AP Exam-Steps to Write DBQ or Synthesis Paper

AP Exam-Steps to Write DBQ or Synthesis Paper

DBQs and Synthesis papers continue to be very challenging to AP students. As I mentioned in my previous post about what a DBQ or Synthesis paper is [which you can find here] I will explain the method to write a successful DBQ or Synthesis paper on your AP Exam.  (For clarification, a the DBQ is a Document-Based Question for social science exams, while the Synthesis paper is a similar for the English Language and Literature Exams.)

First, you should read the prompt carefully and bullet point what the directions are asking you to do! Generally, for the these types of essays, the directions ask you to use prior knowledge of the subject area as well as the given sources to create an argument or answer the question. First, note what your prior knowledge is on your scratch paper. Write how you would answer the question or the prompt based on only prior knowledge. You should try to formulate an answer before looking at the sources because this will guide your interpretation when surveying the sources.

The next step is to actually look through the sources. Note each author’s argument in the sources and the way that they made their argument, also known as the author’s rhetoric.The student must identify rhetorical devices on the AP English Language and Literature Exams, while on the AP World and US History Exams, the student must look for historical data and author biases. Understanding an author’s bias on a history exam is one of the requirements of the DBQ for these exams. Biases affect the way that historical actors record history, so as historians, we have to make sure to account for certain biases when analyzing the historical actor’s written work. We cannot always take their writings at face value, for historical actors may have had a certain agenda when writing the document.

Mark up each document and leave yourself a note in summary of the document so that you can go back to the document later and remember in detail what the document argued or meant. For the AP English Language and Literature Exam, many teachers advise their students to mark the document’s tone through a visual aid: a “+” represents a positive tone, while a “-” represents a negative tone. This quick representation of tone helps when the student begins writing the response.

The next step is to outline your argument, starting with your thesis. In general, an English Language thesis requires the student to analyze an argument, either historical or contemporary. An English Literature thesis compels the student to analyze the author’s use of rhetorical devices to create a successful piece of literature. On social science exams, the student must create a thesis that his historically-sound and also uses the given sources as evidence for their argument.

Once you have created a thesis, and an outline, you are ready to begin writing your paper. Good luck!

Blog Post by Rachel S. Stuart a Tutor and Featured Blogger for Academic Advantage Tutoring

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About Rachel

I have always been a proud “nerd.” When I could, I always helped my friends with their homework because I just loved to teach them how to think about the world differently. In particular, history and writing have always been my specialties. When I was a little girl, my aspiration was to one day be a history professor! I hope to begin Master’s classes in the field of education and continue to be fascinated by changing technology in the classroom and different ways of engaging my students’ creativity!
Honors and awards: Phi Beta Kappa, Highest Honors in History Honors Program at Emory, Recipient of the Theodore H. Jack Award, Phi Alpha Theta, Pi Sigma Alpha, Dean’s List at Emory.

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