APUSH Writing Tips

• Section I:
• Part A: Multiple Choice (55 questions; 55 Minutes; 40%
of total exam score)
• Part B: Short-answer questions (4 questions; 50
minutes; 20% of total exam score)
• Section II:
• Part A: Document-based question (1 question; 55
minutes; 25% of total exam score)
• Part B: Long essay question (1 question (chosen from a
pair); 35 minutes; 15% of total exam score)
1. Read and understand the question.
AP = Answer the prompt!
• Read the question -- that is, the prompt -three times. Remember that in this instance
"AP" stands for "address prompt.“
• Identify the task. Circle or underline the main
words, especially words of direction, such as
"analyze," "explain," "compare and contrast,"
"evaluate," and "to what extent."
• State in your own words what you are being
asked to write.
• Every DBQ will focus on one of the following historical skills:
causation, change and continuity over time, comparison,
interpretation, or periodization. First, determine which one you
need to demonstrate. Here's an example: 'Analyze the impact of big
business on the economy and politics and the responses of
Americans to these changes. Confine your answer to the period
1870 to 1900.'
• This question is asking you to analyze change over time. Second,
mark key words that identify your specific task. Finally, use the
question to create a brief chart. One of the first steps in analyzing
documents is grouping them logically. So, this chart can help you
achieve those groups, provide a basic outline of your essay, and
ensure you're addressing all parts of the question. In our sample
question, we have three main ideas, but you would create as many
columns as needed based on the question on your exam.
2. After you understand the
question, read the historical
background provided.
Pre-writing = PERSIA
• Remember: it's NOT one of your documents;
the historical background merely puts the
evidence into a historical framework. Briefly
list the main events of the historical time
period addressed. Use the acronym PERSIA to
help you categorize the political, economic,
religious, social, intellectual, and artistic
aspects of the period. This is outside
information that may be included in the essay.
Start with the end in mind!
• 3. Considering the prompt, your basic outline,
and prior knowledge of the topic, formulate a
tentative thesis that answers the question before you even look at the documents.
1999 Prompt:
To what extent had the colonists developed a sense of their identity
and unity as Americans by the eve of the Revolution?
• Read each document, noting the source or the
title. Briefly write the main point of each
document. If the prompt requires you to take one
position or another, group the documents on the
basis of those positions. For example, in the 1999
DBQ you are asked to evaluate colonial identity
AND unity. Note that documents A, C, E, and G
are about unity, whereas documents B, D, F, and
H deal with identity. Some documents may be
used to support both unity and identity.
Place and time
Prior knowledge
The main idea
Significance of each document
Documenting your SFIs…
• One approach is to write outside information
beside each document, along with the main idea
from that document.
Or, students may chart the information they
intend to include by listing it under "Outside
Information" or under "Document Information."
Charting or listing the information as they go will
remind students to include outside information
that relates to the main point or goes beyond the
information in the document. This list serves as
the outline for their essay.
• Finally, look for logical subgroups. For
example, a DBQ on the women's suffrage
movement might have two main groups of
documents representing 'for' and 'against,'
while a subgroup could include methods of
the suffragettes, or men and women who
opposed the vote.
• Regardless of which process you use, there are
several things you should note in the margin as
you read the documents:
• The main point of each
• Anything that stands out about the source
• Inferences, such as causes, effects, and
• How it fits into your tentative thesis
• Outside information that comes to mind
The document doesn’t say…
YOU do!
• Use the source or the title when referring to the
information in the document. Do NOT use the word
"document" in the narrative of your essay. (Writing
"Document A says," "Document B says," and so on
results in a laundry list of documents instead of an
essay.) You may use the word "document" in
parentheses as a reference to a specific document at
the end of the information you have included from that
document. These notes help you organize your use of
the documents throughout your essay. Essential note
to remember: Students write the essay; documents
don't write the essay.
• Video Video 2

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