Table of Contents
    1 May, 2021

    How to Write a DBQ Essay?

    A DBQ essay format is far from being novel. However, there is still little known about it. In reality, most students get lost when they first face this essay type and have a vague idea of how to structure and format the paper. Just because a document based question essay isn’t among the most common college essay types, it does not mean that the former is challenging and extremely hard to compose.

    We’ve gathered some valuable pieces of advice and developed a helpful guide for those students who want to discover how to write a DBQ essay. Below you will find all the essentials regarding DBQ essay drafting and the ultimate tricks and tips to boost your grade.

    What Does a DBQ Essay Mean?

    DBQ essay, also known as a document based question essay, is quite a common essay type. Even though DBQ essays are way more seldom than regular argumentative or descriptive essays, they are an essential part of many students’ curriculum.

    Unlike any other standard essay, a DBQ essay is a part of an APUSH History exam. However, History students are not the only ones who have to write document based question essays: many social sciences students are assigned a DBQ essay at some point.

    Such essay requires students to reflect on a particular topic to demonstrate the amount of knowledge they have on a specific subject. As a rule, students are tested on important geographical areas and historical dates that relate to the theme of their class. While writing document based question answers, students should usually refer to 4-16 credible scientific sources. The main goal of writing DBQ essays involves evaluating a student’s comprehension and understanding skills, assessing creative thinking, and the ability to perform complex analyses.

    The Objective of Writing a DBQ Essay

    DBQ essays have multiple purposes. First, they generally assess the knowledge that you have in a particular discipline. It tests how well you navigate the dates, study material, and how good the quality of your analysis is. Besides, DBQ essays also test how well you can analyze the documents and use them to provide answers to specific questions. In other words, a DBQ essay exam identifies how well a student is capable of analyzing some specific issues from the past and interpreting historical events based on documents.

    The document is usually one of the following:

    • newspapers
    • maps
    • letters
    • other primary and secondary sources

    To make a good impression on the examination committee, it is fundamental to take the following tasks into account:

    • Establishing links between the documents and concluding their relevance
    • Applying the knowledge you have and developing a case. Doing so will let you demonstrate your excellent cognitive abilities
    • Analyzing the documents and use them to support your thesis statement
    • Assessing the target audience and evaluating the context behind the data

    Getting Ready For DBQ Writing

    Preparing for the DBQ essay usually requires a significant amount of time. While writing regular college essays does not necessarily imply prior preparations, a DBQ does. A DBQ essay is a part of the exam, so it is a good idea to begin preparations in advance.

    We’ve described the step-by-step process of getting ready for the DBQ essay for you to make the most out of the time you have.

    Evaluate your DBQ essay skills

    First, you need to identify a baseline. This means checking at which level you are and what aspects need the most of your attention. The best way to test your skills is to take a mock exam and check it according to the sample answer. After checking it, you will get a clear idea of your preparation level and figure out what you’re good at and what parts you need to work on.

    Develop essential skills

    To write an excellent DBQ essay, you need a specific set of skills. The three skills mentioned below are a prerequisite for successfully passing a DBQ essay exam:

    • Writing a good thesis. An excellent thesis is the one that contains a relevant claim, defends your viewpoint and answers the question of the essay. It should also indicate your position in relation to the topic and clearly identify what you are aiming at. To practice this skill, write multiple thesis statements to free-response questions. You may ask a friend or a tutor to check the quality of statements and offer edits.
    • Time management. Writing DBQ essays is, on the one hand, an extremely time-consuming activity. However, the time limit is quite strict. Write multiple essays at home and check how much time it takes. You also need to understand what are the gaps that require you to spend too much time on your work. By figuring out all the setbacks, you will get a chance to practice and eliminate them.
    • Essay outlining. Formatting and outlining are the most critical elements of essay writing. To work on this task, take a look at a sample DBQ essay, break it down into sections, and mention all the sections in its outline. By performing such a reverse structurization, you will get a better insight into DBQ essay outlining.

    Writing a DBQ Outline

    An outline is an essential part to rely on while writing a DBQ outline. Even though some students choose to skip writing an outline and proceed with the writing straight away, such a strategy is unlikely to prove helpful. An effective plan is a basis for a good DBQ essay: it provides you with a plan and ensures you of the structure’s transparency. Below we will introduce all the necessary parts of an outline as well as highlight the main requirements for each section.


