBQ essay writing skills is crucial in history education as it assesses students’ ability to analyze historical documents, think critically, and construct cohesive arguments. 

Writing a DBQ essay fosters transferable skills such as analytical reasoning and effective communication, which are valuable beyond the classroom. This article aims to provide practical writing tips for students to write a DBQ essay , equipping them with the tools and strategies necessary to tackle these essays confidently and successfully.

DBQ Essay : Definition

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay is an academic writing style commonly used in history courses and exams, where students analyze and interpret historical documents to construct an argument or response to a specific prompt. Originally developed by the College Board for Advanced Placement (AP) history exams, DBQ essays have become a staple in history education, challenging students to engage critically with primary and secondary sources.

A DBQ essay consists of five components: historical context, the thesis statement, evidence, analysis, and synthesis. Historical context refers to the broader circumstances, events, or conditions surrounding the topic or issue being examined. The statement serves as the central argument or claim that the essay will defend or support, guiding the writer’s analysis and providing a clear focus for the reader. Evidence in a DBQ essay includes information and insights drawn from primary sources (e.g., letters, speeches, photographs) and secondary sources (e.g., historical analyses, scholarly interpretations).

Analysis is the process of interpreting and explaining the significance of evidence in relation to the thesis statement and overall argument. The analysis demonstrates the writer’s critical thinking skills and ability to draw connections between the documents, historical context, and thesis statement. Synthesis is the integration of multiple sources and perspectives to develop a nuanced and cohesive argument, addressing the complexity of the historical topic or question.

Preparation Process for DBQ Essays 

To write a BBQ essay, students should familiarise themselves with the prompt, understand the rubric and scoring criteria, review relevant historical content, and develop a strong thesis statement. The prompt provides a specific question or task that guides the response, and understanding the prompt helps break it down into key components. The rubric outlines the criteria for evaluation, including thesis development, evidence use, analysis, organization, and writing mechanics. Aligning with the rubric allows students to tailor their writing to meet grading criteria and maximize their scores.

Researching relevant historical content is essential for providing informed analysis and interpretation. Strategies for reviewing historical content include reading textbooks, primary sources, and scholarly articles. A strong statement serves as the foundation of the essay, providing coherence and focus while guiding the organization and development of the argument. By following these steps, students can write DBQ essays to the best of their ability. 

DBQ Outline

To assist you in this endeavor, we present a structured outline for writing a DBQ essay. This DBQ essay outline provides a roadmap for organizing your thoughts, analyzing documents, and constructing a compelling argument.

  • Introduction: Hook, background information, and thesis statement.
  • Historical Context: Brief overview of the historical period or event.
  • Document Analysis: Summary of document content, analysis of perspective or bias, and connection to the thesis statement.
  • Synthesis of Documents: Identify common themes, discuss conflicting viewpoints, and analyze how documents support or challenge the thesis statement.
  • Outside Evidence (if required): Incorporate additional historical evidence or examples not provided in the documents.
  • Conclusion: Restate the thesis statement, summarise the main points, and offer a concluding thought on the topic’s significance.
  • Citations: Properly cite each document and outside evidence, following the citation style specified by the instructor or institution.

Remember to adapt this DBQ outline as needed based on the specific requirements of your DBQ prompt and the instructions provided by your teacher or professor. 

DBQ Essay Structure

To know how to write a DBQ essay, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of a topic or event. It begins with an introduction, which introduces the topic and provides an engaging hook. The body paragraphs then follow, focusing on the main idea or argument of each paragraph. Evidence is used to support the writer’s argument and demonstrate their understanding of the historical context. Strategies for incorporating evidence include introducing relevant quotes or paraphrases from the documents, citing the source and providing brief context if necessary.

The analysis process involves examining and interpreting the significance of the evidence in relation to the thesis statement. The components of analysis include explaining how the evidence supports the argument, considering any biases or limitations of the source, and discussing its broader implications for understanding the historical context or topic.

In conclusion, the DBQ essay restates the thesis, summarising the main points, offering a closing thought or call to action, and encouraging further exploration or discussion. The thesis serves as a reminder of the main argument and reinforces its significance in light of the evidence presented. The summary provides closure and reinforces the key arguments made throughout the essay. The essay encourages readers to reflect on the topic’s significance and encourages further exploration or discussion.

DBQ Essay Topic Ideas

Here, we present a curated list of compelling topic ideas to write a DBQ essay , each ripe for research, discussion, and debate. 

