Guidelines for Document Based Questions

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Guidelines for Document Based Questions

  1. Read the question carefully. Understand that you are to answer a question, not simply to discuss documents. Approach it as an essay question for which you don’t have documents.

  2. Be alert to the time parameters of the question.

  3. Make certain you understand what the question asks you to look for in the documents.

  4. The reader has only approximately two minutes with your essay. Make your information organized and easy to extract.

  5. The DBQ is nothing more than an essay with a cheat sheet, so relax.


    1. Establish potential categories. You may need to adjust these after examining the documents. If the question gives you categories, use them.

    2. Jot down all of the outside information that comes to mind from that time period.

    3. Formulate a thesis statement.


  1. Find a main idea relative to this particular question. Do not simply state what the document says. Use APPARTS to help.

  2. Help create a Core Structure. Begin with a thesis that fully addresses the question and takes a position, establish organizational categories, and follow normal essay writing procedure.

  3. Be a large part of your essay. You should refer to a majority of the documents, but you don’t have to use every one.

  4. Trigger memory of outside information. Bring in as much specific factual information as you can. Use the documents as clues, but no single thing is as important as outside information in a DBQ.


  1. Determine the logical organization of your essay.

  2. Get a paraphrase or quote. Instead, show that you understand the document’s relation to your thesis.

  3. Start a sentence. Never should you write “Document A says…” Instead, after referring to the document put the letter of the document in parenthesis following the sentence in which it was used (A). This helps both you and the reader keep up with the number of documents used.

  4. Create lengthy direct quotations. You are the author, not the editor.

Scoring Guidelines for DBQs and Essays

AP US History DBQs and Essays are scored on a scale of 0-9. They are broken down with the following guidelines:
The 8-9 Essay:

    • Contains a well-developed thesis relating to the question

    • Presents an effective analysis of the question

    • Effectively uses a substantial number of documents

    • Supports the thesis with substantial outside information

    • Contains only minor errors or none at all

    • Is clearly organized and well written

The 5-7 Essay:

The 2-4 Essay:

    • Contains a limited thesis

    • Deals with the question in a general manner, little or no analysis

    • Uses only paraphrases or quotes from documents

    • Contains little outside information, or information that is inaccurate

    • Has some major errors

    • Has poor organization and writing

The 0-1 Essay:

    • Contains no thesis or one that does not answer the question

    • Shows inadequate understanding of the question

    • Has little understanding of the documents, or does not use them

    • Has numerous errors that detract from the quality of the essay

    • Has poor writing that inhibits understanding

The ___ Essay:

    • Is blank or completely off task


When analyzing a document, it is important to understand the following before using it:
AUTHOR: Who created the source? What do you know about the author? What is the author’s point of view?
PLACE AND TIME: Where and when was the source produced? How might this affect the meaning of the source?
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: Beyond information about the author and the context of its creation, what do you know that would help you further understand the primary source? For example, do you recognize any symbols and recall what they represent?
AUDIENCE: For whom was the source created and how might this affect the reliability of the source?
REASON: Why was this source produced and how might this affect the reliability of the source?
MAIN IDEA: What point is the source trying to convey in relation to your question?
SIGNIFICANCE: Why is this source important? Ask yourself, “So what?” in relation to the question asked.









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