In This Chapter
● Understanding the AP U.S. History regular essays
● Giving proof, analysis, and thesis (PAT) answers to essay questions
● Handling two questions per hour
● Managing PAT for a high score
Imagine that the end of the AP U.S. History exam is in sight, and you have a little more than 1 hour to write answers to two regular essay questions. An hour doesn’t seem like much time, does it? Now you have some choices; you get to pick 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 to select and write your essay answers for a winning score.
Nailing Down Your Timing
Now that you’ve finished your insightful discussion of the Document-Based Question (DBQ — see Chapter 5), you get to spend the last golden hour of your test time writing two regular essays. 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 puzzles that require a combination of analysis and appropriate facts.
The time at which 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 quest, 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 boss will say, “You should now move on to Part B.” You want to follow the advice of Mother AP and switch questions around the time she tells you to.
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
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. As on the DBQ, you have a chance to pick up some ground 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 score doesn’t have to be perfect — just better than that of most other AP test takers.
The average student performance on the regular essay questions is even slightly worse than the bad scores on the DBQ, because people are running out of gas by the time they get to them. When you get there, though, remember that you’re almost to the finish line; you just need one last burst of speed to take advantage of the situation. Remember that 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 scale. You can do better than that even if you’re a little spotty on a few facts. As the saying goes, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed person rules.
No rule says 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.
Meeting and Beating the Questions
When the College Board says “regular essay,” it doesn’t mean easy topics like “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” The AP is, after all, a college test you take before you’ve had any college classes. The test geniuses have had all year to come up with four challenging and meaningful essay questions. Teachers even have a special language: essay questions are prompts.
You’ll find two of these prompts lurking in Part B; you get to pick the one that terrifies you less. Part C holds two more questions; go with the one that’s slightly less awful. Getting the best score on these essays takes a combination of knowledge and reasoning. If you want to know how common that skill combination is in the AP U.S. History test-taking population, just look at the average score: 2.86 on a scale of 9. Don’t worry; you have a plan.
You don’t have to answer the two regular essay questions in order. The specialist essay readers will find the essay they grade by its number in your pink answer book. You can read all four essays and pick the one that seems easiest for you so you can get a running start. Just remember to do one essay from Part B and one from Part C. To leave time for both, it’s best — to switch within a few minutes of the 35-minute advisory you get from the test proctor. Even better, bring a watch and keep your own time.
Writing like a professor
You know that your essay will be graded by a slightly bleary-eyed history teacher. One thing that professors insist on in their professional journals is that writers define their terms. If your essay question asks for the impact of changes on the common man, offer a brief definition of that term. If you’re writing about the Progressive movement, use a sentence in the first paragraph to say what that term means. You should signal your high-level understanding of academic protocol by using this well-loved professional prelude: “It is important to define terms. By the Progressive movement, I mean newly organized initiatives in the early 1900s that had a goal of efficiency and fairness in U.S. society, economy, and government.” Defining a term takes only a sentence and could make a professor very happy.
If you’re asked to assess the validity of a statement, you’ve just been given a nonvoluntary invitation to jump into the middle of an argument. You may see something like this: “Assess the validity of this statement: The New Deal brought an end to the Great Depression.” Gosh, what do you think? Take a position, and make it your thesis statement. Here are two example theses:
● “Although economic problems remained that were not settled until after the U.S. entry into World War II, New Deal programs were effective in blunting the worst problems of the Great Depression.”
● “Although New Deal programs created a public perception of progress, they were largely ineffective in dealing with the economic roots of the Great Depression.”
Notice, AP seekers, that both thesis statements begin with the magic word although. The use of this gentle, reasonable word signals that you’re being bend-over-backward fair in your thesis position by acknowledging from the start the limits of your argument. Professors know that modest arguments provide a safety shield from academic attack. Later in each thesis statement, you can use more weasel words to make the thesis argument easier to defend.
The first example says “effective in blunting the worst problems.” That way, you have to defend only blunting (not actually solving) and worst (but not all problems). In the second version, the thesis reads “largely ineffective in dealing with the economic roots," so that the essay can admit that the New Deal was effective sometimes on the little issues but not the answer for solving problems at the economic roots. Then the two opposed writers can go on to gleefully define worst problems or economic roots in a way that makes their thesis arguments seem like the gospel truth.
