AP World History Teacher

New Essay Format: The SAQ

The change in content for the new 2016-2017 course redesign is not really that significant, but  as you can see in the chart below, the assessment is a different story. I have written elsewhere about the importance of teaching and drilling the Historical Thinking Skills into students’ heads. It will be more incumbent upon teachers to do so after 2016. This is especially true in regard to students responding to source material such as maps, primary and secondary sources, graphs, art, and data charts. Tasks connected to a historial stimulus will constitute approximately seventy five percent of the new exam. By way of comparison, the percentage of stimulus items on the current exam is twenty to twenty-five percent.

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Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the new exam is the addition of 4 Short Answer Questions (SAQs) graded on a three point scale. Individual questions will consist of a few straightforward tasks each graded in a binary manner; the student will get the point or they won’t. One or two sentences will suffice in answering each task and you can count on at least half of the SAQs having stimulus items. These are not essays; no thesis required.

So how to prepare students for these questions given the absence of so few examples from the College Board? The good news is that all those previous DBQs are loaded with great stimulus items that can be disassembled and repackaged as practice SAQs. (After all, many of the old DBQs might not be sufficient for teaching the new one.) And better yet, those savvy students who go to AP Central to look at essays before we assign them in class will find little there to help them with SAQs.

Here’s an example built from the familiar 2003 DBQ on indentured servitude:


Possible Historical Thinking Skills targeted by this question include Interpretation, Contextualization or Periodization for the first task. The second and third are obviously Comparison and Causation, respectively.

(Here is a printable version of this SAQ)

What other ideas can you come up with to use former DBQs to construct Short Answer Questions?

UPDATE: For those interested in more information about the 2017 redesigned test, the College Board has released a narrated presentation on the Historical Thinking Skills and Rubrics. I highly recommend you check it out in preparing for the changes next year:

Narrated Tutorial on Historical Thinking Skills


3 thoughts on “New Essay Format: The SAQ

  1. Barbara Coulter

    Jonathan — when teaching instructors about SAQ, consider including the ACE format: it has really helped my APUSHers this year.

    A – answer the question [this is the assertion or claim]
    C – cite specific factual evidence
    E – explain how the evidence proves the assertion

    4-5 sentence max per answer

    We practice these through the use of TWEDYAOD? bellringers through which students must respond and develop an argument ACE style. 😀

  2. Mark Houchin

    Thanks for posting this resource. We WHAP teachers need all the help we can get to shepherd us through the first year of the exam revise.