Testing Tips: Suggestions for the Document-Based Question
Read some historical documents from the D.B.Q. time period, or at least excerpts from documents, before the test. Documents written before the 1800s can be very difficult to read because people back then used different spelling, capitalization, and sentence structure. Also, legal and government documents from any time period can be difficult to read at first -- the style is quite different from modern everyday writing. By reading some documents before the test, you can get used to the unusual writing style.
You do not have to use all of the documents, but you should use most of them. Try not to omit more than one or two documents from your essay.
To help you plan your essay, you may want to take notes on the general ideas in each of the documents. Also, you may want make notes on the other historical details from the time period which could help support your essay.
I have been told that graders give more points to essays which take the less-accepted or more difficult to defend viewpoint on the D.B.Q. (i.e., Franklin D. Roosevelt was a conservative, or liberals supported the Vietnam War). However, I doubt that there is much truth in this idea. Pick whichever point of view you feel is best supported by the documents and the historical facts.
If the question includes subtopics, make sure you address them in your essay. You will lose points if you don't.
Do take a stand on the question. Draw a definite conclusion from the historical facts and documents. Do not spend your whole essay explaining that there are many different ways to interpret the facts and that you cannot draw a conclusion one way or the other.
Make sure you explain how the documents and historical facts support your answer to the question.
Good writing skills are not necessary for the history essays, but they certainly don't hurt.