Danny Lobsenz ’25

For decades, the Document-Based-Question (DBQ) and the Long-Essay-Question (LEQ) have dominated the AP European and AP U.S. History exams. They have challenged and frustrated many students; however, new changes to the grading rubric may change this.

Although both of these types of questions require historical arguments, the DBQ rests on documents provided on the exam, while the LEQ relies on memorized historical evidence. In September 2023, the College Board announced several rubric adjustments. The DBQ will now only require argument support from four instead of the former six sources, and the student only will need to source (explaining the contextual or situational relevance of a document to your argument) two documents instead of four. Additionally, students can now earn the coveted complexity point by either using all seven documents to support their arguments or by sourcing four documents.

For the LEQ, the complexity point may be earned by supporting the argument with four pieces of evidence. Further, for both types of questions, it no longer will be necessary to weave complexity throughout the entire response.

AP U.S. History teacher Alex Haight views the change as the College Board trying to “streamline the DBQ process so it is not as much of a … time crunch.” He believes that the “skills and requirements are exactly the same” as before, so it is “not going to change how [he] teaches and approaches the” DBQ. Overall, he “likes the skills the [DBQ] is teaching.” The College Board is just giving students “a little more time” to accomplish it.

Outside of the time aspect, Haight does not view the AP exam as any easier. He acknowledges that “those are hard and important skills that do not always come naturally to students,” but the new changes will allow students a “little bit more time to really focus and make sure [all necessary parts of the essay are incorporated]“.

AP European teacher Kelly Anderson says the new rubrics allow her “to take a certain amount off of the students and compare it more towards essays they have done in the past. It is less specific to the college board.” She thinks it is a positive change that students can view the essays as more similar to essays they have done in the past, allowing them to more easily access the material.

For the DBQ specifically, Anderson believes that she can focus “a lot more on the quality of the writing instead of ‘how do I do all of this in sixty minutes.’” She can concentrate more on completing the tasks more effectively. She is looking “looking forward to the quality rather than quantity.” She believes that it is important to “hold kids accountable for doing the fewer things really well.”

Both teachers plan on fully incorporating all parts of the new rubric into the curriculum and grading, even the new complexity rubric changes. Anderson “really appreciates this change” because, while not necessarily easier, the way to earn the point is a lot clearer.

While this change would seem to make it easier for students to receive higher scores in the DBQ and LEQ sections of the exam, Haight does not believe that will be the result. “The percentage of fives [the highest possible score] has always been around 12 percent for the last 20 years. They will try to keep that number.”  He supposes that the College Board will be able to maintain this percentage by requiring a higher score on the multiple-choice section to earn a five. 

Furthermore, he theorizes that the Board may be less lenient when someone’s source analysis is unclear to make up for the ease caused by the changes. 

Anderson hopes that “if students are taught well what the changes mean it is certainly more likely [they will receive higher scores]. Given that students are able to focus on fewer tasks during the essay writing, they should be able to complete those tasks more competently and have more time to show their best.” In addition, she thinks that the clarity the changes bring will further help students achieve higher scores. 

Time will tell the prevailing impact of these changes on scores. In the meantime, we will see whether student stress has been reduced or simply reallocated to other sections of the examination.

Photograph via Fiveable


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