It was my junior year of high school when I was faced with my first DBQ, in my case, for the AP U.S. History Exam. As with almost any student who is forced to dish out an acceptable essay in a strict amount of time, fear was the emotion that immediately came to the forefront. Fortunately, I was blessed with a teacher who had been handling these tests for decades, allowing me to gather knowledge for timed essays that I will carry with me throughout my educational journey.
When introducing the DBQ to your students, first explain to them that this will be a process and a skill that they will acquire over time. Rather than discouraging them or setting them up for failure, you are actually just being realistic, something that they will surely appreciate. Next, make sure they understand exactly what a DBQ is: a question that they will answer using provided documents to support their thesis, while also incorporating outside knowledge on the topic.
Now that the basics are out of the way, you will need to start preparing them months in advance for the May exam. This can be started out by providing individual documents, graphs, or pictures as bell ringers for your students to analyze. Tell them to pick out the time period, purpose, audience, author, significance, and any outside knowledge they may have on the subject. This will train their minds to look at a document and be able to divvy out what it means much faster than they previously would have.
Once you feel like they are comfortable enough with analyzing individual documents, it is safe to say that they are now ready for some practice DBQs. It is advisable that you go through their first one with them as a class, allowing a sort of brainstorming session to take place in order for students to see how their peers are approaching the question and documents. For the second DBQ you should tell them that there will be one on this date and what the topic of it will be, not allowing them to see the documents beforehand this time. Allow them a class period to finish the DBQ, handing it in for you to check at the end of class. You can repeat one of these two methods if you feel they may not be 100% ready for the real deal yet, but eventually you will have to throw a few surprise ones into the mix. Though you will surely get some groans, the class will thank you once exam day comes around for giving them ample prep time.
Now that you have the basic plan, it is time to figure out how you’re going teach the specifics. First off, the phrase “quality over quantity” is vital for students to get through their DBQs. Here are some simple tips that they will be able to remember when they’re taking the exam, and will leave you to rest easily.
1) Explain to them that they should mark up those books as soon as they get them, jotting down any names, places, or ideas that come to their minds right off the bat.
2) Continuously reinforce the idea that they need to stick to the time period that is in the question. It is so easy to stray from the main idea, and this will surely anger the reader, ultimately resulting in a low score.
3) Tell them not to restate the document, but analyze just like how they practiced at the beginning of the year.
4) Introductory paragraphs can be kept short. They can use this to set up some basics of the time period and then provide their thesis. “Fluff” is not imperative to make their essays seem more well written.
5) While grammar is a good thing to keep in mind, they should not dwell on a misspelled word or punctuation unless they feel it will completely distract the reader.
6) Avoid copying long quotations; rather, tell them to use an ellipse to get to the main points of the sentence or paragraph.
7) They should always refer to the document they have used at the beginning of the sentence, and, just to be on the safe side, cite the document in parenthesis at the end. Ex: (Document A)
No matter which methods you decide to use, practice is the most imperative part of preparing your students for the DBQ. Treat them as if they are elementary school students learning how to take an exam for the first time, young minds who still need to be instructed on just how important it is to fill that little bubble in completely. The best thing you can do is encourage them to do their best and trust in yourself that you have shaped their minds well enough to strive for that 5.