Ap history Writing Guide



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AP History Writing Guide

Essay writing for History class is slightly different than what you have learned in English classes. Both subjects follow the same grammar and sentence structure, but the structure of the response/essay and techniques used are very specific and different for History. The following guide will help you in AP History class and, most importantly, on the AP exam in May.



Short Answer Questions (SAQs)

Historical Thinking Skills Tested: Analyzing Evidence (Primary Sources), Interpretation (Secondary Sources), Comparison, Contextualization, Causation, Patterns of Continuity & Change Over Time, Periodization

Section I, Part B of the AP History exam will have four (4) short answer questions that students must respond to in 50 minutes. SAQs are unlike essay responses, because they do not require students to write & support a thesis statement. Responses must still be in sentence form, and outlined or bulleted responses are not accepted. Students must contain their responses with the given box, so brief writing is crucial when only 12 ½ minutes are allotted for each question. At least two (2) questions out of four (4) will have choices, and questions may contain texts (both primary & secondary), images, graphs, or maps.



Writing SAQS

  1. Read the prompt carefully. Each prompt has three (3) tasks and is worth three (3) points. Students either accomplish the task or don’t, so the gray area is minimal.

  2. Write clearly and completely, making sure to respond to all parts of the prompt. Students must use concrete examples to demonstrate what they know best.

  3. SAQs can be pulled from any of the nine (9) historical periods in AP US or four (4) historical periods in AP European. College Board wants a broad spectrum of historical knowledge, so be careful to study all the historical periods.

AP US History Sample Question

Answer a, b, and c.

(A) Briefly explain ONE example of how contact between Native Americans and Europeans brought changes to Native American societies in the period 1492 to 1700.

(B) Briefly explain a SECOND example of how contact between Native Americans and Europeans brought changes to Native American societies in the same period.

(C) Briefly explain ONE example of how Native American societies resisted change brought by contact with Europeans in the same period.

AP European History Sample Question

Answer all parts of the question.

Historians have argued that the second industrial revolution (1870-1914) marked a turning point in Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world.

(A) Identify TWO pieces of evidence that support this argument and explain how each supports the argument.

(B) Identify ONE piece of evidence that undermines this argument and explain how the evidence undermines the argument.

Essay Questions

AP History exams will require students to write two (2) full-length essays one hour and thirty minutes. Document-based questions (DBQs) are essays that require the use of evidence from a set of 8-10 documents and outside information to answer a prompt; whereas long essay questions (LEQs) do not give any documents and require students to answer a thematic essay prompt with content information from the course.



General Historical Essay Writing Guidelines

  • Write essays in third person, passive voice. Never use the following personal pronouns to refer to yourself or the reader in an essay: I, me, we, us, you, yours, and ours. Writing in passive voice states cause and effect more strongly. i.e. “Lincoln enacted martial law” is active voice, while “martial law was enacted by Lincoln” is passive voice.

  • Use specific words. Vague words, such as many, several, alike, different, few, they, others, etc., demonstrates to the reader that you do not know what you are discussing in your essay. The more specific you are, the more confident you sound.

  • Define or explain key terms. If the question deals with specific vocabulary terms, such as “conservative”, “liberal”, “federalism”, “abolitionism”, then your analysis should include analysis of the essential terms.

  • Communicate awareness of the complexity of history. The majority of history is not seen in absolutes (black or white) and has more to do with distinguishing between evidence, showing significance, and communicating judgment and analysis. Avoid using “all” or “none” statements, and instead use words like, “to a certain extent”, “reveal”, “exemplify”, “demonstrate”, “imply”, and “symbolize”.

  • Accept counterarguments. Consider arguments that are against your thesis, not to prove them, but to show that you are aware of opposing points of view. The strongest essays confront conflicting evidence.

  • Remain objective. Never pass your own judgment on a group of people, let the reader make their own mind up. Referring to someone as “racist” or a “good person” is not part of historical analysis, so don’t do it.

