What is DBQ? (Meaning, format, DBQ Score, How-to)

What is DBQ?

Do you wonder what a DBQ is? Have you come across the acronym DBQ? Then this article is for you.

As you make preparations to go to college, you’ll want to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible you can handle.

Aside from the extra challenge they come with, these courses can help save cost and time as they get you college credits. However, passing the AP exam is essential before you receive your college credits.

The AP exam may include a Document-Based Question (DBQ). 

This article provides information on the following: what a DBQ means, its purpose, exams that constitutes a DBQ, DBQ formats, ways of writing/scoring a DBQ.

What Does a DBQ Mean?

A DBQ is an essay-type question that requires several paragraphs to be written as a response.

Historical documents are used in DBQs for an issue or a trend analysis that relates to past events.

In every DBQ, there are usually five to seven documents that can be used for analysis, ranging from secondary to primary sources, including newspapers, letters, maps, and many more.

When answering a DBQ, you should employ all of the abilities from your AP class. That way, you explore your abilities as a historian. On the other hand, when writing your essay, you will need to demonstrate the following abilities:

  • Evaluate the idea behind the documents, including the target audience and the author’s view.
  • Find relationships between the several documents.
  • Apply your historical issue knowledge to build a stronger case.
  • Write a strong thesis statement and support the statement with an analysis of the documents.

The Various Exams that Constitute a DBQ

Document-based questions are shown on selected Advanced Placement (AP) exams only.

You only get to answer a DBQ if you take the AP European History, AP US History, or the AP World History examination. Each of these exam sources is gotten from relevant materials, and they include a DBQ whilst making use of the same format.

The Formats of a DBQ

Document-based questions or DBQs are shown at the beginning of the writing section, which makes up the Part II of an AP exam.

Firstly, you’ll get to see the section instructions at the top of the page. Below the section instructions, you’ll see the essay question as well as the historical documents.

There are just two essay questions in the AP history exam: one lengthy essay and one DBQ, with a total of 90 minutes to fill in your response. 

However, the proctor won’t tell you how to share your time between the two essay questions. It’s up to you to decide how to split your time and manage it judiciously to complete the two essay questions successfully.

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How is a DBQ written?

To respond to a DBQ, you need a basic understanding of the problem at hand.

Your historical knowledge of the essay question is a minor part, whilst your ability to analyze the relevant sources and draw inferences and conclusions is the major thing. Follow these tips below to score high on the DBQ.

1. Read the Question repeatedly to get a thorough understanding: 

No matter how good your essay is, if it doesn’t address or answer the question, you automatically lose a point, at least during the scoring process.

Before filling in your response, ensure you read the prompt a few more times to understand it better. 

2. Examine the documents and their sources carefully: 

After reading the questions, focus on them. Read each source carefully whilst paying rapt attention to how similar or different the documents are. Ensure also to evaluate their point of view, period, and any other context you can grasp.

3. Outlining and organization of Essay: 

To utilize your time well, create an outline to help with organizing your thoughts. At least five paragraphs should be in your essay.

The essay paragraphs should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion, leaving three paragraphs for the body written in between. This is of utmost importance for a good DBQ.

4. Begin with a strong introduction: 

After the organization of your essay, you begin with writing a compelling introduction.

Your thesis statement should be at the opening, in addition to enthralling the reader and outlining the substance of the essay.

A good thesis statement makes up the essay question, so you must take your time to ensure you are responding correctly to the question and making a strong argument.

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5. Write and edit your response: 

Lastly, write the essay and support your thesis statement with arguments.

The historical sources used should be referenced repeatedly. This is where your analytical skills are important, to analyze the documents carefully.

On the other hand, wrap up your conclusion with an argument, and if you can, relate the issue to history.

How are DBQs scored?

In writing an AP exam, you are given limited time to fill in your response. Moreover, knowing how the exam is scored can help you concentrate more energy and time on the right place or section.

Your DBQ score constitutes only a quarter in your grading for the whole AP exam. Generally, on the DBQ exam, you can score a total of seven points.

However, based on the information from the College Board guidelines, here’s how a point is earned:

  • A solid thesis that addresses the question asked.
  • Historical context and sources references that support the arguments presented.
  • At least six of the sources listed should be used to support your thesis.
  • Examine the point of view, context, purpose, and audience for four or more sources.
  • Lastly, give the argument more weight by discussing the historical context.


Getting a high score can go a long way towards making a college credit; it mustn’t necessarily be a perfect seven. However, so many colleges offer courses credit to students with a three or more on an AP exam.

This article has offered tips on how to write a DBQ and other guidelines governing the system.

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