AP US History Free Response Help - DBQ/LEQ

5 min readoctober 29, 2020

sander-o

Sander Owens


👋 Worried about the FRQs on an upcoming APUSH exam or the actual AP exam? Don't worry! We're here to help you with a quick overview of what to expect on the Document-Based Question (DBQ) and the Long Essay Question (LEQ), as well as provide some advice from students who have done well on the APUSH exam.
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Image Wikimedia Commons Writing the essays for AP US History takes an immense amount of practice and discipline.

APUSH FRQ Overview

The APUSH FRQ section consists of two essays: the DBQ and the LEQ. The DBQ is an essay in which you have to answer a given prompt using seven documents that interpret the historical event. The LEQ is an essay with a variety of prompts where you have to create an argument without any stimuli.
The biggest advice for doing well on the APUSH essays is planning. Take this student's advice:
"It was much faster to write once I had all of the information planned based on the rubric requirements" - Arthi
It may seem like a waste of time to plan out your essay when you have less than an hour to write, but it makes a difference! You can plan however you plan best: a mental outline, a bulleted list, a more fancy outline, or any other method that works for you.

DBQ Overview 📜

The DBQ is the longer/more involved of the two essays for APUSH. You are given 60 minutes to write it, of which the first 15 are a planning/reading period.
You don't have a choice on the DBQ prompt, but it will only cover a topic from 1754 - 1980 (periods 3-8). The DBQ also includes seven documents that will interpret the events described in the prompt. The first step is to categorize those documents into 2-4 groups based on their common elements/views on the prompt.
You can increase your score just by knowing what to do. Simply writing a strong essay may not score as well if you don't know how to get all the points. Each one of these will score one point unless stated otherwise. Here's a quick, easy-to-read summary of the DBQ rubric:
  1. 👩‍⚖️ THESIS: Respond to the prompt with a claim about the prompt. Remember to take a stand on the prompt! An example of this might look like “Railroads supported empire-building by __________ and___________, BUT they undermined it by ________________." Use the categories you developed earlier to help fill in the blanks in your thesis!
  2. 🌎 CONTEXTUALIZATION: Describes the broader historical context relevant to the prompt. Think of what happened in the years/centuries leading up to the prompt (big events like global wars, trends, patterns, etc). You MUST connect this to the prompt.
  3. 🔍 EVIDENCE FROM THE DOCUMENTS: Use evidence from the docs to prove your point. Do not quote! Just use what the docs are saying to support your argument and cite them like this (2). Using evidence from 3 docs will score in 1 point while using evidence from 6 docs will score 2 points.
  4. 🚴‍♀️ OUTSIDE EVIDENCE: Consider people, places, events, and concepts that are NOT discussed anywhere in the documents and connect them to your argument.
  5. 🦛 SOURCING/HIPP: For at least 3 documents, you must explain how or why the broader historical context, intended audience, purpose, or point-of-view of a document is relevant to your argument. Use the acronym HIPP to remember this!!
  6. 🦄 COMPLEXITY: Demonstrates a deeper understanding of the prompt. You should weave a counter-argument throughout your essay. Don't stress too much about this one! It is pretty hard to get, and it's not something you can really try to add.
One of the easiest ways to get all of these points is to write it all down in a checklist next to your planning and tick them off as you go through.
"When I write essays, I like to have a checklist with me so I can keep count of what points I am confident I have earned" - Anna
Here's an outline that will help you write a concise, great essay!
  1. 👋 INTRO: 3-4 sentences of context to explain background information and relate it directly to the topic of the prompt. 1-2 sentence thesis statement that restates prompt + provides an argument.
  2. 👕 BODY PARAGRAPHS (INCLUDE AS MANY AS YOU HAVE CATEGORIES): Add a topic sentence to introduce your argument. Explain a piece of evidence from a document to back you up and connect that evidence directly to your argument. Source the document (HIPP)—choose Historical Context, Intended Audience, Purpose, or POV. Then, include a piece of evidence not mentioned anywhere in the documents and explain this outside evidence to strengthen your essay.
  3. 🧐 CONCLUSION: Sum up your argument with a counterargument, and rephrase your thesis. You can earn the thesis point here if it wasn't strong enough in the intro.
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Image Wikimedia Commons Hopefully this guide can serve as your map to success!

LEQ Overview 📝

The LEQ is the shorter of the two essays—you only have 45 minutes to write it. However, you have a choice between three prompts based on the periods: 1491 - 1800, 1800 - 1898, and 1898 - 2001. All three prompts will be about similar themes, so pick the one you can write about the most!
Like the DBQ, knowing the rubric is crucial! Each one of these will score one point unless stated otherwise.
  1. 👩‍⚖️ THESIS: Respond to the prompt with a claim about the prompt. Remember to take a stand on the prompt! An example of this might look like “Railroads supported empire-building by __________ and___________, BUT they undermined it by ________________." Use the categories you developed earlier to help fill in the blanks in your thesis!
  2. 🌎 CONTEXTUALIZATION: Describes the broader historical context relevant to the prompt. Think of what happened in the years/centuries leading up to the prompt (big events like global wars, trends, patterns, etc). You MUST connect this to the prompt.
  3. 🔍 EVIDENCE (x2): Provide specific historical examples to support your argument. These are specific people, places, and events. Explain your terms, and then connect it to your argument.
  4. 📚 HISTORICAL REASONING: Use comparison, causation, or CCOT to answer the prompt. You can answer the prompt using any skill, but choose one and stick to it!
  5. 🦄 COMPLEXITY: Demonstrates a deeper understanding of the prompt. You should weave a counter-argument throughout your essay. Don't stress too much about this one! It is pretty hard to get, and it's not something you can really try to add.

Helpful Links 🔗

Resources:

A Word of Encouragement... 📣

Throughout your review, remember these simple words: you will do fantastic! If you're reading this guide, it means you are taking steps to prepare for your exam. By following some of the advice we have given, you will become a much better writer and allow you to nail those essays!
You got this! 🎉

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Unit 1: Early Contact with the New World (1491-1607)
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