  • Communicate the organization and logical development of your argument. Each paragraph should develop a main point that is clearly stated in the topic sentence. Provide a few words or phrase of transition to connect one paragraph to another.

  • Absolutely no rhetorical questions and slang words. These are persuasive writing devices for English classes, never to be used in History essays. The goal is to have an intellectual discourse about the content through writing.

  • Vary word usage and avoid paragraph labeling. Do not keep using the same words over and over in your essays, use synonyms because that is why we learn them when learning vocabulary. Stop using middle school writing strategies such as: “today I will discuss/prove”, “you will learn/see”, “this goes to show”, etc. Less-used transition words are much better than bland, over-used words like: first, second, third, next, in conclusion, etc.. Try words such as: however, on the other hand, nevertheless, even though, therefore, thus, as a result, consequently, etc..

  • Organization and planning is everything. Thesis statements, supporting evidence, and prewriting show that students are capable of analysis and synthesis. Make absolutely sure that these skills in writing are practiced often.

Long Essay Questions (LEQs)

Responding to an LEQ Prompt

  1. Analyze the prompt. Quickly read through the prompt a three times and do the following:

  1. Ask yourself what is the targeted historical thinking skill (HTS).

  2. Circle the task that is required, i.e. “analyze”, “assess the validity”, “compare”.

  3. Underline the historical subject/content.

  4. Draw a box around the time period. If one is not given in the prompt, assign one.

Example: Evaluate the relative importance of domestic and foreign affairs in shaping American politics in the 1790s.

  1. Organize your evidence. Planning will make sure that “writer’s block” does not occur in the middle of writing your essay. Identify what you know about the question and write a brief outline.

Example: Evaluate the relative importance of domestic and foreign affairs in shaping American politics in the 1790s.

Domestic Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Politics

-Hamilton's financial

plan: national debt, tariff, excise tax,

-Bank of the U.S.

-Constitution: loose vs. strict

interpretation

-Whiskey Rebellion

-Alien and Sedition

Acts



-French Revolution

-British vs. French

-Proc. of Neutrality

-Citizen Genet

-Jay Treaty

-Pinckney Treaty

-Washington's Farewell Address

-XYZ Affair

-Convention of 1800


-President Washington

-Jefferson vs. Hamilton

-Two-party system

-Election of 1796

-Revolution of 1800




  1. Develop your thesis and place it in the introductory paragraph of the essay (usually the last sentence). A good thesis allows the writer to show understanding of the complexity of the issue and knowledge of information on both sides of the issue. Most of the essay questions allow for an opinion on either side of the question.

Example:

Opposing viewpoints over domestic issues of the structure and duties of the federal government and foreign relationships with England and France greatly shaped American politics during the Washington presidency of the 1790s by allowing a two party system to emerge.



  1. Write the introductory paragraph. Introductory paragraphs should always start with a statement concerning the historical context. Historical context should set the stage for the essay; essentially, it is saying was is what led up to this point in history and how is it relevant to the discussion. After a sentence or two of historical context, place your thesis as the last sentence of the first paragraph.

Example:

After the concluding of the Revolutionary War, Americans struggled to form a national government that could meet the needs of the people, yet hold to the ideals of states’ rights. In 1789, the U.S. Constitution sought to alleviate the problems associated with the Articles of Confederation, but Americans could not agree on the balance of power between the federal government and the states. <INSERT THESIS>



  1. Write your supporting paragraphs. Supporting paragraphs explain in detail what your thesis did not do in the introduction. This is the section where students must showcase their content knowledge of the AP curriculum. Here would be an example for the domestic issues paragraph:

Example:

The debate over the federal government’s duties and responsibilities can be seen with the opposing viewpoints on how the US Constitution should be read by lawmakers. Supporters of a strong federal government felt that the document could be loosely interpreted, thus allowing implied powers. Alexander Hamilton saw the creation of the first national bank as necessary and allowable with this view of the “elastic” Constitution. However, supporters of state’s rights questioned…





