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. 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. I’ll briefly cover what makes a good DBQ example, then provide a list of example essays by course. Lastly, I’ve provided some 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 that:
Any DBQ essay example that they provide will include a real DBQ prompt.
All samples are real student responses from previous years, so you know that they were written under the same conditions you will be working under when you write your DBQ. In other words, they're authentic!
They not only have scores, they have explanations of each essay's score according to the terms of the rubric.
Each prompt includes several sample essays with a variety of scores.
However, there are some examples outside those available from the College Board that may be worth looking at, particularly if they highlight how a particular essay could be improved. But in general, a superior example will:
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.
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 below compiled lists, organized by exam, of high-quality example DBQs.
Don't spend all your study time sharpening your pencil.
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
Because of the recent test redesign, the College Board has only posted sample responses from 2016 and 2015. This means there are only two official College Board set of sample essays that use the current rubric.
Neither of these links include analysis (so you can look at the question separately from the scoring guidelines). When you're ready for the sample responses, here are the DBQ samples from 2015 and the samples from 2016.
If you want to see additional sample sets, you can also look at older College Board US History DBQ example response sets, all the way back to 2003. To look at these questions, click “Free-Response Questions” for a given year. For the corresponding DBQ examples and scoring guidelines, click “Sample Responses Q1.”
Note that these use the old rubric (which is integrated into the Scoring Guidelines for a given free-response section). General comments about the quality of the essay, outside information, and document analysis still apply, but the score is on a nine-point scale instead of the new seven-point scale, and some of the particulars will be different. Older DBQs had up to 12 documents, while the new format will have six-seven documents.
If you do look at older DBQ examples, I recommend using the new rubric to “re-grade” the essays in the sample according to the new seven-scale score. I'll also give more advice on how to use all of 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. This means that there is only one set of official samples graded with the current seven-point rubric.
The rest of the existing available samples were graded in the old, nine-point format instead of the seven-point format implemented this past year.
In the old format there were six “core” points and then three additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but I’ll highlight some key differences between the old and new formats:
In the old format, you were given a brief “historical background” section before the documents.
There were more documents—up to twelve. The new format will have 6-7.
There was an emphasis on “grouping” the documents that is not present in the new rubric.
There was also an explicit emphasis on correctly interpreting the documents that is not found in the new rubric.
The essential components of the DBQ are still the same between the two formats, although you should definitely look at the new rubric if you look at any of the old AP European History samples. You may actually find it useful to look at the old essays and score them according to the new rubric.
Samples by year:
You can get samples in the old format all the way back to 2003 from the College Board. (Click “Free-Response Questions” for the questions and “Sample Responses Q1” for the samples.)
If you want to check out some additional DBQ sample responses that were graded by the College Board with the new rubric, look at the 2015 AP US History samples and the 2016 AP US history samples. The content will of course be different, but the structure and scoring are the same as they will be for the AP Euro 2016 test.
AP European History: Unofficial Samples
Because of the rubric revision, other European History-specific samples are also in the old format. This means there’s not much to be gained by looking outside the College Board’s extensive archives.
However, the New York State Regents exam also has a DBQ on it. The format is not identical, and it is scored out of 5 under a different rubric, but I do like this European-History themed example from Regents Prep because it has highlighted sections that show where the documents are used versus where outside information is referenced. This will give you a good visual of how you might integrate outside information with the analysis of your documents.
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 has just transitioned to a new format to more resemble AP US History and AP European History for the 2017 test. This means that all currently available samples were graded in the old, nine-point format instead of the seven-point format to be implemented this year.
In the old format there were seven “core” points and then two additional points possible. The old rubric is integrated with the sample responses for each question, but I’ll highlight some key differences between the old and new formats:
There were more documents—up to ten. The new format will have 6-7.
There was an emphasis on “grouping” the documents on the old rubric that is not present in the new rubric.
There was also an explicit emphasis on correctly interpreting the documents that is not found in the new 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, although you should definitely look at the new rubric if you look at any of the old AP World History samples. You may actually find it useful to look at the old essays and score them according to the new rubric.
For whatever reason the questions and the samples with scoring notes are completely separate documents for World History, so you’ll need to click separate links to get the question and documents and then the responses.
If you want to take a look at some DBQs that have been graded with the new rubric, you could check out the 2015 and 2016 samples from AP US History and the 2016 samples from AP European History. The historical content is different, but this will give you an idea of how the new rubric is implemented.
Don't worry, the old format isn't as old as this guy right here.
How Should I Use DBQ Examples to Prepare?
So, now that you have all of these examples, what should you do with them? I'll go over some tips as to how you can use example DBQs in your own studying, including when to start using them and how many you should plan to review.
What Should I Do With These DBQs?
