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Writing AP-Quality Essays

During the last part of the AP U.S. History exam, right after you complete the Document-Based Question (DBQ — covered in Chapter 4), you have a little more than one hour to write answers to two regular essay questions. At this point, the test is about time- and fact-management — careful but direct selection of one of the two questions in Part B and then one of the two questions in Part C. This chapter gives you some tips on how fast writers select and write their essay answers for a winning score.


Without a break, you need to go from an insightful discussion of the Document-Based Question to carefully writing two regular essays in about an hour. These regular essays are officially known as

Section II, Part B and Part C of the test. They're "regular" only compared with the DBQ; in these last two essays, you don't have any documents to worry about (or lean on). You do have thought-provoking history problems that require a combination of analysis and appropriate facts.

When you get started on these last two essays is suggested on the test, but it's not mandatory. After the 15-minute required reading time that begins your Section II period, you have a grand total of 1 hour and 55 minutes to write the DBQ and the Part B and Part C essays. The test proctor will pop up like a human alarm clock to remind you when the recommended time to move on to the next section has arrived. After the 45 minutes recommended for writing the DBQ, your test monitor will say, "You should now move on to Part B." Although you don't have to, you are wise to pretty closely follow this advice and move to the regular essays if you have not done so already.

You have a recommended 70 minutes to devote to both regular essays. The College Board suggests you spend 5 minutes planning and 30 minutes writing each one. There is no rule that you have to work exactly 35 minutes on each of the essays in Part B and Part C. Just don't move too much time from one part to the other; both parts are worth the same number of points, and a great score on one won't make up for a 0 on the other. Do not forget to leave time to check your work.

As on the DBQ, you have a chance to get ahead against a slow field on these essay questions. The AP U.S. History exam is graded on a curve. To win a 4 or 5 as your final grade, your test score doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be better than that of most other AP test takers.


Although the DBQ section has the most credit (22.5 percent of the total test) and the most writing time assigned to it (45 minutes), Parts B and C are definitely worth the effort. Each of these regular essays represents almost 14 percent of the exam — a total of 27.5 percent for both.

The average student performance on the regular essay questions is even slightly worse than the low scores on the DBQ because people are running out of gas by the time they get to them. When you get there, remember that you're almost to the finish line; you just need one last burst of careful writing to take advantage of the situation. The essays on the AP are scored on a scale from 0 (for no intelligence detected) to 9 (for Shakespeare reborn). The average score on the regular essay questions in recent years has been less than 3 on the 9-point scale. You can do better than that even if you're a bit spotty on some facts. If Woody Allen was right that 80 percent of success is showing up, then the other 20 percent depends on careful communication.

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