  1. Synthesize your essay. This is not a conclusion statement in which you restate your thesis statement. Conclusion statements are still a good practice, and they can be the first sentence of your conclusion paragraph. Synthesizing requires you to connect (bring together) what you are addressing in your essay with the broader events in history. Synthesis is essentially, where we are heading. This can be done by:

  1. Appropriately extending or modifying the states thesis or argument

  2. Using another appropriate category of analysis (i.e. social, political, ethnicity, geographic, etc.) beyond what the prompt calls for

  3. Recognizes and effectively accounts for disparate, sometimes contradictory evidence from primary sources and/or secondary works in crafting a coherent argument (DBQ only)

  4. Appropriately connecting the topic of the question to other historical periods, geographic areas, contexts, or circumstances

Example:

The debate between federalism and states’ rights is still occurring today. One of these debates is over which level of government has the right to decide the laws governing a women’s right to choose to have an abortion. The State of Mississippi is required to allow abortion clinics to exist; however, as of today, only one clinic in Jackson remains open.



LEQ Grading Rubric

The following rubric is how LEQs will be graded in AP History courses. This is directly from College Board, and this is what AP essay graders will be looking for in your essay. It is recommended that before every essay test in class, you read carefully read through the rubric to make sure you get every point. Doing so will help your grade and your AP score in May.



Scoring Rubric: Long Essay Question (LEQ) Maximum Possible Points: 6

A. Thesis 0-1 point Skill Assessed: Argumentation

Presents a thesis that makes a historically defensible claim and responds to all parts of the question. The thesis must consist of one or more sentences located in one place, either in the introduction or the conclusion.
1 point

B. Argument: Using the Targeted HTS 0-2 points Skill Assessed: Argumentation + Target Skill

For Questions Assessing COMPARISON

Describes similarities AND differences among historical individuals, events, developments, or processes


1 point

OR

Explains the reasons for similarities AND differences among historical individuals, events, developments, or processes OR (depending on the prompt) evaluates the relative significance of historical individuals, events, developments, or processes.
2 points

For Questions Assessing CAUSTION

Describes causes AND/OR effects of a historical event, development, or process.
1 point

OR

Explain the reasons for the causes AND/OR effects a historical event, development, or process.
2 points

For Questions Assessing CONTINUITY & CHANGE OVER TIME

Describes historical continuity AND change over time.
1 point

OR

Explains the reasons for historical continuity AND change over time.
2 points

For Questions Assessing PERIODIZATION

Describes the ways in which the historical development specified in the prompt was different from and similar to developments that preceded AND/OR followed.
1 point

OR

Explains the extent to which the historical development specified in the prompt was different from and similar to developments that preceded AND/OR followed.
2 points

C. Argument: Using Evidence 0-2 points Skills Assessed: Use of Evidence, Argumentation

Addresses the topic of the question with specific examples of relevant evidence

1 point

OR

Utilizes specific examples of evidence to fully and effectively substantiate the stated thesis or a relevant argument.
2 points

D. Synthesis 0-1 point Skills assessed: Synthesis

Extends the argument by explaining the connections between the argument and ONE of the following:

A development in a different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area.


1 point



OR

A course theme and/or approach to history that is not the focus of the essay (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual history).

1 point


OR

World & European History Only

A different discipline or field of inquiry (such as economics, government and politics, art history, or anthropology).


1 point


A. ____/1 point B. ____/2 points C. ____/2 points D. ____/1 point Total Score ___

Document-Based Question (DBQ)

Historical Thinking Skills Tested: The overall focus will be on either historical causation, patterns of continuity and change over time, comparison, interpretation, or periodization. While every DBQ tests over argumentation, analyzing evidence, contextualization, and synthesis.

