You’re starting to study for your AP European History exam and you come across your first document-based question (DBQ). You freak out. Don’t worry, that reaction is completely natural. After all, AP Euro is aimed at students interested in earning a first-year college credit for History. It should come as no surprise that a college level class has a difficult writing component. However in order to excel in AP Euro, you’re going to need to confront the DBQ head on.
The DBQ can be very intimidating at first. However, once you understand what the objective of the DBQ is, it gets easier. That’s why this AP European History review is going to give you the most beneficial 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the AP European History DBQ.
Let’s get started!
What is the AP Euro DBQ?
Just in case you are fairly early in your AP Euro review sessions, we wanted to start by going over exactly what the DBQ is. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, trust us, you will. The DBQ has been seen as the bane of the AP Euro student’s existence. But it’s really not all that bad when you break it down. You will have 55 minutes to answer a single question. Your answer is going to revolve around 10 to 12 primary-source documents that range between photographs, letters, legal cases, etc.
But the answer you provide is going to have to be in a concise essay format with a thesis that covers nearly every single document and shows that you understand the complexities of the historical narrative provided. That means structure and argumentation matter nearly as much as the evidence you use.
If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry. This AP Euro History review should demystify the whole BDQ thing. Just follow these 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the AP European History DBQ and you’ll be golden.
1. Familiarize Yourself with How the AP European History Course Works
This one may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how helpful it can be to get to know the AP Euro History course and exam.
First, you are going to want to thoroughly go through the CollegeBoard Websiteand the AP European History Course and Exam Description. These two resources are going to be jam-packed with useful information. By looking through these resources, you are going to get a feel for how the CollegeBoard wants teachers to approach the class.
This includes the eras/topics that are going to be focused on the most in the classroom and the significance of everything covered. But perhaps most importantly, it will lay out how every piece of information covered in the AP Euro course relates to the exam itself.
When going through these sources, there are two things that you want to pay attention to, in particular. First, read through the AP European History course Themes and Learning Objectives. These are the central nerve of what you will be tested on in the DBQ section, so familiarize yourself with them. Second, you will want to become best friends with the practice questions they provide, so make sure you have easy access to all of those. More on that later.
2. Get to Know the CollegeBoard’s Expectations for the DBQ
After you’ve read through all of the CollegeBoard materials, you should already be getting a clearer image of the task laid out ahead of you. Next, you are going to want to delve a little bit deeper into the DBQ section itself and get to know how the examiners are going to score the section.
Here’s how the scoring on the AP European History Exam DBQ breaks down:
BASIC CORE: 1 Point Each to a Total of 6 Points
1. Provides an appropriate, explicitly stated thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question. Thesis must not simply restate the question.
2. Discusses a majority of the documents individually and specifically
3. Demonstrates understanding of the basic meaning of a majority of the documents (may misinterpret no more than one).
4. Supports the thesis with appropriate interpretations of a majority of the documents.
5. Analyzes point of view or bias in at least three documents.
6. Analyzes documents by explicitly organizing them in at least three appropriate groups.
EXPANDED CORE: 0-3 Points to a Total of 9 Points
• Has a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis
• Uses all or almost all of the documents (10-11 documents)
• Uses the documents persuasively as evidence
• Shows understanding of nuances of the documents
• Analyzes the documents in additional ways (e.g. develops more groupings)
• Recognizes and develops change over time (body paragraphs that consistently address changing conceptions)
• Brings in relevant “outside” information
Get to know these expectations and always keep them in mind when you are going through your AP Euro review sessions. This way, you are bound to hit every single point here when it comes to the DBQ section of your exam.
It’s always a good policy to get to know what your examiners are thinking when they test you on a subject. So, make sure you read through these to get into the heads of those at the CollegeBoard. And this is true of any exam, not just the AP European History DBQ section.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
You are probably tired of hearing this at this point in your AP Euro studies, but practice, practice, practice. The more you work on example DBQs, the less daunting they will become. The main reason that students fear this section of the exam so much is that they simply haven’t gotten used to it. But practice makes perfect, as they say.
