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A powerful term in U.S. high schools: DBQ

May 12, 2013 by

Jay_MathewsBy Jay Mathews –

You may not know what a DBQ is. For most of my life, neither did I. But in the high schools of this region and the rest of the country it has become an important and in some ways fearsome term.

It haunts the dreams of 400,000 teenagers who will take the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. history Wednesday. It is part of a massive reform of the AP exam system that controls the schedules of most of the nation’s high schools every May.


DBQ is an acronym for “document-based question.” Multiple-choice questions make up 55 minutes of the 3-hour, 5-minute AP U.S. History exam, which has the second-largest number of AP test-takers, behind only the English Language and Composition exam. The rest of the time is devoted to two essay questions and the DBQ, an essay based on roughly 10 short historical documents or quotes. The DBQ counts more than any other question on the exam. It draws by far the most attention, including pre-exam guessing of what it will be about.

Is DBQ mania good for our schools? Philip W. Engle Jr., a history teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, has been educating me on this. He has been an AP teacher for 20 years. He doesn’t think DBQs are bad. They “require students to work with documents and use higher-level thinking skills to use this information to defend a thesis,” Engle said. “This is a great skill to have, especially when writing research papers.”

But to Engle, the DBQ seems at odds with the view of the College Board — and most universities — that AP U.S. History is a college-level course.

via A powerful term in U.S. high schools: DBQ – Class Struggle – The Washington Post.

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