Cracking the Essay Questions
HOW TO BE A WRITER … AN AP WORLD HISTORY ESSAY WRITER, THAT IS
Once you complete the multiple-choice part of the test, you’ll get a short break while tests are collected and essay booklets are handed out. Then comes the essay portion of the exam. You’ll be given a ten-minute reading period prior to the start of the essay-writing section, and then two hours to write three essays. While you are given approximate guidelines, you are not told how long to spend on each essay or when to move on to the next essay.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The three essays you’ll need to write are the document-based question (or DBQ), the change-over-time essay, and the comparative essay. You can probably gather from the names what you need to do in each essay—the document-based question provides you with a set of documents on which to base your essay; the change-over-time essay asks you to analyze the changes and continuities that occurred within a certain period of time; and the comparative essay asks you to compare and contrast two episodes, cultures, religions, or other historical phenomenon from a given period.
Writing a thesis for an AP World History Exam essay is a little different from other theses you may have learned to write in English class. Luckily, there is a basic format you can use for all three AP World History essays. While there are some minor variations for each, the overall style you use can be the same. In the next two chapters, we will walk you through each essay type, giving you guidelines for exactly how to write each essay and show what you know. But before we go into the specifics, let’s take a minute to look at the basic format you should use for all of your AP World History Exam essays.
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
The key to writing a good AP World History Exam essay is to tell the reader what you are going to talk about before you talk about it. The AP World History Exam refers to this as your thesis. In fact, writing a good thesis is worth 1 to 2 of 9 possible points on each essay, and it is the first thing that the essay grader will look for. The scoring rubric (the guidelines readers use to score your essays) requires readers to answer the following questions about each of your essays:
· Do you have a comprehensive, analytical, and explicit thesis?
· Is your thesis acceptable?
SO WHAT DOES AN ANALYTICAL THESIS LOOK LIKE?
Put simply, an analytical thesis includes a clear description of why the central claim of your essay is correct. These statements alone would not receive points for “adequacy.”
· Buddhism’s spread through China was very important to the development of Chinese culture.
· In the area of trade, North America and Latin America underwent significant change between 1750 and the present.
These vague, general, and weak statements add nothing to your essay, and leave the reader with a laundry list of questions that remain unanswered: What exactly does the term “Buddhism” denote here? What, exactly, “spread”? When did this occur? In what context? “Very important” how? What were Buddhism’s specific effects? What specific aspects of culture did it touch on, and how do we know?
Clear, explicit theses will use specific details to delimit the scope of the discussion. The first thesis would be vastly improved by the addition of more details such as:
· As Buddhism began to spread from India through China in the first century C.E., the influence of its religious principles in a society troubled—at least among lower classes—by warfare and want is demonstrated by the Confucianists’ negative reaction to it as well as the lasting political effects it left in its wake.
Why is this better than the first version? Yes, it has more words, but what do those extra words do? The reader now has more details regarding what spread, when this spread took place, what the context of that spread was, and what kind of support will be referenced in the rest of the essay. Most importantly, it answers the question, “Why was the spread of Buddhism important?” The reader now knows that Buddhism was important because it caused meaningful changes in different areas of Chinese society, which the essay should describe in more detail.
Remember also that a thesis isn’t just one sentence; it can be a group of statements. Therefore, you can start with a more general sentence, but you have to then follow it up with additional sentences that provide all the necessary elements described above.Together, these statements must
· state your claim clearly
· define terms, context, and chronology of the events under discussion
· describe why your claim is true
Lastly, a clear, analytical thesis isn’t there just for the reader’s benefit. A strong analytical thesis serves as a map that you should follow as you write the remainder of the essay. If your thesis at first is too vague, it may be that you haven’t thought through what you want to say yet, so take more time to organize your ideas. Once you craft a strong thesis, make sure that the rest of your essay supports the basic ideas your thesis introduces.
SO WHAT IS “ACCEPTABLE”?
To write a solid, acceptable thesis for each of your essays, remember to do three things: Give ’Em What They Want, Show ’Em Where You Got It, and Help ’Em Get There.
The two most common essay cues you will see are “analyze” and “compare and contrast.“ Sometimes you will see both in the same essay question.
To really analyze you must explain how and why something happens and what the impacts of that something were. For example, to return to the spread of Buddhism in China—analysis of this process would include explaining how it spread to China, why it was appealing to the Chinese, and finally, how it impacted Chinese society over both the short and long-term.
To “compare and contrast” deals with similarities and differences; however, it is not enough to point out what is similar or different: Buddhism existed in both India and China. It is far more important to explain what causes the similarities and differences—in essence, to analyze why:Because of Buddhism’s appeal to the lower classes, it spread throughout India and China, however, acceptance differed because it was perceived as a threat to the Confucian order in China.
Give ’Em What They Want
Your essay reader is trained to look for certain specific criteria in your essay. To make sure that she finds what she’s looking for (and to ensure that you get credit for including all that stuff), begin by using the question to develop a thesis that includes key phrases from the question AND sets up the structure of your argument. For example, a typical question is:
3. Compare and contrast the impact of nationalism in Europe versus the impact of nationalism in the European colonies throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Do not just reword the question by using a simple introductory sentence such as: There were many similarities and differences between nationalism in Europe and its colonies.
This sentence is a waste of space that doesn’t tell the reader anything. Instead, your first sentence should clearly indicate what is to come in the rest of the thesis and the body of the essay and why nationalism was important.
The opening sentence of your thesis might read something like this:
Nationalism was a driving force throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it had a very different flavor in Europe than in most European colonies.
