Apush Dbq Example Essays 2015

The AP US History Document-Based Question (DBQ) can be intimidating at first. With some practice and careful studying, though, DBQs can be a lot of fun.

One of the most useful things you can do to ensure a high score on the DBQ is to look over past DBQ questions. Previous years’ questions give you an opportunity to practice your historical thinking and writing skills. Also, the CollegeBoard releases information about how they graded each one of these prompts, so you can get a sense of what you should emphasize in your writing and how you would have done on that exam.

To help you study for this year’s AP U.S. History DBQ, we will spend this post walking through the 2015 U.S. History DBQ. You will learn what the 2015 test-takers did right and wrong, as well as what you need to do to get full credit when you take the exam. By the end of the post, you will have a solid grasp of what graders were looking for in the 2015 exam as well as what you need to do more generally to get full credit on the DBQ section of the test.

Before we dive deep into the 2015 DBQ prompt, however, let us briefly review what the U.S. History DBQ is and how the CollegeBoard scores it.

Format of the AP US History DBQ

Be aware that resources from before the 2014-2015 school year detail an old AP U.S. History exam format. The CollegeBoard now uses an exam format with different standards. Here, we focus on the current form.

The DBQ asks you to make an argument based on a series of included historical documents as well as your knowledge of United States historical context (see here). You have 55 minutes to write your response. The CollegeBoard suggests that you spend 15 of those minutes reading the documents and the remaining 40 minutes writing your essay.

You can earn a maximum of seven points for the DBQ question. The points are split up into the following seven categories (see here), with one point for each category:

  1. Thesis
  2. Argument Development
  3. Use of the Documents
  4. Sourcing the Documents
  5. Contextualization
  6. Outside Evidence
  7. Synthesis

Each point in the rubric is earned independently, meaning if you miss one point, you will not necessarily get marked down on other points as well (see here).

However, keep in mind that you need to show unique evidence that you address each point in the rubric. So, if you receive a point for sourcing documents in a particular sentence, you cannot also receive points for your thesis in the same sentence.

We will go through the specifics of how you can get each of these seven points in a bit, but first, let us consider the DBQ prompt for the 2015 AP U.S. History Exam, so you can see examples of how real DBQ responses were scored based on these seven criteria.

The 2015 AP U.S. History DBQ Prompt

In 2015, the DBQ prompt was as follows (see here):

Explain the reasons why a new conservatism rose to prominence in the United States between 1960 and 1989.

Along with the prompt were six included documents, each meant to be analyzed and synthesized for you to build an argument based on the prompt. Here we will just summarize each one so you can follow along, but you are encouraged to look at the full documents by clicking on their links below.

  1. A passage from Barry Goldwater’s 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative (see here), expressing concern for what he terms “Big Government”.
  2. A section of Milton Freedman’s 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom (see here), arguing that free markets better enable social progress than government interventions.
  3. A letter to Nelson Rockefeller (governor of New York) in 1971 from a constituent concerned by what she perceives as policies that favor drug addicts and people on welfare (see here).
  4. An excerpt from Listen America, by Jerry Falwell (television evangelist) that argues Americans have lost their biblical foundations, resulting in widespread immorality (see here).
  5. The 1980 Republican Party Platform emphasizing their view that the Carter Administration was diplomatically weak (see here).
  6. An excerpt from Teddi Holt (1984), a homemaker and president of Mothers On the March, who argues for traditional male and female gender roles based on biblical principles (see here).

How to Get All 7 Points in the AP US History DBQ

1. Write a Strong Thesis Statement

What is the main point you are trying to get across in the essay? AP graders want you to clearly write a thesis statement in either your introduction or conclusion. A good thesis statement should make a historically defensible claim and encapsulate the entire argument for your essay in a sentence or two (see here). A good thesis should also respond to all parts of the DBQ prompt. If you write a thesis that succeeds at checking all these boxes, graders will award you your first point. Let us examine what a good thesis statement would look like for the 2015 DBQ and how to avoid writing a bad one.


