One of the best ways to prepare for the DBQ (the “document-based question” on the AP European History, AP US History, and AP World History exams) is to look over sample questions and example essays. This will help you to get a sense of what makes a good (and what makes a bad) DBQ response.
That said, not all DBQ essay examples are created equal. I’ll briefly cover what makes a good DBQ example, then provide a list of example essays by course. Lastly, I’ve provided some tips on how to best use sample essays in your own preparation process.
What's a Good DBQ Example?
Without a doubt, the best sample resources come from the College Board. This is because they are the ones who design and administer the AP exams. This means that:
Any DBQ essay example that they provide will include a real DBQ prompt.
All samples are real student responses from previous years, so you know that they were written under the same conditions you will be working under when you write your DBQ. In other words, they're authentic!
They not only have scores, they have explanations of each essay's score according to the terms of the rubric.
Each prompt includes several sample essays with a variety of scores.
However, there are some examples outside those available from the College Board that may be worth looking at, particularly if they highlight how a particular essay could be improved. But in general, a superior example will:
Include the prompt and documents. It will be much easier for you to see how the information from the documents is integrated into the essay if you can actually look at the documents.
Have a score. Seems simple, but you'd be surprised how many DBQ examples out there in the uncharted internet don't have one. Without a real, official score, it's hard to gauge how trustworthy a sample actually is.
With that in mind, I have below compiled lists, organized by exam, of high-quality example DBQs.
Don't spend all your study time sharpening your pencil.
Every DBQ Example Essay You Could Ever Need, by Exam
Here are your example essays! We'll start with AP US History, then move to AP European History, and finally wrap up with AP World History.
AP US History: Official College Board Examples
Because of the recent test redesign, the College Board has only posted sample responses from 2016 and 2015. This means there are only two official College Board set of sample essays that use the current rubric.
Neither of these links include analysis (so you can look at the question separately from the scoring guidelines). When you're ready for the sample responses, here are the DBQ samples from 2015 and the samples from 2016.
If you want to see additional sample sets, you can also look at older College Board US History DBQ example response sets, all the way back to 2003. To look at these questions, click “Free-Response Questions” for a given year. For the corresponding DBQ examples and scoring guidelines, click “Sample Responses Q1.”
Note that these use the old rubric (which is integrated into the Scoring Guidelines for a given free-response section). General comments about the quality of the essay, outside information, and document analysis still apply, but the score is on a nine-point scale instead of the new seven-point scale, and some of the particulars will be different. Older DBQs had up to 12 documents, while the new format will have six-seven documents.
If you do look at older DBQ examples, I recommend using the new rubric to “re-grade” the essays in the sample according to the new seven-scale score. I'll also give more advice on how to use all of these samples in your prep later on.
Mr. Bald Eagle is an AP US History DBQ Grader in his spare time.
AP European History: Official College Board Examples
Unfortunately, there aren't as many sample resources for the AP Euro DBQ compared to the other AP history tests because 2016 was the first year the AP Euro test was administered in the new format. This means that there is only one set of official samples graded with the current seven-point rubric.
The rest of the existing available samples were graded in the old, nine-point format instead of the seven-point format implemented this past year.
In the old format there were six “core” points and then three additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but I’ll highlight some key differences between the old and new formats:
In the old format, you were given a brief “historical background” section before the documents.
There were more documents—up to twelve. The new format will have 6-7.
There was an emphasis on “grouping” the documents that is not present in the new rubric.
There was also an explicit emphasis on correctly interpreting the documents that is not found in the new rubric.
The essential components of the DBQ are still the same between the two formats, although you should definitely look at the new rubric if you look at any of the old AP European History samples. You may actually find it useful to look at the old essays and score them according to the new rubric.
Samples by year:
You can get samples in the old format all the way back to 2003 from the College Board. (Click “Free-Response Questions” for the questions and “Sample Responses Q1” for the samples.)
