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To do well on the DBQ, you need a strategy to follow. One such strategy is the PAT system. PAT stands for proof, analysis, and thesis. This system begins with framing your essay. The best way to learn how to do that is through practice. Your practice starts with a sample question based on Reconstruction in the South (see Chapter 13 for more information). In this section, I share tips on answering the sample question and how to apply the PAT method when writing your answer.

To write a winning answer for any DBQ, you first have to understand the question. Unfortunately, understanding the question is where a large number of DBQ answers begin to go wrong. To avoid this scenario in your own essay, follow these steps to prepare yourself before writing your answer.

1. Read the question and sweep your brain for proof by proofreading, which is the beginning of the PAT system. Don't even read the documents until you have taken a sober inventory of what you know about the question. Don't worry — you'll remember more as you go. Just note on the question book every related event and theme you can think of off the top of your head related to the question — before you read the documents.

2 . Read the documents twice; on the second round, circle words within the documents that you may want to refer to in your essay.

3 . Do a little analysis — the second component in the PAT method. What are some

points you want to make about the question, and how does the information you have support these points? Jot quick notes in the question book.


When you're looking for space to write in the question book, don't skip ahead to read the other regular essays. Deal with the regular essays when you get to them; you have no reason to get distracted now. Chapter 5 explains how to write the regular essays.

4 . At thesis time — the final step and solid foundation in the PAT approach — you argue your idea with analysis, focusing on one major point in each body paragraph.

State your thesis in the first paragraph and restate it (with proof) in the last paragraph. Remember to take a stand! It doesn't matter whether you're wrong; historians love to argue. Most of the topics presented in the DBQ do not have a single accepted interpretation; in other words, there is no one right answer.

The benefit of structuring your DBQ argument under the PAT system is that you don't have to be perfect to win; you are the judge of history. The fact that you can corral evidence and use proof and analysis to support a clear thesis makes you a contender for a high score. And you don't have to be very high to get above the average score of 3; just keep citing proof.

Writing a good thesis

A clear thesis stops a bored reader dead in her tracks and makes her pay attention to your analysis and proof. Make sure your thesis provides a philosophy or road map for everything in your essay. In the Reconstruction example shown in the next section, the thesis could be "The South's resistance was too strong for Reconstruction to work" or "The North succeeded in changing a primitive slave society in the South into the beginnings of a modern, if racist, culture." Remember, don't just rewrite the question. Take a stand.

Using appropriate proof

A good paper successfully uses three pieces of proof in each body paragraph, taken from a mix of outside information and document analysis. Most DBQs are presented in chronological order. Because you'll arrange your essay by analysis points, you probably won't cite the documents in letter order, and your essay won't look like a laundry list. Just remember to use every document that fits into your analysis; it's okay if you don't use them all. It's better to use four or five documents well than to use all of them poorly.

Defend your point, but don't get too creative. Remember, your reader, who has only about two minutes to read each essay, may be getting a little blurry from reading hundreds of versions of the same essay. Your test scorer is looking for analysis and proof, and he doesn't have much time to find it, so don't confuse him. State your thesis clearly and simply. Cite the documents (with document letters bracketed) and underline your outside evidence. Stick to one major thesis; don't try to snow the reader with a bunch of mini-concepts. Even if they are not perfect, make sure the facts you use support your analysis and thesis points.

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