A 2015 student, for instance, posed the following argument (see here):

“Many claim that the new conservatism rose to prominence in the U.S. between 1960 and 1989 because of the instability of the economy. However, three more important causes were the left activist influence on politics, the break-up of the traditional family life, and the effects of the counter-culture within society. Therefore, the rise of the new conservatism resulted from the desire for a return to structure and order.”

This thesis is good because it makes a historically defensible claim that explains the rise of new conservatism. Specifically, the claim stresses political and social changes as drivers for the movement from 1960 through 1989. As such, it responds to all parts of the prompt as well.

The specifics of your argument depend on what you find most interesting about the question, what you know most about the surrounding historical context, and the included document’s themes. For instance, another good thesis from a student who took the 2015 exam concentrated on the economic and foreign policy reasons for the rise of new conservatism (see here):

“The most important factors that contributed to the birth of the new conservative movement were a desire for more reliance on free-market capitalism, a society oriented toward traditional morals and values, and a government that was strong on both foreign and domestic policy.”

Both theses go beyond rewriting the prompt and specifically address the characteristics of historical change that the students plan to discuss in the remainder of their response.

If your thesis makes a historically defensible claim, responds to all parts of the question, and occurs in the introduction or conclusion, the graders will give you one point for successfully writing a thesis statement (see here).


A bad thesis statement, on the other hand, may not include one or all of the things that make a good thesis. For instance, such a thesis may be vague and not contain a historically defensible claim, like this one from a 2015 test-taker (see here):

“The period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s saw the rise of a political movement known as the new conservatism. The movement grew due to social, economic, and political tides which existed during the Cold War era.”

While the student mentioned the topic, they just restated the prompt, with only vague indications of what they plan to talk about next. To make a historically defensible claim, they need to be more specific about what they mean by “social, economic, and political tides” for instance.

On the other hand, a thesis might successfully make a historically defensible claim, but fail on other counts. Take this statement from another 2015 test taker’s DBQ response (see here):

“Conservatives wanted smaller government, lower taxes, and stronger foreign policy.”

While the statement is a historically defensible claim, it does not address the prompt. The prompt specifically asks for reasons why new conservatism rose from 1960-1989—not just for characteristics of conservatism. To get credit for having a thesis, you need to address every aspect of the prompt fully. Read the prompt carefully! One of the most common problems on the 2015 exam was that students misread the prompt and focused on a small part of it rather than explicitly answering the question (see here).

2. Develop the Thesis into a Cohesive Argument

To earn a point for argument development, graders want you to avoid simply listing facts in support of your thesis. The CollegeBoard wants you to explicitly illustrate the relationship between your thesis and each piece of evidence you cite (see here). Instead of only listing a string of facts and documents from memory, they want you to talk about how each piece of evidence either contradicts, corroborates, or qualifies your main thesis. Let us take a look at a couple of good and bad ways of developing arguments in the 2015 DBQ.


For instance, one test-taker in 2015 effectively used a contradiction between the substance of two included documents to flesh out the argument for their thesis (see here):

“The main reasons for a rise of conservatism, according to conservatives such as Friedman, were the need for greater individual freedom. However, some religious conservatives did not agree. Falwell (Document 4) and the Moral Majority saw the problem as immoral behaviors and selfishness encouraged by the media. They called for less individual freedom and more respect for authority.”

Another test-taker earned a point by corroborating their thesis with historical evidence (see here):

“The conservative movement arose due to a backlash against the prevalence of liberals and the counter-culture in the period. Holt (Document 6) attacks the rise of feminism; similarly, Jerry Falwell argues that young people have been taught moral ambiguity and introduced to a “drug culture” (Document 4). Other conservatives complained about anti-war and civil rights protests in the 1960’s.”

A third way to relate historical evidence to your overall thesis is to provide qualification. For instance, one student qualified the new conservative movement by emphasizing their advocacy for military spending (see here):

“Although the biggest reason for the rise of the conservative movement was public opposition to the expansion of the federal government, conservatives made an exception in this position by advocating more spending on the U.S. military in fighting the Soviet Union.”

