The required DBQ differs from the standard essays in its emphasis on your ability to analyze and synthesize historical data and assess verbal, quantitative, or pictorial materials as historical evidence. Like the standard essays, however, the DBQ is judged on its thesis and argument.
Although confined to no single format, the documents are unlikely to be the familiar classics (such as the Emancipation Proclamation or the Declaration of Independence), but their authors may be major historical figures. The documents vary in length and are chosen to illustrate the interactions and complexities of the historical process. They may include charts, graphs, cartoons, and pictures, as well as written materials. The DBQ typically requires students to relate the documents to a historical period or theme and thus to focus on major periods and issues. For this reason, outside knowledge -- information gained from materials other than the documents -- is very important and must be incorporated into your essay if the highest scores are to be earned.
Information on DBQs since 1999 is posted on the AP United States History Exam Questions page. The AP United States History Exam
Preparing Students to Answer DBQs
Teach your students the process required in responding to document-based questions. Work through this entire process with your students on the first DBQ you assign them. You may wish to begin with the 1993 DBQ on colonial New England and the Chesapeake because it is user-friendly. The question is clearly stated, and the documents are easy to read and to understand. Major textbooks compare and contrast the development of society in the New England and Chesapeake areas, which can be used by students as outside information; that is, students will have information above and beyond that presented in the documents. Work through this process (up to writing the essay) with your students in one day. Impress upon them the importance of...