Answering apush essay questions how to write the answer they’re looking for! Understand the question

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  • How to write the answer they’re looking for!

UNDERSTAND the question

  • Many essay questions ask you to write about A SPECIFIC TIME PERIOD. Make sure you look for this kind of information in the prompt (i.e., “in the 16th century,” “during the Great Depression,” etc.) – and confine your answer to the period they’re asking about. (You may give limited background information, but don’t spend too much time on it.)
  • Most questions give you some OTHER PARAMETERS regarding the subject. Most often, these distinguish whether you should write about political, social, or economic history. Be sure you confine your answer to talk address only the aspect(s) they’ve asked about.

Know your VERB

  • Analyze/discuss – You MUST talk about the “how” and “why” things occurred, not just describe what happened. This absolutely requires understanding of the background information for the essay topic.
  • Assess the validity – You need to decide if the statement is (a) true, (b) false, or (c) sometimes /somewhat true. Regardless of which of these positions you take, you must back up your assertion with facts. If sometimes true, when exactly? How do we know that?

Know your VERB (cont.)

  • Evaluate – You need to JUDGE … For example, you may be asked to decide the extent to which one thing impacted another, the truth of a statement, etc. In all cases, you will need to determine what the most important aspects of the answer are.
  • To what extent – Again, you need to make a judgment. How true is a cause-effect relationship? How accurately does a decade fit the period it’s assigned to? Be sure to back up your assertion with facts.

Know your VERB (cont.)

  • Compare and contrast – You must provide BOTH similarities and differences between two periods, people, events, etc. Although you may feel strongly that they are more similar or more different, you MUST strive to present as balanced an answer as possible.


  • You cannot possibly make an assertion (thesis) without first deciding what you know about the subject.
  • DO NOT skip this step. It’s an extremely valuable use of your time.
  • Generate as much SPECIFIC information as you can about the subject and task. (People, events, concepts, etc.)

Write your thesis paragraph

  • The first 2-3 sentences should give background that supports your thesis statement (argument).
  • A STRONG thesis statement is Requirement #1 for a good grade on the AP Free Response and DBQ.
  • The thesis statement is the last sentence of this paragraph. It is:
    • The central idea around which your paper is built
    • A one-sentence answer to the question asked
    • Your essay’s argument – to be defended with facts

Check your thesis statement

  • This is the most important part of your essay! (You can’t build a house without a strong foundation…)
  • Make sure it:
    • Deals with all aspects of the question
    • Takes a clear position
    • Provides an organizational framework
    • Is on-target and relevant (addresses core issues)

Organize your thoughts

  • Create a quick, informal outline to use while writing.
  • You might want to put information into a t-chart, Venn diagram, or some other graphic organizer that fits the task verb.
  • BE SURE to pull all of the relevant specific information from your brainstorming into the outline – even the facts that might challenge your thesis (counterargument paragraph maybe?).


  • You’re ready to write!
  • Don’t forget to go back to your outline and use this as a guide… Otherwise, you wasted time in all those other steps!!!

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