All three of these excerpts illustrate that the test-takers developed their thesis into a cohesive argument and would have earned one point for the argument development section of the rubric.


On the other hand, graders will not award you a point if you string together facts without explicitly relating them back to your thesis. For instance, bad argument development might just list the facts of the different documents without using them to contradict, corroborate, or qualify the thesis. To illustrate, let us rework one of the good samples above:

“Friedman favored greater individual freedom (Document 2). Falwell (Document 4) and the Moral Majority argued that the media encouraged immoral behavior and selfishness. They called for people to respect authority.”

Note that the facts used in these sentences are the same as in the example of good development of argument through contradiction. However, while the facts are relevant to the question, the writer does not explicitly address how they come to bear on the thesis. As a result, we are left not knowing how the writer intends to mobilize the documents to make their point. This point is subtle but important: make sure you are making an explicit argument with the historical evidence. Otherwise, you will not receive a point for the argument development section of the DBQ rubric.

3. Use 6 Documents from the Included Documents

To get the point for the “Use of the Documents” section of the DBQ rubric, you will need to use the at least six of the documents to support your thesis. It is not enough to simply quote or paraphrase a document for it to count, though. You must explicitly connect it to your thesis (i.e. in the same way as the Argument Development point). Let us take a look at good and bad examples of document references from the 2015 DBQ.


For instance, for one of their six document references, one 2015 test-taker wrote (see here):

“Beginning in 1960, Republican candidates began to stress the liberal encroachment of all our civil liberties. Goldwater, a Republican senator, acknowledged that Democrats like Roosevelt had defied the constitution that Americans held dear.”

In this case, the writer explicitly uses the information from Document 1 to support the notion that the new conservatism arose as a result of perceived liberal departures from the Constitution. If the writer successfully applies at least six documents to the thesis in this way, the writer will receive one point for “Use of the Documents”.


Contrast the above excerpt with this 2015 test taker’s work (see here):

“Teddi Holt was a homemaker and a member of the growing organization ERA (Equal Rights Association) for women. She held the point of view that women needed to speak out against loss of values and discrimination.”

While the test-taker successfully mentioned Document 6, they misread the point of the document (with an emphasis on preserving traditional gender roles). Furthermore, the writer does not say how this point connects to a larger discussion of how the desired return to traditional values fueled new conservatism.

To get the point for the “Use of the Documents” section of the AP U.S. History DBQ, be sure to include your documents only in service of your larger thesis. For each document you add to your response, you should ask yourself the question: “How does this document relate to my thesis?” Be sure to explicitly state your answer to the question whenever you mention a document. Otherwise, you will miss out on one of the 7 DBQ points.

4. Explain the Significance of 4 Documents’ Social and Historical Context

To get the point for the “Sourcing the Documents” section of the rubric, you must account for the significance of four documents’ social and historical context. For specific examples of test-takers who successfully explained the significance of DBQ documents, consider the following “good” examples.


For instance, you may mention the significance of the document author’s point of view in forming the argument they present in the document. One test-taker wrote (see here):

“Milton Friedman refuted the idea that welfare programs help solve the problems they are aimed at (Doc 2). As a conservative economist, Friedman makes a case for why capitalism and markets are better than welfare spending.”

The student mentions Friedman’s point of view as a conservative economist as a means of qualifying what he said about welfare programs. After all, his statements could have vastly different social implications if a liberal economist, or a director of a government welfare agency wrote them.

You might also explain the significant of an author’s purpose in creating the document. For instance, another test-taker wrote (see here):

“Jerry Falwell (Document 4) attacks the moral decay and de-emphasis of American exceptionalism as the leader of the ‘Moral Majority,’ for the purpose of inspiring political action to correct the potentially corrupting influences of the media on children.”

The test-taker explicitly addresses how Falwell’s purpose in writing Document 4 plays a role in interpreting the document. Further treatment of the source may deal with how the significance of purpose plays into the document’s usefulness as a source of historical information.