  • The Impact of Industrialization on Society: Examines how the Industrial Revolution transformed economies, societies, and daily life.
  • The Rise of Social Media and Its Influence on Communication: Analyzes how social media platforms have reshaped communication dynamics, affecting interpersonal relationships and societal discourse.
  • The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: Investigates the applications of AI in healthcare, including diagnostic tools and personalized medicine.
  • The Global Refugee Crisis: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions: Explores the root causes of forced displacement, challenges faced by refugees, and efforts to address their needs.
  • The Rise of Populism in Contemporary Politics: Analyzes the factors contributing to the rise of populist movements and leaders.

Remember, the journey of discovery often begins with a single question, a spark of curiosity, or a desire to understand the world around us more deeply. Happy exploring!

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Here are some tips on writing the DBQ essays: 

  • Prioritise Time Management: Allocate specific time for each stage of the writing process, including reading, analyzing documents, outlining, writing, and revising.
  • Practice Document Analysis: Develop skills in analyzing historical documents by practicing with various sources.
  • Use Outside Knowledge Wisely: Incorporate outside knowledge to enhance your argument but be selective in choosing which evidence to include.
  • Utilise Transitions Effectively: Smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas are crucial for maintaining coherence and flow.
  • Address Counterarguments: Anticipate potential counterarguments or alternative interpretations of the evidence presented in the documents.

And finally, be confident in your analysis. Trust your analytical skills and interpretation of the documents.

Citation Style

Students may wonder how to cite these sources within their essays appropriately. This guide explores various DBQ format styles suitable for DBQ essays and provides tips on when and how to use them effectively.

  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS): CMS is a widely used citation style in history and humanities disciplines. In-text citations typically employ footnotes or endnotes, providing full bibliographic details for each source cited. For example, “The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.”
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) Style: MLA is commonly used in English and literature disciplines but may also be suitable for history essays. In-text citations use parenthetical citations, including the author’s last name and page number within parentheses. For example, “The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln in 1863 (Lincoln 45).”
  • Document Descriptor: In DBQ essays, especially in standardized tests like the AP exams, it’s common to refer to documents by their designated numbers or brief descriptors. In-text citations use document numbers or descriptors within parentheses to reference specific documents.

In conclusion, choosing the right citation style to write DBQ essays in is crucial for accurately referencing the provided documents. By properly citing sources, students demonstrate integrity in their research and analysis, enhancing the credibility of their DBQ essay.


In conclusion, with the correct resources and methods, producing a successful DBQ essay can be mastered. Through adherence to the useful DBQ layout provided in this manual and comprehension of the proper citation styles for sources, students can proficiently address DBQ questions and get exceptional results in their history assignments or tests. 

Recall that the secret is in careful document analysis, concise thesis construction, and well-supported argumentation. You may write a DBQ essay that demonstrates your critical thinking abilities and historical knowledge with dedication, practice, and attention to detail — all of which will ultimately lead to academic achievement. So take on the challenge, put these tactics to use, and let your creativity run wild as you masterfully tackle DBQ essays.

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DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

Adela B.

Table of contents

As a student, you’ll come across different types of essays throughout your college journey. Essays provide a great way to portray your understanding of a topic and display your writing skills .

One of the most common types of essays in college is a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay. You’ll occasionally be asked to write these types of essays, and it’s therefore important to understand the essentials of writing them.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what DBQ essays are and the step-by-step process you can use to write the best DBQ essays in college.

What are DBQ Essays?

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document.

This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S. History exam.

To write a good DBQ essay, you must portray an understanding of the topic and link it to evidence from reliable sources.

How to Format a DBQ Essay?

Like any other essay, your DBQ essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Let’s review the components of each section and how to write them for the best performance.

1. Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay is the introductory paragraph . Here, you review the historical background of the document and the main idea covered in the essay. Take five minutes to write this section, and keep it short and brief. Include a brief statement that summarizes the points you are going to discuss in the essay body.

2. Thesis statement

The final paragraph of the introduction should be your thesis statement. A thesis is a concise statement or a claim that summarizes your overall argument. Identify the claims you’ll make in your paper, which shall be backed by evidence.

Your thesis should be one to two sentences long, describing your opinion or stand on the idea under discussion.

3. Body paragraph 1

After the thesis stamen, start writing the first paragraph of your essay. Here, you identify the strongest argument that links to the thesis statement, then provide supporting details from your evidence sources. Start with a topic sentence to let the reader know what this paragraph is about.

After the topic sentence, discuss your argument and cite each piece of evidence that supports every argument you make. Analyze the evidence in relation to the main idea rather than merely quoting it. Use direct quotes sparingly if you have to.

4. Body Paragraph 2

In the second paragraph, you identify the second relevant argument and link it to the thesis statement. The argument in this paragraph should be less superior to the first paragraph but still relevant to the main idea.

Make a logical connection between your second argument and the relevant sources of evidence. Remember to cite the evidence appropriately and demonstrate that you’ve understood what they mean and not just what they say.

