• PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game New
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Education and Communications
  • College University and Postgraduate
  • Academic Writing

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Last Updated: September 23, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 667,990 times.

In the past, Document Based Questions (DBQ) were rarely found outside of AP history exams. However, they’re now used in social studies classes across grade levels, so you’re bound to take a DBQ test at some point. [1] X Research source Going into the test, you will need strong background knowledge of the time periods and geographical areas on which you will be tested. Your documents will always relate back directly to the major subjects and themes of your class. The key to success is to analyze the provided documents and use them to support an argument in response to the essay prompt. While DBQ tests are rigorous, they allow you to actually do historical work instead of merely memorize facts. Don’t stress, put on your historian hat, and start investigating!

Writing Help

dbq essay meaning

Analyzing the Documents

Step 1 Review the documents for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • For an AP exam, you’ll then have 45 minutes to write your essay. Exact times may vary for other exams and assignments but, for all DBQ essays, document analysis is the first step.
  • For an AP exam, you will also need to include a thesis, set the prompt’s historical context, use 6 documents to support an argument, describe 1 piece of outside evidence, and discuss the point of view or context of at least 3 of the sources. Label these elements as you review and outline so you don’t forget something.

Step 2 Identify the prompt’s keywords and assigned tasks.

  • A prompt might ask you to analyze or explain the causes of a historical development, such as, “Explain how the Progressive Movement gained social, political, and cultural influence from the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States.”
  • You might need to use primary sources to compare and contrast differing attitudes or points of view toward a concept, policy, or event, such as, “Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in the United States from 1890 to 1920.”
  • Keywords in these examples inform you how to read your sources. For instance, to compare and contrast differing attitudes, you’ll need to identify your sources’ authors, categorize their points of view, and figure out how attitudes changed over the specified period of time.

Step 3 Note your documents’ authors, points of view, and other details.

  • Suppose one of the documents is a suffragette’s diary entry. Passages in the entry that detail her advocacy for the Women’s Rights Movement are evidence of her point of view. In contrast, another document is newspaper article written around the same time that opposes suffrage.
  • A diary entry might not have an intended audience but, for documents such as letters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, you’ll need to identify the author’s likely readers.
  • Most of your sources will probably be written documents, but you’ll likely encounter political cartoons, photographs, maps, or graphs. The U.S. Library of Congress offers a helpful guide to reading specific primary source categories at https://www.loc.gov/teachers/usingprimarysources/guides.html .

Step 4 Place your sources into categories based on the essay prompt.

  • Suppose you have a letter sent from one suffragette to another about the methods used to obtain the right to vote. This document may help you infer how attitudes vary among the movement’s supporters.
  • A newspaper article depicting suffragettes as unpatriotic women who would sabotage World War I for the United States helps you understand the opposing attitude.
  • Perhaps other sources include a 1917 editorial on the harsh treatment of imprisoned suffragists and an article on major political endorsements for women’s suffrage. From these, you’d infer that 1917 marked a pivotal year, and that the role women played on the home front during World War I would lead to broader support for suffrage.

Step 5 Think of relevant outside information to include in your essay.

  • For instance, perhaps you read that the National American Woman Suffrage association (NAWSA) made a strategic shift in 1916 from focusing on state-by-state suffrage to prioritizing a constitutional amendment. Mentioning this switch to a more aggressive strategy supports your claim that the stage was set for a 1917 turning point in popular support for women’s suffrage.
  • When you think of outside evidence during the planning stages, jot it down so you can refer to it when you write your essay. A good spot could be in the margin of a document that relates to the outside information.

Developing an Argument

Step 1 Review the prompt and form a perspective after reading the documents.

  • For example, after reviewing the documents related to women’s suffrage, identify the opposing attitudes, how they differed, and how they changed over time.
  • Your rough argument at this stage could be, “Those in opposition saw suffragettes as unpatriotic and unfeminine. Attitudes within the suffrage movement were divided between conservative and confrontational elements. By the end of World War I, changing perceptions of the role of women contributed to growing popular support for suffrage.”

Step 2 Refine your rough...

  • Suppose your DBQ is, “How did World War I affect attitudes toward women’s suffrage in the United States?” A strong tentative thesis would be, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.”
  • A weak thesis would be, “World War I affected how Americans perceived women’s suffrage.” This simply restates the prompt.

Step 3 Make an outline of your argument’s structure.

  • For example, under numeral I., write, “New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s.” This section will explain the 1890s concept of the New Woman, which rejected traditional characterizations of women as dependent and fragile. You’ll argue that this, in part, set the stage for shifting attitudes during and following World War I.
  • You can start your planning your essay during the reading portion of the test. If necessary, take around 5 minutes out of the writing portion to finish outlining your argument.

Step 4 Plug your document citations into the outline.

  • For instance, under “I. New Woman: perceptions shift in the 1890s,” write “(Doc 1),” which is a pamphlet praising women who ride bicycles, which was seen as “unladylike” at the time.
  • Beneath that line, write “(Doc 2),” which is an article that defends the traditional view that women should remain in the household. You’ll use this document to explain the opposing views that set the context for suffrage debates in the 1900s and 1910s.

Step 5 Refine your thesis after making the outline.

  • Suppose your tentative thesis is, “The roles women played in the workforce and in support of the war effort contributed to growing popular support for the suffrage movement.” You decide that “contributed” isn’t strong enough, and swap it out for “led” to emphasize causation.

Drafting Your Essay

Step 1 Keep your eye on the clock and plan your time strategically.

  • If you have 45 minutes to write, take about 5 minutes to make an outline. If you have an introduction, 3 main points that cite 6 documents, and a conclusion, plan on spending 7 minutes or less on each of these 5 sections. That will leave you 5 minutes to proofread or to serve as a buffer in case you need more time.
  • Check the time periodically as you write to ensure you’re staying on target.

Step 2 Include your thesis and 1 to 2 sentences of context in your introduction.

  • To set the context, you might write, “The Progressive Era, which spanned roughly from 1890 to 1920, was a time of political, economic, and cultural reform in the United States. A central movement of the era, the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum as perceptions of the role of women dramatically shifted.”
  • If you’d prefer to get straight to the point, feel free to start your introduction with your thesis, then set the context.
  • A timed DBQ essay test doesn’t leave you much time to write a long introduction, so get straight to analyzing the documents rather than spell out a long, detailed intro.

Step 3 Write your body paragraphs.

  • Each body section should have a topic sentence to let the reader know you’re transitioning to a new piece of evidence. For example, start the first section with, “The 1890s saw shifts in perception that set the stage for the major advances in women’s suffrage during and following World War I.”
  • Be sure to cite your documents to support each part of your argument. Include direct quotes sparingly, if at all, and prioritize analysis of a source over merely quoting it.
  • Whenever you mention a document or information within a document, add parentheses and the number of the document at the end of the sentence, like this: “Women who were not suffragettes but still supported the movement wrote letters discussing their desire to help (Document 2).”

Step 4 Make sure to show how each body paragraph connects to your thesis.

  • For example, a private diary entry from 1916 dismissing suffrage as morally corrupt isn’t necessarily a reflection of broader public opinion. There's more to consider than just its content, or what it says.
  • Suppose a more reliable document, such as a major newspaper article on the 1916 Democratic and Republican national conventions, details the growing political and public support for women’s suffrage. You’d use this source to show that the diary entry conveys an attitude that was becoming less popular.

Step 5 Weave together your argument in your conclusion.

  • In your essay on World War I and women’s suffrage, you could summarize your argument, then mention that the war similarly impacted women’s voting rights on an international scale.

Revising Your Draft

Step 1 Proofread your essay for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • If you’re taking an AP history exam or other timed test, minor errors are acceptable as long as they don't affect your argument. Spelling mistakes, for instance, won’t result in a loss of points if the scorer can still understand the word, such as “sufrage” instead of “suffrage.”

Step 2 Make sure you’ve included all required elements.

  • A clear thesis statement.
  • Set the prompt’s broader historical context.
  • Support your argument using 6 of the 7 included documents.
  • Identify and explain 1 piece of historical evidence other than the included documents.
  • Describe 3 of the documents’ points of view, purposes, audiences, or context.
  • Demonstrate a complex understanding of the topic, such as by discussing causation, change, continuity, or connections to other historical periods.

Step 3 Check that your names, dates, and other facts are accurate.

  • As with spelling and grammar, minor errors are acceptable as long as the scorer knows what you mean. Little spelling mistakes are fine, but you’ll lose points if you write that a source supports suffrage when it doesn’t.

Community Q&A

wikiHow Staff Editor

  • Remember that you shouldn't just identify or summarize a document. Explain why a source is important, and tie each reference into your argument. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If you’re taking an AP history exam, find exam rubrics, practice tests, and other resources at https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Taking a timed test can be tough, so time yourself when you take practice tests. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

dbq essay meaning

You Might Also Like

Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

  • ↑ http://www.gpb.org/blogs/education-matters/2016/10/14/getting-started-document-based-questions
  • ↑ https://sourceessay.com/tips-to-write-an-impressive-dbq-essay/
  • ↑ https://libguides.jcu.edu.au/writing/writing1
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-dbq-2018.pdf?course=ap-united-states-history
  • ↑ https://history.rutgers.edu/component/content/article/52/106-writing-historical-essays-a-guide-for-undergraduates
  • ↑ https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-us-history-course-and-exam-description.pdf
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

Document-Based Questions, or DBQ essays, are often used in social studies classes to test your ability to do historical work rather than simply memorize facts. Start by spending some time reviewing the documents and developing an argument. Pay special attention to keywords in the prompt that will help you construct your argument. For example, if the prompt includes the words "compare and contrast," you'll need to include 2 different viewpoints in your essay and compare them. Then, as you read your sources, note the authors, points of view, and other key details that will help you figure out how to use the documents. Once you’ve reviewed all of the material, come up with your response. Sketch out a tentative thesis that encapsulates your argument and make an outline for your essay. You can then draft your essay, starting with an introduction that gives context and states your thesis, followed by supporting body paragraphs. To learn how to write a conclusion for your DBQ, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Reader Success Stories

Livi G.

Apr 4, 2017

Did this article help you?

dbq essay meaning

Emily Balint

Apr 18, 2016

Miracle Frappe

Miracle Frappe

May 6, 2019

Seorae Kim

Oct 30, 2016

Kate Alberry

Kate Alberry

Dec 30, 2020

Am I a Narcissist or an Empath Quiz

Featured Articles

Apply for a Blue Badge

Trending Articles

Which Kardashian Am I Quiz

Watch Articles

Give Yourself a Facial Massage

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

wikiHow Tech Help Pro:

Level up your tech skills and stay ahead of the curve

students in exam room taking AP test

What is a DBQ? An Essential Guide to Document-Based Questions

As you prepare for your upcoming AP tests, you’ll likely hear the term DBQ thrown around multiple times. DBQs are crucial to your overall AP test score and help demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and analytical abilities.

But what is a DBQ, and how can you use it to your advantage on the AP exams? This article will answer your questions about DBQs, from what they look like and how they’re scored to what the rubric means. We’ll also look at the purpose of the DBQ as well as which exams include a DBQ. Read on for more information about DBQs and how to use them to your advantage.

What is a DBQ?

Let’s start by answering the essential question: what is a DBQ? The document-based question, or DBQ, is an essay question included in many Advanced Placement (AP) exams. DBQs are worth a significant portion of your overall grade on the AP test and are meant to assess your ability to analyze primary sources.

Which Exams Include a DBQ?

DBQs are included in many Advanced Placement (AP) exams, including AP History, AP English Language and Composition, and AP World History. They are also included in some SAT subject tests, such as SAT II US History, SAT II World History, and SAT II Literature. To correctly answer a DBQ, you must analyze historical documents as evidence to answer a primary question regarding historical events or issues.

Westfield State University advertisement

What Does the DBQ Format Look Like?

Students can format a DBQ response in the same way they would with a standard analytical essay. Generally speaking, you should format your DBQ as follows:

  • Introduction: In the introduction, you should explain what the essay is about, introduce your argument, write your thesis statement, and describe the main points that you will be addressing in the essay.
  • Body: The essay’s body should consist of several paragraphs, each focusing on one central point you outlined in the introduction. Each paragraph should begin with a comprehensive topic sentence and be supported with evidence from the documents.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion should summarize the central points of your essay and restate your argument. It should also explain how your argument supports the prompt.

When writing your DBQ essay during an AP exam, you will be given 15 minutes to look over the documents provided for the essay. You will spend the remaining 45 minutes writing the essay following this period. Most DBQs provide numerous documents to consider when supporting your argument, so understanding each document is crucial.

AP exams usually include two DBQs. Students have 90 minutes to write their essays after reviewing the documents.

How is the DBQ Scored?

Your DBQ will be scored based on how thoroughly you answer the prompt, the strength of your argument, the quality of your evidence, and how effectively you use the source material. DBQs are the second-highest contributor to your final score. The DBQ rubric emphasizes your essay’s thesis, analysis, evidence, and synthesis. These essays are scored based on the following categories and points system:

  • Thesis (0-1 point)
  • Contextualization (0-1 point)
  • Evidence (0-3 points)
  • Analysis (0-2 points)

How Much is the Document-Based Question Worth?

The DBQ is worth a significant portion of your grade on the AP test. Typically, the DBQ will be worth 25% of your overall score.

What Does the Rubric Mean?

The DBQ rubric is a set of criteria used to evaluate essays. It is divided into the categories listed above. But what does the rubric mean, and what should you expect to be graded on for each category? Below is a breakdown of each category and how points are determined.

