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How to Pre-Write Your Essay for AP US History

5 min readdecember 14, 2021

Dylan Black

Dylan Black


AP US History 🇺🇸

454 resources
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Worried about the time limit and scoring well on LEQs and DBQs? Don't be! After a year-long class, you'll know all the information you need, and pre-writing will help you write efficiently.
Find the 2020 exam schedule, learn tips & tricks, and get your frequently asked questions answered on Fiveable's Guide to the 2020 AP Exam Updates.
What is pre-writing in APUSH? Pre-writing is creating a roadmap for your LEQ or DBQ. It will help you choose which LEQ prompt to go with, decide what points you should discuss, and write your thesis.
Here's a breakdown of how to pre-write your LEQs and DBQS.

Document-Based Questions (DBQs)

The first 15 minutes you are given to write a DBQ are considered a "reading period." This should be about the amount of time you'll need to plan your essay.
Here's a basic outline of how to plan a DBQ:

📖 Read the prompt

Briefly read over the prompt and documents to get a general idea of what you're writing about. Start to think of the context of the situation. When reading your documents, don't focus on knowing every single little detail about the document. The acronym CHIPPO can help you read documents for efficiently:
  • Content: What is the document about?
  • Historical Context: What is the historical context surrounding this document? What large trends shape it?
  • Intended Audience:  Who was this written for? Large audience or a single person? How does that shape the document's analysis?
  • Purpose: Why did the author write this document?
  • POV: What is the author's point of view regarding the content and how does this shape the document and your analysis?
  • Outside Evidence: Is there anything you know about this document that is not in the document or another document?

📑 Organize your evidence

Once you know what you're writing about, make a list of the documents that can support either side of the prompt. For example, if the prompt said "What was the most important factor in causing the Civil War?" you could make a T-chart with documents on one side that show how one factor was important, and documents on the other side that show how a different factor was important. Take note of how each document can prove a point. If you have evidence outside of the documents, you can also add that to the T chart. Grouping the documents into sections related to the prompt can help you write a good thesis and thus a good essay and will make your evidence easier to collect and analyze.

💭 Develop your thesis

Once you have all of the required documents and 1-2 outside pieces of evidence in your T chart, pick the side that you can best argue and use that to write your thesis. Draw conclusions about how each document provides evidence to support your argument, and include this evidence in your thesis.

🤔 Outline where documents should be used in your response

Create an outline of what point you will make in each paragraph of your essay and how each of the documents will further that point.
If you have extra time, you can do a more in-depth analysis of the documents where you plan how to describe them, and look at how either point of view, purpose, historical situation, and/or audience is relevant to your argument for 3 of them. You can plan where to put that information in your essay as well because that's one of the seven points you can get.
Another good thing to think about if you have extra time is how you can get the complex understanding point.

✏️ Write the Essay!

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Long Essay Questions (LEQs)

👀 Skim the prompt choices

On any AP History exam, you will be given three choices for your LEQ (you only have to write one!), each on a different time period. Prompt 1 will be from an early period, 2 from the middle, 3 usually from a later period. Skim the choices and pick the one you know the most about. You may love prompt 2, but if you know way more about prompt 1, go with prompt 1.

📎 Organize your evidence

Make a t-chart and put evidence that supports one perspective of the prompt on one side, and evidence that opposes on the other. For example, if the prompt was "Evaluate the extent that ice cream is delicious" you could make a chart with reasons it is to a great extent (it tastes good) on one side, and reasons why it is to a small or no extent on the other (I'm lactose intolerant).

💭 Develop your thesis

Once you have a T-chart, pick your argument based on whatever side has the most evidence. Going back to the ice cream example, if in the great extent category you have 3 reasons, but in the less extent you only have one, you should argue that it is delicious to a great extent, regardless of what your actual opinion is. Once you have your argument and supporting evidence, write your thesis. When you write your thesis, an easy way to try earning the complexity point is to incorporate both sides into your argument. For example, a thesis may read: "Ice cream is delicious to a large extent. It comes in many flavors and has a variety of toppings. However, it also causes a mess when it melts". The last sentence here will help you create a more nuanced argument. In terms of AP History, this means arguing both continuity and change or both similarities and differences.

📝 Map out paragraphs

Now that you have your argument, evidence, and thesis done, make a list of each paragraph you'll write and for each paragraph jot down what the point of it is, what evidence you will use in it, and any additional ideas you have. A good thing to think about if you have extra time is how you can get the complex understanding point.

🤓 Write your essay

💡 Remember it's important to practice timed essays and find what pre-writing strategy works for you. To master APUSH essays, you'll have to practice! Here are some practice prompts to help you prepare to crush the exam. Remember, timed essay writing is a learned skill, and with some practice, you'll get awesome at it!
Good luck this year, have fun learning history, and go into your exam with confidence! You got this!

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