PATting your PES dispenser
Writing regular essays that teachers love is as easy as applying the proof, analysis, and thesis (PAT) approach in writing (see Chapter 5) to the political, economic, and social trends (PES) that score points with test graders (see Chapter 1). With the PAT formula, you select everything you know about the topic as proof, and then analyze that proof to support your own theory about the question. The proof you use includes all the political, economic, and social trends you can find in the PES dispenser of your brain. In the DBQ (Chapter 5), the documents themselves supply some of the PES points; with regular essays, it’s just you and your fine mind.
The regular essay questions are an AP dance party of political, economic, and social (PES) trends. Here are some examples of what to prepare for:
● You need to combine developments in different areas, such as the political outcomes of social issues. An example could be changes in the U.S. government brought on by urbanization.
● You also have to analyze common themes that run through an extended period —how women’s rights changed society from 1830 to 1930, for example.
● You may need to write about the economic experiences of different ethnic, gender, racial, or socioeconomic groups during a certain period of American history. An example could be the impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s on women, men, and minority groups in the United States.
On the regular essay questions, the grader judges you on the thesis you develop, the quality of your analysis supported, and the historic proof you support it with. When you’re figuring out your essay, you’ll probably plan what you’re going to write in PAT order:
1. List all the political, economic and social facts you can remember about the essay topic (proof).
2. Figure out how these facts can go together to explain the essay topic (analysis).
3. Make up an opinion to tie the facts together with the essay topic (thesis).
Make sure your answer has at least a vague relationship to the question. It doesn’t have to be perfect; you want to show off any knowledge you have in the general area. Just don’t try writing about 1800s shipping if the question is about the Mayflower. When you actually write the essay, PAT turns into TAP: First you state your thesis and then provide analysis supported by proof.
The official AP line is that your supported argument is more important than the amount of factual information you produce. In other words: essay-padders beware. You can’t just write down a laundry list of names, trends, and events; you have to show how they fit together. This idea is a great humanistic and holistic one. In the rest of this chapter, you see how it works in practice.
Knowing the Criteria for Scoring Big on the Essay Questions
In this section, I provide you with a list of grading criteria for an essay question. The list may look a bit daunting, but don’t worry, because you can ensure you meet the criteria for the highest score by following the tips in this chapter. By recognizing that the AP values political, economic, and social connections even more than reciting historic facts, you can make your essays on any topic show how trends interact. Your essays should stay positive; you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. Slavery and the Trail of Tears, for example, are blots on the U.S. record of freedom (see Chapter 11), but they’re also parts of trends that need to be viewed within the context of their times. Save political speeches for political meetings; when you’re taking a test with your grade hanging in the balance, emphasize unity and progress.
By starting and concluding with a clear thesis, you help your overworked, weary grader find what he’s looking for: a sense of style and meaning. Make sure the hurried test grader sees the proof you’re using by underlining it in your essay; by highlighting facts about trends and topics and dealing with them in paragraphs separated into political, economic, and social themes that all connect to your thesis, you provide an essay that clearly deserves a good score. These essays follow the same grading scale as the DBQ, with a high score of 9 and a low score of 0.
The 8-to-9 essay:
● Contains a clear, well-developed thesis that deals with the question at hand
● Supports the thesis with a large amount of relevant information
● Analyzes the main categories completely (somewhat uneven treatment of the categories is okay)
● May contain minor errors
The 5-to-7 essay:
● Contains a thesis that deals with the question only partially
● Supports the thesis with a medium amount of on-point information
● Analyzes all categories at least somewhat; treatment of categories may be very uneven
● May contain errors that don’t detract completely from the essay
The 2-to-4 essay:
● Restates the question without providing a clear thesis
● Provides either minimal facts or minimal application of the facts
● Doesn’t analyze all the categories, maybe gets one or two in a general way
● Contains lots of errors
The 0-to-1 essay:
● Omits a thesis
● Doesn’t make sense
● Displays little or no understanding of the question
● Contains major false statements
Converting Questions to PAT Answers
AP U.S. History essay-grading week is a busy time for the College Board. More than 1,000 teachers grade around 1 million essays in the course of a few days, sitting around tables with only one 20-minute break in the morning and afternoon. Talk about hard work and dedication! The average reader could be covering as many as 1,000 essays, with only around 2 minutes to read each contribution.