Notice the key phrases that were included in the sentence: Nationalism, Europe, European colonies, and nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Also note that the sentence is worded to imply contrast. Just to make sure that all aspects of the question are covered, the next sentence could read as follows:
While nationalism for both groups meant pride in and commitment to one’s own “nation,” nationalism in Europe—which often meant racism or desire for domination—became synonymous with national expansion and conquest of other peoples, while nationalism in the colonies meant self determination—freedom from European rule, and the nation’s right to determine its own destiny.
This sentence continues the contrast, but opens with a comparison, so as not to overlook the similarities in the responses of the two countries (something you must do to get a good score).
To make sure you include all the necessary elements in the opening sentence of your thesis, circle each key phrase as you process the question. Try it on the following example:
2. Choose TWO of the areas listed below and discuss the impact of the spread of Islam from its inception to 1450 on each area. Be sure to describe each area prior to the introduction of Islam as your starting point.
The Middle East
The Byzantine Empire
Spain (the Iberian Peninsula)
Did you circle key words and phrases like spread of Islam, inception to 1450, impact on each area? Once you circle the key phrases and select your countries/areas, try writing your opening sentence below.
Your opening sentence should read something like the following:
From its inception to the early 1400s and beyond, the spread of Islam had a major impact on both the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and the Middle East.
Show ’Em Where You Got It
Because you are writing an essay about something from history, the essay must be based on historical fact as opposed to your opinion. Once you let your reader know what you are going to say, you need to support what you are going to say by adding evidence. You’ve already done half the work by circling the key phrases. Once you know what the key phrases are, make sure that you introduce some evidence for each one. For example, look again at the first two sentences of our nationalism thesis:
Nationalism was a driving force throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it had a very different flavor in Europe than in most European colonies. While nationalism for both groups meant pride in and commitment to one’s own “nation,” nationalism in Europe—which often meant racism or desire for domination—became synonymous with national expansion and conquest of other peoples, while nationalism in the colonies meant self determination—freedom from European rule, and the nation’s right to determine its own destiny.
The second sentence in our thesis alludes to historical events—colonization and expansion was the result of European nationalism, while independence movements were the result of colonial nationalism. Because the thesis is just an intro to the body of the essay, you don’t need to go into detail, but you do need to begin to pull in evidence at this stage of the game. The next sentence could go on to state more specifically some of the results of nationalism for each group.
Different but Equal
Each type of essay also requires something slightly different for its thesis. For example, most change-over-time questions ask that you detail the starting point for changes as well as the changes themselves. Therefore, you need to include a statement about the starting point and evidence to support your statement.
Provide information about starting points for change for the Islam example from above.
Depending on the countries or regions you chose, your essay should now read something like this:
The spread of Islam had a major impact on both the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and the Middle East from its inception to the early 1400s and beyond. Despite the relatively early split into two camps—the Shia and the Sunni—over a disagreement about who should succeed Mohammad as the leader of the faith, Islam spread rapidly throughout the Middle East, due in part to the fact that although Muslims were intent on converting those they conquered, they were also flexible and tolerant of different forms of religious expression. By the middle of the eighth century, Muslims held parts of southern Iberia and southern parts of Italy and were intent on moving further into Europe, which threatened the Christians who dominated most of the regions to the north.
If this were a document-based question, your evidence would be documents rather than historical information you know. The DBQ has some additional details you’ll need to include, but you’ll learn more about that in the next chapter.
Help ’Em Get There
The last sentence in your thesis can be as important as the first because it helps the reader get from your intro into the bulk of what you have to say. Make the transition to the body of the essay with a sentence that opens with something like, “To better understand these changes …” or “To better understand these documents …” For example:
To better understand how nationalism led to the struggle for independence in many European colonies, one must first examine how nationalism, among other factors, led to the establishment of many of these colonies.
In the space below, try writing a transitional sentence for the essay on Islam:
Your sentence could read something like the following:
To better understand the impact of Islam on both the Middle East and Spain during this period, one must first take a look at what these areas were like prior to the introduction of Islam.
As you know, each type of essay requires a slightly different kind of thesis. The next two chapters will go through this in more detail. Keep this page marked for future reference. Here is a quick summary of the specs for each type of thesis you will write.
· Open with something like, “After reviewing these documents, it is clear that …”
· Rephrase the question as an answer; include all key phrases.
· Address each part of the question with a statement and a document reference or an example (compare, contrast, and change over time as appropriate).
· Make the transition to the body of the essay by citing the additional document: “To better understand how these documents relate to each other, a document about x would be useful …”
· Rephrase the question as an answer; include all key phrases.
· Address each part of the question with a statement and evidence.
· Make the transition to the body of the essay with a sentence like, “To better understand these changes …”
· Restate the question as an answer; include all key phrases.
· Address each part of the question with a statement and evidence.
· Include both similarities and differences.
· Make the transition to the body of the essay with a sentence like, “To better understand the similarities and differences between these two societies …”
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REST?
Of course, the thesis is only the beginning of your essay, but getting the beginning right can really make writing the rest of the essay much easier. The next two chapters will walk you through the specifics of each type of essay. In addition, there are some basic rules of writing essays for standardized tests that will help you score your best. Here are the points to keep in mind while writing each AP World History Exam essay.
· Essays should be a minimum of 4 to 6 paragraphs: Opening (thesis), Body, Body, Body, Closing.
· Use transitional words and trigger words to highlight important points.
Good Transitional Words
· Write neatly. An essay that cannot be read will not receive a good score.
· If you don’t know how to spell a word, choose another. Readers are not supposed to grade your spelling, but poor spelling can cast a shadow on the rest of your essay.
· Watch your time. Spending too much time on the first essay could mean running out of time on the last essay. The next two chapters include timing guidelines for each essay.
· Think before you write. In fact, do more than think—make notes, jot ideas, create an outline. The more work you do before you write, the neater and more organized your essay will be. The next two chapters will give you details on exactly how much prep work to do for each essay.