  • Thesis: You earn a point on your DBQ thesis if you successfully make a claim responding to the prompt and addressing all of your central points that will be argued in the body. The thesis statement should be no more than two sentences, though one is preferable.
  • Contextualization: The context of your essay is crucial to a comprehensive and highly graded DBQ response. This portion relates to whether your thesis and arguments are connected to broader historical contexts central to the question.
  • Evidence: Students will earn anywhere from one to three points based on how successfully they incorporate the document-based evidence. Two points are earned when a student’s response describes the document’s content. The third point is earned if students integrate a document’s evidence throughout the essay rather than taking large chunks and quotes from the documents without providing analysis.
  • Analysis: Finally, you can earn one point for your analysis if you can accurately depict the content from each document, including its purpose and perspective. Students earn two points for responses that display a nuanced understanding of historical events relating to the documents.

What’s the Purpose of a DBQ?

The purpose of a DBQ is to assess your ability to analyze primary historical sources. DBQs test your skills and whether you can comprehensively respond to each question with a detailed explanation of the documents. DBQs focus on your analytical skills, overall knowledge of the subject, and ability to understand and break down historical documents.

It tests your ability to identify critical points and analyze how the documents support them. Additionally, it tests your ability to write a strong argument and support it with evidence. DBQs also demonstrate your understanding of the political and cultural contexts behind historical documents and their related events.

Prepare for College Life With Colleges of Distinction

High school students preparing to embark on a new educational journey can find the resources and information they need with Colleges of Distinction. Colleges of Distinction connect with students to help them find resources and choose the right college for their future careers.

Colleges of Distinction ensure that students are prepared for anything as they move toward a new chapter. Through our comprehensive resources and advice for students , you can master your DBQ responses and get into the colleges you’ve set your sights on. Check out our cohort of top-recognized colleges today by visiting Colleges of Distinction’s website. With some practice, preparation, and resources from Colleges of Distinction, you’ll be ready to ace your next AP test!

Photo of author

Ana-Marcela joined the Colleges of Distinction team as an intern in 2018. Over the years, she has transitioned from intern to outreach associate, and now leads the team’s marketing and digital strategy efforts. Ana-Marcela coordinates social media and written content that helps students find the answers they need at every step of their college journey. She also led the research and development of the newest recognition, Military Support, which highlights institutions that dedicate resources to the service of service members and veterans of the military.  Ana -Marcela is a native Austinite and she earned her Bachelor’s in English Literature from St. Edward’s University. She spends her free time hiking the greenbelt, salsa dancing, cruising the aisles of half price books, and cuddling her cats.

woman sitting at computer

What is a Target School?

5 students sitting on stairs on college campus

40 Best Student Retention Rate Colleges for 2024

college campus tour

Your Ultimate Guide to College Campus Tours

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors


dbq essay meaning

How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications.

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Show me what areas I need to improve

What’s Covered:

What is the document based question, steps to writing an effective dbq, how do ap scores affect my college chances.

If you’re taking a history AP exam, you’ll likely encounter the Document Based Question (DBQ). This essay question constitutes a significant portion of your exam, so it’s important that you have a good grasp on how best to approach the DBQ. In this post, we’ll cover what exactly a document based question is, and how to answer it successfully.

A Document Based Question (DBQ) is a measure of the skills you learned in your AP classes in regard to recalling history and analyzing related documents. These documents can be primary or secondary sources, and your responses are expected to be in the form of an essay. Your ability to relate the context of documents to concepts beyond the given text and creating meaningful connections between all your sources will help demonstrate your skills as a knowledgeable writer.

The number of documents for a DBQ varies from exam to exam, but typically will fall between five to seven documents. The following AP exams will require you to write a DBQ:

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP World History

We’ve listed the formats for each exam below, and keep in mind that the number of documents is prone to changing from year to year:

  • Up to seven Documents
  • One hour recommended time (includes 15-minute reading period)
  • Up to seven Documents 
  • 25% of total exam score

With that in mind, let’s jump right into how to craft a strong DBQ response!

We’ve summarized how to write an effective DBQ into the following five steps:

1. Read the prompt first

Though you may be tempted to jump into the documents right away, it’s very important that you first look at what exactly the prompt is asking for. This way, when you eventually look at the documents, your focus will be narrower. A DBQ tests your reading comprehension and analysis skills more than the content itself, making it very important to understand your prompt thoroughly.

2. Skim the document titles

Each document will contain vital information regarding the context, and it’s important to scout key words regarding dates, authors, and anything pertaining to the general sense of what the documents are about. Skimming through your documents like this could save time and allow you to form a more structurally sound thesis.

Let’s take a look at the following graph and figure out how to skim the figure:

dbq essay meaning

This document was in a real exam from the AP World History free response questions in 2019. It’s important to pay attention to data provided and what context can be drawn from it. In this case, we’re provided with a graph that displays the life expectancy of a country in relation to the GDP per capita of said country. Being able to skim this graph and notice the common trends in the data points could provide convenient information into the context of the document, without any further intensive reading. 

For example, seeing how countries with a GDP below 4,000 to 5,000 have lower life expectancies already gives us a potential correlation between the two factors. We can use this information to start formulating a thesis, depending on what the prompt is specifically asking for.

Remember, just skim! Don’t worry about reading the entire document yet; this strategy can keep you calm and level-headed before tackling the rest of the document. Methods like this can make acing the AP World History DBQ less intimidating! 

3. Formulate a tentative thesis

A thesis is a statement that should be proved and discussed upon. It’s important to have a strong thesis as the foundation of your DBQ, as it guides the rest of your response in relation to the context. Understanding the difference between weak and strong theses will be imperative to your success, so here is an example of a weak thesis:

“The Cold War originated from some scenarios of conflict between Soviets and some groups of oppressors.” 

Such a thesis can be considered weak for its lack of specificity, focal point, and usability as a constructive tool to write further detail on the subject. This thesis does not take a clear stance or communicate to the reader what the essay will specifically focus on. Here’s how the same thesis can be restructured to be stronger and more useful:

“The Cold War originated from tense diplomatic conflicts relating to propaganda and conspiratorial warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The information that’s been included into the second thesis about the two groups involved with the Cold War gives you more room to build a structured essay response. In relation to the rubric/grading schema for this DBQ, forming a structurally sound thesis or claim is one of the seven attainable points. Being able to contextualize, analyze, and reason off of this thesis alone could provide for two to four points – this means that five out of seven of your points revolve around your thesis, so make sure that it’s strong! Doing all of this in your fifteen minute reading period is crucial as once this is set, writing your actual response will be much easier!

4. Actively read the documents

Simply reading a document doesn’t normally suffice for creating a well-written and comprehensive response. You should focus on implementing your active reading skills, as this will make a huge difference as to how efficient you are during your work process. 

Active reading refers to reading with an intention to grab key words and fragments of important information, usually gone about by highlighting and separating important phrases. Annotations, underlining, and circling are all great ways to filter out important information from irrelevant text in the documents. 

An example of where you might find important information via active reading is the description. Circle important names or dates to contextualize the document. If you still can’t find contextual value from the title, that’s totally fine! Just scope out the rest of the document in relevance to your thesis – that is, pinpoint the specific information or text that best supports your argument. Finding one or two solid points of interest from one document is usually enough to write about and expand upon within your essay. 

dbq essay meaning

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

5. Make an Outline 

If you like outlines, making one before writing your essay might prove helpful, just be aware of the time limit and act accordingly. 

Start with your introduction, then work on the rest of your essay. This way, you can make sure your thesis is clear and strong, and it will help the graders form a clear view on what the general consensus of your paper is. Make sure to include evidence with your thesis within each paragraph and cite only relevant information, otherwise your citations could come across as filler as opposed to useful content. Every commentary or point you make should be tied in some way to the documents.

Format each body paragraph and organize your essay in a way that makes sense to you! The graders aren’t really looking at the structure of your essay; rather, they want to see that you analyzed the documents in a way that is supportive of your essay. As long as you have content from the documents which prove your thesis, the order or manner in which you present them doesn’t matter too much. What’s more important is that your essay is clear and comprehensive. As you write practice DBQs, try having someone else read your essays to make sure that the format is easy to follow.

Keep all these key details in mind as you construct your own DBQ response, and you’re well on your way to writing an effective essay!

Your chances of admission are actually not really impacted by your AP scores; however, the AP classes you take are more important than the exam scores themselves, meaning the impact of your AP scores isn’t as big as you think . 

Instead, focusing on the AP classes on your transcript and the relevance of those classes to your future major is more impactful. For a further detailed understanding of the role AP classes play in regards to your college admissions, use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator , which takes into account your GPA, standardized test scores, and more. 

Additional Information

To dive deeper into DBQs, AP classes, and learning how to tackle each exam check out other resources at CollegeVine:

  • Acing the Document Based Question on the AP US History Exam
  • Acing the AP World History Document Based Question
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP U.S. History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP European History Exam
  • Ultimate Guide to the AP World History Exam

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

dbq essay meaning

dbq essay meaning

Get Free Profile Evaluation

What is a dbq - what you need to know.

Student on laptop

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/11/23

As you prepare for your AP exams, you might be wondering: What is a DBQ, and what does it mean? This article provides information on what exactly DBQs are and answers some DBQ-related questions you may be asking.

As high school students think about applying for colleges, some take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible to increase their chances of getting into the college they want. While AP classes are not necessary for getting admitted into college, these classes do help your chances of being accepted. 

If you are considering taking AP classes, it is recommended that you consider taking an AP History course. AP History classes are versatile credits, as they are helpful for those who are going into post-secondary Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM programs. 

If you’re taking–or considering taking AP history classes, you might have heard the acronym ‘DBQ’ thrown around. You might wonder what a DBQ is or what the DBQ means for you as an AP student. 

The DBQ is an essay you’ll have to write as a requirement for all AP History exams. So, what exactly is a DBQ essay?

What is a DBQ Essay?

DBQ stands for Document-Based Questions essay. While this essay is a crucial part of AP History exams, you’ll also find multiple choice questions, short answers, and a long essay section on this exam. 

If you are taking multiple AP history courses, you may have to write multiple DBQ essays for each exam.

The DBQ requires the individual writing the exam to analyze the provided documents and develop a thesis statement that answers the essay question. The exam will require you to then write an analytical essay outlining your findings. 

For your DBQ, you will be provided with five to seven historical documents such as: 

  • Public Records

The purpose of a DBQ essay is to test the individual’s ability to identify and analyze patterns, issues, and trends from historical documents. The essay tests you on what you have learned and the skills you have gained throughout your AP History courses. 

If you find yourself doing additional research on what a DBQ essay entails, it’s helpful to know that you will also likely run into information pertaining to a DBQ medical assessment. Keep in mind that these are distinct concepts, so be sure to clarify which one you are researching to avoid any confusion.

Student typing essay on laptop

The DBQ is formatted like most analytical essays, with an introduction, a thesis statement, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

During your AP exam, you will have fifteen minutes to read over and familiarize yourself with the documents provided. You will have forty-five minutes to write the essay. 

For the DBQ portion of your exam, you will find an essay question or prompt and five to seven historical documents to guide your writing. Your goal is to utilize the information you pull from the documents to respond to the easy prompt and form your argument. 

dbq essay meaning

How to Write a DBQ

Before you begin to write, you should have a thorough understanding of the essay question, the accompanying documents, and the argument you are going to present. 

Make sure your argument directly responds to the essay question. You will need to provide strong evidence from the documents to support your observations throughout your essay. Like other essays, you must build a persuasive case for your argument. 

Here is a breakdown of the writing process for the DBQ:

1. Read Over Your Materials 

Read and familiarize yourself with the essay question before looking at the documents so you know what you are looking for. 

2. Begin Your Analysis of the Documents

Read over the documents and identify patterns (or lack of), rhetoric, and other relevant information that relates to the essay question. 

3. Present Your Thesis Statement

Once you have collected evidence and have an argument, write your thesis statement. 

4. Plan What You Will Write, and in What Order

Ensure that you create an outline for your essay before you begin writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and make writing easier.

5. Start Writing! 

Some people find it easier to write their body paragraphs first (with the thesis statement in mind) and then write their introductory and concluding paragraphs after, but write in the way that best suits you. 

6. Finish With a Strong Conclusion

Your concluding paragraph will be the last piece of your essay that the markers read. Remember to avoid introducing any new ideas or arguments in the final paragraph. 

7. Proofread and Edit

If you have time, proofread and edit your essay. The clearer your writing is, the easier it will be for the reader to get through your essay. Clear and concise writing will reflect in your final mark. 

Keep in mind the time limit while you are writing. You only have forty-five minutes to write the essay, so you want to make sure you are using your time effectively. 

dbq essay meaning

How is a DBQ Scored?

The DBQ portion of your exam is worth 25% of the overall exam grade. It is the second highest weighted portion of the exam, after the multiple choice questions portion. 

Colleges consider your AP exam scores during the admissions process, so performing as best as you can on your AP exams does matter.

The DBQ essay is marked based on the following categories: 

  • Thesis statement (0-1 point)
  • Contextualization (0-1 point)
  • Evidence (0-3 points)
  • Analysis and reasoning (0-2 points)

Here is an overview of the rubric for the DBQ essay: 

Source : NEISD

The entire essay is worth seven points, each category carrying a different number of points. Keep the points system in mind when writing. It will help you strategize how much time to spend on each piece of the essay. Doing this will allow you to better manage your time and put in extra work on the factors that matter most. 

You may still have other questions about the specifics of the essay. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the DBQ essay. 

1. How Do You Write a DBQ?

Approach writing the DBQ like you would other persuasive history essays. Understand the question, address it directly, and use it as an opportunity to showcase your analytical and critical thinking skills. Also, prioritize well-written, grammatically correct content to enhance your essay's impact on your score.

2. What is the Purpose of a DBQ?

A DBQ tests your historian skills by checking how well you can analyze historical documents while considering their historical context. It's a way to see if you can apply what you've learned in your history classes.

