SHARPENING YOUR TEST-TAKING SKILLS
ANSWERING A DOCUMENT-BASED
How to answer a document-based question. Before you do so, let’s review the
“L•A•W” approach for answering this type of question.
“L”— LOOK AT THE TASK
Start by looking at the “ Historical Context” and the “Question.” Focus on (1) the
“action word,” and (2) the topic. This will determine how you will answer the
“A” -ANALYZE THE DATA
As you read each document, think about (1) who wrote it; (2) the time period when it was
written; (3) the purpose for which it was written; and (4) what it says. Next, answer the
key question following each document. Then create your Analysis Box.
NOTE: Two important keys to writing a successful documentbased
essay are (1) to link the information in the documents to
the topic, and (2) to use your own words instead of simply
copying text from the document.
In the Analysis Box, be sure you show how information in each document
supports the topic statement. Remember that you must also add other relevant
information that is not contained in the documents.
“W” - WRITE THE ESSAY
In writing your essay answer, remember that you need the following:
• Opening Paragraph. Your first sentence should state the historical context and
set the time and place. The next sentence is your topic statement, which you can
obtain from the question. Then write a transition sentence leading into the
• Supporting Paragraphs. These paragraphs provide evidence that supports
your topic statement. They must include references to the documents, in your
own words, as well as additional related information from your knowledge of
• Closing Paragraph. The closing paragraph should restate the topic statement.
You may also want to summarize your most important evidence or ideas about
the general topic.