About the Test: The Document-Based Question
60 minutes are allotted to the document-based question. The first 15 minutes are for reading the question and documents and planning your essay. The last 45 minutes are for writing the essay. During 15 minutes, you can (and probably should) take a look at the next four essay questions and start thinking about which two you would like to answer. However, you cannot start writing your essay until the 15 minutes are up.
The D.B.Q. question consists of a statement and a time period, such as, "To what extent did the status of Blacks in America change during the period from 1940-1980?" Sometimes the question will include subtopics, as in, "To what extent did the social, political, and economic status of Blacks in America change during the period from 1940-1980?" If the question inludes subtopics, you must write about those subtopics in your answer. Sometimes the question will not be a question at all, but rather a statement which you are asked to agree or disagree with: "The status of Blacks in America changed radically during the period from 1940-1980. Use the documents and your knowledge of the time period to assess the validity of the statement." The question always calls for an opinion answer, so there is no right or wrong answer. The amount of points you get will depend upon how well you support your answer with the documents and with your own knowledge.
There are generally nine documents following the question, all of which date from the time period of the question. You can choose which to use, but you should use most of them. Most of the documents are short written excerpts, about 1-3 paragraphs in length. They may be parts of laws, court case rulings, official declarations, presidential addresses, editorials, speeches, books, or personal letters. Not all of the documents will be written excerpts; generally a D.B.Q. will include at least one or two political cartoons, pictures, charts, graphs, or maps.
When answering the D.B.Q., you should refer to the documents and also include historical details from your own knowledge. The graders look primarily for a thoughful thesis statement, sound historical support, and good use of the documents to support your answer.