3. How Long is a DBQ Essay?

You have 45 minutes for the DBQ essay, so aim for 5-6 paragraphs: an intro with your thesis, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Keep your thesis short, and each paragraph 5-7 sentences. Quality is more important than quantity; focus on a clear and concise argument.

Final Thoughts

If AP classes are a good fit for you, you should consider taking as many as you can in areas that interest you. Top schools such as Yale , Cornell , Columbia , and Harvard take AP classes seriously when considering applicants and sometimes even give students credit for their AP classes. 

Ultimately, the DBQ is similar to other essays you will find on exams but have a larger focus on the application of knowledge and skills. If you study and prepare before taking the exam, there is nothing to worry about.

While taking the exam, be aware of your time and use it wisely, develop a strong thesis statement, and create an outline for your essay. If you take all the right steps, writing your essay should be easier than you thought!

First name, vector icon of a person

Get A Free Consultation

You may also like.

How Do Homeschoolers Get Into College - Admission Guide

How Do Homeschoolers Get Into College - Admission Guide

Understanding Your ACT Score: Average, Good, & Highest ACT Scores

Understanding Your ACT Score: Average, Good, & Highest ACT Scores

Vector icon of person in suit with a check mark to its right

dbq essay meaning

How to Write a DBQ 2023

dbq essay meaning

A DBQ essay is an assigned task which tests a student’s analyzation and understanding skills. They also test a student in thinking outside the box. These skills are essential for success in gaining this academic qualification. In this article from EssayPro — professional essay writers team, we will talk about how to write a DBQ, we will go through the DBQ format, and show you a DBQ example.

What Is a DBQ?

Many students may prosper: “What is a DBQ?”. Long story short, DBQ Essay or “Document Based Question” is an assigned academic paper which is part of the AP U.S. History exam (APUSH) set by the United States College Board. It requires a student’s knowledge of a certain topic with evidence from around 3 to 16 reliable sources. Understanding the APUSH DBQ and its outline is essential for success in the exam, itself.

DBQ Outline

We understand that learning how to write a DBQ essay can be difficult for beginners. This is why our professional writers have listed the DBQ format for your own reference while preparing for the exam. Like all essays, this involves an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

How to Write a DBQ


  • An introductory sentence to hook your audience.
  • State the background of the topic. Using a source relating to a historical occurrence or historical figure can be helpful at this time.
  • Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence.
  • Create a brief description of the evidence that will be included in the body paragraphs.
  • Write a paragraph which talks about how the DBQ essay question will be answered.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Include the strongest argument. This should be linked to the thesis statement. Read our example of thesis statement .
  • Include an analysis of the references which relate to the strongest argument.
  • Write a statement which concludes the analysis in a different point of view. Include a link to the thesis.
  • Write a transition sentence to the next body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the first argument in the previous body paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Include a reasonable argument which links to the thesis, and the second argument in the previous body paragraph.
  • Write a transition sentence to the conclusion.
  • Create a summarizing argument of the whole paper.
  • Include the main points or important information in the sources.
  • Create a concluding sentence or question which challenges the point of view that argues against these sources.

Feeling Overwhelmed Writing a DBQ ESSAY?

Asking yourself 'who can write my research paper '? Our experts are able to produce an essay within hours.

How to Write a DBQ: Step-By-Step Instructions

For some students, writing a DBQ essay may be hard. Not to worry. Our easy-to-read step-by-step instructions talk about the essential points which includes how to write a DBQ thesis, analyzation, time-management and proofreading your work. It is always important to write your paper in accordance to the DBQ outline for achieving the success you’re capable of.

The DBQ involves:

  • Planning: 15 Minutes
  • Writing: 2 hours and 45 Minutes
  • Proofreading: 10 Minutes

Time management is essential for a successful grade in this form of examination. The general DBQ outline states that the duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Spend around 15 minutes planning, 2 hours and 45 minutes writing, and 10 minutes proofreading. Follow these easy-to-read step-by-step instructions to learn how to write a DBQ thesis, body and conclusion successfully.

Step 1: Planning (15 Minutes)

During the exam, it is important to study the provided sources. The exam is 3 hours, so 15 minutes for planning is a reasonable approach. During this time, analyze all of the important key-points from the sources provided. Then, take a note of all of the key points, and write them under the titles; introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion.

Step 2: Introduction (5 Minutes)

First impressions count. Keep the introduction short and brief. Don’t go straight into answering the question in this part of the paper. For a successful introduction, write a brief summary of the overall paper. It is also important to include an introductory sentence.

Step 3: Thesis (20 Minutes)

This form of essay requires a separate 3 paragraphs for the DBQ thesis. Describe the claims made in your paper which can be supported by the evidence. The second paragraph should include a description of the paper. The third paragraph should include how you’re going to answer the question.

  • The key difference with other essays is that the thesis plays an important role in the DBQ structure.
  • The APUSH DBQ thesis should not be two sentences long.
  • The thesis should be written with act least 2 or 3 paragraphs long.

Step 4: Body (2 Hours and 16 Minutes)

Write well-structured, categorized paragraphs. Each paragraph should include one point. Avoid mixing ideas in the paragraphs. Include your answer to the assigned question with the provided documents. It is also important to read between the lines. Each paragraph should link to the thesis.

Step 5: Conclusion (10 Minutes)

The final part of your paper. The conclusion plays a vital role in persuading your audience. A poorly written conclusion means a skeptical audience. For well-written conclusion, summarize the entire paper. Link the conclusion to the thesis. Answer the question in a concluding sentence, “the big idea”.

Step 6: Proofreading (10 Minutes)

Spend around 10 minutes proofreading your work at the end of the exam. It is important to proofread your work to make sure it does not contain any grammatical mistakes. Any writing errors can lower one’s grade. Please make sure that the body paragraphs answer the question and link to the thesis, this is the most important part of the paper.

Writing Tips to Success with Your DBQ Essay

Understand: Before writing, make sure that you understand the sources and the essay question. Duration: Remember that the exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes. Study: Practice how to write a DBQ before the actual exam. Identify: Find the key-points from the sources to include in your essay.

How to Write a DBQ

Read Between the Lines: Don’t just write about what you read, but write about what the passages imply. Read all Documents: Make sure you have read all of the sources, prior to writing the paper. Read the Outline: Following the DBQ essay outline is essential for understanding how to structure the paper during the exam. Categorize: Put each point into categories. This will come in useful for writing the body paragraphs. Write the Author’s Opinion: Show an understanding of the writer’s point of view. Write a Temporary DBQ Thesis on your Notes: Doing so will assist you during the paper writing. Follow DBQ Examples: Following a DBQ essay example, while studying, is an excellent way to get a feel for this form of assignment.

DBQ Example

Do you need more help? Following a sample DBQ essay can be very useful for preparation. Usually, when practicing for exams, students commonly refer to an example for understanding the DBQ structure, and other revision purposes. Click on the button to open our DBQ example from one of our professional writers. Feel free to use it as a reference when learning how to write a DBQ.

The Great War and the second ordeal of conflict in Europe, played a fundamental in the increase of the rights for women. During the second world war, the British government encouraged house-wives to do the work of what was primarily traditional for men to do.Such as growing crops and butchering animals, which was generally considered to be“men’s work”. One of the slogans was “dig for victory”. The reason for this was for people to take care of themselves during the difficult times of rationing.

If you think that it's better to pay someone to write my dissertation instead of writing it by your own, get help from our law essay writing team.

Following steps and outlines for custom writing is a great way to learn how to write a DBQ essay. As well as writing tips. Time management is vital for the positive result. Following our advice will enable you to get a good grade by learning how to write a good DBQ. Because learning the DBQ format is essential. Practice is very important for any form of examination. Otherwise, one could not do as well as his or her potential allows him or her to do so.

You might be interested in information about this type of essay, such as the definition essay .

Are you still stuck? Do you sometimes think to yourself: 'Can someone write essay for me '? You’re in luck. Our essay writing service is designed to allow you to easily find custom essay writers at your convenience. Every DBQ essay we deliver is completely original.


Our experts are able to produce a DBQ essay example within hours. Why not give it a try to improve your knowledge?

Related Articles

How to Write a Spooky Essay on Halloween

  • Free Consultation
  • The Spark Advantage
  • Who We Serve
  • About Admissions Consultants
  • Testimonials
  • College Admissions
  • BS/MD Programs
  • Private School Admissions
  • Transfer Admissions
  • Results by Year
  • > Miscellaneous

What Is a Document-Based Question (DBQ)?

Hands typing on a laptop computer.

Image via Unsplash by glenncarstenspeters

As you prepare for your college career, you’ll want to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as you can manage. In addition to offering an extra challenge, these courses can help you get college credit, which can save you time and money. Before you can claim that college credit, however, you’ll need to pass the AP exam, which may include a document-based question (DBQ). Find out what a DBQ is and how to write an impressive essay for your AP exam.

What’s the Purpose of a DBQ?

A DBQ is a type of essay question, which means you’ll have to write several paragraphs in response. These DBQs require you to use historical documents to analyze a trend or issue from the past. Each DBQ typically has five to seven documents for you to analyze. The documents can be primary or secondary sources, including maps, newspapers, letters, and more.

Essentially, when you answer a DBQ, you use all the skills you learned in your AP class and become a historian. As you write your essay, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have the ability to:

  • Assess the context behind the documents, including the author’s perspective and the target audience.
  • Find connections between the various documents.
  • Write a solid thesis statement and use your analysis of the documents to support it.
  • Apply your knowledge of the historical issue to develop a stronger case.

Which Exams Include a DBQ?

Document-based questions appear on select AP exams only. If you take the AP U.S. History, AP European History, or AP World History exam, you’ll have to answer a DBQ. Each exam includes one DBQ, and all follow the same format while using relevant source material.

How Is a DBQ Formatted?

The DBQ appears at the beginning of the writing section, which is Part II of the AP exam. First, you’ll see the instructions for the section at the top of the page. Underneath, you’ll find the essay question and the historical documents.

Every test taker has 15 minutes to read over the documents. Then, you have about 40 minutes to write the essay. Each AP history exam has a total of two essay questions (one DBQ and one long essay), with up to 90 minutes to write your response. However, the proctor won’t tell you to finish the first question and start working on the long essay halfway through. That means it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the time and make sure you can complete both essays successfully.

How Do You Write a DBQ?

When you answer a DBQ, you need at least a basic understanding of the issue at hand. Yet, your historical knowledge is a minor part of this essay question. Instead, your ability to analyze the sources and draw a conclusion is the most important factor. Follow the tips below to get as high of a score as possible on the DBQ.

1. Read and Reread the Question

You could write the best essay the College Board has ever read, but if it doesn’t address the question, it automatically loses at least a point during the scoring process. Before you even think about writing your response, read the prompt a few times. Ask yourself what the DBQ wants you to do. For example, you may have to compare sources, contrast differing documents, or describe a historical account.

2. Analyze the Documents Carefully

Next, turn your attention to the sources. Read over each one carefully, paying close attention to how the documents are similar or different. Assess their time period, their point of view, and any other context you can glean.

3. Outline and Organize Your Essay

To make the most of your limited time, create a brief outline to organize your thoughts. Be sure to include at least five paragraphs in your essay. It should start with an introduction, end with a conclusion, and have at least three body paragraphs in between.

4. Start With a Strong Introduction

After organizing your essay, start writing a compelling introduction. Along with drawing in the reader and explaining what the essay covers, the introduction should include your thesis statement. Since the entire essay depends on a good thesis statement, take an extra moment to make sure you are making a solid argument and responding to the original question.

5. Write and Edit Your Argument

Finally, write the essay, and take care to support your thesis statement throughout. Reference the historical sources repeatedly, and use your analytical skills to examine what the documents say and why. End with a conclusion that wraps up your argument, and if possible, mention how the issue affected history.

How Are DBQs Scored?

When you take any AP exam, you have limited time to work with. Knowing how the exam is scored can help you focus your time and energy in the right place.

Your DBQ score makes up a quarter of your grade on the entire AP exam. Overall, you can score up to seven points on the DBQ. According to the College Board guidelines , here’s how you can earn each point:

  • Write a strong thesis that answers all components of the question.
  • Present an argument that includes historical context and references the sources.
  • Link at least six of the provided sources to your argument.
  • Analyze the context, point of view, purpose, and audience for four or more of the sources.
  • Discuss the greater historical context to give the argument more weight.
  • Mention a piece of supporting evidence that isn’t included in the sources.
  • Connect the argument with another historical development, a different discipline, or another theme or approach.

While scoring a perfect seven might seem impossible, getting a high score can go a long way toward college credit. Many colleges offer course credit for a three or above on an AP exam.

Whether you’re considering a major in history, political science, or any other subject, we can help with the college admissions process. Contact Spark Admissions for a free consultation, and get the guidance you need to get into the top schools on your list.

Subscribe to our newsletter for college admissions news

Related articles from the spark admissions blog.

dbq essay meaning

Life Skills College Students Should Learn Now

Categories: Miscellaneous

dbq essay meaning

How to Help Prepare Your Child for College?

dbq essay meaning

Writing a Medical School Letter of Intent or Letter of Interest

Spark admissions has the highest college admissions success rate in the country..

Contact us to learn more about our admissions consulting services.

Schedule Your Free Consultation


  • Essay Guides
  • Main Academic Essays

Writing a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Guidelines

  • Speech Topics
  • Basics of Essay Writing
  • Essay Topics
  • Other Essays
  • Research Paper Topics
  • Basics of Research Paper Writing
  • Miscellaneous
  • Chicago/ Turabian
  • Data & Statistics
  • Methodology
  • Admission Writing Tips
  • Admission Advice
  • Other Guides
  • Student Life
  • Studying Tips
  • Understanding Plagiarism
  • Academic Writing Tips
  • Basics of Dissertation & Thesis Writing


  • Research Paper Guides
  • Formatting Guides
  • Basics of Research Process
  • Admission Guides
  • Dissertation & Thesis Guides

How to Write a DBQ Essay

Table of contents


Use our free Readability checker

As you prepare for college, you will want to learn as much as possible about a DBQ essay. This type of essay is found in AP history exams and social studies classes in different grades.

