Continuity and Change Examples

Compare and Contrast Examples

Causes and Effects Examples

Turning Points Examples


You will be given a Document Based Question essay and a standard Long Essay.  The DBQ makes up 25% of your grade, and the Long Essay is worth 15%. 

Section II will consist of a DBQ and a Long Essay. First, let’s talk about the Document Based Question (DBQ) essay, where you will be given a question followed by a series of seven documents. The topics tend to be general and the question looks to address the AP History Disciplinary Practices and Reasoning Skills (see earlier). The DBQ will be on a topic from periods 3-8. 

Here is a guide as to how you should write your essay. It is your job to group the 7 documents into different categories and argue a thesis.







Your Score on the DBQ will be largely based on you answering “yes” to the following questions:


Section II will consist of a DBQ and a Long Essay. First, let’s talk about the Document Based Question (DBQ) essay, where you will be given a question followed by a series of seven documents. The topics tend to be general and the question looks to address the AP History Disciplinary Practices and Reasoning Skills (see earlier). The DBQ will be on a topic from periods 3-8.

You can succeed on the DBQ if you answer “yes” to the following:

1. Do I have a detailed thesis?

2. Did I put the documents into historical context?

3. Did I utilize at least six of the documents to support the argument?

4. Is my outside information impressive?

5. On at least three documents, did I explain the relevance towards the argument regarding the audience, purpose, historical situation, or author’s point of view?

6. Did I demonstrate a complex understanding of what the question is looking for? Did I use evidence to corroborate, modify, or qualify an argument?


Now a deeper breakdown of the point system:

The new DBQ will have 7 Documents, and most likely ask you a question that can have two different sides to it. It is your job to do all of the following to get 7/7 points on your essay score.


Thesis = 1 Point (The Essay is Worth 7 Points in Total)


The exam wants you to make a defensible thesis or claim which responds to all parts of the question. Be warned! Do not just use the sentence they give you as your thesis. We know that there are economic, political, and social causes for conflict. If you get a little creative, it will help your grade.


Average Thesis: The economic, political, and social issues of the antebellum period all created a division between North and South that eventually led to the Civil War.


Better Thesis: Although economic, political, and social divisions all brought about increased tensions before the Civil War, it was the economic differences between North and South which led to political turmoil as well as social unrest concerning slavery.


The second thesis shows a greater level of creative and critical thinking. Often, starting your thesis with a word like “although” will send you on the right path to comparing and contrasting, or showing continuity and change. Your thesis doesn’t have to be as elaborate as above, but this example should help you understand critical thinking.


Evidence from the Documents = 2 Points


Mark up those documents in the 15 minute reading period! Include only the vital bits and pieces from them. Use the clock or bring a noiseless watch to the testing site, and keep an eye out on the time! You should be able to write down in the margin of each document the answers to the following: 

1. What are the important and relevant details of this document? 

2. Where does it fit into my essay, and how does it relate to the history reasoning skill being targeted? 

3. How can I use this information to support the argument? 

Don’t just quote … analyze and utilize the documents to support that all-important thesis! For both points, you must support the argument by accurately describing at least six of the documents. Accurately describing three documents will help you only get one point.



Evidence Beyond the Documents = 1 Point; Contextualization = 1 Point

No Bull, you need to have a lot of evidence beyond the documents, or outside information. You will not get credit for only providing a phrase! As you go through each document, jot down notes in the margins.

I don’t see anything about secession in the documents. That’s outside information. 

I don’t see anything about the election of Abraham Lincoln. That’s outside information. 

I don’t see John Brown or Harper’s Ferry. That’s outside information. 

Throw it in. Show impressive detail, or a great scope of knowledge, to get this point. It must relate to the prompt and argument. A phrase won’t cut it!

Impressive Detail: The Compromise of 1850, designed at first as an omnibus by “The Great Compromiser” Henry Clay, but passed as separate bills with the help of “The Little Giant” Stephen Douglas, provided for a strict Fugitive Slave Act.

Impressive Detail: Democrat Stephen Douglas’ Freeport Doctrine, which supported popular sovereignty, was delivered in the 1858 Illinois Senatorial Debate between him and Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.

Do you see the difference? Throw in a fact here, a year there. That’s impressive detail!

Similar to your outside knowledge, you must show contextualization. In other words, you must connect the documents to the larger picture of events, processes, and developments occurring before, during, or after. You can’t use the same outside knowledge for your contextualization. So, if the document is about muckrakers, connect it to the Progressive Era. If it’s on the Stamp Act, link it to the end of Salutary Neglect. This skill is worth 1 of the 7 points on the DBQ. 




Analysis and Reasoning = 2 Points                                             

For at least three documents, you should point out the Historical Situation, Audience, Point of View, and/or Purpose and explain why it is relevant to the argument. For instance, in Document 1, the Historical Situation would be the antebellum period which saw abolition grow out of the Second Great Awakening. The Audience would be the American public or those sympathetic to abolition. The Purpose is for bringing about the end of slavery. The Point of View of Garrison, an abolitionist, is that slavery is an injustice and must end. This effort is worth one point. 

Now for the final point: Complex Understanding. This question is looking for you to compare and contrast. Don’t just show similarities…show differences as well! If they ask for continuity and change, SHOW BOTH! If they ask a question about causation, show short-term and long-term causes, as well as short-term and long-term effects. This will display a higher level of understanding. You get one point for this type of complex understanding. For the point, you could also analyze multiple variables, qualify or modify an argument by looking at alternative views or evidence, explain relevant connections across different time periods, or confirm an argument’s truth by looking at perspectives in different themes.


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