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.

The purpose of this page is to provide some DBQ Do's and Dont's, give examples of DBQs released by the College Board (other past DBQs are copyrighted and must be purchased from the College Board), provide a list of the past quarter-century of DBQ questions and offer other links to DBQ resources.

The U.S. History 2003 DBQ question will be a secret until the day of the test, which is Friday, May 9. The College Board no longer releases the time period of the DBQ.

Martin Luther King's first arrest during the Montgomery Bus 
Boycott. Possible DBQ topic: American Civil Rights in the 
1950s and 1960s?

DBQ Do's & Dont'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 analyis/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.

Complete DBQs

1997 Exam: Women's Rights: 1890-1925

1998 Exam: Jeffersonians and Strict Constructionism

1999 Exam: Colonial Attitudes Prior to the American Revolution

Past Document-Based Questions

The College Board has been creating DBQs for over 25 years. This list puts the questions in chronological order.

Links to other DBQ-related sites

Oswego High School Online Writing Guide: DBQ Essays