A DBQ , or Document-Based Question essay  requires students to develop an argument using evidence from a set of primary source documents provided to them. The DBQ essay tests a student's ability to critically analyze multiple documents, connect them to the historical context, and form a coherent, well-argued response. These documents may include written texts, images, graphs, or maps, and typically relate to a specific historical period or theme.

It deals with way more of historical documents then you might have thought. So, at some point, you can certainly find yourself at a loss. “How to write a DBQ Essay?”, you may ask. Don't worry! In this article, we will talk about how to write it. We will look at its format and show you an example. Are you ready to learn more now from proficient essay writers online ?

What Is a DBQ Essay: Main Definition

In simple terms, a DBQ Essay is an assignment that tests student's analytical and comprehension skills. There is a more formal definition of this term. DBQ stands for Document-Based Question. This type of essay is part of the AP US History (APUSH) exam established by the US College Board. Student's task is to provide their foliage knowledge and back it up with facts. Three to 16 reliable sources of information are required. To write quality work, you must understand more about the DBQ essay schema.

How to Write a DBQ Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

The first question that students have is “how to write a DBQ essay?” Students must familiarize themselves with an issue posed in a document. They should interpret presented material with particular historical period in mind. Student will have 15 minutes to read paper, take notes, and then 45 minutes to write their DBQ. Sounds a little complicated? No worries. We’ve prepared a basic step-by-step guide to help you complete this challenge for the highest score.

Step 1. Analyze the Documents Before Starting a DBQ Essay

If you are on an AP exam , you will have 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the hint and document for writing a DBQ essay. During this short period, you need to read your given tip carefully (we recommend re-reading it several times), analyze attached documents, and develop your own argumentation. Document analysis is the first and most crucial step in writing a DBQ. Be sure to highlight the question for yourself. Otherwise, you risk losing points even for the most adequately structured and competent essay if it does not answer the question posed in the tip.

Step 2. Create Your Thesis for DBQ Essay

After reading an essay recommendation, you will need to highlight a DBQ thesis sentence. It is a summary of your arguments. Make sure your thesis is a well-founded statement that responds to clues rather than just repeats them. There should be several arguments in the thesis itself. Let's suppose that the question of your document is, “Why did movement for women's suffrage start in the 20th century?”. "Significant contributions of women in support of the war formed a movement for women's suffrage to the right” is a strong thesis. In this case, thesis speaks of participation in hostilities during the First World War. Therefore, it will be easier for you and your future reader to form some strong point of view when reading your work. Support your arguments with around 6 documents. Always highlight one of them whose vision of the situation is closer to you. You will decide on the main answer to the question based on your thesis and read the documents.  

Step 3. Read the Documents and Note the Details Before Writing a DBQ Essay

As we said above, correctly highlighted abstracts are key to successful DBQ essay writing. Be careful when reading any information. Read the documentation carefully and take your time looking for answers. We have a few recommendations for you:

  • Indicate the document's author, their audience, and point of view.
  • Determine percentage of reliability of this source and try to identify what influenced the author's opinion (perhaps this is particular historical period that will help you in further analysis).
  • Highlight key points such as “evaluate,” “analyze,” and “compare and contrast.” Also, look for keywords such as "social,” "political," and "economical,” as well as information about the period and society in question (it is convenient to take notes in document margins so that you can return to desired passage).

Kindly note that not all sources will be written documents. Occasionally, you will come across diagrams, maps, or political cartoons. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with some nuances of reading primary sources in advance.

Step 4. Create a DBQ Essay Outline

Before you start writing your text:

  • Make a brief DBQ essay template outline.
  • Organize your brief and write your central thesis at page's top.
  • Write a possible structure for your document.
  • Next to each item, write one statement that does not contradict your view.

If you indicate some sources as a confirmation to sections, it is recommended to draw up an essay in chronological order. Keep in mind that an essay structure should not be broken. Start with an introduction, then write at least three paragraphs with arguments. Your DBQ should end with a conclusion in which you again repeat your thesis, only in an affirmative manner.

Step 5. Write Your DBQ Essay

Find out time management tips when writing DBQ essays. Remember that you will have 45 minutes during which you must complete the entire paper. We recommend that you plan how much time you are willing to spend on each of your sections. Be sure that you take a few minutes and correct your essay at the very end. DBQ essays have a clear structure that cannot be deviated from introduction with a thesis sentence, body with enough evidence supporting your arguments, and conclusion. We will tell you more about what each section should include later in this blog post.

How to Start a DBQ Essay

It would help if you started with DBQ essay introduction. In this part of your text, indicate your thesis and several appropriate sentences in context. It is a natural and easy way that you can start your essay right and not get lost in thought. It should be noted that you must link your thesis with its historical implications. If you don’t, you will probably lose one point.

How to Write a Body Paragraph for a DBQ Essay

It is crucial to know how to write a body paragraph . DBQ essay body paragraphs occupy more than 80% of your text. It typically consists of at least three paragraphs. All sections should be logically related with each other. Stay tuned to chronology of events, especially if you mention periods or information that supports your arguments with documents' date. Each of the paragraphs can indicate some component of your thesis. You should mention dates, historical figures and cite papers as often as possible. Include document's number in parentheses when using a quotation.

How to Write a Conclusion Essay for a DBQ

Writing a conclusion in a DBQ essay is as easy as shelling pears. You shouldn't really indicate anything new that was not in your text. Summarize your arguments and point out to your reader that you have been able to prove your claim. You will most likely get an extra point if you can connect your arguments with history of other periods or other countries. Scale your thoughts. For example, if you are talking about the First World War period in the United States, then indicate that it had similar impact on citizens of other countries.

The Best DBQ Essay Example

Still, have some more questions? DBQ essay sample will be beneficial for you when preparing for an exam. An example helps you understand the structure and formation of arguments in your future text. You can check out our sample if you are in need of further help. Do not hesitate to contact professionals! After all, high-quality assistance is key to your good grade.


DBQ Essay: Bottom Line

We have detailed the way and structure of a DBQ essay. Its purpose is based on analyzing, drawing conclusions or tracing trends of events from the past. Writing a strong essay includes all your skills learned in the AP class. This way professors can assess student's knowledge, experience and evaluate their efforts. Your dbq score is one-quarter of your score on the entire AP exam. In general, you can achieve up to seven points for this assignment. Article above describes a few ways of getting more points...


Choose a professional essay writer to your liking, send paper requirements and get your assignment fast!  

Frequently Asked Questions About DBQ Essay

1. do i need to use quotes in my dbq essay.

Yes. Use quotes in your DBQ essay as often as possible. In this way, you will provide evidence to support your argument. But do not forget to analyze these quotes every time and talk about your point of view. Use quotation marks when writing quotes.

2. Can I start a DBQ essay introduction with a question?

Yes, you can start the DBQ essay introduction with a question. Keep in mind that you must answer this question using an argument. Further down a text, you should not ask questions.

3. Is a DBQ essay an LEQ with documents?

A DBQ essay should consist of evidence from the documents provided in your task. LEQ (that stands for thesis-based response) should not contain any evidence at all.

4. How many documents usually need to be analyzed for DBQ essay?

Usually, before writing a DBQ essay, you need to analyze about 5 to 7 documents. But it is always a good idea to check with your professors for clear instructions.


Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.


You may also like



The Admissions Strategist

Dbq: the ultimate guide.

DBQ stands for “document-based question.” DBQs appe ar on the Advanced Placement tests for all high school-level history courses. 

Unlike standard essays that you might be more accustomed to, the DBQ requires you to work with primary and secondary sources to create a defensible thesis. The emphasis here is on testing your ability to use source material to connect with the information that you have already learned in history class. 

If you are planning to take AP European History , AP U.S. History, or AP World History , you will need to practice and master how to write a DBQ. 

Remember, this is a document-based question! Do not approach it like a traditional essay; your focus should always be on what the documents allow you to argue. 

With that said, let us examine the history, purpose, and how-to’s of the DBQ. 

DBQs: The Ultimate Guide!

Click above to watch a video on DBQs.

Why are DBQs important? What is the purpose of a DBQ?

On a purely practical level, DBQs are important because they represent a substantial portion of the grade you will receive for taking an AP history test. 

On the AP US History test, the DBQ accounts for 25% of the total score you can receive. If you want to get a 4 or a 5 on the Advanced Placement history tests, you will need to score highly on the DBQ. 

  • On a more holistic level, however, the purpose of document-based questions is to prepare students for the rigors of college-level history courses. The DBQ was first introduced into AP US History tests in the 1970s.
  • The committee that added DBQs felt that American high school students were inadequately prepared to study history when they arrived at college. 

In particular, they felt that students performed very poorly on free-response sections. The committee argued that students “parroted factual information with little historical analysis or argument.” To try and remedy this, they proposed adding primary source-based essays to the AP tests. Their intention was to ensure that students are able to tackle the in-depth analysis required to be a historian. 

  • When you are preparing for the DBQ, it is important to keep its stated purpose in mind. You are being tested on whether you are prepared to study history at a more advanced level. In particular, you should keep the words of the committee in mind.

They do not want you to “parrot factual information.” They want you to make an argument, using historical analysis and synthesizing various pieces of information – both from the documents and from your outside learning. Do not forget the essence of your task. It is not to let the reader know how much information you recall about the topic. 

It is to make a coherent argument that is drawn primarily from the source material. 

How is a DBQ formatted?

The DBQ will appear at the beginning of the second section of the AP test. 

  • It will be the first of two essays you will need to write. 
  • You are given 60 minutes to write the essay, including a recommended 15 minutes of preparation time. 
  • You will only be given the choice of one document-based question (unlike the free-response section, where you will usually be given a choice between multiple essay prompts). 

You will be given a specific prompt, related to an often-debated historical issue (ex. “Based on the Compromise of 1850 and the tenets of Manifest Destiny, was the Civil War inevitable?).

  • There will also be a total of seven documents. 

They will all relate directly to the prompt – some may support the prompt while others refute it.

Generally, the sources will include a variety of perspectives. The documents may include speeches, political cartoons, excerpts from debates, maps, and published writings. Your task is to use these sources to make a coherent argument.

How should I answer and format my DBQ response?

As previously mentioned, on the Advanced Placement tests, you will be given 60 minutes to prepare for and write the DBQ. 

Ultimately, how you apportion this time is up to you and your personal writing preferences. 

But, having said that, there are some overall guidelines that are worth considering – particularly if you feel lost about how to plan your DBQ writing. 

  • First, you should read and make sure you thoroughly understand the prompt. Circle any keywords like “evaluate” or “contrast” so you know exactly what is being asked of you. 
  • Additionally, jot down any initial ideas that come to mind. Maybe something springs out immediately as an obvious response or relevant piece of information. Get it down on paper. It will motivate you and give you the confidence to move forward. 

You may already have a thesis, or you may need to examine the documents first to see what they can be used to support. You should spend no more than one or two minutes on this first step. 

  • Second, read the documents. 
  • Make a note of who the author of each document is and the context surrounding each one. Make sure you understand, to the best of your ability, the meaning, and importance of each document. 
  • You may need to read some of them two or three times. You will also want to consider which of the documents you can assess the validity or biases of. 
  • You have to use at least six of the seven documents and critically assess four of the seven documents in order to achieve a perfect score. 
  • You should allow five to ten minutes for this part of your preparation.

Next, plan and outline your essay. 

  • This is a skill you will likely be quite accustomed to from your high school classes. 
  • This is where you construct your opening statement, thesis, evidence, topic sentences, and conclusion. 
  • For the DBQ you should additionally try to group or categorize the documents. Perhaps the first and third documents can be used to support one argument, while the second, fifth, and sixth can be used to support another. 
  • If you group them while creating your outline, you will be able to incorporate them efficiently when writing your essay. 
  • This portion of your preparation should take no more than ten minutes. 

Finally, write the essay! 

  • Armed with your notes and outline, you can now tackle the task of actually writing. 
  • If you have prepared efficiently, you should begin with about 40-45 minutes remaining. 
  • Even if you have a little less time, don’t panic. The more time you spend outlining, the quicker your writing should ultimately be. 

A lot of students feel uncomfortable referencing the source material when they are writing their DBQ responses. You know that you need to include the documents, but most students do not know how to cite them appropriately. 

  • An acceptable way to reference the documents would be as follows – “As Document 1 shows, the intensity of feeling in the North made civil war inevitable.” 
  • An awesome way to reference the documents would be – “William Lloyd Garrison, writing for The Liberator , in Document 1, demonstrates the ferocity of abolitionist feeling when he says . . . “ 

Notice the differences between the two. 

  • The first example does not actually reference the author of the document at all, it takes the document outside of context. 
  • Whereas the second example references the author, the publication, and provides greater detail about how the document informs the argument. 

You should structure your essay according to the general rules of formal essay writing.

  •  An introductory paragraph, 3-5 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 
  • Your introduction should contain a strong thesis that the rest of the argument consistently refers back to. 

The fundamental difference between a standard free-response essay and a DBQ is, obviously, the documents. 

Make sure that every one of your body paragraphs includes evidence provided by the documents and some kind of critical analysis of the documents. 

Additionally, you should be sure to also include outside context and synthesis with material you have learned elsewhere in history class or school in general. 

Get personalized advice!

How is the dbq scored.

On all Advanced Placement tests, the scoring system is the same. There are four distinct categories, and there are a total of seven points available. 