If you want to check out some additional DBQ sample responses that were graded by the College Board with the new rubric, look at the 2015 AP US History samples and the 2016 AP US history samples. The content will of course be different, but the structure and scoring are the same as they will be for the AP Euro 2016 test.
AP European History: Unofficial Samples
Because of the rubric revision, other European History-specific samples are also in the old format. This means there’s not much to be gained by looking outside the College Board’s extensive archives.
However, the New York State Regents exam also has a DBQ on it. The format is not identical, and it is scored out of 5 under a different rubric, but I do like this European-History themed example from Regents Prep because it has highlighted sections that show where the documents are used versus where outside information is referenced. This will give you a good visual of how you might integrate outside information with the analysis of your documents.
Consider how you might integrate this castle into the DBQ that is your life.
AP World History: Official College Board Examples
The World History AP exam has just transitioned to a new format to more resemble AP US History and AP European History for the 2017 test. This means that all currently available samples were graded in the old, nine-point format instead of the seven-point format to be implemented this year.
In the old format there were seven “core” points and then two additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but I’ll highlight some key differences between the old and new formats:
There were more documents—up to ten. The new format will have 6-7.
There was an emphasis on “grouping” the documents on the old rubric that is not present in the new rubric.
There was also an explicit emphasis on correctly interpreting the documents that is not found in the new rubric.
- In the old rubric, you needed to identify one additional document that would aid in your analysis. The new rubric does not have this requirement.
The essential components of the DBQ are still the same between the two formats, although you should definitely look at the new rubric if you look at any of the old AP World History samples. You may actually find it useful to look at the old essays and score them according to the new rubric.
For whatever reason the questions and the samples with scoring notes are completely separate documents for World History, so you’ll need to click separate links to get the question and documents and then the responses.
If you want to take a look at some DBQs that have been graded with the new rubric, you could check out the 2015 and 2016 samples from AP US History and the 2016 samples from AP European History. The historical content is different, but this will give you an idea of how the new rubric is implemented.
Don't worry, the old format isn't as old as this guy right here.
How Should I Use DBQ Examples to Prepare?
So, now that you have all of these examples, what should you do with them? I'll go over some tips as to how you can use example DBQs in your own studying, including when to start using them and how many you should plan to review.
What Should I Do With These DBQs?
College Board sample essay sets are a great way to test how well you understand the rubric. This is why I recommend that you grade a sample set early on in your study process—maybe even before you've written a practice DBQ.
Then, when you compare the scores you gave to the scores and scoring notes for the samples, you'll have a good idea of what parts of the rubric you don't really understand. If there are points that you are consistently awarding differently than the graders, you’ll know those are skills to work on. Keep giving points for the thesis and then finding out the sample didn't get those points? You'll know that you need to work on your thesis skills. Not giving points for historical context and then finding out the AP Grader gave full credit? You need to work on recognizing what constitutes historical context according to the AP.
You can check out my tips on building specific rubric-based skills in my article on how to write a DBQ.
Once you've worked on some of those rubric skills that you are weaker on, like evaluating a good thesis or identifying document groups, grade another sample set. This way you can see how your ability to grade the essays like an AP graderimproves over time!
Obviously, grading sample exams is a much more difficult proposition when you are looking at examples in an old format (e.g. AP European History or AP World History samples). The old scores as awarded by the College Board will be helpful in establishing a ballpark—obviously a 9 is still going to be a good essay under the 7-point scale—but there may be some modest differences in grades between the two scales. (Maybe that perfect 9 is now a 6 out of 7 due to rubric changes.)
For practice grading with old samples, you might want to pull out two copies of the new rubric, recruit a trusted study buddy or academic advisor (or even two study buddies!), and each re-grade the samples.
Then, you can discuss any major differences in the grades you awarded. Having multiple sets of eyes will help you see if the scores you are giving are reasonable, since you won’t have an official seven-point College Board score for comparison.