This is also where perusing the CollegeBoard Website and the AP European History Course and Exam Descriptionwill come in handy once more. Like we mentioned above, both the course website and the coinciding description have a number of practice DBQs for you to get your hands dirty with. Plus, many of these practice exams are actually from previous exams, so you know you’re getting the real deal by working with these.
You are going to want to make sure you set out some of your time every week in order to get your practice sessions in. Try not to slack on this since the more you practice, the more it will become second nature.
4. Become the Master of Time
One of the main reasons practicing your DBQs will help you score that 5 on the exam is that you will learn how to master the clock. Remember, you only have 55 minutes to complete this section of the AP Euro exam. It may seem like a lot of time now, but as you dive into the practice questions, you will soon realize that it’s not very much time at all.
The more you practice, the more you will get to know yourself as a test-taker as well. Do you need an extra five minutes to read through the documents thoroughly? Are you the type of essay writer who can blow through the introductory paragraph in a matter of seconds? It doesn’t matter what your strengths and weaknesses are. Everyone tests differently.
But the more you work on these practice questions, the more you are going to understand where you will be needing to allot your time and energy. So, as you work on your DBQs, increasingly rely on a stopwatch. This will reproduce a more authentic test-taking experience. When doing this, break down your 55 minutes.
Here’s one way to approach the DBQ:
• 10 minutes to read the question and documents
• 5 minutes to outline
• 35 minutes to write the essay
• 5 minutes to review and edit
This isn’t a set-in-stone schedule, so tweak it to where it suits you best.
5. Outline Your Thoughts
You may have noticed in our little DBQ 55 minute schedule, we allotted some time for outlining. Yes, you should outline before writing your essays. This essay-writing technique actually serves a number of purposes and will prevent quite a few headaches when it comes to your AP Euro exam day.
First, and probably most obviously, it’s going to help organize your thoughts. You need to juggle the thesis, 10 or more documents, structure, topic sentences, etc. So, do yourself a favor and figure out how all of those things unify with one another in a quick outline before you do your actual writing.
Second, outlines help with fluidity. Nothing irritates a history teacher more than reading an essay that rambles and makes little sense. Spending five minutes or so early on in your DBQ time will help to ensure that all of your thoughts connect to one another and the writing itself is clear and solid.
Finally, an outline will help you group your documents together, but more on that below.
6. Group the Documents Together
After you’ve read through the question and the documents and you’ve started working on your outline, the time will come when you need to begin grouping the documents together. Remember that the people at the CollegeBoard chose these documents intentionally; that means they are related to one another somehow. It’s just up to you to put those relationships together and make an argumentative case for it.
The best way to approach document-grouping is to think back on the Course Themes and Learning Objectives from the AP European History Course and Exam Description. These are excellent ways to consider when you’re at the grouping stage of the outline.
Let’s take a quick look at the DBQ from the year 2015:
Analyze changing conceptions of French national identity and culture in the period since 1960.
Many of the documents related to the question actually support state-sanctioned (Theme 4) actions to ‘preserve’ French culture. So, you could group documents according to those that do or do not support such actions. There are also documents relating to individual subjectivity (Theme 5). And so on.
A couple things to keep in mind while you are doing this grouping: First, make sure that you are using either all or most of the documents. Show your reader that you understand the history well enough to connect all ideas represented. And second, always think about the writer’s perspective by putting the document into historical context. Doing these things will get you that much close to scoring a 9 on the DBQ.
7. Appreciate Historical Context
Always remember that these documents were written in a historical context. Plus, historians love it when you show how the documents provided operated in relation to what else was going on at the time. When reading through the previous years’ Scoring Guidelines on the CollegeBoard website, you’ll notice that nearly every example of a good thesis indicates a historical trend, but puts those trends into a bigger picture that extends beyond the documents themselves.
Back to the 2015 exam. You’ll notice that the examples of the stronger theses consider global events/factors like the Cold War, globalization, increased immigration patterns following WWII, etc. That’s because those who wrote the essay understood that through a complex history of globalization and modernity, a new French identity was being formed.
In other words, they put the document into context. Nothing in the question specifically reference the Cold War or globalization. But the authors of these essays knew to put what they were reading in relation to the bigger picture. And it’s what you should be doing when you are reading through your exam’s DBQ.