  • Two points are apportioned for a strong thesis and argument development. The first point is primarily awarded according to the strength of the thesis. 
  • You need to have a thesis in either your introduction or conclusion – ideally, in your introduction – as that is most likely what you have already learned in high school. 

Additionally, your thesis needs to be a “historically defensible claim” that responds to “all parts of the question.” The thesis does not need to be limited to one sentence, but if there are multiple sentences, they need to be “consecutive.” 

The second point is awarded for developing a strong and cohesive argument. 

  • Essentially, your argument throughout your essay has to be consistent and relevant to your thesis. Though you will want to bring in some wider implications within your essay, it is best to keep your arguments tightly focused on your thesis. 

Additionally, you are graded according to whether you include “contradiction, corroboration, or qualification.” You do not need to include all three of these in your essay (indeed, in some essays it will be quite illogical to do so), but you do need to include at least one. 

Let’s briefly examine what these terms mean. 

  • First, “contradiction” means “do you consider opposite perspectives?” In essence, “what would the person arguing contrary to you say?” This is always a strong thing to include in any persuasive essay and can be easily included in a conclusion to bolster the strength of your writing. 
  • Second, “corroboration” means “do you provide evidence to support your point?” Really this should come naturally from the manner in which you use the documents to support your argument. 

But, you should always consider the importance of supporting evidence. 

In a persuasive essay, you should never make a claim that you do not also support with relevant evidence. In a DBQ, that evidence should be drawn primarily from the documents and your analysis of those documents.

  •  Finally, “qualification” means “do you consider any biases or additional details that modify or add context to your claims?” 

This is probably the most challenging and vague of the three categories to fulfill. 

  • Basically, you are being asked to comment on any factors that you consider relevant to your thesis but that are not your primary argument. It is a way of anticipating a possible refutation of your thesis and acknowledging the relevance of that information, while nonetheless insisting upon the overall strength of your position. 

It shows the reader that you deeply understand the issue. This is an opportunity for you to really explore the issues surrounding your thesis. 

Another two of the seven points are awarded according to the strength of your document analysis. 

This is the part of the DBQ scoring that primarily concerns the documents themselves. 

  • The first point is awarded if you use the content of at least six of the documents to accurately support your thesis or develop your argument. Notice that you only need to use six of the seven documents. 

But, that does not mean you shouldn’t try to use all seven sources! 

  • Essentially, according to the way the scoring works, you can get the point if you get six of the documents “right” and one of the documents “wrong.” You’re allowed  to make a mistake, which can be a relief if you don’t completely understand the language or meaning of one of the documents. 

It is strongly recommended that you try to use all seven documents. The scoring is forgiving. As long as you understand the document and have a coherent thesis, it is hard to use the documents incorrectly. 

The second of these points is given to students to demonstrate an understanding of authorial bias. You have to be able to show that you understand that the documents themselves are not necessarily reliable. 

They were written or drawn by human beings who had motivations and perspectives of their own. This is an incredibly important aspect of the historical discipline and something that the DBQ is designed to test you on.

When you are analyzing the documents, you should consider what the author of that document would have thought:

  • Who were they? What was their point of view? Were they rich or poor; male or female; a soldier or a politician? 
  • What were their motivations? What was the purpose for writing it? 
  • Who was the intended audience for the document? Was it written to appeal to the common man or the wealthy?
  • What was the historical context of the document? Was it written during a war or a depression; during a presidential election or religious upheaval? 

You need to do this for at least four of the documents in order to be awarded the point. But, there is really no purpose in limiting yourself. 

Try to analyze all the documents as critically as you can in the time given. The more documents you provide context for, the better your overall essay will be. 

An additional two points are given for using evidence beyond the documents. This means relying on the information you have learned in history class or in your outside studies to contextualize the source material appropriately.

  • The first of these two points is specifically awarded for the strength of your contextualization. You are marked according to whether you can situate the debate correctly in the broader historical narrative and whether you understand the events, developments, and processes immediately relevant to the prompt. 

The DBQ rubric specifically notes that “contextualization requires using knowledge not found in the documents.” It is important that you include considerable context when writing a DBQ, but there is no reason to panic.

A strong essay will always include context as a way of introducing or developing points and this is your opportunity to show off everything you have learned in history class or through your own personal readings. 

The second of these points is awarded for “using evidence beyond the documents.” 

  • Essentially, this means using evidence to support your contextualization that is not drawn specifically from the documents but, rather, is taken from outside knowledge. 
  • Put simply, it is important to contextualize and provide evidence from both the documents and the stuff you have learned elsewhere in history class. 

It may seem daunting, but you really just have to remember not to focus exclusively on the documents or your personal knowledge – the best DBQ, one that scores a 7 out of 7, always includes a healthy mix of both. 

The final of the seven points available is awarded for “synthesis.”

 This means that you need to connect the central idea of your essay to another time period, place, event, historical concept, or another discipline outside of history. 

  • As an example, if you are talking about the formation of the United Nations, it might be relevant to briefly consider the League of Nations, the European Union, and other international organizations. 

If you are writing about the conflict between European settlers and Native Americans in California, it might be relevant to compare it briefly to an earlier example of cultural exchange.

 You have a lot of options here but most students are too focused on narrowly addressing the prompt that they omit a proper synthesis. 

It is often easiest to include your synthesizing thoughts in your conclusion, but you could reasonably include them anywhere in your essay where it is appropriate.  

The most important thing to remember is that you must connect your thesis to something from another time or place that provides context to strengthen your argument. 

How can I prepare for a DBQ?

The best way to prepare for a DBQ is to find practice prompts and respond to them. 

At first, you might want to simply sit down with a few prompts and practice analyzing the documents. Try to find as many biases as you can, or consider how many different arguments the source material could be used to support. 

  • Next, you might want to practice creating theses and grouping evidence according to how it supports your argument.
  • Eventually, you will want to take a full 60-minute practice DBQ, recreating test conditions as realistically as you can, to see how you do under timed pressure. 

The College Board provides practice tests from previous years, and you can easily access dozens of practice prompts online. If you are learning independently, it is best to start practicing for the DBQ at least a few months before the date of the test. If you are taking the test in May or June, as most students will be, it is best to begin studying in January of that same year. 

  • If you are taking an Advanced Placement course in high school, it is likely that you will practice DBQs a few times throughout the year.
  • But, if not, you can practice independently or with a tutor. Ask your tutor to help you understand the basics of the historical discipline – how to assess the validity of arguments and recognize authorial bias. 

Make sure, at the very least, you spend a considerable amount of time preparing for the DBQ. It is unlike any of the other challenges you will have so far undertaken in high school, and the skills you acquire practicing for the DBQ will be useful to you if you ever decide to pursue history at an undergraduate level. 

DBQ Examples

Manifest Destiny, the Compromise of 1850, and the events of the 1850s made the Civil War inevitable. Assess the validity of this statement using the documents and your knowledge of the time period 1830 to 1860.
The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson did more to expand the power of the executive branch than any other presidency in the early republic or antebellum era. 
The Thirty Years’ War was primarily fought for political reasons. Evaluate the validity of the preceding statement. 
To what extent was the U.S.’ longstanding conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War a consequence of specific actions taken by either country during the Second World War?
The Presidency of George Washington established several vital precedents that are still considered sacrosanct in the United States’ political process. Using the documents and your knowledge of the history of America since the beginning of Washington’s presidency, assess the accuracy of the preceding statement. 

Featured Solution

dbq essay meaning

College Application Boot Camp

Stay on track and ease your anxiety with our second-to-none college application assistance.

How to get into Carnegie Mellon

Quick Links

  • Ethics & Honesty
  • Privacy Policy
  • Join Our Team

(732) 339-3835

[email protected]

dbq essay meaning


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, where to find the best dbq examples.

author image

Advanced Placement (AP)


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. Doing 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. We'll briefly cover what makes a good DBQ example and then provide a list of example essays by course. Lastly, we'll give you some helpful 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 the following:

Any DBQ essay example that the College Board provides will include a real DBQ prompt

All samples are real student responses from previous years , so you know they were written under the same conditions you'll have when you write your DBQ—in other words, they're authentic!

They not only have scores but also explanations of each essay's score , in accordance with the rubric

Each prompt includes several sample essays with a variety of scores

Some DBQ examples outside those available from the College Board might be worth looking at, particularly if they highlight how a particular essay could be improved. In general, though, a superior example will do the following:

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 themselves!

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 compiled lists, organized by exam, of high-quality example DBQs below.


Don't spend all your study time on false starts with your practice DBQs. 

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

The APUSH test was redesigned in 2015 and again in 2018, so right now there are eight  official College Board sets of sample essays you can use in your studies . Make sure to give yourself a 15-minute reading period and 45 minutes to write your answer. In addition, don't forget to use the current scoring guidelines when grading your own practice responses.

  • 2023 Free-Response Questions | Scoring Guidelines 2023
  • 2022 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2022
  • 2021 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2021
  • 2019 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2019
  • 2018 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2018
  • 2017 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2017
  • 2016 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2016
  • 2015 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2015

If you want additional sample question sets, you can look at older College Board US History DBQ example response sets . To look at these, click "Free-Response Questions" for a given year. For the corresponding DBQ examples and scoring guidelines, click "Sample Responses Q1."

Note that these examples use the old rubric (which is integrated into the Scoring Guidelines for a given free-response section). General comments on the quality of the essay, outside information, and document analysis still apply, but the score is on a 9-point scale instead of the current 7-point scale, and some of the particulars will be different. Older DBQs had up to 12 documents, while the current format has seven documents.

If you do look at older DBQ examples, I recommend using the current rubric to re-grade the essays in the sample according to the 7-point scale. I'll also give more advice on how to use all these samples in your prep later on.


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 . Since then, more minor changes have been made in terms of time (you now have an hour on the DBQ) and individual parts of the rubric (you can view the current scoring guidelines here ).

This means there are seven sets of official samples graded with the current 7-point rubric:

The rest of the existing available samples were graded in the old 9-point format instead of the 7-point format implemented in 2016.

In the old format, there were 6 "core" points and 3 additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but we'll highlight some key differences between the old and current formats :

With the old format, you were given a brief "historical background" section before the documents

There were more documents—up to 12—but the current format has seven

There was an emphasis on "grouping" the documents that is not present in the current rubric

There was also explicit emphasis on correctly interpreting the documents that is not found in the current rubric

While the essential components of the DBQ are still the same between the two test formats, you should definitely refer to the current rubric if you decide to look at any old AP European History samples . You might find it useful to look at old essays and score them in accordance with the current rubric.

Here are the old sample DBQ questions and essays, organized by year:

  • 2014 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2014
  • 2013 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2013
  • 2012 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2012
  • 2011 Free-Response Questions | Sample DBQ Responses 2011

You can get samples in the old format all the way back to 1999 from the College Board . (Click "Free -Response Questions" for the questions and "Sample Response Q1" for the samples.)


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 transitioned to a new format to more closely resemble AP US History and AP European History for the 2017 test. This means that there are six past exams available that use the current DBQ format:

Note that starting with the 2020 exam, AP World History will only cover the years 1200 to the present instead of thousands of years of history. As a result, both the course and exam have been renamed AP World History: Modern (a World History: Ancient course is in the works). What this means for you is that previous DBQs might have to do with time periods you're no longer required to study, so just keep this in mind.

In the old format, there were 7 "core" points and 2 additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but we'll highlight some key differences between the old and current formats :

There were more documents—up to 10—but the current format has seven

There was an emphasis on "grouping" the documents on the old rubric that is not present in the current 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, though you should definitely look at the current rubric if you study with any old AP World History questions and samples. You might find it useful to look at the old essays and score them according to the current rubric.

Here are old AP World History questions and DBQ sample responses , organized by year:


Don't worry, the old format isn't as old as this guy right here.

How Should I Use DBQ Examples to Prepare?

Now that you have all these examples, what should you do with them? In this section, we'll give you some tips on how to use example DBQs in your own AP history prep , including when to start using them and how many you should plan to review.

What Should I Do With These DBQs?

Official sample essay sets are a great way to test how well you understand the rubric. This is why we 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 official scores and scoring notes given to the samples, you'll have a better idea of what parts of the rubric you don't really understand . If there are points you are consistently awarding differently than the graders, you’ll know those are skills you'll need to work on.

Keep giving points for the thesis and then finding out the sample didn't get those points? This tells you to work more 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.

Check out my tips on building specific rubric-based skills in our guide on how to write a DBQ .

Once you've worked on some of those rubric skills you're weaker in, such as evaluating a good thesis or keeping track of how many documents were used, 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 process if you're looking at examples in an old format. The old scores as awarded by the College Board will be helpful in establishing a ballpark —a 9 is still going to be a good essay using the current 7-point scale—but there may be some modest differences in grades between the two scales. (For example, maybe that perfect 9 is now more like 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 current rubric, recruit a trusted study buddy or academic advisor (or even two study buddies!), and have each of you re-grade the samples .

You can then discuss any major differences in the grades each of you awarded. Having multiple sets of eyes will help you determine whether the scores you're giving are reasonable, since you won’t have an official 7-point College Board score for comparison.

Looking for help studying for your AP exam?

Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

Get a 5 On Your AP Exam

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 do practice grading on a sample set every few weeks to a month to check your progress to being able to think like an AP grader. In this case, you would probably use six to nine official sample sets.

If, on the other hand, the exam is in a month and you're just trying to get in some extra skill-polishing, you might do a sample set every week to 10 days . It makes sense to check your skills more often when you have less time to study because you want to be sure that you are focusing your time on the skills that need the most work. For a short time frame, expect to use somewhere in the range of three to four official sample sets.

Either way, you should be integrating your sample essay grading with skills practice and doing some practice DBQ writing of your own .

Toward the end of your study time, you could even integrate DBQ writing practice with sample grading. Read and complete a timed prompt and 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 received that year and any areas you might 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 own DBQ on test day.


