US Regents Thematic and DBQ Essay Help - How to Write Them!

 

THEMATIC ESSAY ... Scariest Part

Click here for every Thematic and DBQ topic since 2004

(United States Regents Review Sheet)

NOTE: The Thematic and DBQ Essays are graded on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest)

NOW FOR SOME THEMATIC TIPS.

 

Tip #1:  Depth

    Do you remember when someone in your past told you that "it's not quantity, it's quality"? They lied. It's both which you need.  You could answer a thematic essay in two sentences and be sort of correct ... but that doesn't mean you will get a good grade! You need to offer details ... DETAILS!!! Let's assume you have the following part of a question:

Explain the circumstances behind 1 Supreme Court Case.

Well, you could answer it one of two ways for Brown v. Board of Education:

 a) "Separate but Equal and Jim Crow laws led many to challenge segregation laws." Times were changing."

Wow, two sentences. One of those was three words long!! That's not ANALYSIS. You need to analyze, or in simpler terms ... you need to make a detailed examination using plenty of relevant facts.  Maybe you are better off saying:

b) "After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, "separate but equal" was seen as Constitutional. Even though the 14th Amendment said that all should be treated the same under the law, segregated schools, restaurants, and drinking fountains prevailed in the South. In 1954, Linda Brown and others challenged segregation in schools. Civil Rights had become an important issue of the day, as already Jackie Robinson was playing baseball and President Truman had integrated the army so African Americans and whites could fight side-by-side."

Do you see the difference there? Both are correct, but (b) is SO MUCH BETTER! It offers specifics, history, and context.

Tip #2: Choose what you can write a lot about!

    I know it sounds obvious, but you really need to write about a topic you know very well. After the question, the Regents will offer you different options as to what you can write about (though you are not limited to their choices). For instance, if the essay is on "Technology Bringing Change," then choose what you can write the most on. To me, I would think you could write much more on the cotton gin than the elevator. The elevator might be easy, but the cotton gin offers you so much more to talk about concerning slavery and causes of the Civil War. Don't choose something that you can only write a few sentences about!

 

 

 

Tip #3: Answer every bullet equally!

   The question will give you 2-3 bullets to answer. If you write 10 pages on one bullet, and nothing on the others ... that's bad! Don't forget to answer every part. Let's say you get a question that says

     Choose two Supreme Court Cases:

      - Describe the Constituional Issue of the court case.

     - Explain the Amendment involved.

      - Discuss how the court case either expanded or limited rights.

Notice, they are asking you 6 things in total! For this type of question make the following grid:

This type of grid will ensure that you won't miss or mix up a question. Now that you are organized, you can write the essay with EVEN MORE details!

Tip #4: Be Careful!

   NOTE: Sometimes the thematic says ... "You can not write on certain topics." Make sure you read the bold words! On a 2014 Court Case essay, you couldn't write about Brown v. Board of Education because it was in the DBQ!

Tip #5: What to Study?

The thematic is scary ... but not scary if you study the right things. KNOW THE FOLLOWING SEVEN THINGS, AND YOU HAVE A GREAT CHANCE OF KNOCKING THIS OUT OF THE PARK. Historically, the following are the topics found most often on thematics.

1. Court Cases are important. To be on the safe side, I recommend knowing 3 Court Cases REALLY WELL. Especially Plessy and Brown vs. Board of Education. Reason being ... even if the essay isn't on court cases,  you can still use a court case to answer something like "Turning Points" or "Civil Rights of Minorities." Know the Amendments for the cases too, as it's good outside info ... plus, Amendments has been used before as a thematic.

2. Geography - First, Geography influences the US, as the Oceans, rivers, and fertile farmland play a part. But also, we change our environment with Canals and Railroads.

3. KNOW 2 LAWS  - Government legislation and its impact is key.  Remember: Do the ones that you can write the MOST about. Good ones include: Pure Food and Drug Act, Social Security, and the Civil Rights Act.

4. Technology - Transcontinental Railroad, Television, Radio, Internet. This tends to be an easier one to do, as you can show the impact of invention.

5. Reform Movements - This is great for Change. So, the Progressive Era reacts to Industrialization. Abolition, Suffrage, 1970s Feminism, Prohibition and Temperence (no-alcohol), and Civil Rights also work. Also, know the writers. If it's on the Progressive Era, then use muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair. If it's abolition, know writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin). If it's Feminism, write about Betty Friedan.

6. KNOW 2 WARS - Wars can be used for Foreign Policy, Turning Points, Change, and Conflict. Also wars are good for Presidential decisions such as dropping the atomic bomb in WWII, or suspending habeas corpus in the Civil War. The Cold War is easy to write about because your teachers probably just covered it!

7. Limitation of Rights - Know 2 of the following REALLY well: Native American Removal, Japanese Internment (and Korematsu case), and Slavery. Also the witch-hunt of McCarthyism would be useful to know.

 

Tip #6: How many Paragraphs?!?!!?

