WHAT THE COLLEGE BOARD SAYS:
"The primary purpose of the document-based essay question is not to test students’ prior knowledge of subject matter but rather to evaluate their ability to formulate and support an answer from documentary evidence. It is assumed students have taken the course and understand the broader world historical context. Documents are chosen on the basis of both the information they convey about the topic and the perspective that they offer. The document-based essay question is designed to test skills described in the four historical thinking skills, that are analogous to those of the historian analyzing source materials. However, the document-based question differs from the task of actual historians mainly in the time available for analysis and the prearranged selection of the documents. There is no single “correct” answer**; instead, various approaches and responses are possible, depending on the students’ ability to understand the documents, communicate their significance, and construct an argument. In writing the essay, students may find it useful to consider the following points.
- The document-based question is an exercise in crafting historical arguments from historical evidence and synthesis.
- Depending on the topic of the question, students may also be asked to analyze historical causation, make comparisons, and/or discuss continuity and change over time as part of the document-based question exercise.
- The document-based question requires that students first read and analyze the documents individually, contextualize them based on their informed analysis of the documentary evidence, and then plan and construct an appropriate and synthetic essay in response to the question.
- The student’s answer must group documents in such a way that it demonstrates analysis of their different contents and contexts.
- A clear thesis statement and an analysis of the documents that fully address the question are required.
- It is expected that students will use all or all but one of the documents.
- Specific mention of individual documents should always occur within the framework of the overall topic, serving to substantiate and illustrate points made in the essay.
- In no case should documents simply be cited and summarized in a list;
- Reference to the documentary material must always be closely tied to the essay question.
- Evidence from the documents should be utilized both to construct arguments and to illustrate specific points within those arguments.
- Students should cite documents by naming the author, title, and/or document number.
- Students may group documents chronologically, culturally, or thematically, as appropriate, to demonstrate their ability to analyze sources, but they are not expected to have particular knowledge of every document’s author or topic or to include knowledge outside of the documents in order to receive the highest score.
- The number of documents will be between 4 and 10; they will be of sufficient length to encourage comparisons, contrasts, and analyses.
- Every document is related to the question.
- Analysis of the documents must include consideration of their context, point of view, and frame of reference.
- Students should pay attention to both internal evidence (the content, format, and tone of each document in relation to the others) and external evidence (identification of author, purpose, or intended audience, and the date on which each document was written). This analysis of context may serve as a way for students to group documents, as they highlight similarities or differences in perspective among the documents.
- Students will be asked to explain the need for an additional type of document(s) to answer the question more completely, and this may involve discussing what relevant points of view are missing from the set of documents. The explanation of at least one additional source must show the student’s recognition of the limitation of the given documents."
Wow. Notice how much they tell you about how to write the DBQ. There is a simple reason for this: THIS ESSAY DOES NOT MEASURE YOUR HISTORY KNOWLEDGE! This essay tests your HISTORIAN SKILLS. Can you take evidence that is presented to you, form an opinion, and report on the reliability of the evidence? They don't want you to be a historian, they want you to be INDIANA JONES.
1. GROUP THE DOCUMENTS.
You're going to be staring down the barrel of 6-12 documents. These documents are meant to help you reach a conclusion based on the question asked. Read the question. Read through the documents in the 10 minute period provided. Butcher the test booklet. Start underlining key words, authors, dates: Anything that might help you find other documents like this one. YourPRIME DIRECTIVE is to group. There will be multiple ways to group the documents. You are NOT expected to find them all. You only need to find two or three ways that the documents work together. Once you've found your groups, the rest of the essay writes itself. Your groups are your backbone. Mention them in the THESIS and then elaborate on why each document fits into the group (and therefore answers the question) in the body. This is the bulk of the DBQ. There are a few other ideas you need to focus on as well such as POINT OF VIEW and EXTRA DOCUMENTS.
Do you believe everything you hear? People lie to your face every single day. The documents are no different. The sources of the documents may have hidden agendas as to why they are telling you what they are telling you. The AP wants you to be able to recognize that not everything you read is 100% true. So, analyze the sources of the documents. The introduction to each document will be your #1 source of the author's point of view. Look at their occupation, name, title, job, rank, or whatever is listed there. There will be at least two or three documents with blatant bias based on their point of views. As you bring up the documents in your essay (and you have to use all of them), immediately list after each document if it is trustworthy. For example, "The Emperor of Rome (Document 1) thinks that Rome is the greatest city on the planet. However, the Emperor may be biased due to the fact that he is the ruler of Rome and would therefore not be the most trustworthy source on Rome."
3. WHO's VOICE IS NOT BEING HEARD?
THIS IS THE EASIEST POINT OF THE AP TEST... At the end of your essay, look back through the doucments and determine who is not there. What would help you shape your opinion on this topic? You are only getting 6-12 documents. If you had the opportunity to get two or three or four more documents to help you out, what would they be? and how would they be helpful? Here are a few generic answers that may help you out (WARNING: DO NOT USE THESE IF THEY ALREADY EXIST WITHIN THE DBQ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!):
TEMPLATE: IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM BLANK BECAUSE BLANK.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A WOMAN BECAUSE A FEMININE PERSPECTIVE WOULD AID IN THE ANALYSIS OF THIS TOPIC.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A MERCHANT BECAUSE A MERCHANT FROM A FOREIGN LAND WOULD BRING A DIFFERENT VIEW
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A KING/EMPEROR BECAUSE THE LEADER OF ONE OF THESE LANDS WOULD ADD A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A MAP/CHART/GRAPH ON THIS TOPIC BECAUSE A VISUALIZATION OF THE TOPIC AT HAND WOULD AID IN THE ANALYSIS.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A RELIGIOUS TEXT BECAUSE (THE RELIGION OF THE AREA)'s PERSPECTIVE ON THIS ISSUE IS CRUCIAL.
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM A TRAVELLING MONK BECAUSE A FOREIGN, LITERATE PERSON FROM ANOTHER LAND WOULD HAVE A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE.
(NOTE: THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A SPECIFIC DOCUMENT LIKE THE MAGNA CARTA OR CONSTITUTION. MAKE UP A GENERIC ONE!)