Another approach to take is to explain how the document fits into larger historical trends and what significance these larger trends may have on the interpretation of the document. For instance, one test-taker addressed the context surrounding the 1980 Republican platform statement (Document 5) (see here):

“A major issue of Carter’s presidency was the Iran hostage crisis, where Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and took hostages. Carter’s lack of response made the U.S. look diplomatically and militarily weak. In the 1980 Republican platform (Doc. 5), the authors allude to the humiliation of the hostage crisis and vow never to show that kind of weakness.”

The significance here of the document’s surrounding historical context lies in the national emotions surrounding Jimmy Carter’s presidency and how the Republican Party tapped into those emotions in forming their 1980 platform.

The intended audience might also be a significant factor in the authorship of a document. Another student wrote (see here):

“Writing as the leader of the movement ‘Mothers on the March,’ Teddi Holt (Document 6) creates a sense of community with other ‘mothers’ in her writing by asking them to stand up for their homes and their children.”

The test-taker takes into account Holt’s audience, making the particular language she uses in her document more understandable in a social and historical context.

If you use any of the preceding approaches to demonstrate the significance of the social and historical context of four of your documents, you will receive a point for the “Sourcing the Documents” section of the rubric.


A common mistake that test-takers make is to mention the social and historical context of a source, but not address the significance of that context for the production of the document. You must address the significance of the social and historical context for four documents to get the “Sourcing the Documents” point on the DBQ rubric.

For instance, while this student mentions the author’s point of view, they do not explain its significance (see here):

“The Republican Party Platform (Document 5) obviously expresses the conservative view of one political party in that year’s presidential election.”

Merely stating the point of view of an author is not enough to get you a point. You must address the role that point of view played in generating the document at hand.

Similarly, another student explicitly mentions the purpose of a document (see here):

“The purpose of the letter to Rockefeller (Document 3) is describing the crime and poverty faced by law-abiding citizens of New York in 1971.”

However, the student makes no effort to analyze why this purpose played a role in driving the citizen to draft a letter to Governor Rockefeller and how the citizen’s purpose might play into how we use the document as evidence in support of our thesis.

In the same way, if you only hint at the intended audience without explicitly telling the reader why the audience significantly influences the document’s content, you will not receive credit. Consider this student’s response (see here):

“Falwell (Document 4) is a television evangelist who tells his audience that television introduces children to drugs and permissive values.”

While the test-taker mentions an audience, they do not discuss the role this audience played in the construction of Falwell’s message. In every instance, be sure to explicitly state why the social or historical context you are describing is important for the generation of the document.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that describing a social or historical context and its significance is not enough. To receive credit, you must describe the correct historical context for the document. For instance, this student incorrectly attributes Barry Goldwater’s Document 1 statements to an earlier period (see here):

“The context of Document 1 is due to Goldwater’s attempt to use this as a platform for his losing presidential campaign against Johnson’s Great Society.”

In summary, to ensure that you get credit for this section of the DBQ be sure to describe the correct context for four of the documents (whether that be the author’s point of view, purpose, historical context, or audience) as well as explicitly state the significance of each context. It would be a shame to get marked down for something you implicitly know but did not say explicitly!

5. Contextualize Your Thesis in Light of Broader Trends in United States History

To get the “Contextualization” point, you will need to state how your thesis fits into the larger U.S. historical context. Specifically, you should contextualize your position based on your understanding of U.S. History outside of the included documents. Let us take a look at what good and bad examples of contextualizing might be for the 2015 DBQ.


Some relevant trends that the CollegeBoard looked for when they graded the “Contextualization” point in the 2015 DBQ included the following (see the full list here):

  • Reactions against the perceived permissiveness of the 1960s and 1970s, including the counterculture, anti-war protest movement, feminism, and the sexual revolution
  • The Cold War and the ongoing thread of anticommunism in the post- World War II United States
  • Reactions against the perceived excesses of government interventions in the economy and society, such as New Deal or social welfare programs, or the Johnson administration’s Great Society agenda
  • Concerns about United States economic stagnation, combined with belief in free-market solutions
  • Concerns about increased crime and the perceived need for greater law and order

Notice that each one of these are broad-strokes but correct statements about general patterns in U.S. History. If you contextualize your thesis in one of these ways, you will receive a point for “Contextualization” in the rubric.

