The hardest part of the exam is the Document Based Question (DBQ). You will have one hour to complete the DBQ. The time starts with a 15 minutes reading/planning period where no test taker is allowed to write on the answer sheet. Following that is a 45 minute period where the students can write on the answer sheet or continue to plan.


The DBQ is scored on a scale from 1 to 9. It is worth 40.5 points total (45% of the 90 total essay points available). That means that for every point you get on the rubric, you gain 4.5 points towards your final score. This is place to raise your score and can easily make the difference between a final score of a 2 or 3 (and a 4 or 5). Going from a 4 to a 6 on the DBQ can raise your grade as much as getting 8 extra multiple choice items correct. Below you'll find a copy of the rubic. Click "Learn More" to be taken to a more in-depth description.

Basic Core

Provides an appropriate, expliceitly stated thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question. Thesis must not simple restate the question. Learn More


Discusses a majority of the documents individually and specifically. Learn More


Demonstrates understanding of the basic meaning of a majority of the documents (may misinterpret no more than one). Learn More


Supports the thesis with appropriate interpretations of a majority of the documents. Learn More


Analyzes point of view or bias in at least three of the documents. Learn More


Analyzes documents by explicitly organizing themin at least three appropriate groups. Learn More

Expanded Core
(All 6 points must be earned in the Basic Core to qualify for Expanded Core points)
  1. Presents a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis.
  2. Uses all or almost all of the documents (10-12)
  3. Uses the documents persuasively as evidence.
  4. Shows understading of nuances of the documents.
  5. Analyzes point of view or bias in at least four documents.
  6. Analyzes the documents in additional ways (e.g., develops more groups)
  7. Recognizes and develops change over time.
  8. Brings in relevant outside information.
0 - 3


Understanding the Rubric


The most missed part of the rubric is the thesis. The number one mistake is writing a thesis that does not answer all parts of the question. Nearly every DBQ question has more than one part. The 2011 DBQ question was "Analyze the influence of ideas about gender on the reign of Elizabeth I and explain how Elizabeth responded to these ideas." This is a two part question. If the thesis you create does not address both gender ideas and Elizabeth I's response you will lose out on this point and not be eligible for any of the Expanded Core.

The next most common mistake is writing a thesis that is general. Remember, the thesis must be explicitley stated. AP readers are reading thousands of essays - they will not take the time to hunt for your thesis. Make it clear to the reader by placing it either at the beginning or end of your opening paragraph. Return

Number of Documents


This is one straight forward - use more than half of the documents. If there are 12 documents then you must use at least 7 of them. However, you should shoot to use between 10 and 12 documents, for reasons I will explain later. Return



This one is commonly missed as well. The DBQ requires that a student mention the document specificallly, and correctly, in their essay. If a student says "Thomas Paine's Common Sense played no role in the American Revolution." they have misinterpreted the document. The College Board gives you one free mistake - any more than that and you lose this point. Return



This one is tied for the most missed part of the rubric because if a student does not have a thesis, how can they support it? Paying attention to the language of the rubic will show you that if you miss point 1 you automatically miss this one as well. The thesis is important because without a good one the highest score you can get is a 4. Return

Point of View (POV)


The hardest to prove, but also the easiest way to ensure a score of 7 or higher. There are three ways to show POV (this has been taken directly from the College Board webpage)

Relating authorial point of view to author’s place in society:

“Leonard von Eck, as a chancellor, would likely hold this view since as a government official he is probably very concerned with preserving order and the stability of the political structure. (doc. 1)”

“Since Martin Luther had been deemed a heretic and was dependent upon local princes for protection, it is not surprising that he would be so vehement in condemning events that many linked to him and that were causing such civil unrest. (doc. 7)”

Evaluating the reliability of the source:

“Lichtenstein may not be a completely reliable source, however, since he was pleading his own case and clearly had something to gain. (doc. 10)”

“Since Caspar Nutzel is a local government official writing to a superior, his acknowledgement of “excessive” actions by authorities seems credible since it may have been somewhat risky to offer criticism of authority during this time period. (doc. 9)”

Recognizing that different kinds of documents serve different purposes:

“It is important to note that Lorenz Fries is commenting in a secret report probably not meant for publication; therefore, he is likely able to be more frank and honest than he might have been in a public document. (doc. 8)”




The final point in the Basic Core comes from grouping. The student must provide 3 groups of at least 2 documents. However, only using 2 documents means that if you misinterpret one you no longer have a group and therefore lose a point. Avoid this by using 3 documents per group.

Documents can be grouped in any number of ways - social class of the author, political affilition of the author, gender of the author, geographic location, acts/laws, etc. The key here is to be specific. Use phrases like "The lowest classes were against the Corn Laws because they artificially raised food prices. Random-poor-person said such-and-such (Doc 1).  Another random-poor-person argued such-and-such (Doc2)." Return



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