8. Be Yourself
Be bold, be smart, and be proud of your intellectual vigor.
There’s nothing worse than reading a boring cliché argument repeated over and over again. And the examiners at the CollegeBoard feel the same way. We guarantee it.
Show your readers that you have come to your own conclusions about the documents in question. The DBQ questions are intentionally created to be complex and open to interpretation. Remember that historians use primary-source documents to indicate trends and shifts in those trends as they occurred in the past.
Also show your own understanding of how things have changed over time throughout the history of Europe. It’s up to you to identify those shifts.
9. Prepare Mind and Body
Our last piece of advice is to take care of yourself. With all that studying you’ve been doing, you may have forgotten to eat well or get enough sleep. Don’t worry. It happens to all of us. But don’t let those late study nights take over your good health.
This may actually be the most important of the 9 Steps to Scoring a 9 on the European History DBQ. Human brains get sluggish when deprived of enough sleep and quality food. Do yourself a favor and maintain a lightning-fast thought process for the exam.
Take care of your body and your mind will follow suit.
As long as you follow these tips, you’re sure to rock the DBQ section of the AP Euro exam. Good luck!
What did you think of our review? Let us know how we did!
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Excelling on the AP European History exam can be a challenge. With only 8.6% of test takers scoring a 5 and another 16.9% scoring a 4 in 2014, AP European History represents one of the most difficult Advanced Placement exams to score high on. But fear not, hopefully after reading this list of comprehensive tips, you’ll feel more confident and prepared to rock your AP European History test!
Now to the good stuff… here are 50+ AP European History tips.
AP European History DBQ & FRQ Essay Tips & Advice
1. Answer the question: This seems like a no-brainer, yet thousands of AP European History test takers forget about this every year. When you address the question, make sure you answer all parts of the question; AP graders evaluate your essays based on a rubric and award a point if you answer all parts of the question.
2. Know the rubric like the back of your hand: This goes in hand with the last tip. By the time the test rolls around, make sure you know that AP graders are looking for these key components: an answer to all parts of the question, a clear thesis, facts to support the thesis presented, use of all documents, and inclusion of point of view/evaluation of document bias. Here are the 2014 Scoring Guidelines.
3. Don’t be afraid to namedrop/be specific: When it comes to answering the FRQs, be a test taker who can identify and specify names of certain people who had measurable impact in European History. This means use primary examples! For example, if the question asks you how Louis XIV was able to centralize his government, you should specifically talk about intendants, the Fronde Wars, the Edict of Fontainebleau, etc. Write with confidence when citing specific events or people.
4. Group, group, group, and did we say group?: When you read and analyze documents, make sure to group your documents into at least three groups in order to receive full credit. You should group based on the three respective key points you will be discussing in the body of your essay.
5. Practice grouping: Just to hit the nail in the coffin, here are a few starting blocks for how to group documents. Think about how the document works in relation to politics, economics, imperialism, nationalism, humanitarianism, religion, society & culture, intellectual development & advancement. Pretty much every single document the CollegeBoard ever created can fit into one of these buckets.
6. Assess the author’s perspective: As you work your way through the documents and group them, keep a few clear questions in mind, “Why is the author writing this? What perspective is he or she coming from? What can I tell from his or her background?” Asking yourself these questions will help you ensure part of your thesis and essay integrates bias and analysis of bias.
7. Read the historical background: The little blurb at the beginning of the document isn’t there for no good reason. The historical background section of AP European History is like the freebie slot on a bingo card—it will reveal to you the time period of the document and allow you to gain a little perspective into the point of view of the source.
8. Connect between documents: The difference between scoring a perfect score on your essays and scoring an almost perfect score can often come down to your ability to relate documents with one another. As you outline your essay, you should think about at least two opportunities where you can connect one document to another. So how do you connect a document? Well one way would be writing something along the lines of, “The fact that X person believes that XYZ is the root of XYZ may be due to the fact that he is Y.” So in this example, I may pull X person from document 1, but use document 4 to support my Y of the reason why he thinks a certain way. When you connect documents, you demonstrate to the grader that you can clearly understand point of views and how different perspectives arise. It also is a way to demonstrate your analytical abilities.