It can be tough to practice the “Contextualization” point since you will not know the prompt ahead of time. However, the CollegeBoard will not ask any questions that focus exclusively on events before 1607 or after 1980 (see here). So, if you study the remaining seven major periods the AP U.S. History Exam focuses on, you should be able to write a sentence or two about the broad trends from any one of these periods. For the DBQ, it will then be easier for you to address how your thesis fits into these broad trends you’ve studied.


You will not receive a point for this section if you discuss a historical context outside the question’s time period. So, for instance, one student wrote (see here):

“The new conservatism began to rise during the Eisenhower Administration and McCarthy’s attacks on Communists in government.”

While the statement may be tangentially relevant, it does not contextualize the specific rise of new conservatism from 1960-1989—the focus of the question.

Another common way to lose a point for this section was to talk about the historical trends of the period, but not to explicitly tie them into the focus of the question: the rise of conservatism. For example, another student argued that (see here):

“The rise of the Cold War led many Americans to become more patriotic and defensive of American values and spend more on the military. Conservatives rose to object to perceived attacks on capitalism by liberals and leftists in the 1960’s and 1970’s.”

While this is a descriptive statement of the period, the test-taker did not tie these broader trends into why a new conservatism arose. They might have mentioned, for instance, what about the Cold War inspired particularly conservative American values or how liberals and leftists were perceived as attacking capitalism. Thus, even though the test-taker correctly identified trends, they did not receive a point for “Contextualization.”

6. Provide a Piece of Evidence Beyond the Documents

Be sure to include an additional piece of evidence to support your thesis beyond the documents. To to be awarded the “Outside Evidence” point on the rubric, graders want you to discuss the material you have studied about the period. Let us take a look at what good and bad examples of additional evidence might be for the 2015 DBQ.


For instance, some of the terms and events the CollegeBoard looked for in the 2015 DBQ were as follows (see here for the full list):

  • Antiwar protests
  • Assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X
  • Black Power movement
  • Civil Rights Act (1964)
  • Debates over nuclear weapons
  • Deregulation of industry
  • Détente
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
  • Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”

To get credit for your knowledge of these events, you should explicitly state how your outside knowledge supports your overall thesis. For instance, one student wrote (see here):

“The legalization of interracial marriage by the Supreme Court and the increase in numbers of openly gay people, as well as the association of the youth counterculture with experimentation with drugs and sex, provided conservatives like Falwell with evidence of changing social morals.”

The student ties their knowledge of outside events in with their argument for how new conservative attitudes developed during the period. The student even transitions into talking about Jerry Falwell, in a transition back towards their discussion of Falwell’s Document 4 excerpt.


On the other hand, if you do not mention any evidence outside of the included documents, you will not receive a point for “Outside Evidence.”

Additionally, outside evidence that is not related to the time period of the question or not specifically connected to the question of conservatism will not pass muster. One student wrote, for example (see here):

“The actions of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower created a sense of social security that Americans had come to rely upon.”

Truman and Eisenhower’s presidencies occurred before the question’s time period, and their policies are thus not relevant for answering the question. Using external evidence in this way would not result in a point for the section.

7. Show how Your Argument Corresponds to Larger Historical Themes or Developments in other Historical Periods

The CollegeBoard devotes one “Synthesis” point in the US History DBQ rubric to how well you extend your argument and show how it corresponds to larger historical themes or developments in other historical periods. Let us take a look at a couple of good and bad ways test-takers extended their arguments in the 2015 exam.


One way of extending your argument to earn the “Synthesis” point is to connect the argument to a development in a different historical period, situation, era, or geographical area (see here). For instance, this student compares the rise of the new conservatism to a similar process in the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century (see here):

“The rise of a new outlook in response to the troubles of society is similar to what happened during the Second Great Awakening. During that time, many religious people in America were unsatisfied with the way their society had developed. Thus, in both periods, societal developments reinvigorated religious thinking and helped the U.S. return to past ideals.”