The graders look quickly for proof and analysis supporting an overall thesis (PAT). Grading leaders develop clear criteria that the graders use for each essay, and each grader spends the whole time scoring only essays covering one question again and again.
The College Board makes grading 1 million essays as fair as it can, but in the rush, no one has time to ponder garbled proof, vague analysis, or a thesis that’s not clearly stated. For that reason, you want to make your PAT answers simple and direct.
Some football teams use a five-yards-and-glory strategy. They’re not looking to score a touchdown on every play; they just want to gain five yards on each down with short passes and runs because if they keep doing that, they’ll move on down the field and eventually score.
AP U.S. History essays are like that. You write approximately five paragraphs with a goal of showing that you know and can analyze historic information. You’re not trying to list everything that went on during the era you’re writing about. You’ll score higher on the AP if you organize and analyze your information.
Here are some tips to make sure your essay dodges the test potholes and cruises smoothly down the AP highway to a good score.
● Make sure you address all the parts of the free-response essay questions. Missing a subtopic can affect your grade. Get all three PES parts: political, economic, and social.
● If you can’t remember a name or date, don’t guess. A wrong specific is worse than a possibly incorrect general. If you can’t remember Seneca Falls in 1848, for example, say “an important women’s-rights meeting before the Civil War.” Don’t let your grader see a clear error that she can use to slap you down.
● Don’t freak out if the essay questions look hard. If the questions are tough for you, they’re tough for everyone. The test is scored on a curve, so grading is survival of the fittest. You could even get lucky. If you did well on the multiple-choice part of the exam and score very low on an essay, the grading coordinator may automatically ask that your essay be reread to make sure you’re not being underscored. You could have two chances to make an impression.
● Don’t get all anxious and start to write before you really understand the question. You may be missing the main point of the prompt while you’re rattling off random facts. Carpenters have a saying: “Measure twice, cut once.” You won’t have a chance for a second cut at your essay, so read the question prompt twice.
● Circle the key words.
● Make notes in the green question book before you write.
● The College Board doesn’t want to see a hip-hop version of history, fun as writing that may be. Stick to what your English teacher taught you: The first paragraph is the introduction and includes your thesis statement. Each of the body paragraphs has a different theme that supports the thesis. A good goal is to have three proof facts in each of the body paragraphs.
● Sometimes, the prompt decides the themes for you. If a question asks how post-Civil War government policies affected American Indians, Western settlement, and economic development, for example, the middle paragraphs of your essay need to deal one-by-one with American Indians, settlement, and development.
If no clear division is obvious from the prompt, you’re always safe if you have a paragraph on each of your PES friends: political events, economic conditions, and social trends.
● The final paragraph of your essay restates the thesis in slightly different words and provides a summary that mentions the themes of the middle paragraphs.
● Don’t let your essay wander around the subject like some drunk in a bar. Check back during the writing of each paragraph to make sure what you’re saying supports the thesis in the introduction.
● Don’t introduce historic facts just to prove you know something. Tie each trend or event to the theme of your essay. You shouldn’t have to exclude too many random facts; you can usually find a way to use creative logic to tie almost any trend or event to the theme you’re supporting.
● Keep PATting your essay. Make sure you tie your proof together with analysis to support your thesis. You get no penalty for having a wrong thesis, but you sink fast if you don’t use proof and analysis to support your theme.
Analyzing an essay question
Test day marches on. You’ve been multiply chosen and DBQed half to death, and now it’s time for a final burst of essay brilliance. Here’s what you may face 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?
Chapter 6: Creating Essays Teachers Love
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 many other PES 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
● Spoils system
● Increased voter turnout
● 1848 women’s rights meeting at Seneca Falls
● Universal male suffrage
● Defeat of the Bank of the U.S.
● The spoils system
Now that you have your PES, you’re ready to apply the PAT formula. The PES list you have made forms most of the proof. Your analysis supports your thesis.