Hey, where can we find a good DBQ around here?

Closing Thoughts: Example DBQs for AP History Tests

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'll know what skills to focus on in your prep.

That said, sample essays will be most useful when integrated with your own targeted skills prep . Grading 100 sample essays won't help you if you aren't practicing your skills; rather, you'll just keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Make sure you aren't using sample essays to avoid writing practice DBQs either—you'll want to do at least a couple, even if you only have a month to practice.

And 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 to learn the basics.

Want tips on how to really dig in and study for AP history tests? We've got a complete how-to guide on preparing for and writing the DBQ .

If you're still studying for AP World History, check out our top AP World History study guide , or get more practice tests from our complete list .

Want more study material for AP US History? Look into this article on the best notes to use for studying from one of our experts. Also, read our review of the best AP US History textbooks !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

dbq essay meaning

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

How to Write a DBQ Essay?

01 October, 2020

20 minutes read

Author:  Richard Pircher

AP (Advanced Placement) examinations are standardized tests designed to evaluate how well American students have mastered the course and acquired skills on specific subjects. Most AP courses presuppose final paper-and-pencil tests at the end of the year, but some courses come with different ways to assess students’ knowledge. AP tests cover the full content of each course and give college students an opportunity to obtain college credits and placements.

dbq essay

What Is a DBQ?

A DBQ essay is a type of academic paper written on the basis of a Document Based Question. It implies that students will have some documents to be used as sources of information for writing an essay. Since 2002, the DBQ essay format has been used to test college students for understanding historical development.

The time of US history usually covers a period from 1607 to 1980. At present, the DBQ method is also used to test students in AP European and world history, as well as social studies. The approach is the same, but sources of information are different. For writing DBQ essays, students are offered to analyze some historical events or problems based on the sources or materials provided.

The Purpose of A DBQ Essay

The point of document based question essays is that students are provided with seven documents to be analyzed and used to present evidence-based argumentation in their writings. Students have to formulate the thesis, which should be typically presented in the last sentence of the introduction. Further, this thesis has to be supported by evidence and historical facts. This test is aimed to evaluate the students’ abilities of:

  • Analyzing documents, taking into account their authors’ points of view, their purposes, and general context;
  • Formulating a strong thesis and substantiating it in an essay;
  • Using personal knowledge for supporting the thesis with additional facts.

However, students should not wholly rely on knowledge of historical facts during the test. They rather have to analyze the information contained in the provided documents. To successfully pass this test, students need to have the skills of logical thinking, as well as profound knowledge of civilization development, historical facts, and geographical regions. The task is to interpret historical material, draw conclusions based on existing knowledge, and answer the main question.

Preparing For The DBQ Essay

The DBQ test is based on the skills of historical analysis that you can acquire and put into practice. For writing a strong DBQ essay, you need to use the evidence provided to support an argument, make connections between different documents, and apply specific information in a broader context. Also, a historical essay with a Document Based Question answers the issues of the author’s intentions, general conditions, target audience, and so on.

It is recommended to practice writing this type of essays to be well prepared for the DBQ essays. When you exercise, you do not have to write a complete essay every time. The main point is to understand the main issue and related documents and then sketch out the thesis. Make sure you are aware of the general historical trends and periods.

The general flow of your preparation should include taking a practice of the DBQ test and focusing on analysis and exposing your suggestions in writing. How much you take the practice DBQs depends on how perfect preparation you need and how often you want to check your progress. Take practice to write DBQ essays so that this format becomes familiar to you, but not so much that you fail to apply other skills.

How to write a DBQ essay? Firstly, do not intend to fudge your way through the DBQ test by using only beautiful writing with no substance. Secondly, you should focus on the meaning of your essay. Thirdly, you can get your essay peer-reviewed online. Fourthly, ask somebody who has experience in this matter to review your practice with a DBQ essay. Listen to comments and ideas of that person to take these recommendations into consideration.

Stuck on writing an DBQ essay? Our Essay writers is always ready to help you!

DBQ Outline

The process of writing a DBQ essay requires a proper outline. Plan how much time you can spend on each paragraph. Read the main question carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked. As you read the documents, take notes about what information they contain, who the author is, and which historical period it belongs to. Before you start writing, think about the thesis. The materials provided and your notes will help you compose a thesis.

Read the essential hints and objectives carefully. Make sure you understand what evidence to look for in the documents and what the instructors want to see in your essay. Most probably, you might be asked to analyze or explain the reasons for the historical development. Use your knowledge to compare and contrast different perspectives on a concept. Show how public opinion has changed over a specified period.

The outline to plan and write a DBQ essay is similar to an FRQ (Free Response Question) test, but your evidence should be based on the supplied documents. When you read these documents, ask yourself what grabs your attention and what is the background information on the topic (date, place, and surrounding situation). State the question with key terms. Tell what the reasons to prove your point of view are.

Think about the thesis or roadmap of what the essay will be about. Typically, a statement credited as evidence from outside the documents will be more specific and relevant to an argument, analogous to the function of evidence drawn from the papers. In the body paragraphs, outline sub theses based on the information from either documents or sources, as well as provide two to three examples. Each sub thesis should be grounded by evidence.

Support details for reasons with references to the specific documents or sources and connect your evidence to your thesis. In the central argument or conclusion, restate your thesis. It should not be its exact duplication, but a periphrasis of your thesis statement in differing words. Explain and not simply identify how or why the documents, their purposes, historical situation, and audience are relevant to an argument. In the end, clarify relevant and insightful connections across time and space and explain why the issue is significant today.

DBQ Structure

Here are the main parts of the DBQ essay a student cannot forget about:

DBQ Essay Introduction: Starting DBQ Format

Problems and discussions usually characterize the DBQ essay outline. In this work, it is not enough to retell what is written in a textbook, as is often the case in a DBQ essay, or to apply a problem-solving technique, as in a test. When writing the DBQ essay outline, you can be guided by the example of the logic of construction, become familiar with the DBQ essay, and start with the relevance of the topic.

Strong Thesis Statement: What Should It Include?

The strength of your thesis statement influences how you write a DBQ. The standard number of theses for a DBQ essay is from 2 to 5. To determine the exact number of ideas, you must be guided by the required work. The larger the text, the stronger the thesis statement should be. It isn’t easy to write a DBQ on one thesis statement.

There are specific ways to write a DBQ with a strong thesis statement in the paper. The main DBQ essay outline has only four points:

  • DBQ outline requires you to determine why you are convincing the reader of the truth or falsity of the thesis statement. To do this, it is desirable to be clear about the target audience. Your thesis statement should be interesting to the reader. Otherwise, he will not read further;
  • Gathering information. You can write a good DBQ essay only if you have read enough literature on the topic before. In the process, you will be able to understand the relevance of your document-based question;
  • In any DBQ format, it is essential to identify keywords that will be the anchor points and skeleton of the DBQ essay outline.

DBQ Essay Example: Describe Your Main Ideas in Body Paragraph

It reveals the DBQ essay outline from the introduction from different angles. The central part of the DBQ format is not a continuous text; it is divided into smaller pieces. In the first part, you need to state your DBQ outline and describe how you understand and feel about the topic. Next, justify your opinion with arguments. DBQ outline demands facts from life, scientific studies, and views of scientists. You can cite facts from history to write a DBQ.

DBQ Essay Example: Logical Conclusion

The conclusion of a document-based question essay can contain such an essential, complementary element to the article as an indication of the application (implication) of your research, not excluding the relationship with other problems. DBQ essay example: “The DBQ essay is mainly about gender relations in agricultural labor, but a fuller examination would also require an examination of class relations,” followed by a few sentences explaining how the DBQ essay does that.

How to Write a DBQ essay With a Strong Thesis Statement

DBQ stands for a document based question. Such assignments require a student to demonstrate their ability to create well-researched arguments. If you have never written such tasks, read about the DBQ format.

Steps of Writing a DBQ

Create dbq essay outline: write an intro.

You will be provided with a historical context to help write a DBQ introduction. In addition, it will allow you to develop several ideas for writing your text.

Make sure to write a DBQ first sentence that answers 4 questions:

It will allow you to provide your reader with a context and briefly indicate what problem you will solve. This sentence should be the first part of your DBQ essay outline. It is followed by a couple of sentences preceding a thesis statement.

Write a Powerful Thesis Statement

To write a DBQ that will look well-researched, pay careful attention to this part of your essay. Likewise, consider the question you need to answer when writing a thesis statement.

To get tops marks for your document based question essay, follow these steps:

  • Make claims and provide pieces of evidence
  • When creating a DBQ essay outline, remember to describe the information that you will base your statements on
  • Write a paragraph explaining how you will answer the main question

If you have never written a thesis statement before, look at a DBQ essay example to see how another author coped with this task.

Correctly Structure a Body Paragraph in Your DBQ Essay Outline

A DBQ format doesn’t require you to limit the number of body paragraphs. However, when creating a DBQ outline, include at least 3 paragraphs to cover the main points.

The first paragraph should follow your thesis statement. Experienced writers start a DBQ essay outline by selecting the strongest point and analyzing it from several points of view. Then, use a transition sentence to move smoothly to the next part of your DBQ outline. It will enable you to write a DBQ more easily.

The second and third paragraphs of your DBQ essay outline should also refer to the thesis statement. You can also find a DBQ essay example with four or more paragraphs if you need to provide a detailed answer to your question.

DBQ format is quite easy to use. You can make your text logical by creating an easy-to-follow DBQ outline. Don’t forget to add another transition sentence at the end of this part of your text.

Draw a Conclusion

The last part of your DBQ outline should summarize your argument and show that you have answered the question. Use a DBQ essay example to see how such parts of these essays are usually written. The main thing is to list your main points and show that the opposing views are biased.

Wrapping Up

Following these tips, you can write a DBQ essay demonstrating that you can analyze complex issues and draw independent conclusions. Practice a lot to hone your skills and get the highest marks!

DBQ Essay Examples

If you are not sure of how to write a DBQ essay, you can always search and find good examples online. You can find them on the College Board website. This organization administers AP tests, and therefore, the provided DBQ essay samples can give you some prompts and responses to many questions. These samples are not only evaluated, but the score system is explained in accordance with the rubric.

Writing Tips to Succeed with Your DBQ Essay

The AP test typically consists of one or two DBQ essays, and 45 minutes is given to writing each of them. So, students have up to 90 minutes to draw up a plan and finish two papers. When you see the task for writing a DBQ essay, you will see instructions, a hint, and attached documents. Usually, up to seven different sources are provided. These can be newspaper clippings, articles, maps, drawings, photographs, and so on. However, you do not need to use all the documents, but at least four of them.

It is recommended that you first read the materials and schedule your time carefully. Organize these sources into categories and define how each document relates to your main question. Think about how to use documents to support your argument. If you are comparing different points of view, classify your sources based on opposing opinions.

Also, try to include relevant external information in your essay. You need to provide at least one piece of evidence besides the data from the provided documents. List some external evidence on a draft to refer to when writing your essay. As you write your DBQ essay, support your arguments with links to provided documents. Make sure that both your argument structure and supporting evidence back up your preliminary thesis.

You should describe how a particular event, movement, or somebody’s beliefs can support your statement. Outline the structure of your arguments in your DBQ essay. Start with your preliminary thesis and break your essay into multiple parts. In each of them, write one statement or element for the argument. Under each idea, list a few points supporting that part of your argument. Also, do not just cite sources without analysis.

Make sure you use documents to craft and highlight your point of view. Refine your thesis and make sure again that your thesis is clear, does not contain unnecessary words, and fully answers the main question. When writing an essay, general historical accuracy is essential, but not details. If minor details are not indicated correctly without affecting the general meaning, then this will not lead to a decrease in the overall test score.

How To Be Successful On The DBQ Test Day?

The matter of how to write a DBQ essay may seem challenging, but you are able to pass an AP test and get a high score provided that you have particular skills. It is recommended to get acquainted with the DBQ essay rubric that instructors use to evaluate AP tests. Information about this rubric can be found on the College Board website. It has four categories: abstracts, document analysis, use of third-party evidence, and synthesis.

You can get one point for the thesis and argument. An extra point is given for a perfect thesis presenting the close relationship between historical events and their causes. A strong thesis, supported by information from documents or any other source, is of great importance. Also, you need to reinforce this thesis in your paper. Demonstrate that you have generated a critical understanding of the given sources by focusing on what they mean rather than what they say.

Another three points are provided for the use of the maximum number of documents and their detailed analysis. This analysis refers to the authors’ points of view, target audience, or historical context. Be sure to reveal the connection between your research and your main argument. Providing an external example and establishing a link with another historical period or topic is estimated as one additional point. You are advised to give an extra specific example that is relevant to your argument.

When passing an AP History exam with a DBQ essay, you will lose one point out of seven if you do not relate your arguments to the broader historical context. Also, you will miss one point if you just mention sources or add quotes at random. You have to establish logical connections between the documents and the conclusions you draw.

For synthesis, you need to show the link between your arguments about a specific period with another historical time, social processes, geographic regions, etc. It is best done in the final part of your essay. This task will earn you one more point. In the end, take at least a few minutes to check everything and make corrections. Make sure the names, dates, and other facts are provided correctly.

Thus, the maximum number of points that you can get in the AP exam with DBQ essays is 7. For that, you have to clearly state your thesis, establish a broader historical context, support your argument with as many documents as possible, provide external evidence, and describe several points of view. However, you do not need to obtain the highest score to achieve your goals. You can get 5 or 6 points out of 7 on this exam, and it will be a success. Even 3 points can give you a credit score in many colleges.

