The second part of Section II of the AP exam contains three long essay questions—you must respond to one. The AP U.S. History long essay question assesses your ability to apply knowledge of history in a complex, analytical manner. In other words, you are expected to treat history and historical questions as a historian would.
This process is called historiography—the skills and strategies historians use to analyze and interpret historical evidence to reach a conclusion. Thus, when writing an effective essay, you must be able to write a strong, clearly developed thesis and supply a substantial amount of relevant evidence to support your thesis and develop a complex argument.
The College Board’s characteristics of a high-scoring long essay question response are listed below. Note that the requirements are very similar to those of the DBQ; the primary difference is that any requirements related to use of the documents are removed from the scoring requirements for the long essay question.
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Long Answer Sample Question
Step 1: Analyze the Prompt
On the actual exam, you will read three questions and determine which you can answer most confidently. Paraphrase the tasks in your own words to be sure you understand what each requires. For this sample question, note that you will be evaluating how the interactions between Europeans and American Indians impacted societies.
As you choose which question you will answer, begin thinking about what your thesis will entail and how your essay will demonstrate a complex understanding. The notes of a sample high-scoring writer are below.
Thesis (with complex understanding): Spanish, French, and British each used territory differently; result: distinct social patterns
This writer claims that three different countries’ approaches to settling territories resulted in different types of social development, but other types of thesis claims are possible. For instance, the thesis could make a single claim about overall social patterns (such as “Europeans’ economic goals in the New World and their attitudes of superiority over American Indians resulted in exploitative and hierarchical social structures”) or focus on only one or two European nations.
Also begin to consider how you will demonstrate a complex understanding of the material. Since this writer will analyze how three nations’ approaches led to different types of social development, the essay will demonstrate a complex understanding by analyzing multiple variables.
Step 2: Plan Your Response
Next, take time to plan your response. Check your plan against the long essay question requirements. See the sample plan that a high-scoring writer might make; scoring requirements are written in bold for reference.
- ¶ intro
- Context: motives for European exploration: new technology, navigation techniques, and trade routes
- Thesis (with complex understanding): Spanish, French, and British each used territory differently; result: distinct social patterns
- Body ¶1: Spain
- goals: wealth and spread Catholicism
- methods: mining, large-scale agriculture, encomienda, disease/weapons, missions
- results: forced assimilation, social structure
- Body ¶2: France
- goal: fur trade
- method: mutually profitable trade relationships
- result: alliances
- Body ¶3: Britain
- goals: permanent settlements, Jamestown, religious freedom (New England)
- methods: occupying more land for farming, smallpox, Metacom’s War
- results: deaths of indigenous populations
- ¶ conclusion: where Europeans sought permanent settlements or forced labor, resulted in American Indian population decline, upheaval, and threats to tradition
Step 3: Action! Write Your Response & Step 4: Proofread
Use your plan to write each part of the response, and briskly skim for errors when finished.
See the following high-scoring response, and be sure to read the rubric to help you identify what makes this response effective. Think about what features you can incorporate into your own free- response answers.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European nations began to claim different regions in the New World. Using new sea technologies such as the astrolabe and improved navigation techniques, Europeans sought new trade routes to the Indian Ocean and Asia. Sailing west and finding new continents instead, the Europeans soon realized the economic potential of the Americas. The Spanish, French, and British each took a unique approach to how they utilized the New World territories in which they settled, resulting in distinct and profound patterns of social development.
The Spanish had two major goals: to gain wealth and to spread Catholicism to the native populations. Realizing the potential to mine precious metals and profit from large-scale agriculture, the Spanish forced American Indians into labor, such as through the encomienda system. Violence and deception were often used to subdue the indigenous populations, aided by the technological superiority of European weapons and the spread of devastating diseases. Although some Spanish came as missionaries with the goal of converting American Indians to Christianity and often protested the abusive treatment of the American Indians, even missions sometimes essentially forced labor and coerced assimilation to Spanish culture. In the long term, a hierarchical social structure developed in the Spanish colonies in which the Spanish-born and their descendants (peninsulares and creoles) dominated those of mixed background (mestizos and mulattos) and especially those of pure African or American Indian heritage. Overall, millions perished between disease and mistreatment, devastatingly weakening traditional cultures but enriching the Spanish.
The French differed from the Spanish in their relationship with the indigenous populations. Using the St. Lawrence River for transportation and trade, the French profited from trading fur pelts, particularly beaver, with the American Indians, and then sending the pelts to Europe. These traders profited from the knowledge and goods of the American Indian populations who lived there, and certainly desired to develop mutually profitable relationships with them. Overall, this more cooperative relationship helped preserve American Indian cultures and led to alliances between the French and different American Indian nations. These alliances benefited the French in later wars with the British.
The British were more interested in establishing permanent communities in North America. Jamestown, Britain’s first successful settlement, was economically based. The relationship with the American Indians turned hostile as the number of British settlers increased and they sought to occupy more land for tobacco production. In New England, many of the settlers were Pilgrims or Puritans seeking free expression of their religious beliefs. Here, the British also disrupted American Indian societies and established a relationship of hostility between the groups as the British not only encroached on the native people’s land for farming but they also began to spread smallpox, killing a large percentage of the indigenous populations. Large-scale conflicts broke out; many British and American Indian villages were destroyed during Metacom’s War, but it was the American Indian tribes who were largely displaced or eliminated. The British, like the Spanish, resorted to violence to secure their own economic ends and irrevocably disrupted American Indian societies as a result.
Overall, where Europeans sought permanent settlements or economic gain at the expense of the forced labor of others, American Indian societies experienced population decline, upheaval, and ultimately, threats to their traditional lands and traditions.