9. Start practicing as early as possible: AP European History isn’t quite like AP World History where you can get away with just understanding key trends and patterns. Because the test is much more detailed-oriented, you need to start practicing at least a month and a half prior to your AP European History exam date. Go to AP Central’s homepage for AP European History and select a few essay questions to tackle for the weeks leading up to the exam. Try to tackle two to five a week. Find a proctor like a sibling, parent, or teacher and have them simulate the test for you under timed conditions.
10. Do not blow off the DBQ: In 130 minutes, 50% of your AP European History grade is determined. In case you didn’t know the AP European History exam is a 50-50 split between multiple choice and free-response questions. Students often overlook the importance of the DBQ and FRQs. Don’t be that student. Did you know if you got 0/80 multiple choice questions right but scored 9s on your FRQs and your DBQ, you would still get a 3 based on the 2009 exam curve? It’s crazy, but it’s true.
11. Print out your writing: Writing a coherent essay is a difficult task. In order to do this successfully on the AP European History test you want to make sure that you have spent a few minutes in the very beginning of the test to properly plan out an outline for your essay. You may have heard this advice hundreds of times from teachers but the reason why teachers give it is because it really does help. Ultimately, if you go into your essay without a plan your essay will read without a sense of flow and continuation. One of the things you are assessed on is your ability to create a cohesive argument.
12. Organizing with chronological order: One way that you can order some essays is by using chronological order. When you frame your argument around chronological order, you want to look for transition points and use those as an opportunity to start a new paragraph.
13. Compare and contrast: Sometimes on the AP European History test you’ll be asked to compare and contrast. In this case a lot of students simply compare but they do not contrast. Make sure that you allocate at least one paragraph for each component.
14. Refine your thesis: Crafting the van Gogh of thesis statements can be difficult when under a time crunch. But don’t worry the good thing is that if you create a general thesis statement to work off of, you can go back and refine your thesis statement at the very end. Don’t be afraid to come up with the general idea and go with that; then at the end of the paper, revise your original thesis around the main arguments that you’ve made throughout.
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AP European History Multiple Choice Review Tips
1. Read continuously: Here’s the thing about AP European History—it’s incredibly detailed-oriented. That means it’s not quite like some other AP tests where you can just cram two nights before and get a 5. In order to really understand connections in European History, you need to keep up with your reading throughout the school year. This not only applies to help you in the multiple choice section, but also in the essay portion to understand what time period the prompts are coming from. Viault’s Modern European History should be like your bible when it comes to reading about AP European History.
2. Identify and hone in on your greatest weaknesses: When you start practicing multiple choice for AP European History, you’ll quickly realize that there are certain time periods and things you know like the back of your hand, and others that are just very hazy to you. After you have had a practice session with AP European History multiple-choice questions, write down the areas where you struggled and review those sections of your class notes. Make flashcards and review 15-20 every night before you go to bed.
3. Supplement your learning with video lectures: While YouTube can be a distractor at times; it can also be great to learn things on the fly! Crash Course has some great videos here pertaining to AP European History. Use them to affirm what you know about certain time periods and to bolster what you already know; then, practice again.
4. Hank’s History Hour: Going along the lines of alternative ways to learn AP European History, you can also learn a great deal from Hank’s History Hour, which is a podcast on different topics in history. This is a great way to actually go to sleep since you can listen to the podcast while you dose off. Did you know when you go to sleep you remember what you heard last the best when you wake up?
5. Answer every question: If you’re crunched on time and still have several AP European History multiple-choice questions to answer, make a solid attempt at answering each and every one of them. With no guessing penalty, you literally have nothing to lose.
6. Create flashcards along the way: After you have gotten a multiple choice question wrong, create a flashcard with the key term and the definition of that term. Think about potential mnemonics or heuristics you can use to help yourself remember the term more easily. One way is to think about an outrageous image and to associate that image with the term related to AP European History.