Settling on your thesis
Now you need a thesis. You’re the historian now. You know what you’ve been taught, but what do you believe about Jacksonian democracy? Pretend you’re some kind of authority.
Relax. 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: Andy Jackson has gone from American hero to dangerous redneck to rough but effective champion of the common man. The only thing you can do wrong on an AP essay question is fail to have a clear thesis.
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 counterculture. In the case of the Jackson era, you can argue for a mainstream view
The 1820s to 1840s was a time when the United States began to move toward being true to its democratic ideals.
Or you could go with a counterculture approach and say
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 the Man, you should go with the mainstream view on this one. The Jackson era really did involve a move toward democratic ideals.
Planning the essay
Now you’re ready to plan the essay. You want to have a five-paragraph essay, structured as follows:
● The thesis anchors the first paragraph.
● The three body paragraphs support your central point (ideally with three pieces of analysis each).
● The final paragraph reiterates and amplifies the thesis.
Look for the subjects of the three body paragraphs. Sifting through the PES topics in your notes, you see that they can be arranged in political, economic, and social categories. Political events include elections, increased voter turnout, universal white-male suffrage, and the spoils system. Economic trends include nullification and the defeat of the Bank of the U.S. Social happenings include the Trail of Tears, the Second Great Awakening, and women’s rights.
Writing the essay
Okay, your five minutes of planning are up, and you’re ready to write the essay. Keep the PES terms that form the proof for your thesis in capital letters to make them easier for the grader to see when she’s reading quickly. Let the English teachers complain; this exam is about history, and you’re in a high-traffic situation. Capitalizing provides a road marker to help direct your reader to the destination.
In another high-traffic detour from the refined world of English composition, you’re going to start your essay with the thesis sentence, not keep it waiting demurely for the end of the first paragraph. Also, you’re going to label it Thesis. That way, it’s difficult to miss. The thesis doesn’t repeat the question; believe me, after reading hundreds of essays, the grading teacher knows what the question is. Your thesis restates the prompt in your own words to show that you understand it.
Consider beginning your thesis with the magic word although. In Chapter 5, you see how to admit that the other side may have a point counter to your thesis. This argument makes you look fair and allows you to counter possible objections to your argument on your own terms. In full debate, developing your opponent’s argument and then destroying it is called the straw-man argument. The use of the word although is a quickie version of the straw-man move.
Give your essay a title. A title doesn’t cost anything and makes the essay look official.
Checking out a sample essay
Here’s a sample essay that contains a clear thesis, reasonable analysis, and enough historical proof to ring the test grader’s bell.
Democracy Comes to the United States in the Jackson Era
Thesis: Although important issues like slavery and states’ rights remained unresolved, the period from the 1820s to the 1840s, known as the Jackson era, was a time when the United States began to move toward being true to its democratic ideals. This era saw the increase in the power of ordinary people in political, economic and social areas. These power changes were brought home to people through Religious and Moral Reform movements and through Political Campaigns that were conducted on a large public scale for the first time. Citizens began to see themselves as having real freedom to change their own lives and the course of the nation in which they lived.
The most important political event was the introduction of white Universal Male Suffrage in most states in the early 1820s. Although it was a far cry from the voting rights we enjoy now, it was an unimagined freedom in earlier days, when voting was limited by property and class. The newly enfranchised citizens responded by increasing Voter Turnout by large numbers. People began to see themselves as more powerful, not just as the pawns of destiny. Greater democracy spelled the end of leaders selected by small elites and the beginning of the election of popular national leaders like Andrew Jackson in 1848 and 1832. Even the Spoils System can be seen as a democratization of public employment.
The Second Great Awakening increased social as well as spiritual growth by getting people together away from the farm in newly organized religious congregations. These congregations in turn provided a religious base for small but growing Temperance, Abolitionist, and Women’s Suffrage movements. The era ended with a symbolically important women’s meeting at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Even an event that we now view as negative, such as the Trail of Tears removal of American Indians from the South, had its beginning in increased public social pressure for land.