Students are always scared about how many paragraphs they should write. Well ... according to the state standard you need to do the following:

Have a logical and clear plan of organization. Also, have an introduction and conclusion that doesn't just restate the theme.

Hmmm ... it doesn't say how many paragraphs to write! The number of paragraphs is usually determined by the amount of bullets in the question. But usually, if they ask for two court cases as shown above, a body paragraph for each one will do. Suppose you have SO MUCH information on both ...  then you can write 4 body paragraphs. That's a paragraph per court case for each bullet (or square on the above chart). Does that mean you can't get a good grade with 2 body paragarphs? It doesn't mean that! According to the state standard, you can get a 5 if you have very good organization, you analyze and answer all parts thoroughly, and include a lot of facts, examples, and details. Perhaps, you can even create new information based on your knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

DBQ

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

1. Did I put the documents into proper groups and analyze them? (DO NOT SUMMARIZE)

2. Did I use the MINIMUM amount of documents which they suggest?

3. Did I answer the bullets SPECIFICALLY as to what is asked?

4. Do I have a detailed thesis?

5. Is my outside information impressive?

NOW FOR SOME TIPS.

 

Tip #1: First, the Scaffolding Questions 

Do you know how important those little questions are after the documents?  They are worth BIG points. They count the same as multiple choice questions. So, make sure you TAKE YOUR TIME with them. I know, it's hot outside and you want to go swimming. The pool can wait! If you see 2 lines, write 3 lines! Answer in full sentences. Give all you know! My recommendation would be to first scan the document. Notice who is speaking, what the year is, and the focus of the document. Then, read the question so you know specifically what is being asked.

 

Tip #2: Organize

They will give you a few sets of documents. Usually there's about three topics in a general category such as civil rights violations, change, turning points, or technology. Organize the documents by topic so you know which ones will fit in the same paragraph when you write.

 

Tip #3: Outside Information

Use extensive outside information.

No Bull, you need to have a lot of outside information. As you go through each document, jot down notes in the margins. Your documents should be drowning in ink by the end of the hour! Give anything...ANYTHING...relevant that is not in the documents. For example, consider a document that deals with the Fugitive Slave Act. In the margin write down “Comp. of 1850,” “Missouri Comp before that, 36° 30’.” Any note about the slave compromises would be a great addition of outside information.  Cite your Outside Information (O.I.) as well as your documents (Doc 1) (Doc 2). Be warned ... your teachers are pretty smart! Don't write down ... George Washington is on the dollar bill. (O.I.) That's not the outside info we are looking for!

 

Tip #4: DON'T SUMMARIZE! Discuss, Describe, Explain.

If you just copy over the documents, you'll have a really long and TERRIBLE essay. The documents are there to guide your argument. If they are asking about the changes brought on by the Civil Rights Era, and you just summarize the "I Have a Dream" speech without focusing on the question, you are NOT doing it correctly! If they say:

Describe - It means to tell about it.

Discuss - It means to make observations using reasoning and present detail.

Explain - It means to make understandable and provide reasons, causes, or results.

If they ask you to Discuss change, then show that you understand how the Civil Rights Era brought about change and why it can be considered a turning point. Thus:

Dating back to the days of Reconstruction, the government attempted to give African Americans rights to equality and suffrage. However, once Reconstruction ended, a period of Home Rule occurred in the South whereby the 14th and 15th Amendment were not guaranteed to all. Here, African Americans endured Jim Crow laws, which made "separate but equal" the law of the land. Also, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes became obstacles for voting. However, by the 1960s great change was occurring. Already, major court cases of the 1950s found segregation to be unconstitutional. In addition, reformers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. helped change the mood of the country. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. A year later the Voting Rights Act was passed. These pieces of legislation became turning points in fighting discrimination, and making the dreams of Reconstruction a reality. Soon, others such as women and minorities began to demostrate for increased civil rights as well.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to answer their questions with analysis. If you just summarize documents without focus, the essay will be in big trouble!

 

Tip #5: How many Paragraphs?!?!!?

TO REPEAT FROM ABOVE IF YOU'RE TOO LAZY TO SCROLL BACK UP:

Students are always scared about how many paragraphs they should write. Well ... according to the state standard you need to do the following:

Have a logical and clear plan of organization. Also, have an introduction and conclusion that doesn't just restate the theme.

Hmmm ... it doesn't say how many paragraphs to write! The number of paragraphs is usually determined by the amount of bullets in the question. But usually, if they ask for two court cases as shown above, a body paragraph for each one will do. Suppose you have SO MUCH information on both ...  then you can write 4 body paragraphs. That's a paragraph per court case for each bullet (or square on the above chart). Does that mean you can't get a good grade with 2 body paragarphs? It doesn't mean that! According to the state standard, you can get a 5 if you have very good organization, you analyze and answer all parts thoroughly, and include a lot of facts, examples, and details. Perhaps, you can even create new information based on your knowledge.

 

(United States Regents Review Sheet)