7. Use the Process of Elimination: When it comes to tackling AP European History questions, the process of elimination can come in handy if you can eliminate just one answer choice or even two, your odds of getting the question right significantly improve. Remember there is no guessing penalty so you really have nothing to lose.
8. Don’t overthink things: When it comes to answering easy questions, typically the shortest response is also the right response. Easy questions typically have easy answers. Try not to choose strangely worded answer responses for easy questions. Most importantly, don’t overthink things.
9. All questions are the same weight: When it comes to the AP European History test, all multiple-choice questions are weighted equally. That means that you want to make sure that you take your time in the very beginning so that you don’t get easy questions wrong.
10. Use common sense: Often times with multiple-choice questions, contextual cues are given that signal the time period that the question is testing you on. Look out for these sorts of clues. Understanding and recognizing when a clue is given is fundamental to helping you understand what concepts you’re being tested on.
11. Take advantage of chronology: When it comes to answering the multiple-choice questions, the questions are actually grouped in sets of 4-7 questions each. Practice recognizing when you’re at the start and end of a group. This will allow you to mentally think about the different time periods that are being tested while also staying alert throughout the duration of the test.
12. Understand the progression of question difficulty: The AP European History test is outlined so that the easiest questions are presented to you at the very beginning of the test. However, as you navigate through the test you’ll realize that the questions get harder and harder. Use this to your advantage. Stay aware of how much time you’re spending in different sections of the multiple-choice section. While you want to make sure that you allocate enough time at the very end for answer difficult questions, you really want to make sure that you knock the first 60 questions out of the ballpark.
13. Study themes appropriately: Generally speaking, the AP European History test dedicates 20 to 30% of the multiple-choice section 2 testing cultural or intellectual subject areas. The remaining 80% are split relatively evenly between economic and political factors, as well as overall social issues.
14. Use your writing utensil: As you work through the multiple-choice section of the AP European history test, physically circle and underline certain aspects of answer choices that you know for fact are wrong. Get in this habit so that when you go back to review your answer choices, you can quickly see why you thought that particular answer choice was wrong in the first place. This is a technique that you can use for more than just the AP European History test.
15. Circle EXCEPT: EXCEPT questions can often throw students off so make sure that you get in the habit of physically circling every time you see the word EXCEPT.
16. Go with your gut: You know what I’m talking about…when you’re at the end of your test and you go back to that one question that nagged you and you think that you need to change your answer. Don’t. More often than not your gut was right. There’s a reason why you chose that answer so go with your instinct.
17. Use checkmarks: If you feel confident about your answer to a particular multiple-choice question, make a small checkmark next to that question number. The reason why you want to do this is that when you go back to review your answer choices, you’ll be able to quickly recognize which questions you need to spend more time taking a second look at. Also, making this checkmark gives you momentum moving forward throughout the multiple-choice section. If you feel good about an answer, that little bit of positive reinforcement will help keep you alert as you move through the multiple choice questions.
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Overall How to Study for AP European History Tips
1. Do not read your book for straight facts and figures: The way middle schools teach history set up high school students for failure when it comes to tackling challenging history courses. Rather than memorize facts from your book like you’ve done since middle school, create a framework and general understanding of the core themes from your reading. Believe it or not, knowing the type of bread that XYZ leader liked is not important. A lot of history books go excessively in depth in regards to the nitty gritty. Learn to selectively read the important bits of information and practice summarizing the key points of your reading by outlining 3-5 key takeaways in your notes on your readings. If you cannot connect the dots, then you will simply craft essays with random “name drops” and “date drops”; as a result, your AP score will reflect your inability to create a cohesive argument.
2. Try out the SQ3R method: This is a popular studying technique that can be applied for more than just AP European History. Francis Robinson originally created it in a 1946 book called Effective Study.
3. S (Survey): Preview what you are about to read. Look at the beginning of the chapter and look at the end. Look at the main headings of each subsection of the chapter. Read the discussion questions often found at the end of sections. Think about how this section relates to a larger part of history; think about how this may connect to something you’ve previously learned.
4. Q (Question): Think about questions to keep in mind as you prepare to read. One way to do this is by re-framing the headers of subsections and to pose them as questions. Ask questions such as, “Why is this important?”, “What does this reveal to me about the overall time period?”, etc.