Section II, Part A of the AP History exam will consist of one (1) document-based question that students will respond to in 55 minutes (15 minute reading period and 40 minute writing time). DBQs require students to formulate a thesis and support it with relevant evidence, both from various documents given and outside content knowledge. Documents include a broad spectrum of evidence on a particular time period for students to choose and assess their value when answering the prompt. Types of documents include primary source documents, graphs, charts, pictures, political cartoons, and visuals.

Writing DBQs

Everything already mentioned about essay writing applies to document-based questions (DBQs). DBQs are another type of essay, in which a set of seven (7) documents will be given to students to analyze, interpret, and use to prove the thesis of the essay. These documents are not optional, and every document must be used within the essay. Document (extended) analysis skills of historical context, intended audience, purpose, and point-of-view (H.I.P.Po.) are vital to writing a successful & high scoring DBQ.



  • A DBQ essay is not a list of summaries on each of the documents, but it is a sophisticated, well-planned essay that analyzes the question through a logical argument. Analysis means to break into parts & recombine to create something new.

  • DBQs should never contain direct quotes or paraphrases, but it must show how each document relates to the question by showing its meaning/value to support your argument.

  • DBQ essays do not spend time citing documents, but can show where information was obtained by simply place “(Doc. 1)” at the end of the sentence when commenting on the document, or refer to the author in the sentence itself.

  • DBQs must have extended analysis of either historical context, intended audience, purpose, or point-of-view. Do not attempt to do all four skills, one is enough for each document. The following is how this can be achieved:

  • Historical Context: State what was going on in history at the time the document was produced.

  • Intended Audience: State who the document was written for.

  • Purpose: State why the document was produced.

  • Point-of-View: State something about the author’s demographics (CORNPEG) or what made the author says this in the document.

*Note: Some AP students around the U.S. are taught to label each time they use a type of extended analysis in their essay, much like citing documents. i.e. (context), (aud), (pur), & (pov). This is not required, but it is strongly recommended.

DBQ Grading Rubric

The following rubric is how DBQs will be graded in AP History courses. This is directly from College Board, and this is what AP essay graders will be looking for in your essay. It is recommended that before every essay test in class, you read carefully read through the rubric to make sure you get every point. Doing so will help your grade and your AP score in May.

Scoring Rubric: Document-Based Question Maximum Possible Points: 7
A. Thesis & Argument Development: 0-2 points Skills Assessed: Argumentation


Present a thesis that makes a historically defensible claim and responds to all parts of the question. The thesis must consist of one or more sentences located in one place, either in the introduction or the conclusion.

1 point

Develop and support a cohesive argument that recognizes and accounts for historical complexity by explicitly illustrating relationships among historical evidence such as contradiction, corroboration, and/or qualification.

1 point


B. Document Analysis: 0-2 points Skills Assessed: Analyzing Evidence & Sourcing and Argumentation

Utilizes the content of at least six (6) of the documents to support the stated thesis or a relevant argument.
1 point

Explains the significance of at least one of the following for the at least four (4) of the documents:

  • Intended audience

  • Purpose

  • Historical context and/or

  • The author’s point of view


1 point


C. Using Evidence Beyond the Documents: 0-2 points Skills Assessed: Contextualization and Argumentation

Contextualization

Situates the argument by explain the broader historical events, developments, or processes immediately relevant to the question.



1 point

Evidence Beyond the Documents

Provides an example or additional piece of specific evidence beyond those found in the documents to support or qualify the argument.



1 point


D. Synthesis 0-1 point Skills assessed: Synthesis


Extends the argument by explaining the connections between the argument and ONE of the following:

A development in a different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area.


1 point


OR

A course theme and/or approach to history that is not the focus of the essay (such as political, economic, social, cultural, or intellectual history).
1 point


OR

World & European History Only

A different discipline or field of inquiry (such as economics, government and politics, art history, or anthropology).


1 point



A. _____/2 points B. _____/2 points C. _____/2 points D. _____/1 point Total Score _____



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