STEP 3 Develop Strategies for Success
8 The Long-Essay Question
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: The AP European History Exam contains a long-essay question that involves using your European history knowledge to create a historical argument. In this chapter you’ll find out what to expect and how to develop a strategy to do well on this task.
The key to doing well on the long-essay question is being able to write a history essay of high quality that follows the LEQ rubric—one that answers the question, makes an argument, and supports the argument with evidence.
The long-essay question tests your ability to use your knowledge of European history to create a historical argument. On the AP European History Exam, you will choose one of three available long-essay questions and have 40 minutes to respond. All three questions will focus on the same theme and skill, but give you a choice of three periods for consideration (Period 1 is 1450—1700, Period 2 is 1648—1914, and Period 3 is 1815—2001). The keys to success are choosing properly and following the five steps to writing a history essay of high quality.
Choosing Your Topic
You can choose which one of the topics you want to write about. The key to choosing properly is to understand that you are not looking for the “easiest” question to answer; each of the questions you encounter on the exam will take equal amounts of knowledge and effort. The key is to recognize the question for which you are best prepared to respond. Keep in mind the five-step process to writing a history essay of high quality. That means that you should look at each question and ask yourself: “For which of these questions can I most quickly write a clear thesis and three topic sentences that I can illustrate and support with several specific examples?” Then choose your question based on this analysis.
Applying the Five Steps to a High-Quality History Essay
Once you have chosen your question, simply follow the five-step formula to constructing a history essay of high quality:
Step 1. Find the action words in the question, and determine what the question wants you to do.
Step 2. Compose a thesis that responds to the question and gives you something specific to support and illustrate.
Step 3. Compose your topic sentences, and make sure that they add up logically to support your thesis.
Step 4. Support and illustrate your topic sentences with specific examples.
Step 5. If you have time, compose a one-paragraph conclusion that supports your thesis.
Also, remember the pitfalls to avoid:
• Avoid long sentences with multiple clauses. Your goal is to write the clearest sentence possible; most often the clearest sentence is a relatively short sentence.
• Do not get caught up in digressions. No matter how fascinating or insightful you find some idea or fact, if it doesn’t directly support or illustrate your thesis, don’t put it in.
• Skip the mystery. Do not ask a lot of rhetorical questions, and do not go for a surprise ending. The readers are looking for your thesis, your argument, and your evidence; give it to them in a clear, straightforward manner.
Let’s look at a question similar to the one you’ll encounter on the AP European History Exam and see how you could approach it.
Question: Evaluate the extent to which the attempts by seventeenth-century monarchs to consolidate political power within their kingdoms were successful.
Outlining Your Essay
Formulate your topics for contextualization and a thesis statement such as the ones below:
Thesis: Although the seventeenth-century monarchs succeeded in building strong centralized bureaucracies, ultimately many failed due to an inability to dominate their nobility and contend with the wishes of legislative bodies.
Then you outline three topic sentences that build a logical case for your thesis. Note specific examples you will use to support and illustrate the points asserted in the topic sentences:
Topic Sentence A: Monarchies during the seventeenth century built powerful centralized bureaucracies through their abilities to build relationships with their clergy and middle class.
Specific Examples: Richelieu’s division of France into 30 administrative districts, each under the control of an intendent, an administrative bureaucrat, usually chosen from the middle class.
Topic Sentence B: In England, the Parliament successfully resisted the absolutist designs of the Stuart monarchy because the English Parliament of the seventeenth century was a pre-existing alliance of nobles and well-to-do members of a thriving merchant and professional class that saw itself as a voice of the “English people.”
Specific Examples: Social composition of the two camps in the English Civil War; the traditional landed nobility and the high church sided with the king; the newer, commercial-based nobles and the merchant class fought for Parliament.
Topic Sentence C: In those areas where the commercial class was less developed, a political standoff between monarch and landed nobility was the norm.
Specific Examples: Brandenburg-Prussia, the independent German states, Austria, and Poland all lacked a well-developed commercial class, and all were characterized by a political compromise between monarchy and traditional elites.
Now you write your essay, beginning with the thesis and starting a new paragraph for each topic sentence. As you write the body of each paragraph, make sure to identify the example you are using and explain why it supports and illustrates your topic sentence. If you have time, you can write a concluding paragraph, but this isn’t actually necessary.
Scoring of the Essays
Like the DBQ, the long essay questions (LEQ) are scored using an analytical rubric, that will use a six-point scale. Below I will discuss the different categories of the rubric. It is important to keep in mind that the readers will not give partial points on the exam and therefore you will either receive the point or not. So you will want to keep an eye on the requirements that the analytical rubric outlines specific to the LEQ.
Thesis (1 point): The thesis must be a historically defensible claim that establishes a line of reasoning and correctly responds to the provided prompt.
Contextualization (1 point): The context must provide a broader historical background relevant to the question that is being asked. This must be presented as more than just a phrase or reference.
Evidence (0—2 points): One point can be earned for providing a minimum of two specific examples of evidence relevant to the question. It is highly suggested that you exceed the minimum in case one of the examples does not work.
The second point can be earned for supporting an argument with your examples. This will be where you give reason and connection as to how or why your example supports the argument being presented.
Analysis and Reasoning (0—2 points): One point can be earned for using the historical reasoning skill that is presented in the prompt. Historical reasoning skills for AP European History include comparison, causation, and change and continuity over time. This point is not a sentence, but the framing of your paper.
Complexity: The final point that can be achieved is earned by demonstrating that the writer has a nuanced understanding of the historical events and how they connect. You will need to understand that history lives in the gray; for example, when the prompt asks for similarities, it is valid to mention differences additionally, as both were likely present. Your job is to determine which was more significant so you still make a defensible claim.
These are the six points that can be earned on the LEQ. Notice that some of the points are similar to those you must earn and learn for the DBQ. The big differences come in the fact that the evidence is not provided to you in the LEQ.
Further Practice for the Long-Essay Question
To practice creating an outline and writing a response to a long-essay question, you can use the practice exam provided in Step 5 of this book. Give yourself 40 minutes. Then compare your work to the answer and explanation provided. To gain more practice responding to this type of question, go to the College Board website (www.collegeboard.org).