Those who teach AP European History know that the DBQ or Document Based Question is an integral part of the AP European History Exam. It is given more weight than the two other “Free Response” questions, and has very specific guidelines for scoring. Although other AP exams also use Document Based Questions (AP US History, for example), the student must be prepared for the expectations of the European History DBQ. One way to help the student in this matter is to use DBQ writing exercises throughout the year. This is a sample of an exercise I have begun to use to prepare my students for the AP European History DBQ.
AP European History Scoring Guidelines
The goal of my DBQ exercise is to prepare my students to quickly, and efficiently address the scoring guidelines of the DBQ. These guidelines, taken directly from the AP Central’s sample questions page are as follows:
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
1. Has a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis
2. Uses all or almost all of the documents (11-12 documents)
3. Uses the documents persuasively as evidence
4. Shows understanding of nuances of the documents
5. Analyzes point of view or bias in at least four documents cited in the essay
6. Analyzes the documents in additional ways (e.g., develops more groupings)
7. Recognizes and develops change over time
8. Brings in relevant “outside” information
Since the “Expanded Core” points cannot be awarded unless all six of the “Basic Core” points have been achieved, it is extremely important that the student be adept at performing the basic core tasks. For the purpose of this exercise, I have focused on the thesis, bias, and grouping (numbers 1,5, and 6). Further, since the bias and grouping skills are also awarded expanded core points, this exercise asks the student to identify groups and bias beyond the three required for the “Basic Core.” It is my thinking that if the student is able to master these three tasks, and is aware of the remaining three “Basic Core” requirements, they should be able to write an essay that would be awarded all six “Basic Core” points and perhaps expanded core points as well. Therefore, these exercises do not stress the actual writing of the essay, but rather the pre-writing that will satisfy the core.
Format of the DBQ Exercise
The DBQ Exercise requires the student to do the following:
• Write an “appropriate, explicitly stated thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question.”
• List “point of view or bias” in four documents
• List four groups with the numbers of the supporting documents
For convenience, I have created a worksheet that lists all three of these tasks, with space between the tasks for student response. For the “groups” task, I inserted a table with “groups” in the left-hand column and “supporting documents” in the right-hand column, leaving four rows for the students to list their four groups.
Assigning the Exercise
This may be done as an untimed activity, but practice should also be given in a timed setting. I give the student a copy of the worksheet and a sample DBQ from the AP Central website. These are the general steps I would encourage the students to do:
1. Read the prompt and documents, and come up with a preliminary groupings.
The prompt itself will guide the groupings. The student should first underline the key words in the prompt. If the prompt asks for “causes of” and “reactions to” some event in history, the student should underline “causes of” and “reactions to.” The student should then look for documents linked by causes and reactions. The student, for example, may find several causes and several reactions- these are the preliminary groups.
2. Mark up the documents.
I would ask the student in this example to label “causes” to the left of the document, and “reactions” to the right. The student should also underline brief parts of the documents that demonstrate why he choose these particular labels. This would be useful to the student in writing the actual essay, as points for citation are clearly marked.
3. Choose four of the grouping and put them in the table on the worksheet, along with the numbers of the supporting documents.
4. Based on the groupings in the table, construct a thesis that uses key words in the prompt and write it on the worksheet.
Using the key words from the prompt will help the student address all parts of the prompt. A very stiff thesis, yet one which fits the requirements, might be something like: The causes of [EVENT IN HISTORY] were A and B, while the reactions to it were C and D. The student could alter this and perhaps receive expanded core points for their thesis for something like: The causes of [EVENT IN HISTORY] were A and B, both of which stemmed from economic issues; social class divided the reactions to reactions to [EVENT IN HISTORY] with the nobility reacting with C and the peasants reacting D.
5. Find bias or point of view in four documents and mark them on the worksheet.
The student should ask himself questions like this:
• does the writer think the way he did because he never “walked in the shoes” of the other side (like a rich person not understanding the complaints of the poor)
• does the writer have something to gain (like a king who wants to keep his crown)
• does the time period of a document mean anything ( especially in DBQ’s that look at an issue across many years- maybe from late Middle Ages to the Enlightenment)
Putting It All Together
Eventually the student must use all of this to write an actual essay. I personally believe that this is the easy part of the DBQ. Complete DBQ essays should be practiced throughout the year as well. This exercise is used to give the student a “method” to approach the DBQ, and hopefully will increase their confidence when they write the one that really matters on test day.
for more information see: www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/eurohistory/samp.html