Bramlett’s 12 Tips for APUSH DBQs 1. The point of the AP US Document Based Question is to answer a question about American history in essay form, incorporating as many of the given primary sources as possible. Graders expect that most of your answer will come from your own knowledge. The documents are there to provide evidence and examples, not to be your main information source. Note that this is different from the AP European DBQ. It may help to think of the AP US DBQ as a Document Supported Question rather than a Document Based Question. 2. AP US DBQs (and regular essay questions, as well) are graded on a scale of 0- 9, with 9 being the best score possible. A score of 0 means you did not even attempt to answer the question. 3. AP US DBQs do not get graded with a generic core scoring rubric. This, too, is different from the AP European DBQ. The AP US DBQs have individual rubrics that are unique to each question. This is "bad" because it means you cannot rely on memorizing a checklist formula. It is "good" because it means you will have freedom in answering the question and can tailor your answer as needed. You do not get to know the question-specific rubric in advance, because that would give away the question. 4. Despite the above, you should consider the following to be cardinal rules in answering the AP US DBQ: o Use a majority of documents. o Have an explicit thesis sentence that directly answers the question and is not a rewording of it. o Answer all parts of the question. o Organize the essay and use your documents in a coherent manner. o Minimize grammar and spelling errors wherever possible. 5. Question-specific rubric checkpoints are usually fairly intuitive, assuming you know your history. For example, if the DBQ asks you to assess the impact of the protest movement on Americans opinions of the Vietnam War, discussing the Kent State shootings should be considered a given. Don't be afraid of the "mystery rubric"! It's not really that mysterious if you use common sense. 6. During the national exam, you will be given a 15-minute "reading" period for both the DBQ and the two regular essay questions combined. You are not allowed to start writing in the answer booklet until those 15 minutes are over. Make use of this time by marking up the documents with notes, creating an outline plan for your essay, and developing a thesis sentence. 7. The number one mistake made by students taking the national exam is failing to answer all parts of the question asked. To make sure you don't become a statistic, the first thing you should do during the reading period is underline the action verbs in the question. Most AP US DBQ questions, like AP European DBQ questions, have at least two tasks you must complete. For example, the DBQ may ask that you describe the women's rights movement of Civil War era and assess the reasons for its lack of success. You must make sure you do both! Bramlett’s 12 Tips for APUSH DBQs 8. To ensure the best thesis possible, it is recommended that you compose your thesis before looking at the documents. Doing it that way seems to result in a better essay because it guarantees that you are focusing on your own knowledge. (Remember, the AP US DBQ is a good essay with the documents thrown in to help develop the support. It is not an answer focused entirely on the documents you have been given.) Writing a thesis first also helps because it is then easier to see where the documents should be used in each support paragraph. Of course, once you look at the documents you might want to edit the thesis to take into account an idea you hadn't considered before, but students who know their material almost never need to do this. 9. The best way to make sure your thesis statement is strong and appropriate is to imagine that it is the only sentence the graders will see. If the rest of your essay wasn't there, and your thesis had to stand on its own, would it still provide an answer to the question? If so, then it is a good thesis. If not, then you need to go back to the drawing board. o BAD THESIS: There were multiple reasons for politicians to feel uncomfortable ratifying the Constitution. o GOOD THESIS: Though the reasons for rejecting the Constitution were many, most of those against ratification focused on three primary issues: the Constitutional Convention's lack of authority to draft a new constitution for the nation, the perceived loss of states' rights, and the fear of tyranny in the form of the loss of personal rights. 10. AP US DBQs (and regular essays, as well) are not the place to do the following: o Get inventive with your essay format and organization. o Abbreviate words or use text-message shortcuts. o Use conversational slang ("so he was, like, totally upset"). o Use first-person POV. o Crack jokes, good ones or otherwise. o Make parenthetical or margin comments to the graders. o Bring up obscure historical trivia your teacher gave you for fun. o Role-play conversations between historical figures. o Make references to current fads and pop figures like Hannah Montana and the Transformers. In short, you need to write a by-the-book essay. Spend your energy on making sure your information is thorough and well-organized, not being "cute" for the graders. Cuteness won't be appreciated and in most cases will hurt your score. 11. Please do try to do the following, to maximize your chances of success: o Use five-paragraph format. o Underline your thesis so that even an exhausted grader will have no trouble identifying it. Bramlett’s 12 Tips for APUSH DBQs o Refer to documents directly by letter (Doc. C) rather than making subtle and easily missed references. o Use as many of the documents as possible. o Make sure your conclusion is strong and memorable. o Avoid re-stating your thesis in the same words in the conclusion. o For the love of all that's divine, take at least a few minutes at the end to proof-read your essay. It is foolish to assume that you are so smart that you can write an entire essay without at least one mistake. That one mistake could cost you your score. 12. The best way to make your conclusion strong and memorable is to point out how the subject of the essay fares later in history. For example, if the subject of the essay is the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, point out in your conclusion that the movement inspired other rights movements in the 1970s -- such as the American Indian Movement (AIM), the gay rights movement, and the feminist movement -- by providing proven tactics and a blueprint for movement organization. This shows the graders that you understand the importance of the subject matter to the overall passage of history.
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