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AP European History Free Response Help - FRQ/LEQ

6 min readjanuary 6, 2021

Thomasina Lester

Feel scholarly as you answer free-response questions in AP European History! Image Courtesy of Pixabay

If you've heard of the AP European History exam, you've likely caught a few comments about the free-response questions. This section is particularly unique as it includes the document-based question and the long-essay question, which are signatures within the AP history courses.
The FRQ section is, arguably, the most important section of the exam. The section spans 1 hour and 40 minutes and represents 40% of your exam score, which means that learning how to tackle this exam format is crucial.
Here are some important facts, helpful tips and tricks, and practice questions to get you prepared for the FRQ section!

📋 Format and Question Types

After you complete the first section of the exam (multiple-choice and short-answer), you'll encounter the free-response question (FRQ) section. This section consists of 2 questions: the document-based question (DBQ) and the long-essay question (LEQ). The DBQ accounts for 25% of your exam score and the LEQ accounts for 15% of your exam score. You'll have a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete both questions. The College Board recommends that you spend 60 minutes on the DBQ and 40 minutes on the LEQ. However, these suggestions are not firm and you can determine the pace that works best for you.

❓ Tips to Ace Free-Response Questions

💯 1. Know the Rubrics

The rubrics for the DBQ and LEQ are essential to succeeding in the FRQ section. These FRQs aren't asking for your typical essay that you write in English class. Instead, you have to demonstrate your historical reasoning skills! The exam readers are looking for specific elements within your writing that show that you're able to develop a complex argument based on the prompt. Remember to attempt every rubric point!
📢If you'd like to explore the DBQ rubric with the help of an experienced student, watch How to Do the DBQ by Tejas Bhartiya! Want a similar live stream for the LEQ rubric? Watch Live LEQ Scoring with AP Readers by Kristopher Clancy!

📖 2. Read the Prompt

This tip might seem obvious, but it's easy to skim over the prompt to read the documents or jump into writing. Slow down and read the prompt. If you misread the prompt, your following argument, no matter how strong, won't be relevant. Responding to the prompt in the context of the incorrect time period is also an easy mistake to make! Prevent it by focusing on the prompt for a little longer than you might think. If you struggle to interpret the prompt, look at the task verb used and the time period to get a sense of the situation.

🔺 3. Focus on Earning Points

You don't need to write a beautiful response that you would proudly submit to your English teacher. Instead, focus on showing off your ability to craft a strong, nuanced argument based on historical knowledge and reasoning! Write every sentence with a purpose. If a sentence doesn't strengthen your argument in an attempt to earn a rubric point, you might want to consider going in a different direction. It can be difficult to maintain that balance, so keep practicing!

🏃 4. Find a Pace

One of the most helpful skills to learn for the exam is pacing. Because nothing is preventing you from spending the entire 1 hour and 40 minutes on the DBQ, it's important to budget your time. During your practice sessions, you should keep an eye on the clock and get a sense of your natural timing. Then, you can adjust to fit the time limitations on the exam. Some might want to strictly abide by the 60/40 rule and others might want to dedicate more time to one FRQ. Find what works for you and produces the best results!

🕵️ 5. Don't Get Caught Up in the Details

Think of your DBQ and LEQ as a rough draft, especially given the time limit. Don't worry too much about perfect spelling and grammar, as long as any errors don't prevent your exam reader from understanding your writing and argument. If you can't remember if Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517 or 1518, that's okay! As long as you're not off by multiple time periods, you're demonstrating your understanding of the historical timeline and specific events/dates/figures. These details aren't necessary to pass your exam (or even to earn a 5). Don't fret if you can't remember a detail or realize that you were a little off in something you wrote.

✏️ Sample Questions


Image Courtesy of College Board

Take a look at various prompts from the past few years to gain a sense of the questions asked on the exam. For example, the 2016 DBQ (as seen above) is a particularly specific prompt. Be prepared for anything! If you're struggling to answer the prompt, think about what you do know.
Here are few questions you could ask yourself when examining the prompt:
  • What do I know about Otto von Bismarck?
  • What do I know about his policies?
  • What is traditional conservatism? What is a new kind of conservatism?
  • What was happening in 19th century Europe?
If you can answer just one of those questions, you can develop a solid argument. You also have the documents to help you gain a little more context!
For light practice, look at a prompt and its documents and develop an outline of a DBQ. For heavy practice, fully answer a prompt in exam-like conditions and score yourself using the guidelines. Do what feels most beneficial to you at the time!


Image Courtesy of College Board

Take a look at a few LEQ prompts over the past few years to become more familiar with the type of questions asked on the exam. The 2018 LEQ (as seen above) is a fairly typical style of question to see. The LEQ can be difficult to master as you must rely, almost entirely, on your own knowledge. As you prepare for the LEQ, remember to review how different time periods connect, compare, contrast, and evolve.
You should practice your LEQ skills by answering real prompts. If you're short on time, you can practice by outlining your initial thoughts, which is a process that can be especially helpful on the exam. An alternative is to answer a prompt in exam-like conditions and score yourself using the guidelines, which can help you become more comfortable with the real exam format.

➕ Additional Resources

FRQs are released every year by the College Board, which means that you have an abundance of resources for practice! The College Board also releases scoring guidelines, samples, and commentary, making it easy to score yourself and become familiar with the scoring process. As tempting as it may be, you should try not to look at the scoring guidelines or samples before you attempt the prompt yourself. You won't have that sort of help on the exam!

⭐ Words of Encouragement

In the beginning, you might have trouble understanding and meeting the expectations of the FRQs. However, you'll become more successful and confident with time! Remember that consistent practice makes perfect. Use the available prompt archive to your advantage. As you become more familiar with the format and style, the prompts become so much more manageable. Remember to review the course content to build a strong foundation. Good luck in your AP Euro journey!

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