AP U.S. History exam: How to use CPR on the DBQ

For many students, the DBQ portion of the AP U.S. History exam presents both an opportunity and a conundrum. On the one hand, this free response portion allows for a higher potential of points than do the LEQ and SAQ portions, but on the other hand, several of the points (Complexity, anyone?) and the ways in which we can acquire them are opaque at best.

So how do we attack the documents of the DBQ in such a way we can find success before we even plan our essay out? If we want to find a way to give the documents life, we have to give them CPR.

What is CPR?

The AP graders want more from us than simply using and describing the function of each document. To increase our score by grabbing on to the Evidence Beyond the Documents, Sourcing, and Complexity points, we have to figure out how to give information around and beyond the documents. We have to show we can fill in the historical blanks.

To do this, we want to use CPR: Context, POV, and Results.

  • Context: Think about the conditions of the period the given passage was written in. What spurred the author/speaker forth to write down what they did? We can better show our understanding of the time period by describing the causality behind a document.
  • POV: Do we know anything about the author? What was their rhetorical intent behind what they said? Are there any potential biases or blindspots that might have colored their ideological beliefs and is that evident in this particular document? Whenever we’re able to, we should show not only an understanding of the given author’s place in history, but also any elements we understand about them that might have affected or caused their rhetorical goals.
  • Results: Do we understand what happened in terms of causality after the views expressed by this document? Was the author eventually proven correct in their predictions? Did their preferred policies lead to some unexpected drawbacks? If we have the opportunity to tease out the cause and effect implied by the document, we need to take it.

All the while, we should use every chance we can to load our analysis up with clear, applicable, and historically defensible details. Why say that Teddy Roosevelt didn’t like big corporations when we can instead use APUSH terms like Monopoly, Vertical and Horizontal Integration, The Square Deal, and the Sherman Antitrust Act? An important component of the DBQ (and really, the APUSH exam as a whole) is to display mastery of a given historical period, so if we have relevant facts, we need to use them!

Why use CPR?

The benefit to this analysis is that it allows us to move into our outlines with an already potent sense of how to achieve the tougher points. If we’re specific with our CPR analysis, then we should already be armed with Evidence Beyond the Documents. If we can explain the document’s point of view, or how the given author fits in a larger historical context, then we’ve got our Sourcing.

And if we can go even further than the documents do and outline an aspect of history of which the authors themselves are unaware—or some other period their thoughts might echo or reflect—then we have our Complexity!

Overall, our goal when we finish reviewing the documents should be to have all the building blocks of a successful essay already in our hands. If we can use CPR on at least three of the documents, then our next steps are simply to include that information seamlessly into our written response. As with everything on the APUSH exam, it takes practice, but it’s well worth it to make one of the trickiest parts of the APUSH exam come together.

Need more individualized advice?

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Jimmy Bowman

About Jimmy Bowman

Jimmy has worked with students in classrooms and one-on-one for over a decade, focusing on college admission exam preparation ever since graduating magna cum laude from Chapman University, where he was awarded the school’s highest academic scholarship. Jimmy is ArborBridge’s Math Subject Specialist as well as one of ArborBridge’s leading US History tutors. An improv performer and stand-up comedian, Jimmy brings enthusiasm and humor to even the most difficult subjects.

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