5. Read (R): Now you can begin to read. After surveying and questioning, you can now read the chapter keeping the prep work you’ve done in mind. Doing S and Q beforehand helps keep you engaged and active. Make sure you use your pencil to guide yourself as you read. If you can write in your book, circle and underline key things. Active reading helps the content stick with you.
6. Recall (R): At the end of each major section, take a minute or two to recall the key things that you just read about. Review the bolded key terms, and answer the main questions you posed to yourself earlier. Use your own words to describe what you just read. Think about it like you are telling your best friend about what you read about today. Saying things out loud can help you remember things more easily.
7. Review (R): You can either do this with a friend or by yourself. After you’ve done SQRR, you want to top everything off with review. Look at the notes you’ve taken along the way and test yourself on the key bits of information from your reading. The key to the SQ3R method is creating a system of processing information and making that information stick. By reviewing several times at random points of the day, you’ll help move the information you’ve learned from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.
8. Connect, connect, connect: In case we haven’t mentioned it enough, AP European History is all about connecting the dots. Whether you’re just doing your nightly reading or reviewing for your test, it’s helpful and essential that you recognize how events and people in history are interrelated. History is the study of how people interact with one another. One technique to make sure you are connecting the dots is to write key events or terms on flashcards; then at the end of your reading or review session, categorize your flashcards into 5-7 different categories. You may end up doing this by time period, by a significant overarching event, etc. A good way to think about this is you have 5-7 drawers, and a bunch of random things lying around in your room. Each thing represents some event or important person in history and you want to fit all the things into one drawer in order to make your room clean again. If the clean room analogy doesn’t work for you, try to think of a way to get in the categorizing mindset yourself and let us know about it!
9. Create a cheat sheet: While unfortunately you won’t be able to use your cheat sheet on the actual test, you can use a cheat sheet to help simplify your reviewing process as the AP European History test gets closer. Create a cheat sheet that is flexible and can be added on to—then as the year progresses and you do more and more readings, add to your cheat sheet. Before you know it, you’ll have a handy and hopefully concise reference guide that you can turn to in those last few weeks before the test.
Tips Submitted by AP European History Teachers
1. Keep referring back to the question: While writing the essay portion, especially the DBQ, remember to keep referring back to the question and make sure that you have not gone off on a tangent. When students drop the ball on an essay it is usually because they do not answer the question. Thanks for the tip from Ms. N at South High School in MI.
2. Review your vocab: Complete the vocabulary at the beginning of each section of your preferred AP European History prep book. If you do not know the meaning of the terminology in a question you will not be able to answer the question correctly. Thanks for the tip from Ms. O at Northville High in MI.
3. Do lots of point-of-view statements: You don’t want to suffer on your DBQ because you only had two acceptable POV’s. Do 4 or 5 or 6. And be sure to say how reliable a source is ABOUT WHAT based on their background, audience or purpose. Thanks for the tip from Steve!
4. Complete readings as they are assigned: Chunking material is the best
way to learn and then to synthesize material. Look at the primary sources and secondary sources to support textual readings. Think in thematic terms. Thanks for the tip from Ms. J at Trinity High in PA.
5. Supplement your in-class learning with videos: Tom Richey has put together a comprehensive YouTube playlist just for AP European History students. You can check it out at here. He also has a great website you can check out here.
6. Provide context in your DBQ: When trying to write a point of view statement for the DBQ you must include three things: First, state who the author really is.Second, what did he actually say.Third, why is said it.
Are you a teacher? Do you have an awesome tip? Let us know!
Hopefully you’ve learned a ton from reading all 50+ of these AP European History tips. Remember, AP European History is one of the most challenging AP exams to score high on, so it’s crucial you put in the work to get you there. Read actively and review constantly throughout the year, so that you do not feel an incredible burden of stress as the AP exam nears. Approach readings using SQ3R, connect the dots between documents, and understand how you are going to be graded by AP readers. You’re going to do great! Good luck.
Start your AP European History Prep today
Looking for AP European History practice?
Kickstart your AP European History prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.