Other successful syntheses for the 2005 DBQ prompt might include comparing the rise of the new conservatism to earlier coalitions that formed concerning the New Deal, or linking the rise of the new conservatism in this period to the later emergence of the Tea Party (for more ideas, see here).

Another good way to extend your argument is to connect your thesis to broader themes outside the narrow bounds of the question itself. For instance, one test-taker related the rise of new conservatism in terms forming new types of American identities (see here):

“Although political and social factors were important to the rise of conservatism, the movement can be seen as creating a new form of identity similar to that of ethnic groups that advocated for rights in the 1960’s.”

The CollegeBoard emphasizes that thematic connections must go beyond just mentioning a phrase like “identity” (see here). Instead, thematic connections must make a substantive claim about how the theme could have led to rising conservatism. Note that the test-taker above clearly states how identity groups like ethnic groups in the 1960’s advocated for rights and constructed their identities in a similar way that new conservative identities emerged from 1960-1989.

If you extend your argument in either of these two ways, you will earn a point for the “Synthesis” component of the DBQ rubric.


You will not earn a “Synthesis” point, however, if you do not accurately connect your argument to a historical development or theme. For instance, this 2015 test-taker mentioned another historical development, but did not explain the way that the events from the two periods correspond (see here):

“The rise of conservatism during this period mirrored that which arose during the changing social conditions and rapid influx of immigrants during the Gilded Age.”

If you choose to emphasize a thematic connection, note that it must be outside the main focus of the question. Otherwise, the thematic connection is not a comparison or a novel synthesis! It is simply supporting evidence, identical with the main point of the essay. For instance, this test-taker argued (see here):

“Although the new conservatism mostly arose due to a reaction against liberal social programs, it also benefited from public disappointment with politicians in general.”

Because the 2015 DBQ prompt is fundamentally about a rising political conservative movement that emerged between 1960 and 1989, this excerpt does not add thematic perspective on the phenomenon beyond what the prompt and the documents give us. Therefore, this test-taker would not receive a “Synthesis” point.

Next Steps

Now that we have walked through the steps to get all seven points on the 2015 DBQ, it is your turn to practice!

It is one thing to read about writing responses. To truly prepare for the AP U.S. History DBQ, though, you need to practice writing DBQ responses. Now that you know exactly what test-makers are looking for in the 2015 response, why don’t you try your hand at reading the documents and writing your own response to the same prompt?

Focus on including all 7 points we have talked about here. Try to mimic the good test-takers from 2015 in earning each DBQ point. If you practice taking enough DBQs, it will become automatic for you to write a DBQ essay and it will be a breeze when you take the exam.

Practice makes perfect!

Looking for AP US History practice?

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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)

I return to the question with which I began: How can the Union be saved? There is only one way. That is by a full and final settlement based on the principle of justice, of all the disputes between the two sections. The South asks for justice, simple justice. Less it ought not to accept. It has no compromise to offer but the Constitution, and no concession or surrender to make. It has already surrendered so much that it has little left to surrender. Such a settlement would remove all the causes of dissatisfaction. It would satisfy the South that it could remain honorably and safely in the Union. It would bring back the harmony and good feelings between the sections that existed before the Missouri question. Nothing else can finally and forever settle the questions at issue, end agitation, and save the Union. John Calhoun, March 4, 1850

Historical Context: Speech given at the height of the tension and debate over the various elements of the Compromise of 1850. The vote on the measures were in doubt and the North and South were in great conflict.
Intended Audience: Southern conservatives, other states’ rights supporters, and Northerner opponents.
Point of View: The Compromise was flawed. Slavery was a constitutional right of property that could go anywhere. The South demanded justice.
Purpose: To bolster the South and unite its supporters in opposition to the Compromise.
Organization/Use: Depending on the prompt, it could be used as evidence:
  • 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.

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