    First and foremost, the introduction should be kept concise and brief. You may briefly summarize the document and outline the idea in a sentence or two. You may start by mentioning a hook sentence that will grab the reader’s attention. At this point, it is essential to make sure the sentence fits into the historical background and does not give the reader a false impression. Finally, think of a thesis statement – that is the sentence which refers to your arguments that you will uncover in the body part.

    Thesis statement

    Unlike the rest of essay types, a DBQ essay requires you to write a somewhat longer thesis statement. While writing an argumentative essay requires that the length of a thesis statement does not exceed 1-2 sentences, a DBQ essay thesis statement might be up to three paragraphs in length. The first paragraph usually outlines your paper’s claims. The second one briefly describes the paper. Finally, the last paragraph reveals the way you will be approaching the questions.

    Main Body

    At this stage, every paragraph must include a point from a thesis statement and its argumentation. When we talk about a DBQ essay, it is always better to stick to the point and avoid discussing additional arguments or data in a separate body paragraph. Remember about the purpose of a DBQ essay and always keep the documents in mind while constructing body paragraphs. Besides, it is always a plus if a student decides to mention an example that relates to the subject but isn’t given in a document. Doing so indicates the level of knowledge you have on a topic and how easily you come up with analogous examples.


    The conclusion is the final part of an outline. Its purpose implies restating the thesis and briefly explaining why your point of view is reasonable in terms of available data. If you have time and desire, you may compare historical backgrounds and hypothetically apply your findings to a different time period.

    Sample DBQ Essays

    We understand that a DBQ essay might be one of the most challenging essay formats, so we suggest that you take a look at some good sample essays. Referring to them will give you a clear overview and idea of how to write a DBQ.

    You can find some DBQ examples here:

    Useful Tips to Help You Write an Excellent DBQ Essay

    Always reread the question

    Document-based questions usually require some time to read and comprehend. Under time restrictions, it is likely that a student might accidentally miss out on some crucial details. Thus, to make sure this isn’t the case, take your time to examine the question, highlight the keywords, and make sure you understand the context precisely. The more you reread the question, the deeper insight you might get.

    It is critical to make sure you answer the question that is given and avoid beating around the bush. An examiner expects you to write an adequate, explicit answer, so stick to the essence of the question.

    List your arguments on a draft, and don’t forget to edit them

    Regardless of the topic that you have to work on, your DBQ essay will require you to mention a strong thesis statement at the beginning. Therefore, to make the statement sound valid and reasonable, it is essential to outline powerful arguments. To make your structure transparent both for you and the reader, write down all the ideas on a separate sheet of paper. Afterward, it is vital to evaluate the arguments altogether and check how compatible and reasonable they are. Moreover, having all the arguments on a paper in front of you will give you a better idea of the edits required at a certain point.

    Write multiple DBQ essays before the exam

    Learning how to write a DBQ essay and getting experience based on your own mistakes is a prerequisite for scoring a high grade. You may refer to your previous exams and repeat this experience before the real one begins. This means you need to stick to the time limit (3 hours and 15 minutes). Afterward, you can analyze your paper, compare it to a sample DBQ essay, and discover your paper’s weaknesses and strengths.

    Search for someone to evaluate and edit your papers

    Writing a DBQ essay takes a good deal of time and usually requires help from experienced people. For instance, you may consider contacting your history teacher and discover if they can fulfill your request. Besides, you may ask your English teacher for help. In reality, DBQ essays have a lot to do with testing students’ academic writing skills, so an English teacher might help you. Additionally, you may always reach out to a tutor and ask them for advice. Otherwise, there are still lots of students who have experience of successfully passing the AP exam, so feel free to approach them!

    Things To Remember To Perform Well on the DBQ Test Day

    If you are not new to the subject and have some sound background knowledge, you are on the safe side. But if you are feeling insecure, you shouldn’t worry. Always keep in mind that a DBQ essay is mainly testing your ability to use analytical skills, synthesize information that is given to you, and prove your writing proficiency. Here are some important takeaways for you to succeed on the DBQ exam day:

    • Remember to keep track of time. The exam most likely lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes, so don’t forget to take a look at the watch every 15 minutes.
    • Distribute time for each section of a DBQ essay. For instance, you may dedicate a maximum of 5-10 minutes for reading the documents and each DBQ essay rubric, 10 minutes for outlining the essay, and so on.
    • Try to get some quality sleep. Try to relax, put your study materials away, and go to bed. Studying during the last night before the exam might refocus you and result in severe confusion.
    • Last but not least, try to eliminate stress. While it is totally fine to stress out on your DBQ exam day, you have nothing to worry about if you’ve been preparing. Provided that you’ve studied enough, you will surely score high on the exam.
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