Economics are never far from any social or political change. The birth of the Industrial Revolution with factory jobs offered urban alternatives to rural isolation. Rapidly improving transportation by Canal, Railroad, and Steamship made the sale of crops and manufactured goods into the beginning of a National Economy. Transportation allowed ordinary people to move where they wanted to go to seek a new fortune. Even the Nullification Crisis, with its argument about tariffs, was a sign of the economic strain on sectionalism brought by an increasingly powerful National Interest.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” most of his upper-class congressional colleagues could recognize the theory of freedom only as it applied to them and people of their class. Most common people could not vote and had no time for economic and social betterment. That’s why the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College and chose senators and presidents in private meetings. But with the new nation, the theory of freedom had become an ideal. As reform improved the power of ordinary people, those people were more likely to use their power to improve social, political, and economic life. The era of Jacksonian Democracy, with its emphasis on personal beliefs and more universal suffrage, brought the idea of freedom that had begun in the American Revolution to reality: the beginnings of real democracy in the United States.
Steer clear of funny history answers
Apparently, some people studied even less for their history exams than your slacker friends. Here are some essay responses gone terribly wrong:
It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented removable type and the Bible. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes and started smoking. And Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper.
Later, the Pilgrims crossed the ocean, and this was called Pilgrim's Progress. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.
One of the causes of the Revolutionary War was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their parcels through the post without stamps. Finally the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis. Delegates from the original 13 states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin discovered electricity by rubbing two cats backwards and declared,
“A horse divided against itself cannot stand." Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.
Soon the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.
Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. His mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation.
The nineteenth century was a time of a great many thoughts and inventions. People stopped reproducing by hand and started reproducing by machine. The invention of the steamboat caused a network of rivers to spring up.
World War I broke out around 1912-1914. Germany was on one side of France and Russia was on the other. At war people get killed, and then they aren't people any more, but friends. Peace was proclaimed at Versigh, which was attended by George Loid, Primal Minister of England. President Wilson arrived with 14 pointers.
Wrapping up the essay plan
Use simple, short sentences. Your audience of one grader has seen a lot of convoluted essays and is probably already verging on cranky. Make it easy for her to follow your theme.
Throw in a big history term, if you know one. Here are some themes beloved to teachers: expansionism; utopia; ratification; peculiar institution (slavery); oligarchy; nativism; mercantilism; jingoism; imperialism; egalitarian; capitalism; and the all-time American favorite, Manifest Destiny. Don’t try to force in terms you don’t understand; you’ll get caught.
Take the time to write clearly and neatly. Graders hate chicken-scratch writing and love clear printing. Your grader will probably be right on the edge of surly by the time she gets to your essay. Make it easy for her. Write the whole sentence in your mind before you put it down on paper. If you absolutely have to cross something out, do it neatly. Try not to cross out at all. For sure, don’t cross out bad spelling. This test isn’t English class; if the grader can recognize the word, she won’t count off for bad spelling. By making too many corrections, you only call attention to your mistakes and make yourself look like a ditz. If, heaven forbid, you have to insert a line or even a paragraph, do it neatly. Write the words to be inserted clearly away from the main body of the essay; circle them; and draw a neat arrow to where they go in the essay. Don’t use carets to crowd text on top of what you have already written. Keep your essay readable by taking a deep breath and thinking before you write.
Smooth out the flow of your writing by using transition phrases such as “in addition,” “furthermore,” “also,” and “in another example.” When you’re changing directions, use “however,” “yet,” and the magic word “although.”
Number your points, as in this example: “First, the New Deal never claimed to solve all the problems. Second, the Great Depression was caused by world as well as national problems. Third, even the best programs often took time to work.” Numbering lists of arguments makes it look like you have a plan.
Use examples to back up your idea. Nothing gets wooly faster than academic papers that are all about concepts without real-life examples. You start with this: “Third, even the best programs often took time to work.” Then you add this: “Two examples of programs that had delayed effects were the WPA and CCC. In these programs, government-supported jobs eventually helped lift the economic fortunes of certain communities, but these examples took time to work.”
Make sure your last paragraph directly addresses the question. This paragraph is the applause section, when you set yourself up for your well-earned reward of a high essay score. Bring the essay back home by answering the original question clearly as you restate your thesis.
Yay! Hurrah! You’re ready with a good battle plan for the AP U.S. History exam.