5. Body Paragraph 3

In the third paragraph, identify your third relevant argument, and like the other arguments, link it to the thesis statement. State your argument in the topic sentence and explain it in subsequent sentences citing the evidence.

Your argument in this paragraph can be inferior to the ones in the first and second paragraphs but relevant to the thesis statement.

6. Concluding paragraph

After discussing all your argumentative points in the essay body, it’s time to conclude your DBQ essay. Weave your arguments together in a conclusion paragraph , which links back to your thesis statement and shows you’ve sufficiently proven your claims.

Summarize the main points in the essay and let the reader see that you’ve adequately responded to the essay prompt. Don’t use this section to merely rephrase the introduction and your thesis statement. Instead, provide a conclusive analysis that reconnects the historical context to the main idea and your arguments.

How to Write a DBQ Essay in 9 Steps

So, how do you write a DBE essay so that it flows effortlessly and satisfactorily answers the essay prompt? Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams.

1. Read and understand

Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt. Understand the document and develop your argument.

Identify all the key points and write them down as draft notes. As you analyze the main document, figure out how it relates to the other sources provided.

2. Identify the main idea

Once you’ve reviewed and understood the document, identify the main idea and note the keywords in the essay prompt. The keywords will help you understand what you need to accomplish in your assay and the type of evidence to look for in the provided sources.

For instance, the essay prompt may ask you to:

  • Compare and contrast

Also, take note of common keywords like ‘Social, Political, or Economic.’ Always keep the prompt in mind while writing to avoid being irrelevant and losing points. The prompts will also help you develop your arguments based on the main idea of the document.

3. Gather evidence

Now that you know the main idea, pick out the sources of evidence that support the main idea. Identify how each source relates to your essay prompt and categorize them based on the prompt.

Figure out how each source can support an argument. For instance, if you're comparing the attitudes towards women's rights in different historical times, you can categorize your sources of evidence based on the contrasting ideologies they represent.

4. Find external sources

When writing your DBQ essay, you’ll also need to cite other external sources that support the ideas in the main document.

Identify at least one external source that's relevant to your claims and use the events in the document to support your arguments in the essay. Jot it down somewhere so you can refer to it later when you start writing.

5. Identify the writer’s point of view

As you analyze your document and prepare to start writing, identify the author’s point of view concerning the main idea.

Who influenced them to write the document and what did they intend to achieve with it? How do they feel and what’s their take on the documented events? Also, identify their intended audience and how his writing might have influenced them.

6. Write your thesis statement

Now that you have the main idea and your sources of evidence, it’s time to develop your argument and put it down as a thesis statement.

Review the essay prompt again and form your own perspective or opinion that responds to the prompt without simply restating it. Remember the claim you make should be specific and supported by your sources of evidence.

For instance, when writing a DBQ essay about The Effects of World War II on Women's Rights, your thesis statement can be:

“ The selfless efforts of women in World War II promoted their human rights and empowered them to a higher social status in the society. ”

Here’s a useful video by Heimler's History on writing DBQ essays.

7. Polish your thesis statement

Re-read your thesis statement and polish it to ensure it’s clear and concise. Delete any unnecessary words that do not impact the meaning of the statement.

A good thesis statement has no fluff and responds directly to the essay prompt without being too short or too long.

8. Start writing by creating an outline

Once you’ve encapsulated your arguments into a thesis statement, it’s time to start writing. You start writing by creating an outline of your arguments first.

An effective outline should include:

  • The introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • First argument
  • Second argument
  • Third argument

After creating the outline, explain your arguments and fill in the evidence while citing the sources.

Creating an outline will help you organize your points and make your work easier when you start writing the main essay. Following the outline will also save you time and help you finish writing your essay on time.

9. Proofread and polish

After you finish writing, spare 10 minutes to proofread and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. Identify and rewrite weird sentence structures, add missing words, and replace those that complicate meaning.

While proofreading, delete fluffy sentences that don’t add value to your essay. Also, check that you’ve appropriately cited the evidence sources and that your essay is well structured before submitting it.

Final Thought

DBQ essays will significantly contribute to your final grade. It’s, therefore, necessary to take time to learn how to write an excellent one and practice before the final exams.

Remember your DBQ essay test will be timed, and that doesn’t leave you much time to include fluff. Go directly to your points and explain them in clear and concise sentences.

If you’ve been having trouble writing these types of essays, use the tips in this article to make it hassle-free onwards.

Need more help? Writers Per Hour is here to assist you with this writing assignment of yours. Our professional writers can help you research, outline, write, revise and proofread high-quality DBQ essays that are sure to give your grades a boost.

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