AP Notes, Outlines, Study Guides, Vocabulary, Practice Exams and more!

Helpful Guidelines to Writing a DBQ/FRQ

2 posts / 0 new
Last post
Ravens's picture
Joined: Oct 2006
Helpful Guidelines to Writing a DBQ/FRQ

Writing for the AP U.S. History Exam

Many students (including myself) sometimes stress out when it comes to writing a DBQ or FRQ. This may be due to a variety of different reasons, but the fact remains that in order to score well on the exam, you must be able to write. Now this should not discourage those of you who aren't going to win the Pulitzer prize anytime soon. Although writing is an art form in itself, writing a high scoring DBQ or FRQ can be done through practice and of course studying.
This brings me to my next point. Writing an effective DBQ/FRQ doesn't start when you get the prompt and begin pre-writing. It starts as soon as you enter your history classroom each day. Nothing can replace genuine studying and the reading of your textbook. You can't expect to score well on the AP exam if you don't pay attention in class and religiously read your textbook. It just can't be done. I hate to echo what you have almost undoubtedly heard from your teachers, but do not avoid the process. There is no easy way or shortcut to scoring well on the exam. Put in the work, read your textbook, listen carefully to your teacher's lectures and the results will follow.
I have written below a general guideline to writing a coherent, high scoring essay. These guidelines were generated from what I have learned from others and of course my personal experience. There are other types of "guidelines" to writing in this forum, but I felt as though it might help others to see it presented in a different fashion.

Writing the DBQ/FRQ

Make sure your essay...

- Has a strong, well developed thesis which clearly addresses the question; deals with the most significant issues and trends relevant to the question and time period
- Has abundant, accurate specifics; may contain insignificant errors
- Depending on what is called for, demonstrates well reasoned analysis of relationship of events and people, cause and effect, continuity and change
- Covers all areas of the prompt in approximate proportion to their importance. (Extremely good papers need not be totally balanced)
- has effective organization and clear language
- DBQ's must have a sophisticated use of a substantial number of documents; substantial relevant outside information; chronologically coherent

Keep these things in mind throughout the writing process.

The Guideline

Step 1 - Read the prompt
Obviously begin by carefully reading the prompt and if it is a DBQ, examining the documents. Take note of what the prompt is asking and be aware if it has multiple parts that need to be addressed. If there are documents attatched, read them and jot down the main ideas of each. This will help you later in incorporating them into your essay.

Step 2 - Gather your knowledge
Write down everything you can think of about the topic of the prompt. This is the time to pool all of the outside information you can. Think about anything you can that stick out particularly or are important about the prompt question. Also keep in mind the time period in which the question is referring to.

Step 3 - Outline
Write a brief outline so that you do not drift away from your thesis. This is the time to organize your essay. Come up with a solid thesis and build your body paragraphs in support of this thesis. If the prompt has multiple parts to address, I recommend taking a paragraph to address each part. If not, three paragraphs is still an ideal number to work with. In addition, each paragraph should start with a solid topic sentence. The topic sentence should relate logically to the thesis statement and support it. Each topic sentence should present an argument and it should be backed up by at least three different pieces of historical examples or information. I recommend coming up with your thesis statement and three topic sentences and organizing at least three supporting details to support each topic sentence at this point. It is important to note that your thesis should be simple and concise. Many times, kids will spend so much time trying to make their thesis sound sophisticated and "flowery" that they will run out of time for the rest of their essay. Make sure your thesis addresses the prompt fully and is easy to understand. This not only applies to your thesis, but the entire essay itself.

Step 4 - Introduction - Setting the Scene
When writing your introduction paragraph, it is necessary to bring your readers to the time and place you are writing about. The introduction should start out very broad and general, establish context and eventually funnel down to your thesis statement (which I recommend to be the last sentence in your opening paragraph). For example, if the prompt deals with the African-American Civil Rights Movement, you could start off by saying, "The struggle for African-American civil rights has plagued American society since the Reconstruction era." This establishes a timeframe and presents the view of the Civil Rights Movement from a very broad perspective. You can then go and narrow down the scope of your essay to the specific time period and place asked about by the prompt.

Step 5 - The Important Second Paragraph
The strongest of your three arguments (topic sentences) should be dealt with in your second paragraph. This paragraph will demonstrate to the reader whether or not you understand the history behind the prompt. Take additional care when writing your second paragraph as it is the most important. Your best argument should be supported by your best examples in this paragraph.

Step 6 - Write the rest of your body paragraphs, obviously

Step 7 - The Concession Statement
Something that seperates the great essays from the good essays is the concession statement. This is where you deal with conflicting evidence and acknowledge the existence of different perspectives. At some point during your essay, you need to let the reader know that you understand there are different perspectives and address the conflicting evidence. This adds credibility to your writing and makes you sound much more sophisticated and knowledgable. For example, you could say, "Some may argue X but in reality the reason was Y." or, "Although this was X, it was much more Y."

Step 8 - The Conclusion
In your conclusion paragraph, you should tell the reader what you have proved. Do not present any new information in this paragraph, but rather do the opposite of the introduction. Tell the reader what you have proved and then transition back to a broad view of the topic and address it by restating the main ideas of your arguments. The conclusion is not a completly necessary thing to score high on the AP exam. Although it is nice to have, focus more on making your introduction and body paragraphs as thorough as possible and if time permits, write a conclusion.

Time Issues
The AP Exam generally gives you only 45 minutes to write an essay. This may not be enough time for those who struggle with writing. Therefore it is critical to use your time as efficiently as possible. I have provided some general guidelines that I find effective, but this is by no means the definitive way to write a good DBQ/FRQ. Use these guidelines if they help you, but if not, stick to what works best for you.

I hope this was helpful and good luck.

AdminChris's picture
Joined: Jan 2005

Um, wow? Great post! Please stick around and continue to help out!

Course-Notes.Org Administrator If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, complaints, rants, raves, random thoughts, etc etc- feel free to direct them at me :)

Need Help?

We hope your visit has been a productive one. If you're having any problems, or would like to give some feedback, we'd love to hear from you.

For general help, questions, and suggestions, try our dedicated support forums.

If you need to contact the Course-Notes.Org web experience team, please use our contact form.

Need Notes?

While we strive to provide the most comprehensive notes for as many high school textbooks as possible, there are certainly going to be some that we miss. Drop us a note and let us know which textbooks you need. Be sure to include which edition of the textbook you are using! If we see enough demand, we'll do whatever we can to get those notes up on the site for you!