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6 Steps to a Perfect AP European History DBQ

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Posted by Christine Sarikas | Feb 16, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP)



Are you taking AP Euro and are wondering about the AP Euro DBQ essay? The DBQ is quite different from a typical school essay, and students often struggle with it during the AP exam. However, knowing what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ will go a long way towards helping you feel more confident, as well as getting a great score! Read this in-depth guide to learn all about what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ, what graders are looking for in your essay, a step-by-step guide to writing a DBQ, and three key tips to keep in mind when going over AP Euro DBQ example questions.


What Is the AP Euro DBQ? Why Is It Important?

The DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on three AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you'll need to analyze a historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources (the documents) as evidence. For AP European History, you'll generally be given about seven documents.

The purpose of the AP Euro DBQ is to put you in the historian's shoes as an interpreter of historical material and test your ability to:

  • Create a strong thesis and support that thesis with the aid of the documents provided
  • Analyze sources for characteristics such as author's point of view, the author's purpose, the audience, and context
  • Make connections between the documents
  • Bring in outside knowledge to strengthen the argument

For the AP Euro exam, the DBQ accounts for 25% of your total exam score, so it's definitely not something you want to overlook. It's also consistently one of the toughest parts of the exam. In 2021, the average AP Euro DBQ score was just a 3.26 out of 7--less than a 50%! Fortunately, preparing in advance for the AP Euro DBQ can go a long way to helping you feel more confident and, ultimately, get a higher score.


What to Expect from the AP Euro DBQ

The AP Euro exam is broken into two main sections. The first section consists of the multiple-choice questions and three short-answer questions. The second section consists of the DBQ and the long essay. When you get to section two, you'll see the DBQ instructions, then the DBQ prompt, and finally the documents (there are typically seven). Here's what the DBQ instructions look like:


These instructions lay out exactly how you're expected to use the documents. You'll need to mention at least six and go into depth for at least three of them. Additionally, you'll have to come up with at least one other piece of historical evidence not found in the documents to support your argument.

Here's an AP Euro DBQ example from the 2021 exam:

"Evaluate whether or not British imperial rule in India during the 1800s was primarily influenced by liberalism."

 Seven documents follow (which you can see if you click the above link), and they're a mix of extracts from posters, newspaper articles, interviews, and other sources. Your job would be to write an essay that takes a side on the issue and uses both information from the documents and your own analysis to support your stance. We'll go over exactly how to do this throughout the rest of the article.

The AP Euro DBQ is worth seven points. You can see the full rubric here, but here's a brief overview of where those points are earned:

  • Thesis responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning. (1 point)
  • Essay describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.   (1 point)
  • Essay supports an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents. (2 points)
  • Essay uses at least one additional piece of specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt. (1 point)
  • For at least three documents, the essay explains how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument. (1 point)
  • Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question. (1 point)

As you can see, a lot of points are derived from clearly and accurately incorporating information from the documents into your essay.



6 Steps for Tackling an AP Euro DBQ Example

Writing a full-length DBQ essay can be a daunting task, but breaking it into smaller steps will help it seem more manageable and can make your writing more organized. Here are six steps to follow when writing your AP Euro DBQ essay.


#1: Break Down the Prompt

Your first step should always be to read the prompt that you need to answer. Mark it up or read it a few times, if necessary, to make sure you really understand what's being asked. For the 2021 prompt, "Evaluate whether or not British imperial rule in India during the 1800s was primarily influenced by liberalism," you might rewrite some of it in your own words, something like, "British rule in India: liberalism?" Whatever works for you.

Once you have a solid grasp of the prompt, you'll be much more focused when reading the documents because you'll know what information to be looking out for.


#2: Look Through the Documents

You can spend as much or as little time reading the documents for the AP Euro DBQ as you'd like, although 15 minutes is recommended for reading time. Depending on the length of the documents and your speed reading skills, that may or may not be enough time to read them all the way through. Some skimming might be necessary.