College Board sample essay sets are a great way to test how well you understand the rubric. This is why I 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 scores and scoring notes for the samples, you'll have a good idea of what parts of the rubric you don't really understand. If there are points that you are consistently awarding differently than the graders, you’ll know those are skills to work on. Keep giving points for the thesis and then finding out the sample didn't get those points? You'll know that you need to work 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.
You can check out my tips on building specific rubric-based skills in my article on how to write a DBQ.
Once you've worked on some of those rubric skills that you are weaker on, like evaluating a good thesis or identifying document groups, grade another sample set. This way you can see how your ability to grade the essays like an AP graderimproves over time!
Obviously, grading sample exams is a much more difficult proposition when you are looking at examples in an old format (e.g. AP European History or AP World History samples). The old scores as awarded by the College Board will be helpful in establishing a ballpark—obviously a 9 is still going to be a good essay under the 7-point scale—but there may be some modest differences in grades between the two scales. (Maybe that perfect 9 is now 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 new rubric, recruit a trusted study buddy or academic advisor (or even two study buddies!), and each re-grade the samples.
Then, you can discuss any major differences in the grades you awarded. Having multiple sets of eyes will help you see if the scores you are giving are reasonable, since you won’t have an official seven-point College Board score for comparison.
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 complete some practice grading on a sample set every few weeks to a month to check in on your progress towards thinking like an AP grader. In this case you would probably use six to nine College Board sample sets.
If, on the other hand, the exam is in a month and you are just trying to get in some skill-polishing, you might do a sample set every week to 10 days. It makes sense to check in on your skills more often when you have less time to study, because you want to be extra-sure that you are focusing your time on the skills that need the most work. So for a short time frame, expect to use somewhere in the range of three to four range College Board sample sets.
Either way, you should be integrating your sample essay grading with skills practice, and doing some practice DBQ writing of your own.
Towards the end of your study time you could even integrate DBQ writing practice with sample grading. Read and complete a timed prompt, 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 gotten that year and any areas you may 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 DBQ.
Hey, where can we find a good DBQ around here?
Closing Thoughts on Example DBQs
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 know what skills to focus on in your own prep.
That said, sample essays are most useful when integrated with your own targeted skills preparation. Grading a hundred sample essays won't help you if you aren't practicing your skills; you will just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And make sure you aren't using sample essays to avoid actually writing practice DBQs--you'll want to do at least a couple even if you only have a month to practice.
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!
Still not sure what a DBQ is? Check out my explanation of the DBQ.
Want tips on how to really dig in and study? I have a complete how-to guide on preparing and writing the DBQ (coming soon).
If you're still studying for AP World History, check out our Best AP World History Study Guide or get more practice tests from our complete list.
Want more material for AP US History? Look into this article on the best notes to use for studying from one of our experts. Also check out her 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:
Getting Familiar with AP World History
Congratulations on your assignment as an Advanced Placement (AP) World History teacher! This position will be both exciting and challenging. Most teachers in the history field are comfortable with the World History curriculum and find it rewarding to be able to teach an AP class. The CollegeBoard supports the idea that your school must develop its own curriculum for AP courses, instead of mandating any one curriculum for AP courses.
An invaluable resource for new AP World History teachers is the AP World History Teacher’s Guide. This guide has a comprehensive list of resources you can use to help you develop your AP World History Course. It was prepared by a seasoned AP World History teacher and has practical tips on how to approach teaching your AP course from start to finish.
The AP Course Audit provides you, as a new AP World History teacher, with a set of expectations for college-level courses. These expectations were developed by faculty at colleges and universities nationwide to ensure that AP courses provide students with an educational experience equal to that of an introductory college course in World History.
We have created this guide for you as a place to start your journey on teaching one of the most challenging AP courses offered.
Let’s get Started in Creating Your Course
Before you get started developing your course, you should become familiar with what the CollegeBoard’s expects you to teach. At the heart of any AP course is the Course Description. You may want to print and read through it several times. The description will give you an idea what will be included on the AP World History exam in May. The AP exam assesses how your students did in your course. It may be worth pointing out that your school and school district may also be graded based on your students’ AP test scores.
So, you should always teach with an eye to the AP exam, while still meeting all the objectives of the course. You can find examples of past multiple-choice and free-response questions on the AP World History Exam Page, and we will discuss how to create in-class assessments based on past tests.
Course Pace and Timing
Being a new AP teacher can be a challenge when it comes to the pace and timing of your course. It can be hard to stick to the calendar you have created, particularly if you have taught a world history survey course and had more time to teach the related topics. Pacing will be determined by both your school’s calendar and the date in May that the AP World History Exam falls on. From there, you can figure out how many instructional days you will have to teach the course.
