What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
Nisha Desai
6 AP Guides

How to Ace the AP European History DBQ

What’s Covered:


The AP European History course is considered fairly difficult by most students, especially for the notorious DBQ that you’ll encounter during the exam. But, don’t let this scare you! CollegeVine’s resources and tips below can help you understand what’s expected of you and construct a successful response to the Document Based Question (DBQ) on the exam. 


AP European History: A Brief Introduction


The AP European History exam is one of the harder AP exams, with only 11.7% of students receiving a score of five. Therefore, it’s super important to understand the structure of the exam, what previous knowledge you’ll need before taking it, and how you should write your responses on the exam. Although it might seem daunting at first, the following tips and ideas can help ease the writing process. 


The exam is structures as follows:


  • Multiple choice: 55 minutes | 55 questions | 40% of score
  • Short answer questions: 40 minutes | 3 questions | 20% of score
  • Free response: 1 hour 40 minutes | 2 questions | 40% of score (Includes DBQ)


What is the AP Euro Document Based Question?


The Document Based Question (DBQ) is an hour long, free-response question worth 25% of your total score. Presented with seven documents of various perspectives, you’re expected to construct an argument with provided evidence and information as well as accumulated knowledge to create a holistic and persuasive response. 


Tackling the AP Euro DBQ is best done by understanding the rubric and what is required of you to achieve a higher score. Actively reading, as opposed to passively skimming, through your documents is important to save time and create an outline or plan for your response. For this test, forming a solid thesis is a great start, as it will create a strong foundation to build the rest of your essay on. Linking back to your thesis throughout your AP Euro DBQ response is vital to streamline your writing process and ensure you best present your argument! 


How is the AP Euro DBQ Evaluated?


As mentioned before, having a solid understanding of the rubric is essential to earning a good score. Let’s take a look at the scoring guidelines from the most recent test so that you can better understand what the AP graders are looking for in particular. Note that the DBQ is scored out of seven points.


Row A: Thesis/Claim (0–1 points)

  • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point.
  • 1 point: Responds to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis/claim that establishes a line of reasoning.


Row B: Contextualization (0–1 points)

  • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point.
  • 1 point: Describes a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.


Row C: Evidence (0–3 points)

  • Evidence from the Documents
    • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point.
    • 1 point: Uses the content of at least three documents to address the topic of the prompt.
    • 2 points: Supports an argument in response to the prompt using at least six documents.
  • Evidence beyond the Documents
    • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point
    • 1 point: Uses at least one additional piece of the specific historical evidence (beyond that found in the documents) relevant to an argument about the prompt.


Row D: Analysis and Reasoning (0–2 points)

  • Sourcing
    • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point.
    • 1 point: For at least three documents, explain how or why the document’s point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to an argument.
  • Complexity
    • 0 points: Does not meet the criteria for one point.
    • 1 point: Demonstrates a complex understanding of the historical development that is the focus of the prompt, using evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the question.


The graders reference these scoring guidelines as they read your essays, so it’s really important that you cater your response to very clearly meet each criterion.


Preparing for the AP Euro DBQ


Take practice exams


Taking practice exams and perfecting your DBQ responses is key to scoring high. Make sure that you grade each exam you take, so you’ll learn the structure and requirements that are expected for a good score; you can refer to the criteria summarized above for further details. As you practice, take note of any trends or common mistakes you find yourself making so that you can make sure to adjust those habits before you take the actual test. Essentially, practice does make perfect and your chances of success increase greatly as you build more experience with responding to DBQs.


Pay attention to timing


Practicing the DBQs beforehand could also help you get used to the timing of the exam and help alleviate some of the stress during test day. Outlining may help you plan out your writing process, but keep in mind that this is best done during your 15 minute reading period, as it could possibly eat away from your precious writing time. Staying mindful of your time limits is important to keep you calm and collected during the writing process, so try to time yourself as you take practice exams!


Your Test Day Plan for the AP Euro DBQ


1. Glance at the documents


Your first step (after reading the prompt) should be to skim through the documents during your reading period. As you do so, look for keywords or find context that will clue you into the document’s overall message. This will give you an idea as to how best to incorporate the document into your response. 


Jotting down a brief summary next to the passage will also save you time from not having to reread the same document again and again, leaving you free time to potentially plan or outline your essay response. Take notes, highlight or circle keywords as you read so you don’t forget/miss them later when writing, and you’ll find the process of writing your response easier!


2. Construct a strong, provable thesis


Forming a thesis that’s strong and probable as a claim is vital to creating a convincing argument in your response. Making sure the information you use to backup your thesis is from the documents is important as well, and this is usually found via skimming, as mentioned earlier. Finding the information you salvage via skimming and linking it to your thesis is going to set your DBQ up for success. 


3. Find evidence within the documents


Now, you should go back to the documents and find specific pieces of information that will support your thesis.


It’s important to cite all 6 documents into your response, and relate everything you cite to your thesis whenever possible. This not only constantly relates your response to the topic at hand, but it ensures you’re making use of all readily available evidence to score as high as possible.


Also, for at least three of the documents, you need to show how the point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant. This is said specifically in the scoring criteria, so it’s something that needs to be included in the essay. This may seem daunting, but can actually be easily done if most of your evidence ties into one of these areas!


For example, if you’re citing evidence from a particular document, check if it falls into one of the following categories:


  • Point of view
  • Purpose
  • Historical situation
  • Audience


If it does, then you can easily describe its relevance by using that piece of evidence in your essay to support your thesis!


4. Find your additional piece of specific historical evidence


Another important aspect of the grading criteria is including an additional piece of historical evidence. The AP exam emphasizes that this evidence should be highly specific—while still directly supporting your thesis. This information won’t be in the documents, so you’ll have to rely on your existing AP European History knowledge!


If you’re struggling to come up with something, try rereading the documents to see if it sparks your memory. Also, remember that you’ll be writing the free response portion after the multiple choice sections. This means that some of the questions or figures on the multiple choice section may help you remember relevant information which you can later use on the DBQ.


5. Write your DBQ!


Once you’re clear on your thesis and evidence, you’re ready to write your essay! 


The structure of the essay is very important, and starting with the intro is your first step. Creating a very clear thesis, as we mentioned earlier, will help you structure the rest of your essay. In fact, if you’re struggling with writing an introduction, create a thesis first to at least get started on the rest of your essay. 


Also, linking each paragraph to a document source in some way is important to make sure that your claims are supported by evidence. Keep in mind that you should include the point of view, purpose, or context relative to the documents whenever applicable. Finally, writing a conclusion that links to the holistic view of the essay is important, and you might even find it easier to write your intro after the conclusion, as it closes the essay in a loop. 


How Will AP Scores Affect My College Chances?


Though doing well on your AP exams is important, your actual score doesn’t really impact your chances of admission. What’s more important are the AP classes that you take are even more important than the exam scores achieved, meaning the impact of your AP scores isn’t as big as you think


Focusing on the AP classes taken and the relevance of those classes to your future college major could be more impactful to you and your admissions. For a further detailed understanding of the role AP classes play in regards to your college admissions, use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator, which takes into account your GPA, standardized test scores and more. 


Learn More About The AP European History DBQ


As you prepare for the AP European History DBQ, check out some of CollegeVine’s other articles:


Short Bio
Nisha Desai is a second year student at the University of California, Riverside. She recently started working at CollegeVine, but has done application guidance and tutoring in a private capacity for a couple of years. She is in school to eventually get her Masters in Education and enjoys reading and running in her free time.