Best Essay Writing Services

Best Essay Writing Services 2023

Student life can often be quite challenging because students have to deal with challenging college essay writing assignments. To facilitate the learning process, many services help you complete written work and get high scores. Now we will tell you about the best services that you can turn to and get high-quality papers. Essay Writing Service […]

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

Due to human nature, we draw conclusions only when life gives us a lesson since the experience of others is not so effective and powerful. Therefore, when analyzing and sorting out common problems we face, we may trace a parallel with well-known book characters or real historical figures. Moreover, we often compare our situations with […]

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Writing a research paper on ethics is not an easy task, especially if you do not possess excellent writing skills and do not like to contemplate controversial questions. But an ethics course is obligatory in all higher education institutions, and students have to look for a way out and be creative. When you find an […]


  • How It Works
  • Prices & Discounts


DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

Adela Belin

Table of contents

As a student, you’ll come across different types of essays throughout your college journey. Essays provide a great way to portray your understanding of a topic and display your writing skills .

One of the most common types of essays in college is a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay. You’ll occasionally be asked to write these types of essays, and it’s therefore important to understand the essentials of writing them.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what DBQ essays are and the step-by-step process you can use to write the best DBQ essays in college.

What are DBQ Essays?

A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document.

This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S. History exam.

To write a good DBQ essay, you must portray an understanding of the topic and link it to evidence from reliable sources.

Limited-Time Offer: 15% Off on an Original DBQ Essay

How to format a dbq essay.

Like any other essay, your DBQ essay should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Let’s review the components of each section and how to write them for the best performance.

1. Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay is the introductory paragraph . Here, you review the historical background of the document and the main idea covered in the essay. Take five minutes to write this section, and keep it short and brief. Include a brief statement that summarizes the points you are going to discuss in the essay body.

2. Thesis statement

The final paragraph of the introduction should be your thesis statement. A thesis is a concise statement or a claim that summarizes your overall argument. Identify the claims you’ll make in your paper, which shall be backed by evidence.

Your thesis should be one to two sentences long, describing your opinion or stand on the idea under discussion.

3. Body paragraph 1

After the thesis stamen, start writing the first paragraph of your essay. Here, you identify the strongest argument that links to the thesis statement, then provide supporting details from your evidence sources. Start with a topic sentence to let the reader know what this paragraph is about.

After the topic sentence, discuss your argument and cite each piece of evidence that supports every argument you make. Analyze the evidence in relation to the main idea rather than merely quoting it. Use direct quotes sparingly if you have to.

4. Body Paragraph 2

In the second paragraph, you identify the second relevant argument and link it to the thesis statement. The argument in this paragraph should be less superior to the first paragraph but still relevant to the main idea.

Make a logical connection between your second argument and the relevant sources of evidence. Remember to cite the evidence appropriately and demonstrate that you’ve understood what they mean and not just what they say.

5. Body Paragraph 3

In the third paragraph, identify your third relevant argument, and like the other arguments, link it to the thesis statement. State your argument in the topic sentence and explain it in subsequent sentences citing the evidence.

Your argument in this paragraph can be inferior to the ones in the first and second paragraphs but relevant to the thesis statement.

6. Concluding paragraph

After discussing all your argumentative points in the essay body, it’s time to conclude your DBQ essay. Weave your arguments together in a conclusion paragraph , which links back to your thesis statement and shows you’ve sufficiently proven your claims.

Summarize the main points in the essay and let the reader see that you’ve adequately responded to the essay prompt. Don’t use this section to merely rephrase the introduction and your thesis statement. Instead, provide a conclusive analysis that reconnects the historical context to the main idea and your arguments.

How to Write a DBQ Essay in 9 Steps

So, how do you write a DBE essay so that it flows effortlessly and satisfactorily answers the essay prompt? Here are the steps you need to follow to write the best essay for your AP History exams.

1. Read and understand

Start by carefully reading the essay prompt and the provided document, word by word and understand the concept. Take the first 15 minutes of your time to review the prompt. Understand the document and develop your argument.

Identify all the key points and write them down as draft notes. As you analyze the main document, figure out how it relates to the other sources provided.

2. Identify the main idea

Once you’ve reviewed and understood the document, identify the main idea and note the keywords in the essay prompt. The keywords will help you understand what you need to accomplish in your assay and the type of evidence to look for in the provided sources.

For instance, the essay prompt may ask you to:

  • Compare and contrast

Also, take note of common keywords like ‘Social, Political, or Economic.’ Always keep the prompt in mind while writing to avoid being irrelevant and losing points. The prompts will also help you develop your arguments based on the main idea of the document.

3. Gather evidence

Now that you know the main idea, pick out the sources of evidence that support the main idea. Identify how each source relates to your essay prompt and categorize them based on the prompt.

Figure out how each source can support an argument. For instance, if you're comparing the attitudes towards women's rights in different historical times, you can categorize your sources of evidence based on the contrasting ideologies they represent.

4. Find external sources

When writing your DBQ essay, you’ll also need to cite other external sources that support the ideas in the main document.

Identify at least one external source that's relevant to your claims and use the events in the document to support your arguments in the essay. Jot it down somewhere so you can refer to it later when you start writing.

5. Identify the writer’s point of view

As you analyze your document and prepare to start writing, identify the author’s point of view concerning the main idea.

Who influenced them to write the document and what did they intend to achieve with it? How do they feel and what’s their take on the documented events? Also, identify their intended audience and how his writing might have influenced them.

6. Write your thesis statement

Now that you have the main idea and your sources of evidence, it’s time to develop your argument and put it down as a thesis statement.

Review the essay prompt again and form your own perspective or opinion that responds to the prompt without simply restating it. Remember the claim you make should be specific and supported by your sources of evidence.

For instance, when writing a DBQ essay about The Effects of World War II on Women's Rights, your thesis statement can be:

“ The selfless efforts of women in World War II promoted their human rights and empowered them to a higher social status in the society. ”

Here’s a useful video by Heimler's History on writing DBQ essays.

7. Polish your thesis statement

Re-read your thesis statement and polish it to ensure it’s clear and concise. Delete any unnecessary words that do not impact the meaning of the statement.

A good thesis statement has no fluff and responds directly to the essay prompt without being too short or too long.

8. Start writing by creating an outline

Once you’ve encapsulated your arguments into a thesis statement, it’s time to start writing. You start writing by creating an outline of your arguments first.

An effective outline should include:

  • The introduction
  • Thesis statement
  • First argument
  • Second argument
  • Third argument

After creating the outline, explain your arguments and fill in the evidence while citing the sources.

Creating an outline will help you organize your points and make your work easier when you start writing the main essay. Following the outline will also save you time and help you finish writing your essay on time.

9. Proofread and polish

After you finish writing, spare 10 minutes to proofread and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. Identify and rewrite weird sentence structures, add missing words, and replace those that complicate meaning.

While proofreading, delete fluffy sentences that don’t add value to your essay. Also, check that you’ve appropriately cited the evidence sources and that your essay is well structured before submitting it.

Final Thought

DBQ essays will significantly contribute to your final grade. It’s, therefore, necessary to take time to learn how to write an excellent one and practice before the final exams.

Remember your DBQ essay test will be timed, and that doesn’t leave you much time to include fluff. Go directly to your points and explain them in clear and concise sentences.

If you’ve been having trouble writing these types of essays , use the tips in this article to make it hassle-free onwards.

Need more help? Writers Per Hour is here to assist you with this writing assignment of yours. Our professional writers can help you research, outline, write, revise and proofread high-quality DBQ essays that are sure to give your grades a boost.

Last edit at Jul 27 2023

Adela Belin

Adela Belin

What does your service do?

Do you have free essay samples?

How much does it cost?

How to order my essay?

Share this article

Sign up and get 20% off on a custom paper

By entering your email above you agree to receive our periodical marketing emails. We do not sell or share your personal information.

  • Write My Lab Report
  • Write My Book Report for Me
  • Urgent Essay Writing Service
  • Do My Powerpoint
  • Do My Math Problems Online
  • Do My Case Study For Me
  • Do My Accounting Assignment
  • Psychology Essay Writing Service
  • Marketing Plan Writing Service
  • Buy Custom Personal Statement
  • Buy Extended Essay
  • Write My Thesis Paper for Me
  • Analytical Essay Writing Service
  • Do My Coursework Online
  • Buy Biology Paper
  • Pay Someone to Write My Paper
  • Buy College Paper Now
  • Buy ToK Essay
  • Paper Editing Service
  • IA writing service
  • Write My Speech
  • Buy Research Proposal
  • Do My Research Paper
  • Write My Discussion Post
  • Write My Annotated Bibliography
  • Write My Assignment
  • Write My Literature Review
  • Write My Philosophy Paper
  • Buy Non Plagiarized Essay

Analyze This: The DBQ Essay in 2015

Putting the o in h.i.p.p.o. has never been more important..

As teachers tackle the challenge of educating their students on the process of document analysis, they must focus their instruction and their students minds on analysis like never before. Literally, like never before because changes to the DBQ essay scoring rubric in 2015 mean that students must refine their ability to analyze documents and adopt a focused strategy that takes them beyond identification. The exam redesign is all about getting students to think more analytically (like a historian) and the new scoring rubric reflects this requirement. The section may look and even read the same, but rest-assured students who are simply identifying the elements without analyzing the implications and meaning surrounding the facts will lose points on the new 2015 exam.

In the past, several sets of ideas have been put forth by teachers around the country with most involving students identifying four key elements: 1) Historical context; 2) Intended audience; 3) Point of view; and 4) Purpose of the documents (aka H.I.P.P.). Thus, many seem to be some iteration of H.I.P.P. There is H.I.P.P., H.I.P.P.Y., and my own H.I.P.P.O. The “O” in H.I.P.P.O. has never been more critical than it is for the 2015 exam. The “O” in “H.I.P.P.O” stands for “Organize” and suggests the need for students to arrange the details of a document into a potential argument or thesis once they have broken it down into the four key elements. Students need either to be reminded or trained (or both) to use documents as evidence, and not just identify the various elements and think their analysis is complete. In short, If they don’t hook the document to a larger idea, they run the risk of merely listing rather than analyzing the documents. (I address this issue in Threads of History by putting topics such as the abolitionist movement and the changing definition of “conservative” and “liberal” into a larger, thematic context.) Allow me to provide a specific example that demonstrates how the “O” functions as an effective training and reminding strategy:

Using “H.I.P.P.O.” with John Calhoun’s Speech March 4, 1850.

(p. 56 in the new 2nd Edition of Threads of History , Updated for the 2015 Exam)

  • to show growing sectionalism in 1850
  • to show the consequences that had emerged from the land
  • acquired in the Mexican-American War
  • to show the South’s mindset that eventually led to secession

If a student constructs their essay based on what they’ve uncovered through their 4 key element identification process, their essay will lack the level of analysis necessary to earn a high score. The additional compOnent forces their thinking to go beyond the basic elements of the source and begin to think about how historical evidence is used in an argument.

A strategy is NOT a system or a magic bullet!

A point of clarification about HIPPO. It is a tool to be used early in the DBQ learning process, probably in the first weeks of school. It is designed to offer students a strategy to use in decoding documents in the manner suggested by the new curriculum and in the fashion called for by the new DBQ rubric. It is also a serves to remind them of how critical it is to do more with a document than just decode it - a pitfall on the day of the exam when time limits loom. Speaking of pitfalls, it’s important that students understand that it is unlikely that any DBQ strategy can be perfectly implemented under the extreme time constraints now in place (a reduced time of 55 minutes). They are all good techniques, but they require too much time to be employed on all, or all but one of the documents when dealing with a timed essay. The best strategies applied under the best exam circumstances are never a sure-fire 5. Preparation and Practice are just as critical and never secondary to any strategy. I stress this because there will always be students that focus on strategy rather than good old hard work. All test taking techniques are designed to promote habits of the mind that students (hopefully) develop as they (slowly) build the skills necessary to write a strong DBQ. Developing such habits takes practice. On the actual essay, students will need to quickly implement some aspect of one of these techniques. This will give students a specific plan of attack so they will not be left adrift as they organize and write their argument. However, practice and preparation will offer them the experiential foundation they need to “bring it” come exam day.

Take your DBQ skills to the next level

Check out the NEW 3rd Edition of U.S. History Skillbook by Michael Henry, Ph.D., for extensive guidance on using H.I.P.P.O. to plan high-scoring DBQ essays—not to mention everything else you'd need to rock the redesigned AP U.S. History exam. Available now at lower price than the previous edition!

Featured Products

Mastering the essay - ap euro combo, ap u.s. history combo, mastering the essay - ap world handbook, u.s. history skillbook.

dbq essay meaning

  • Meet Our Team
  • Company Profile
  • College Counselling Brochure
  • IBPYP Bridge Course Brochure
  • IB MYP Bridge Course Brochure
  • SAT Brochure
  • ACT Brochure
  • Our Timeline
  • Student Success Stories
  • Our Student’s Results
  • Our Student’s Testimonials
  • Career At TYCHR
  • IB Extended Essay
  • IB English Language & Literature SL Tutors
  • IB English Language & Literature HL Tutors
  • IB French SL Tutors
  • IB French HL Tutors
  • IB Spanish SL Tutors
  • IB Spanish HL Tutors
  • IB Economics SL Tutors
  • IB Economics HL Tutors
  • IB Business Management SL Tutors
  • IB Business Management HL Tutors
  • IB Geography SL Tutors
  • IB Geography HL Tutors
  • IB History SL Tutors
  • IB History HL Tutors
  • IB Psychology SL Tutors
  • IB Psychology HL Tutors
  • IB Global Politics SL Tutors
  • IB Global Politics HL Tutors
  • IB ESS Tutors
  • IB Physics SL Tutors
  • IB Physics HL Tutors
  • IB Chemistry SL Tutors
  • IB Chemistry HL Tutors
  • IB Biology SL Tutors
  • IB Biology HL Tutors
  • IB Maths AA SL Tutors
  • IB Maths AA HL Tutors
  • IB Maths AI SL Tutors
  • IB Maths AI HL Tutors
  • AP Statistics Tutors
  • AP Psychology Tutors
  • AP Physics C Mechanics Tutors
  • AP Microeconomics Tutors
  • AP Human Geography Tutors
  • AP Computer Science A Tutors

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy


  • A Research Guide
  • Writing Guide
  • Essay Writing

Useful Tips How to Write a DBQ Essay

What is a dbq essay – meaning, tips on writing a dbq essay.