The five themes and six historical periods will help you organize, so you know what to emphasize and the topics that will become the content of your course. We realize that when you sit down and read the Course Description for the first time, it may seem daunting. But don’t despair, for there are enough resources available to you that you will be able to put your course together with confidence.
Creating Your Syllabus
The next significant step in teaching an AP course is creating your course syllabus. As a new AP teacher, you must provide a course syllabus as part of your course audit. Again, the CollegeBoard AP World History home page gives you several model syllabi that you may use as a guide for your course. If possible, you may want to pick a model syllabus that uses the AP textbook that your school chose for your AP World History course. You might want to touch base with your department chair to see if a current or recent teacher has taught AP World History. The chair may have a copy of the syllabi you could use as a template.
Once you have selected a model syllabus that you are comfortable with and works for you, look at your school calendar so that you can adjust your course to the number of teaching days you will have. You will have to be flexible; some concepts may take longer to teach than you had planned. After you have created a draft of your syllabus, you might want to get with your history department colleagues (AP or non-AP) and see what areas may be challenging for students to grasp.
Don’t be shy! Get out there and network with other teachers at your school or even in the district. Ask for any resources or suggestions others may have to help you during your first year teaching AP World History. Even though the resources you get may not apply to your particular AP course, it is better to have too much material than struggle to find content later while you are in the middle of teaching the course.
Now that you have finished your syllabus and you have collected resources from your colleagues, it is time to develop your course materials.
Creating Your Course Materials
After you have reviewed what content you will be covering in your course, begin to create your assignments and assessments. To make sure that your syllabus is in concert with the exam, you should download the latest available released AP World History exams.
On the Course Audit Page, you will find free, downloadable practice exams. They are available for in-class use, but not available to students. To download the AP Practice Exam, just sign into your AP Course Audit account and follow the “Secure Documents” link.
The 2013 AP World History Exam is available for your use. It is the actual exam that was administered so you can get a feel for what your student will see when they take the exam in May. The AP World History Exam Page has free-response questions, scoring guidelines, sample responses, and score distributions back to the 2002 exam. You can download as many released exams as you wish, but make sure that you follow the CollegeBoard guidelines on using exams in class. To be safe, you may want to use the AP released test questions only during class.
You should begin creating your class notes and presentations as you are working on your assignments and assessments. Since most students are visual learners, most teachers use PowerPoint slides as their mode of presentation. As you flesh out your units in PowerPoint, use a variety of resources to help you create bullet points, examples, charts, maps, and graphs.
Another great source of variety you can use are YouTube videos. They will add some great realism and actual historical events to your class. As with anything on the Internet, be careful and only download videos from reliable educators. Google is also a great source for charts, graphs, and photographs to insert into your PowerPoint slides. You will be investing a great deal of time and effort into creating your presentations and class notes, make sure you have a backup of all your pictures and videos.
After you have finished a draft of your class notes, flesh them out and make sure that you have not forgotten anything that might be on the AP exam. To accomplish this, you can do back and review all the released AP World History exams, both multiple choice and free response, that you were able to find.
Learning Management Systems
Our students today live and breathe technology. By providing your students with access to course content (PowerPoints, syllabus, class notes, assignments, etc.) through a portal, like a learning management system, will be a great aid for learning. This will provide your students access to material whenever and wherever they want. An online presence is also helpful for students who were absent and will also keep you from having to make or hand-out copies of material that they lost or forgot to bring to class.
There are many options for online technology. Check with your school district to review their technology plan. The rage today in online access is Google Docs because it is user-friendly, and your students can access your course materials on any device at any time. Other options are Moodle and Blackboard. Again, your school’s tech department will let you know if your school has a site license and user support for the system that you end up choosing.
You will need to establish your own requirements for notes. You can use guided reading questions for students to use in helping them take notes on their reading assignments. It may help them if you collect and grade their notes so they can use them to prepare for assessments throughout the course. Note-taking is a personal choice for your students, but many like to use Cornell notes. Some students will struggle with taking notes, so you may need to give them suggestions on how to take good notes. Good notes will yield great results when it comes time to review for the AP exam.