You'll also need to do more than just read through the documents: quick, targeted notes will help organize the documents and your thoughts. For each document, jot down a few bullet points, covering things like who it was written by, when it was written, and what its main 1-3 points related to the prompt are. This will make it easier to see patterns in the documents which will be necessary when you write your thesis in the next step.


#3: Write Your Thesis

Your thesis is the most important sentence in your DBQ essay: it's the main point of your essay and what everything else you write hinges upon. A good thesis will make a claim, respond to the prompt, and lay out what you will discuss in your essay. Suppose you are responding to a prompt about women's suffrage (suffrage is the right to vote, for those of you who haven't gotten to that unit in class yet): "Analyze the responses to the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom."

Included among your documents, you have a letter from a suffragette passionately explaining why she feels women should have the vote, a copy of a suffragette's speech at a women's meeting, a letter from one politician to another debating the pros and cons of suffrage, and a political cartoon displaying the death of society and the end of the ‘natural' order at the hands of female voters.

An effective thesis might be something like, "Though ultimately successful, the women's suffrage movement sharply divided the United Kingdom between those who believed women's suffrage was unnatural and those who believed it was an inherent right of women." This thesis answers the question and clearly states the two responses to suffrage that are going to be analyzed in the essay.


#4: Outline Your Essay

After you know your thesis, you may be tempted to dive right in, but creating an essay outline can end up saving you time and making your DBQ essay much clearer and more organized. Once you get good at outlining, you should be able to come up with one in roughly five minutes so you still have plenty of time to write the essay.

Here's a sample DBQ outline:

  • Introduction
    • Thesis. The most important part of your intro! It should be the last sentence of your introduction paragraph.
  • Body 1 - contextual information
    • Any outside historical/contextual information
  • Body 2 - First point
    • Documents & analysis that support the first point
    • If three body paragraphs: use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
  • Body 3 - Second point
    • Documents & analysis that support the second point
    • Use about three documents, do deeper analysis on two
    • Be sure to mention your outside example if you have not done so yet!
  • Body 4 (optional) - Third point
    • Documents and analysis that support third point
  • Conclusion
    • Restate thesis
    • Draw a comparison to another time period or situation (synthesis)

Your ideal outline may include more or less information, so try out a few different ones as you work through AP Euro DBQ example questions to see which works best for you and still allows you to finish the essay on time.


#5: Start Writing!

Now it's time to get writing! If you've kept to 15 minutes for the reading period and 5 minutes for creating your outline, you'll have 40 minutes to write the essay. With an intro, conclusion, and four body paragraphs, that gives you about 6.5 minutes per paragraph--not much time, but doable if you keep your paragraphs short and to the point, which you want to be doing anyway! Remember to refer to the documents but also do more than just repeat what they say. Including your own analysis is key. If you find yourself doing a lot of "Source A says blah, and Source B says blah, and Source C says blah..." make sure you are using the documents to make a point, and not letting the documents use you.


#6: Review Your Essay

You may not have time to do this, of course, but even if you only have an extra minute or two at the end of the section, a quick readthrough can help you spot and fix any glaring errors or omissions. Graders won't dock you points over a misspelling or two, but keeping things as clear as possible makes it easier for them to see the point you're making, which in turn makes it easier for them to award you points. Basically, you want to use every minute you have in this section of the AP Euro exam, so don't let a few extra minutes at the end go to waste if you can use them to add a little final shine to your DBQ essay.




4 Tips for Your AP Euro DBQ Practice

You're now well prepared for the AP Euro DBQ, but a couple extra tips never hurt! Keep these four in mind throughout your studying and on test day.


#1: Find High-Quality Practice Questions

One of the best ways to measure your progress and learn which areas you need to focus on is to take practice exams. There are a lot of AP Euro History practice tests available; however, some are higher-quality than others. Taking a poorly written practice exam can cause you to study the wrong things and give you an inaccurate picture of what the real AP exam will be like. 