How Many Example DBQs Should I Be Using?
The answer to this question depends on your study plans! If it's six months before the exam and you plan on transforming yourself into a hard diamond of DBQ excellence, you might complete some practice grading on a sample set every few weeks to a month to check in on your progress towards thinking like an AP grader. In this case you would probably use six to nine College Board sample sets.
If, on the other hand, the exam is in a month and you are just trying to get in some skill-polishing, you might do a sample set every week to 10 days. It makes sense to check in on your skills more often when you have less time to study, because you want to be extra-sure that you are focusing your time on the skills that need the most work. So for a short time frame, expect to use somewhere in the range of three to four range College Board sample sets.
Either way, you should be integrating your sample essay grading with skills practice, and doing some practice DBQ writing of your own.
Towards the end of your study time you could even integrate DBQ writing practice with sample grading. Read and complete a timed prompt, then grade the sample set for that prompt, including yours! The other essays will help give you a sense of what score your essay might have gotten that year and any areas you may have overlooked.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to using sample sets, but in general they are a useful tool for making sure you have a good idea what the DBQ graders will be looking for when you write your DBQ.
Hey, where can we find a good DBQ around here?
Closing Thoughts on Example DBQs
Example DBQ essays are a valuable resource in your arsenal of study strategies for the AP History exams. Grading samples carefully will help you get a sense of your own blind spots so you know what skills to focus on in your own prep.
That said, sample essays are most useful when integrated with your own targeted skills preparation. Grading a hundred sample essays won't help you if you aren't practicing your skills; you will just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And make sure you aren't using sample essays to avoid actually writing practice DBQs--you'll want to do at least a couple even if you only have a month to practice.
There you have it, folks. With this list of DBQ examples and tips on how to use them, you are all prepared to integrate samples into your study strategy!
Still not sure what a DBQ is? Check out my explanation of the DBQ.
Want tips on how to really dig in and study? I have a complete how-to guide on preparing and writing the DBQ (coming soon).
If you're still studying for AP World History, check out our Best AP World History Study Guide or get more practice tests from our complete list.
Want more material for AP US History? Look into this article on the best notes to use for studying from one of our experts. Also check out her review of the best AP US History textbooks!
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
You’re starting to study for your AP European History exam and you come across your first document-based question (DBQ). You freak out. Don’t worry, that reaction is completely natural. After all, AP Euro is aimed at students interested in earning a first-year college credit for History. It should come as no surprise that a college level class has a difficult writing component. However in order to excel in AP Euro, you’re going to need to confront the DBQ head on.
The DBQ can be very intimidating at first. However, once you understand what the objective of the DBQ is, it gets easier. That’s why this AP European History review is going to give you the most beneficial 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the AP European History DBQ.
Let’s get started!
What is the AP Euro DBQ?
Just in case you are fairly early in your AP Euro review sessions, we wanted to start by going over exactly what the DBQ is. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, trust us, you will. The DBQ has been seen as the bane of the AP Euro student’s existence. But it’s really not all that bad when you break it down. You will have 55 minutes to answer a single question. Your answer is going to revolve around 10 to 12 primary-source documents that range between photographs, letters, legal cases, etc.
But the answer you provide is going to have to be in a concise essay format with a thesis that covers nearly every single document and shows that you understand the complexities of the historical narrative provided. That means structure and argumentation matter nearly as much as the evidence you use.
If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry. This AP Euro History review should demystify the whole BDQ thing. Just follow these 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the AP European History DBQ and you’ll be golden.
1. Familiarize Yourself with How the AP European History Course Works
This one may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how helpful it can be to get to know the AP Euro History course and exam.
First, you are going to want to thoroughly go through the CollegeBoard Websiteand the AP European History Course and Exam Description. These two resources are going to be jam-packed with useful information. By looking through these resources, you are going to get a feel for how the CollegeBoard wants teachers to approach the class.