Creating Quizzes and Tests
This chart may come in handy so you can get a big picture view of the structure, timing, and weight of all the AP World History Exam questions.
|Section||Questions Type||# of Questions||Timing||% of Total Exam Score|
|I||Part A: Multiple Choice|
– Questions appear in sets of 2 to 5
– You will analyze historical texts, interpretations, and evidence
– Primary and secondary sources, images, graphs, and maps are included
|Part B: Short-Answer Questions (SAQs)|
– Questions provide opportunities for you to explain the historical examples that you know best
– Some questions include texts, images, graphs, or maps
|II||Part A: Document-Based Question (DBQ)|
– You will analyze and synthesize historical data
– You will assess written, quantitative, or visual materials as historical evidence
|1||55 Minutes (includes 15-minute reading period)||25%|
|Part B: Long Essay Question (LEQ)|
– You can select one question among the two given
– You will explain and analyze significant issues in world history
– You will develop an argument supported by an analysis of historical evidence
|1 (chosen from a pair)||35 minutes||15%|
To prepare students for the AP World History exam in May, you should use the AP exam format for your in-class tests. As you can see from the chart, the AP World History exam has 55 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions. The first part of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions that will test your students’ content knowledge by analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources. The first section also contains a series of short answer questions that addresses one or more of the course themes.
The second part of the AP World History exam contains the document-based question (DBQ) and long essay questions (LEQ). These questions will that ask your students to demonstrate historical content knowledge and thinking skills through written responses.
You can even give additional FRQs for extra points. The key to mastering the FRQs is to give your students the chance to practice, practice, and then practice even more.
Multiple-Choice Questions – You can go through each AP World History multiple-choice test you find and separate out all the questions by theme and historical period. Since you are probably not going to be able to cut and paste the test questions, you can use one of the following methods of saving the questions to your computer:
You can create a screenshot of the questions using use the Print Screen (PrtSc) function on your computer to take a screenshot of each page of the test. You can then paste the image into whatever program that you are familiar with (Word, Paint, Photoshop), crop this image, and save the multiple-choice question, complete with all five answer choices, in the folder of the topic it was taken from. You should name the file referencing the year of the exam and the question number, the correct answer choice, and the question subject. For example, 2013 11b trans-Saharan trade.
Another way to get the questions in a usable form is labor intensive. You could use Word to copy individual test questions manually. Even though this method is time-consuming, it may be preferable to you. Make sure you use the same naming methodology to document and keep track of each question.
Free-Response Questions – You should do the same for the free response questions (FRQs) as well, but this is not as easy to accomplish as the multiple-choice questions. The released AP World History FRQs require some time to analyze the responses that the AP readers are looking for. But having the FRQs available for the students to use is the best way to get your students to practice writing their short answers and essays that make up 60% of the AP World History Exam.
For the FRQs, your students will have to use the historical thinking skills that you will help them develop over the course of the term. The nine historical thinking skills are found in the Rubrics for AP Histories plus Historical Thinking Skills resource on the CollegeBoard website. This resource also has the grading rubrics for the DBQ and LEQ. The rubric will give you an idea of how the points available for those essay questions are scored.
Developing Daily Assignments
You can use the AP World History practice and released exam questions you have compiled, to create in-class assignments and assessments. An excellent way to engage your class as soon as you walk in the room is through “bellringers”. You can have them begin as soon as they sit down. The question should be from the material you covered the previous class period so they can go back through that material to come up with the correct answer. If you have a multiple-choice question, have them write down the question and their answer choice. If you have chosen an FRQ, have them student write down the question and then work through the prompt.
The more “bellringer” assignments you have, the more practice they will have on answering questions in the style and format of the AP World History exam because it is important to get them comfortable with the CollegeBoard’s style of questioning.
You are free to use sources other than released AP World History exams, but you should ensure that your course remains focused on the material and format of the AP exam. The more comfortable to get with teaching AP World History, the more you will be able to develop your own style while still getting your students prepared for the AP World History exam in May.
Resources for New AP World History Teachers
Useful Information Sources
The resources relating to the field of world history are expanding continuously, so it is a good idea to keep up on new resources that are released. The best way you can stay connected with world history educators like yourself is by joining the AP World History Community on the CollegeBoard website.
This website is professional learning network connecting AP World History teachers from around the world. The more active you become in the discussions in the community, the richer of an experience you and your peers will have. With your help, the AP World History community will grow, and you can support your peers and your classroom through your contributions.
What Tools can I Find in the Community?
Here are some online tools you can use to help you become more comfortable as a new AP World History teacher:
There are tools you can use to:
- Engage in topic driven discussions
- Locate classroom-ready materials and resources
- Search through the curriculum framework and share strategies
- Network with your AP World History peers
- Get email digests and advice on activities in the community
The Way Forward
As a new AP World History teacher, you will find this assignment both challenging and worthwhile. Just keep an open mind to the resources available to you to support you and provide additional depth to your course. If you do a little research, you will find great material out there for teaching AP World History, such as video clips, documentaries, and international newspapers that are not usually covered in the US press. These resources are a great way for you to explain how events that occur around the world impact their lives. When your students can tie their classroom learning experience with real-world events, they are more likely to sit up and take an interest in your class and that, in many cases, will translate into a higher AP World History test score.
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