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Where to Find the Best DBQ Examples

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Jun 22, 2018 6:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)

 

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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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

 

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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 in 2015, there are currently only four official College Board sets of sample essays that use the current rubric. 

None 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 2015samples from 2016, samples from 2017, and samples from 2018.

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.

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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 are only three sets 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 in 2016.

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.)

 

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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 there are only two past exams available that used the current DBQ format.

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 has six to seven.

  • 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. 

 

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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 grader improves 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 ten 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.

 

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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!

 

What's Next?

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.

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!

 

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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