  • Read carefully the prompt
  • Understand the question
  • Identify the keywords, such as the time period, society, cultural and economic problems
  • Identify the evidence you need to extract from the documents
  • Think out of the box
  • Define your stand
  • Develop a temporary thesis
  • Go through the documents
  • Categorize the documents into logical categories
  • State the authors’ point of view
  • Develop groups
  • Additional document
  • Improve your thesis

Using DBQ Essay Writing Outline

  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraphs
Read also: Find out what is the best writing service by reading expert reviews of essay writing services .

DBQ Essay Examples

  • Explain the reasons why a new conservatism rose to prominence in the United States between 1960 and 1989
  • Explain the causes of the rise of women’s rights movement in the period 1940-1975
  • Compare and contrast the differing attitudes towards women’s rights in America from 1890 to 1920

By clicking "Log In", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.

Sign Up for your FREE account

Physical Address

#1 Shell Camp Owerri, Nigeria

School & Travel

What is DBQ? (Meaning, format, DBQ Score, How-to)

Stella-maris Achumba

  • October 24, 2021

What is DBQ?

Do you wonder what a DBQ is? Have you come across the acronym DBQ? Then this article is for you.

As you make preparations to go to college, you’ll want to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible you can handle.

Aside from the extra challenge they come with, these courses can help save cost and time as they get you college credits. However, passing the AP exam is essential before you receive your college credits.

The AP exam may include a Document-Based Question (DBQ). 

This article provides information on the following: what a DBQ means, its purpose, exams that constitutes a DBQ, DBQ formats, ways of writing/scoring a DBQ.

Table of Contents

What Does a DBQ Mean?

A DBQ is an essay-type question that requires several paragraphs to be written as a response.

Historical documents are used in DBQs for an issue or a trend analysis that relates to past events.

In every DBQ, there are usually five to seven documents that can be used for analysis, ranging from secondary to primary sources, including newspapers, letters, maps, and many more.

When answering a DBQ, you should employ all of the abilities from your AP class. That way, you explore your abilities as a historian. On the other hand, when writing your essay, you will need to demonstrate the following abilities:

  • Evaluate the idea behind the documents, including the target audience and the author’s view.
  • Find relationships between the several documents.
  • Apply your historical issue knowledge to build a stronger case.
  • Write a strong thesis statement and support the statement with an analysis of the documents.

The Various Exams that Constitute a DBQ

Document-based questions are shown on selected Advanced Placement (AP) exams only.

You only get to answer a DBQ if you take the AP European History, AP US History, or the AP World History examination. Each of these exam sources is gotten from relevant materials, and they include a DBQ whilst making use of the same format.

The Formats of a DBQ

Document-based questions or DBQs are shown at the beginning of the writing section, which makes up the Part II of an AP exam.

Firstly, you’ll get to see the section instructions at the top of the page. Below the section instructions, you’ll see the essay question as well as the historical documents.

There are just two essay questions in the AP history exam: one lengthy essay and one DBQ, with a total of 90 minutes to fill in your response. 

However, the proctor won’t tell you how to share your time between the two essay questions. It’s up to you to decide how to split your time and manage it judiciously to complete the two essay questions successfully.

Read this: How hard is the DAT? (Overview, Scope, Retake, Time taken)

How is a DBQ written?

To respond to a DBQ, you need a basic understanding of the problem at hand.

Your historical knowledge of the essay question is a minor part, whilst your ability to analyze the relevant sources and draw inferences and conclusions is the major thing. Follow these tips below to score high on the DBQ.

1. Read the Question repeatedly to get a thorough understanding: 

No matter how good your essay is, if it doesn’t address or answer the question, you automatically lose a point, at least during the scoring process.

Before filling in your response, ensure you read the prompt a few more times to understand it better. 

2. Examine the documents and their sources carefully: 

After reading the questions, focus on them. Read each source carefully whilst paying rapt attention to how similar or different the documents are. Ensure also to evaluate their point of view, period, and any other context you can grasp.

3. Outlining and organization of Essay: 

To utilize your time well, create an outline to help with organizing your thoughts. At least five paragraphs should be in your essay.

The essay paragraphs should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion, leaving three paragraphs for the body written in between. This is of utmost importance for a good DBQ.

4. Begin with a strong introduction: 

After the organization of your essay, you begin with writing a compelling introduction.

Your thesis statement should be at the opening, in addition to enthralling the reader and outlining the substance of the essay.

A good thesis statement makes up the essay question, so you must take your time to ensure you are responding correctly to the question and making a strong argument.

Read this: DSST vs. CLEP (Meaning, Similarities, Differences)

5. Write and edit your response: 

Lastly, write the essay and support your thesis statement with arguments.

The historical sources used should be referenced repeatedly. This is where your analytical skills are important, to analyze the documents carefully.

On the other hand, wrap up your conclusion with an argument, and if you can, relate the issue to history.

How are DBQs scored?

In writing an AP exam, you are given limited time to fill in your response. Moreover, knowing how the exam is scored can help you concentrate more energy and time on the right place or section.

Your DBQ score constitutes only a quarter in your grading for the whole AP exam. Generally, on the DBQ exam, you can score a total of seven points.

However, based on the information from the College Board guidelines, here’s how a point is earned:

  • A solid thesis that addresses the question asked.
  • Historical context and sources references that support the arguments presented.
  • At least six of the sources listed should be used to support your thesis.
  • Examine the point of view, context, purpose, and audience for four or more sources.
  • Lastly, give the argument more weight by discussing the historical context.

Getting a high score can go a long way towards making a college credit; it mustn’t necessarily be a perfect seven. However, so many colleges offer courses credit to students with a three or more on an AP exam.

This article has offered tips on how to write a DBQ and other guidelines governing the system.

Awesome one; I hope this article answered your question.

Share this Information.

Related articles:, global health electives: expanding horizons for medical students, how to homeschool math: tips for success, study abroad chronicles: realizing the educational benefits of college travel.

  • How to learn Japanese with Online Tutors Fast
  • Financial Impact of Wrongful Termination and Seeking Damages
  • Online Degrees vs Online Courses: 5 Key Differences
  • How to Become a Home Inspector in PA (Steps, Tips, FAQs)
  • How Long Does It Take To Become a Plumber? (Duration, Steps)
  • How to Choose the Right Rental Car for Your New York Trip
  • Gift Exchanges Galore: Fun and Meaningful Gift Ideas for Your Party

Stella-maris Achumba

Stella-maris Achumba

Hello, I am Stella-maris! For two years, I began actively assisting students in the United States, and Canada in their pursuit of college advice and scholarship prospects. I am a content writer at www.schoolandtravel.com.

Related Posts

Global Health Electives

  • December 29, 2023

How to Homeschool Math

  • December 21, 2023

Study Abroad Chronicles


  1. PPT

    dbq essay meaning

  2. sample dbq essay

    dbq essay meaning

  3. How to write a DBQ Essay

    dbq essay meaning

  4. dbq essay

    dbq essay meaning

  5. DBQ essay by Not Another History Teacher

    dbq essay meaning

  6. How to Write a DBQ 2023: Definition, Step-By-Step, & DBQ Example

    dbq essay meaning


  1. Floss Meaning

  2. Shubh

  3. Ray and Linda Booker OSU Flight Center


  5. Buddha Quotes Which Describe The Reality Of Life



  1. What is a DBQ? The Document-Based Question Explained

    The dreaded DBQ, or "document-based question," is an essay question type on the AP History exams (AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History). For the DBQ essay, you will be asked to analyze some historical issue or trend with the aid of the provided sources, or "documents," as evidence.

  2. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Key Strategies and Tips

    The DBQ, or document-based-question, is a somewhat unusually-formatted timed essay on the AP History Exams: AP US History, AP European History, and AP World History. Because of its unfamiliarity, many students are at a loss as to how to even prepare, let alone how to write a successful DBQ essay on test day. Never fear!

  3. How to Write a DBQ Essay (with Pictures)

    DBQ Essay Outline Annotated DBQ Essay Part 1 Analyzing the Documents Download Article 1 Review the documents for 10 to 15 minutes. If you're taking an AP exam, you'll have 15 minutes to review the prompt and document.

  4. What is a DBQ? An Essential Guide to Document-Based Questions

    The document-based question, or DBQ, is an essay question included in many Advanced Placement (AP) exams. DBQs are worth a significant portion of your overall grade on the AP test and are meant to assess your ability to analyze primary sources. Which Exams Include a DBQ?

  5. How to Write the Document Based Question (DBQ)

    A Document Based Question (DBQ) is a measure of the skills you learned in your AP classes in regard to recalling history and analyzing related documents. These documents can be primary or secondary sources, and your responses are expected to be in the form of an essay.

  6. What is a DBQ?

    DBQ stands for Document-Based Questions essay. While this essay is a crucial part of AP History exams, you'll also find multiple choice questions, short answers, and a long essay section on this exam. If you are taking multiple AP history courses, you may have to write multiple DBQ essays for each exam.

  7. Document-based question

    Document-based question. In American Advanced Placement exams, a document-based question ( DBQ ), also known as data-based question, is an essay or series of short-answer questions that is constructed by students using one's own knowledge combined with support from several provided sources. Usually, it is employed on timed history tests.

  8. How to Write a DBQ 2023: Definition, Step-By-Step, & DBQ Example

    Long story short, DBQ Essay or "Document Based Question" is an assigned academic paper which is part of the AP U.S. History exam (APUSH) set by the United States College Board. It requires a student's knowledge of a certain topic with evidence from around 3 to 16 reliable sources.

  9. What is DBQ & Why is it Important?

    A DBQ is a type of essay question, which means you'll have to write several paragraphs in response. These DBQs require you to use historical documents to analyze a trend or issue from the past. Each DBQ typically has five to seven documents for you to analyze.

  10. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Top Academic Ways and Tips

    The DBQ (Document-Based Question) can be defined as a special combination that takes up to eight short answers for an essay based on the scaffolding of the documents. Each DBQ task will provide specific information, like your essay's subject and the historical background, before you start scaffolding or identifying things.

  11. How to Write a DBQ Essay Step by Step + Example

    What Is a DBQ Essay: Main Definition. In simple terms, a DBQ Essay is an assignment that tests student's analytical and comprehension skills. There is a more formal definition of this term. DBQ stands for Document-Based Question. This type of essay is part of the AP US History (APUSH) exam established by the US College Board. Student's task is ...

  12. DBQ: The Ultimate Guide

    DBQ stands for "document-based question." DBQs appe ar on the Advanced Placement tests for all high school-level history courses.. Unlike standard essays that you might be more accustomed to, the DBQ requires you to work with primary and secondary sources to create a defensible thesis.

  13. Where to Find the Best DBQ Examples

    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. Doing 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.

  14. How to Write a DBQ Essay: Full Guide by HandmadeWriting

    A DBQ essay is a type of academic paper written on the basis of a Document Based Question. It implies that students will have some documents to be used as sources of information for writing an essay.

  15. How to write a dbq essay

    "DBQ" is a short form for document based question essay mostly assigned to students enrolled for AP U.S. History exam. It is aimed at determining the ability of a student to analyze documents and then use them to answer questions that have been provided in form of essay.

  16. DBQ Essays: What Are They and How Do You Write One?

    A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay is an essay in which you carefully study a specific document, analyze it, and then answer questions based on the document. This type of essay is meant to test your understanding and analysis skills. It also tests how much you can think outside the box. They are usually part of the AP U.S. History exam.

  17. PDF 2022 AP Student Samples and Commentary

    The intent of this question was to assess students' ability to articulate and defend an argument based on evidence provided by a select set of historical documents. The Document-Based Question (DBQ) asked students to evaluate the extent to which European imperialism had an impact on the economies of Africa and/or Asia.

  18. Analyze This: The DBQ Essay in 2015

    Literally, like never before because changes to the DBQ essay scoring rubric in 2015 mean that students must refine their ability to analyze documents and adopt a focused strategy that takes them beyond identification. The exam redesign is all about getting students to think more analytically (like a historian) and the new scoring rubric ...

  19. DBQ Meaning: Decoding the Purpose and Approach of Document-Based Questions

    How to Write the DBQ Essay. Writing a Document-Based Question (DBQ) essay can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can excel. Here are some tips to help you navigate through this writing task. Carefully read and understand the prompt. Pay attention to key words or phrases that will guide your analysis.

  20. Useful Tips How to Write a DBQ Essay

    What is a DBQ Essay - Meaning. DBQ stands for Document based question. This is an essay question subjected to every student doing AP History exams. This can be AP US History or the AP European History or the AP World History. The task in this kind of assessment will be mainly to analyze a historical-based issue or any sort of current trend ...

  21. What is DBQ? (Meaning, format, DBQ Score, How-to)

    What Does a DBQ Mean? A DBQ is an essay-type question that requires several paragraphs to be written as a response. Historical documents are used in DBQs for an issue or a trend analysis that relates to past events. In every DBQ, there are usually five to seven documents that can be used for analysis, ranging from secondary to primary sources ...

  22. How to Write a DBQ Essay (Example in Pictures)

    Suppose this is the question in your exam. You will be given documents (the number of the document varies) Analyze the documents and then brainstorm points that are relevant and can be linked to the points from documents. Make sure you give your essay a strong introduction. Add a minimum of 2 body paragraphs.