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Lesson One

Lesson Two

Lesson Three

Lesson Four

Lesson Five


Lesson Five: Rating DBQ Essays


Determine Standards

What Do You Wish to Assess?

Provide Exemplars

Rating Tips

Holistic Scoring


Determine Standards


  • standards before rating student work
  • specific content and skills to be assessed

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What Do You Wish to Assess?

DBQs measure many areas including:

Critical Thinking:

  • Analyze the effect of a historical event on a particular place or time.

  • Evaluate which economic system (market, command, traditional) was most effective at answering basic economic questions.

  • Compare and contrast the effects of nationalism on different societies throughout global history.

  • Consider the effect of imperialism on different nations from the multiple perspectives of imperialists and indigenous people.


  • Fuse documents into an integrated essay by grouping or categorizing them into an analytical framework (documents should not merely be paraphrased or listed randomly).

  • Incorporate relevant outside information to support the main idea or thesis of the essay.

  • Utilize sufficient facts, examples, reasons, and details in the body of the paper.


  • Write a strong introductory paragraph that provides a pathway into the response. This pathway will provide definitions, historical background, and a thesis or main idea statement.

  • Organize the essay into multiple paragraphs that support the main idea or thesis.

  • Support the main idea or thesis with relevant facts, examples, and details.

  • Construct a strong concluding paragraph that restates the thesis or main idea and summarizes key points made in the essay.

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Provide Exemplars

  • To ensure that students know what constitutes quality work, they need to know specifically how they are assessed.
  • Provide students with exemplars (actual examples of outstanding student work) to help them determine what they need to do to craft an exemplary response.
  • Provide students with a copy of the generic scoring rubric prior to responding to the question. Providing a generic rubric makes the standards and expectations clear to students.
  • The New York State Education Department provides generic scoring rubrics that form the basic for rubrics constructed for specific DBQ essays on each State social studies assessment. Make an age/grade appropriate rubric available to all students at the start of the school year.

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Rating Tips


In order to prepare students for DBQ essay writing, the rating process for local classroom assessments can contain many of the procedures used in the rating of State assessments. Try implementing some of these rating principles when devising unit tests, quarterly exams, semester exams, and school final exams:

  • Provide a generic rubric to students to make very clear the standards for writing quality DBQs.
  • Devise rubrics specific to the DBQ individually or department-wide, discuss standards and student work, compare grading, and double-rate papers (if feasible).
  • Select exemplar papers (also known as anchor papers on State assessments) as instructional papers for students and benchmark papers for teachers, exemplifying a particular scoring point on the rubric.
  • Give students an opportunity, individually or in groups, to reflect upon their work by focusing on improving performance.
  • Monitor, adjust, revise, and/or reassess the quality of questions and rubrics. This action helps ensure that all students are offered an opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do with social studies skills and content.

  • Before final grading, practice scoring sample essays to ensure consistent application of the specific scoring rubric.


Below is the specific scoring rubric for use with the Sample DBQ, along with two sets of practice papers.


Content-Specific Scoring Rubric (PDF Version)


Practice Papers - Set 1

Practice Papers - Set 2


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Holistic Scoring


The goal of any scoring session should be to achieve consistent and accurate scores. When scoring papers in groups, this means not simply to have everyone assign the same scores, but to assign them for the right reasons.


Holistic Scoring in Social Studies is a PowerPoint presentation that explains the group scoring process for State assessments further. Many of the ideas contained here can be adapted to small group or individual essay scoring on local classroom assessments.


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