This includes the eras/topics that are going to be focused on the most in the classroom and the significance of everything covered. But perhaps most importantly, it will lay out how every piece of information covered in the AP Euro course relates to the exam itself.
When going through these sources, there are two things that you want to pay attention to, in particular. First, read through the AP European History course Themes and Learning Objectives. These are the central nerve of what you will be tested on in the DBQ section, so familiarize yourself with them. Second, you will want to become best friends with the practice questions they provide, so make sure you have easy access to all of those. More on that later.
2. Get to Know the CollegeBoard’s Expectations for the DBQ
After you’ve read through all of the CollegeBoard materials, you should already be getting a clearer image of the task laid out ahead of you. Next, you are going to want to delve a little bit deeper into the DBQ section itself and get to know how the examiners are going to score the section.
Here’s how the scoring on the AP European History Exam DBQ breaks down:
BASIC CORE: 1 Point Each to a Total of 6 Points
1. Provides an appropriate, explicitly stated thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question. Thesis must not simply restate the question.
2. Discusses a majority of the documents individually and specifically
3. Demonstrates understanding of the basic meaning of a majority of the documents (may misinterpret no more than one).
4. Supports the thesis with appropriate interpretations of a majority of the documents.
5. Analyzes point of view or bias in at least three documents.
6. Analyzes documents by explicitly organizing them in at least three appropriate groups.
EXPANDED CORE: 0-3 Points to a Total of 9 Points
• Has a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis
• Uses all or almost all of the documents (10-11 documents)
• Uses the documents persuasively as evidence
• Shows understanding of nuances of the documents
• Analyzes the documents in additional ways (e.g. develops more groupings)
• Recognizes and develops change over time (body paragraphs that consistently address changing conceptions)
• Brings in relevant “outside” information
Get to know these expectations and always keep them in mind when you are going through your AP Euro review sessions. This way, you are bound to hit every single point here when it comes to the DBQ section of your exam.
It’s always a good policy to get to know what your examiners are thinking when they test you on a subject. So, make sure you read through these to get into the heads of those at the CollegeBoard. And this is true of any exam, not just the AP European History DBQ section.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
You are probably tired of hearing this at this point in your AP Euro studies, but practice, practice, practice. The more you work on example DBQs, the less daunting they will become. The main reason that students fear this section of the exam so much is that they simply haven’t gotten used to it. But practice makes perfect, as they say.
This is also where perusing the CollegeBoard Website and the AP European History Course and Exam Descriptionwill come in handy once more. Like we mentioned above, both the course website and the coinciding description have a number of practice DBQs for you to get your hands dirty with. Plus, many of these practice exams are actually from previous exams, so you know you’re getting the real deal by working with these.
You are going to want to make sure you set out some of your time every week in order to get your practice sessions in. Try not to slack on this since the more you practice, the more it will become second nature.
4. Become the Master of Time
One of the main reasons practicing your DBQs will help you score that 5 on the exam is that you will learn how to master the clock. Remember, you only have 55 minutes to complete this section of the AP Euro exam. It may seem like a lot of time now, but as you dive into the practice questions, you will soon realize that it’s not very much time at all.
The more you practice, the more you will get to know yourself as a test-taker as well. Do you need an extra five minutes to read through the documents thoroughly? Are you the type of essay writer who can blow through the introductory paragraph in a matter of seconds? It doesn’t matter what your strengths and weaknesses are. Everyone tests differently.
But the more you work on these practice questions, the more you are going to understand where you will be needing to allot your time and energy. So, as you work on your DBQs, increasingly rely on a stopwatch. This will reproduce a more authentic test-taking experience. When doing this, break down your 55 minutes.
Here’s one way to approach the DBQ:
• 10 minutes to read the question and documents
• 5 minutes to outline
• 35 minutes to write the essay
• 5 minutes to review and edit
This isn’t a set-in-stone schedule, so tweak it to where it suits you best.
