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Analyzing an essay question

Here is an example of how to handle the kind of questions you'll find in Parts B and C. Suppose you get question like this in Part B:

Directions: Choose ONE question from this part. You are advised to spend 5 minutes planning and 30 minutes writing your answer. Cite relevant historical evidence in support of your generalizations, and present your arguments clearly and logically.

1. How did the New Deal (1932-1944) change U.S. society? Consider TWO of the following factors in your response:

Social movements, economic development, political change

2 . The period from 1824 to 1848 is often called the era of Jacksonian democracy. What social and political changes characterized this era?

For the sake of this example, assume that you choose Question 2, because you think you can recall more about this era and have a thesis point you want to make. (Check out Chapter 11 to familiarize yourself with the important things to know from this era.)

First, read the prompt twice. Circle the terms that are key parts of the prompt:

2 . The period from (1824(to(1848)is often called the era of Jacksonian democracy)What social and political (changes)characterized this era?

Make a list of what you know about this era. You could list a number of topics, but the following points would more than get you started:

- Election of 1824 (the Corrupt Bargain)

- Andrew Jackson elected in 1828 and 1832

- Trail of Tears

- Nullification

- Spoils system

- Increased voter turnout

- 1848 women's rights meeting at Seneca Falls

- Universal white male suffrage

- Defeat of the Bank of the U.S.

Now that you have your proof facts, you're ready to apply the PAT formula. Your analysis will support your thesis.

Settling on your thesis

Forming a thesis isn't something you can get wrong. Historians love to argue, and one of the topics they argue about is the era of Andrew Jackson. History changes: Jackson has gone from American hero to dangerous redneck to rough but effective champion of the common man. The only position you can take that is wrong on an AP essay question is to fail to have a clear point of view. You know what you've been taught, but what do you believe about Jacksonian democracy? Imagine what you would teach to someone else.

A thesis — your point of view — unifies your essay and makes it worthy of a higher score. Just think about your grading audience as one tired teacher who has endured hundreds of unfocused fluff-a-thons loosely connected to the Jackson era. Give him something clear and decisive, and he'll thank you with a better grade.

For most history questions, you can go in either of two broad directions with a thesis: mainstream history or revisionist argument. Following are examples of both in the case of the Jackson era:

Mainstream: The 1820s to 1840s was a time when the United States began to move toward being true to its democratic ideals.

Revisionist: From the 1820s through the 1840s, the United States made some surface changes toward greater representation for the common man, but these changes were largely symbolic. The real economic and social conditions of slavery and sectionalism changed little during this period.

As much as you may hate to agree with mass opinion, you should go with the mainstream view on this one. The Jackson era really did involve a move toward democratic ideals. Think for yourself, but when you can see both sides of an argument, it is better to go with the most accepted position on which you have the most proof.

 
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