Document-Based Questions

The Advanced Placement exams in history (American, European, and now World) include multiple-choice questions, free-choice essays, and a document-based question (DBQ). This third type of question poses a question or asks the student to analyze an issue within the context of a group of documents, some of which the student may have seen, but many of which are new to the student. Students are expected to analyze and synthesize information from both the documents and their knowledge of American history. The emphasis is on thoughtful, fact-based interpretation, rather than the retelling of a narrative.

The purposes of this page are to provide some DBQ Dos and Don'ts and offer other links to DBQ resources.





(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Westward expansion:
a possible document-based question topic?

DBQ Dos & Don't's


Do the following things with a DBQ
Don't do the following things with a DBQ
Read carefully and make sure you understand the question being asked. Respond to a question that isn't asked.
Quickly jot down the major themes/events/people you associate with this topic or question. Use "I" statements such as "I think that Document A portrays..."
Read over the documents, noting the year and author/source of each one. If the document seems to support or oppose a possible perspective or opinion on the question, note that in the margin. Summarize the documents. The reader knows the content of the documents and is interested in how you view the document relating to the question.
Write out a preliminary thesis and outline of your major points. Quote long passages from the documents. Use an ellipsis "..." if you need to quote.
As you begin to write, remember to weave the documents into your answer, always focusing on the thesis. Try to impress the reader with big words that are used incorrectly. This has the opposite effect of what is intended.
Include your knowledge of the era along with your analysis of the documents. Spend so much time reading and underlining the documents that you have to rush your writing.
Be sure to include your own analysis/perspective on the question. Begin writing your answer until you have a good sense of your thesis and how you want to approach the question.
If you can knowledgeably quote or refer to an historian who has a perspective on this question, include his or her perspective. Write "I ran out of time" on the bottom of your essay. You had as much time as every test-taker in America.
Keep an eye on the clock so that you can have time to re-read your essay for any obvious technical errors.
Be as specific as possible when you include historical information.
Be assertive and forceful in making your points.