How to Write a DBQ for the Highest Scores

author By Mary Boies

Successfully preparing for college is not easy. It involves a lot of hard work and effort. One of the things many high school students across the country do to prepare for college is to take AP exams. Taking and passing AP exams can help students get the courses they want. It can also help students to get scholarships and financial aid.

AP exams stand for Advanced Placement exams. These are exams or tests offered by the College Board. They are supposed to be taken after completing AP courses. There are 38 AP courses available, but only a handful of high schools across the country offer all 38.

AP exams sometimes include a DBQ. DBQ is an acronym for Document-Based Question. Many high school students usually have very little or average knowledge of answering DBQs. Hence they usually do not perform well in AP exams with a DBQ element. This is why we decided to create this guide.

Our professional essay writers have put together all the information you need to write the perfect DBQ essay.

What exactly is a DBQ?

A DBQ (Document-Based Question) is a question found in AP exams. DBQ questions typically require students to examine a historical document and then provide their response in several paragraphs (an essay). This is why DBQ questions are sometimes called DBQ essays.

A typical DBQ will have 5 to 7 documents for you to analyze. These documents usually include things like maps, letters, newspapers, and so on. When you answer DBQs, you have to do it in such a way that you demonstrate the skills you learned in the relevant AP class. These skills usually include the ability to assess the context of documents, the ability to find and show links between documents, and the ability to create and support a strong thesis.

DBQ questions are typically included in AP History, AP European History, and AP US History. Therefore, if you take any AP courses, it is best to read this guide to find out how you can answer DBQs like a PRO.

DBQ Essay Structure

Learning how to write a proper DBQ essay could be somewhat challenging for beginners. That said, below is a simplified DBQ essay format that you can use for your personal reference. And just like all other types of essays, the outline includes an introduction, thesis, body, and conclusion. Let us take a closer look at each of these sections.

The Introduction

When writing the introduction, briefly discuss the topic’s background. Including a source that relates to a historical event or figure relevant to the essay’s topic can be great. In addition, your introductory sentence should immediately capture your audience's attention.


Here, describe the central claims mentioned in your essay supported by evidence. Come up with a short description of the evidence mentioned, which will be included in your essay’s body paragraphs. This is simply a conclusion to your introductory paragraph that discusses the responses to the DBQ essay questions.

Check out our guide on writing the best thesis statement.

Body paragraph 1

Mention the strongest point or argument. Note this should be connected to your thesis statement. Also include an assessment of the references that are linked to this argument. Come up with a statement that concludes the assessment from a different point of view and include a relevant link to your thesis. Make proper use of a transition sentence before proceeding to the next paragraph.

Body paragraph 2

For the second body paragraph, include a sensible argument that is not only directly linked to the thesis but the previous argument in the first body paragraph. And similar to the previous paragraph, include an assessment of the references that link to the essay’s main argument. Next, come up with a statement that concludes the assessment from a different point of view and include a relevant link to your thesis. Make use of a transition sentence before moving to the body paragraph three.

Body paragraph 3

Include a sensible argument that is not only directly linked to the thesis but the previous argument in the second body paragraph. And similar to the previous paragraph, include an assessment of the references that link to the essay’s main argument. Next, come up with a statement that concludes the assessment from a different point of view and include a relevant link to your thesis. Make use of a transition sentence before moving to the last paragraph.


Write a clear summarizing argument for the entire essay. The main arguments and vital information on the sources are essential to include. Also, come up with a concluding question or statement that contests the point of view that is against the discussed sources.

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Steps for Writing a DBQ

When writing a DBQ essay, you need at least to understand the presented issue. Nonetheless, your historical knowledge and comprehension of the subject are but a tiny part of your DBQ essay. Your ability to assess the provided sources and come up with a meaningful conclusion on the issue is the most important aspect. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to write a high-scoring DBQ essay.

1. Carefully Read The Question

You could come up with the best DBQ essay that your college board has ever been presented with, but if it does not particularly address the given question, you will automatically lose a few points during scoring. Carefully go through the question a few times before you begin your writing. Find out what precisely the DBQ needs from you. You might, for instance, have to discuss a historical event, contrast different documents, or even compare a number of sources.

2. Carefully Assess The Documents

Once you have gained an understanding of the question, shift your attention to the provided sources. Carefully read through each of them, particularly paying attention to how different or similar the documents are. Assess their standpoints, time period, and any other perspective.

3. Outline Your Essay

For organization purposes, develop a brief essay outline to arrange your thoughts. Make sure that your DBQ essay has at least five paragraphs. Your essay should begin with an introduction, at least three well-written body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

4. Begin With A Compelling Introduction

After creating your essay outline, open your essay with a strong introduction. The introductory paragraph draws in the reader and briefly explains what will be covered in the essay. It also includes a thesis statement. And given that a good DBQ essay is based on a strong and relevant thesis statement, you should take the time to ensure that your chosen statement not only presents a solid argument but also respond to the given question.

