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Break time

When 55 minutes are up, the proctor will say, "Stop working. Close your booklet, and put your answer sheet on your desk." You've got a 10-minute break before the Section II essay section calls upon you to create great history fast. Use those 10 minutes to get up and walk as far as you can from the crowd. Practice deep breathing lightly as you walk: four-count deep inhalation through your nose and a long, peaceful exhale through your mouth. Shake your arms; roll your shoulders and neck. Now's not the time to impress people or gossip; you are in the middle of a race. Make sure to hit the bathroom on your way back, if there's any chance you'll need to go in the next 2 hours.

As you walk, think about what was good about how you did on Section I. Congratulate yourself for the answers that you knew and leave the other ones behind. Professional athletes are champions partly because they shake off the past and concentrate on what's coming up.

Section II: The DBQ and essays

Section II of the exam covers short essay writing, and it's divided into three sections: Parts A through C. Part A is the Document-Based Question (DBQ). Chapter 4 is devoted to nothing but this single topic. The DBQ is perhaps the greatest moment of high art in any history exam. For now, you don't have to appreciate its beauty. Just remember: Make notes and collect your thoughts before you write. Part B and Part C each contain two regular essay questions. Here, you get to pick the one question from each of the two parts that seems the least scary.

Before you can set pen to paper for the DBQ, Section II wants you to spend 15 minutes alone with it, just reading. Your proctor will recommend that you take the entire 15 minutes to read the documents and to scan the pictures and charts in the DBQ. This time, the grownup is right.

The proctor can't do anything to stop you from sailing right past the documents in Part A and having a peek at what questions await you in Parts B and C. Don't do it. Whatever is in Parts B and C will wait for you to get there. You don't need it hanging over your head while you do the DBQ.

Plan before you write, making notes on the question insert and not in the answer booklet, which is only for your essays. Look at the essays this way: It's like 2 hours and 10 minutes to use what you have learned to make points. You can only gain credit by weaving the themes and topics you know into a well-argued essay.


As you work through the three essays, keep this positive thought in mind: Each of your compositions will be scored by a completely different reader who doesn't know who you are, what you've done on the other parts of the test, or even who graded your other essays. It's a new chance every time.

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