5. Outline Your Thoughts
You may have noticed in our little DBQ 55 minute schedule, we allotted some time for outlining. Yes, you should outline before writing your essays. This essay-writing technique actually serves a number of purposes and will prevent quite a few headaches when it comes to your AP Euro exam day.
First, and probably most obviously, it’s going to help organize your thoughts. You need to juggle the thesis, 10 or more documents, structure, topic sentences, etc. So, do yourself a favor and figure out how all of those things unify with one another in a quick outline before you do your actual writing.
Second, outlines help with fluidity. Nothing irritates a history teacher more than reading an essay that rambles and makes little sense. Spending five minutes or so early on in your DBQ time will help to ensure that all of your thoughts connect to one another and the writing itself is clear and solid.
Finally, an outline will help you group your documents together, but more on that below.
6. Group the Documents Together
After you’ve read through the question and the documents and you’ve started working on your outline, the time will come when you need to begin grouping the documents together. Remember that the people at the CollegeBoard chose these documents intentionally; that means they are related to one another somehow. It’s just up to you to put those relationships together and make an argumentative case for it.
The best way to approach document-grouping is to think back on the Course Themes and Learning Objectives from the AP European History Course and Exam Description. These are excellent ways to consider when you’re at the grouping stage of the outline.
Let’s take a quick look at the DBQ from the year 2015:
Analyze changing conceptions of French national identity and culture in the period since 1960.
Many of the documents related to the question actually support state-sanctioned (Theme 4) actions to ‘preserve’ French culture. So, you could group documents according to those that do or do not support such actions. There are also documents relating to individual subjectivity (Theme 5). And so on.
A couple things to keep in mind while you are doing this grouping: First, make sure that you are using either all or most of the documents. Show your reader that you understand the history well enough to connect all ideas represented. And second, always think about the writer’s perspective by putting the document into historical context. Doing these things will get you that much close to scoring a 9 on the DBQ.
7. Appreciate Historical Context
Always remember that these documents were written in a historical context. Plus, historians love it when you show how the documents provided operated in relation to what else was going on at the time. When reading through the previous years’ Scoring Guidelines on the CollegeBoard website, you’ll notice that nearly every example of a good thesis indicates a historical trend, but puts those trends into a bigger picture that extends beyond the documents themselves.
Back to the 2015 exam. You’ll notice that the examples of the stronger theses consider global events/factors like the Cold War, globalization, increased immigration patterns following WWII, etc. That’s because those who wrote the essay understood that through a complex history of globalization and modernity, a new French identity was being formed.
In other words, they put the document into context. Nothing in the question specifically reference the Cold War or globalization. But the authors of these essays knew to put what they were reading in relation to the bigger picture. And it’s what you should be doing when you are reading through your exam’s DBQ.
8. Be Yourself
Be bold, be smart, and be proud of your intellectual vigor.
There’s nothing worse than reading a boring cliché argument repeated over and over again. And the examiners at the CollegeBoard feel the same way. We guarantee it.
Show your readers that you have come to your own conclusions about the documents in question. The DBQ questions are intentionally created to be complex and open to interpretation. Remember that historians use primary-source documents to indicate trends and shifts in those trends as they occurred in the past.
Also show your own understanding of how things have changed over time throughout the history of Europe. It’s up to you to identify those shifts.
9. Prepare Mind and Body
Our last piece of advice is to take care of yourself. With all that studying you’ve been doing, you may have forgotten to eat well or get enough sleep. Don’t worry. It happens to all of us. But don’t let those late study nights take over your good health.
This may actually be the most important of the 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the European History DBQ. Human brains get sluggish when deprived of enough sleep and quality food. Do yourself a favor and maintain a lightning-fast thought process for the exam.
Take care of your body and your mind will follow suit.
As long as you follow these tips, you’re sure to rock the DBQ section of the AP Euro exam. Good luck!
What did you think of our review? Let us know how we did!
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