5. Write the rest of your essay

The body paragraphs, together with the conclusion, will follow the introduction. Note that your DBQ essay should feature at least three body paragraphs. Also, ensure that your thesis statement is supported throughout your paper. Constantly reference historical sources and use your analytical skills to assess the message documents convey and why. The last paragraph of your essay will be the conclusion, which summarizes your argument and, where possible, states how the issue impacted history.

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DBQ Essay Example

The two great wars, the First World War and the Second World War, played a significant role in increasing women’s rights in Europe. During World War II, the British government encouraged women, particularly housewives, to do work that was traditionally left for men to do. These jobs included slaughtering animals and farming; undertakings were generally considered “male jobs”. The main reason for this was for the women to be able to take care of themselves during tough times.

For several years before the First World War, women’s general opinions were primarily influenced by Queen Victoria, a well-known public figure. Queen Victoria, the deceased Queen of England, was not only viewed as a feminist figure but as a housewife as well. She was also seen as the mother to the future successors of the throne. Her decision not to exercise her power in the British parliament made people consider her virtuous. She isolated her family in Balmoral Castle.

World War Two made European women start thinking about their place in society, thus involving themselves in the works mainly designated for men. Given that most men were on the Frontline of the battle with Germany, there was a significant drop in male politicians, resulting in a more feminist parliament. As per the provided evidence, society believed that women ought to be submissive and nurturing at the time. In addition, men of that time also held the ignorant idea that women could not assume political power, including running the nation. Simply put, there was significant resistance to women getting involved in politics. Therefore, a sexist inequity was essentially coerced upon women; men believed they were the predominant force.

Discrimination against women in their careers was a severe issue. It was mainly based on unjust biases and ignorance. Conversely, men relentlessly feared women taking over the war political and war industries. Today, this is not a matter of concern, but back then, it was considered a severe issue by most men. As per the given evidence, the recruitment of females into the workforce was already taking place before World War One. Going by records, six percent of the industry comprised women (Women as a percentage of the industrial workforce in France, 1911-1926).

In the mid-20th century, women were highly encouraged to contribute to the efforts on the industry's front line. However, the men in the British parliament presented this as a negative aspect of daily life. The given poster states, “votes for heroines as well as heroes”. The poster presents a female leader followed by a male who seems resistant to women’s rights. The presented caption reads, “Men and women protect one another in the hour of death. With the addition of the women's vote, they would be able to protect one another in life as well.” This is a reference to the naval boat catastrophe of 1915, where dedicated nurses gave up their own lives to create space for the wounded soldiers. The selfless nurses who willingly gave up their lives, as captioned on the poster, refute and contest the unjust notion that women and men are not equal.

With time, other fresh factors arose due to the encouragement factors among the women. These new factors were entitlement and independence. The male politicians started to get quite frustrated with this because of their prejudices. They started describing the revolution with belittling words and carried on with their unfair beliefs against women. One of the most common phrases used was “little woman”,; a very discriminating phrase then. Paul Von Hindenburg mentioned that “to women’s agitation for parity in all professions, and thereby, of course, for political emancipation… After the war, we still need the woman for spouse and mother.” The passage insinuates that women belong at home, as housewives, and not at work. According to the passage, women do not have equal rights as men, which is a notion that is not only demeaning but disgusting as well.

It goes without mentioning that women in the Victorian era were compelled to obey the unjust rules of society. Despite this, these women still worked hard to get a career and be equal to men. Most women looked up to Queen Victoria as their role model. The Second World War, on the other hand, had a positive influence on backward male mentalities. Women were perceived as equal to men and allowed to fight alongside men. That said, the question that comes to mind is, what sorts of discrimination and injustice against women are still active in modern-day society?

Tips for Writing a DBQ Essay

Below are a few valuable tips to help you develop a great DBQ essay.

How are DBQs Scored?

Note that when taking an AP exam, you will have only three hours and fifteen minutes to get your DBQ essay done. Knowing how the paper is scored will help direct your energy and time to the right place.

Your DBQ score comprises 25 percent of your grade in the entire AP examination. You can generally score a maximum of seven points on your DBQ paper. Below is a guideline on hearing each of the seven points per the College Board Guidelines.

  1. Develop a solid thesis that responds to all parts of the given question.
  2. Put forth an argument incorporating a historical background and referencing all sources used.
  3. Relate at least six of the given sources to your main argument.
  4. Evaluate the audience, objective, context, and perspective for at least four sources.
  5. Describe the topic’s historical background to add more weight to your argument.
  6. Add an extra piece of evidence not mentioned in the provided sources
  7. Link your main argument to a different theme or discipline

Final Words about Writing DBQ Essays

Writing a DBQ essay is not easy. Nevertheless, with the correct information, effort, and focus, you can write a pretty good DBQ essay.

If the information above gives you the confidence to write your DBQ essay, we have accomplished our objective with this post.

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