Official practice exams are those that have been created by the College Board (the organization that develops and administers all AP exams). Here are the AP Euro free-response questions they've made available:

2021 free-response questions

1999-2019 free-response questions

These include old prompts for both the DBQ and the long essay, as well as answer explanations. The most recent questions will be the most helpful, particularly those from 2018 and later, since AP Euro underwent its last significant changes in 2018. However, older questions can still give you a sense of what AP Euro free-response questions will look like.


#2: Always Keep Track of Time

Time constraints are one of the toughest parts of the AP exam, including the DBQ. You can have all the information and skills you need to write an amazing essay, but if you run out of time halfway through, you won't get a high score. That's why it's crucial to always watch your time.

Part II of the AP Euro exam lasts for a total of 100 minutes, during which time you'll need to write two essays, the DBQ and the long essay. For the DBQ, it's recommended that you spend 15 minutes reading over the documents and 45 minutes writing your DBQ essay. The proctor may note when you have a certain amount of time left, but no one will make you finish your DBQ and move to the long essay at a certain time, so spending too much time on the DBQ can cause you to run out of time on the long essay as well. 


#3: Be an Active Reader, Not a Passive Reader

Many students, especially if they don't have a lot of experience with DBQs, will spend the 15 minutes of recommended reading time reading every word of each of the documents, then, when it comes time to begin writing their essay, have no idea how to craft an essay around all that information they just took in. This is one of the reasons DBQs can be so tricky.

So, how to avoid this problem? Don't just read through the documents. Instead, mark them up: underlining and circling important parts and jotting down helpful notes. We recommend reading the essay prompt before you begin reading the documents. Once you have a good handle on the prompt, then you can skim through the documents, focusing on the parts that relate most to the prompt.  

The DBQ prompt for 2020 was, "Evaluate whether or not the Catholic Church in the 1600s was opposed to new ideas in science." So, when going through the documents, the key thing you're going to want to be making note of is whether each document seems to support or disprove the Catholic Church being opposed to new ideas in science. Your notes for this can be as little as a plus or minus sign next to the document, or you can do some short bullet points (we'd recommend no more than three per document) that give an overview of the main viewpoint. If you actively read the documents, starting to write the essay is much easier because you can clearly see the cases the documents make and, therefore, how to make your own case.


#4: Remember to Cite the Sources

The final tip to keep in mind, which will make a big difference in your DBQ essay quality, is integrating document citations into your essay. You want to be able to reference the information in the documents in a clear, concise way that doesn't take too much of your time but makes it easy for graders to see where you're getting your facts from (as well as how well you're making use of the documents).

To do this, we recommend using the author or title of the document to identify a document rather than writing "Document A." So instead of writing "Document A describes the riot as...," you might say, "In Sven Svenson's description of the riot…"

When you quote a document directly without otherwise identifying it, you may want to include a parenthetical citation. For example, you might write, "The strikers were described as ‘valiant and true' by the working class citizens of the city (Document E)." Doing this throughout your DBQ essay will make it easier for graders to understand the major points you're making.




Summary: AP Euro Document-Based Question

Once you know what to expect from the AP Euro DBQ, it becomes one of the more straightforward parts of the AP exam. The AP Euro DBQ consists of a prompt that asks you to evaluate a statement, and it's followed by about seven documents. You'll need to mention at least six of those documents in your essay. Reviewing the AP Euro DBQ rubric can help you see where points are gained and lost, and running through AP Euro DBQ example questions is a great way to feel more comfortable with this essay. Review your course material over the school year and write several AP Euro practice DBQs to put yourself in a great place on exam day.


What's Next?

Interested in learning more about the AP Euro exam? Our in-depth guide to the AP European History text explains everything you need to know!

Now that you better understand how hard AP Euro will be for you, get your hands on the best practice materials available! Check out our guide on the best AP Euro practice tests and quizzes to help with your studying. 

Is AP Euro hard? How tough are the class and exam compared to other APs? We break down the five key factors in determining how hard is AP European History. 


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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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