Ap Progressive Era Essay Questions

One of the best ways to practice for the AP US History exam is by trying out sample questions. Sample APUSH DBQ questions help you get prepared to write a killer essay on test day.

APUSH DBQ Questions: An Overview

The APUSH DBQ consists of one essay question. You will have 55 minutes to complete the essay. The essay is graded on a 7-point rubric and will count for 25% of your overall exam score.

You will be presented with an essay question, followed by a series of documents (typically 7) related to the theme of the question. These documents can be any combination of primary and secondary source texts, maps, photographs, political cartoons, or other artwork.

You will need to use information from the documents as well as your outside knowledge to construct an essay response to the question. Your response should be a persuasive essay and must include a thesis statement backed by evidence.

Official APUSH DBQ Questions

The College Board has released several sample DBQs. These come from the official practice test and previous real exams. These official APUSH DBQ questions are the best, most reliable source to help you prepare for what to expect on test day. Read through these and try your hand at writing (or at least outlining) the essays. Some of them even come with scoring guides and sample student responses to help you see how you would have done if you’d written this essay for the real exam.

Here are links to the official APUSH DBQ questions:


Topic: Imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
Source:Official AP US History Practice Test (p.32-35)


Topic: American Revolution
Source:2017 AP US History Exam (p. 7-11)


Topic: Women’s Rights Movement
Source:2016 AP US History Exam (p. 6-11)
Related resources:Scoring guide and sample student responses


Topic: New Conservatism
Source: 2015 AP US History Exam (p. 6-10)
Related resources:Scoring guide and sample student responses

Unofficial APUSH DBQ Questions

There are several sources of unofficial DBQ questions. While these are less reliable than the official questions from College Board, they can provide good practice in interpreting and building an argument around documents.

Barron’s has a single free full-length practice test available on their website, which includes the DBQ. You can take the whole exam, or if you’re only interested in the DBQ, you can click on “Jump to Question” once inside the exam and select the DBQ. The topic is the Progressive Movement.

You can also find loads of good quality teacher-created practice APUSH DBQ questions online. For example, Mr. Bryant’s AP US History has a folder of TONS of DBQS you can download as Word documents. They are organized by time period/topic.

High quality test prep books from major publishers also include practice tests, including DBQs. Make sure you choose a book from 2015 or later to ensure the material is updated for the latest version of the APUSH exam.

More APUSH DBQ Resources

Check out these other great resources from Magoosh to help you prepare to shine on your APUSH DBQ questions:

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The Progressive Era is exactly what it sounds like – a time of progression and reform in the United States. But do you know what the Progressives wanted to change? Do you know the impact of those changes? The AP US History exam has had a lot of questions on the Progressive Era, so this crash course will prepare you for any that come your way!

The Progressive Era was a time of change on the national and state levels between 1900 and 1920. The Progressives who sought such change were women, the middle-class, and people who lived in urban areas. (It’s important to note that Progressives were NOT the same as the Populists, who were famers from the West and Midwest).

In around the 1880s, large companies needed to cut their costs, and in order to do that, they had to lower wages and increase employee hours. By the beginning of the 1900s, people began to feel that these companies were too powerful. The Progressive Era was born out of that feeling.

The general goals of the Progressives were improving social problems, reforming local governments, improving labor conditions, democratizing the political process, and regulating big business. They believed in cooperation to improve society.

The Progressive Presidents

Theodore Roosevelt, 1901 – 1909

An easy way to remember Roosevelt’s political program, which he called “the Square Deal,” is to know that it consisted of the “three C’s:” consumer protections, corporate regulation, and conservation of natural resources.

Consumer protections – Heavily influenced by muckraking, and in particular Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Roosevelt focused on making sure the American people (the consumers) were protected. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed under Roosevelt.

Corporate regulation – Roosevelt wanted to control trusts, and actually became known as the  “trust buster,” even though he didn’t want to completely get rid of trusts altogether. He wanted to regulate good trusts, and eliminate the bad ones. A good example you should know about is the 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike. Roosevelt actually sided against the owners of the mine and threatened to seize mines if the owners didn’t cooperate.

Conservation of natural resources – Roosevelt also focused on the environment. A perfect example of this is the Newlands Reclamation Act, which used money from the sale of lands out west to use towards irrigation projects in other parts of the country.

William Howard Taft, 1909 – 1913

Taft was the real “trust buster.” He wanted to break up any and all trusts, regardless of whether they were good or not.  Roosevelt had picked Taft to be his successor, but when Taft became president, the two had a falling out due to Taft’s “trust busting” antics. In the next election, Roosevelt actually ran against Taft under his own Progressive Party, the Bull Moose Party, but lost.

Woodrow Wilson, 1913 – 1921

Under his New Freedom platform, Wilson wanted to eradicate trusts and lower tariffs. He wanted to stop big business from dominating the government by encouraging small business. He also established the Federal Reserve Act.

For the test: Focus your studying on Roosevelt and Wilson. There have been very few questions about Taft on the APUSH exam.


At around this time, the mass circulation of magazines and newspapers was just starting. People in California could read about something happening in New York, and vice versa, which was something that hadn’t really been easy to do before. Taking advantage of this new form of widespread communication were the “muckrakers,” a group of investigative journalists who exposed industrial and political abuse happening across the country.

For the AP US History exam, it’s important to know about a few key muckrakers and their works:

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was a novel that revealed the gruesome truths behind Chicago’s meatpacking industry. This book actually directly led to the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis was a series of shocking photographs that publicized the poor living conditions of immigrants in New York City.

The History of the Standard Oil Company by Ida Tarbell was an expose of the Standard Oil Company’s harsh treatment of other businesses.

For the test: Make sure you know these “muckrakers” and what their works were about. More importantly, understand the influence they had on the American people and the US government.

African Americans

For the most part, African Americans were left out of government reforms during the Progressive Era. Keep in mind that the Progressives did NOT have goals of fighting for civil rights. Still, there are a few things you should know about African Americans during the Progressive Era for the AP US History exam.

First, you need to know about a key African American figure, W.E.B. Du Bois. A Harvard PhD graduate, Du Bois demanded an immediate end to segregation. He opposed Booker T. Washington’s idea of black separatism and believed that Whites and Blacks needed to work together to achieve full equality. He also founded the NAACP in 1909.

You should also know about Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a Black civil rights advocate who championed an end to lynching.

For the test: Know the differences between W.E.B. Du Bois’ approach to equality versus Booker T. Washington’s’. Also, remember that the Progressives did not seek an end to racial discrimination and nothing much was achieved during this time for the rights of African Americans.


Women made great strides during the Progressive Era in several areas of reform. Jane Addams founded the Hull House in Chicago, which helped women, children, and immigrants by teaching literacy classes, creating daycare centers for working mothers, and publishing expose reports. Florence Kelley was the leader of the National Consumer League, which successfully boycotted goods made by children to help pass child labor legislation. Dorothea Dix lobbied on behalf of mentally ill American to get them out of appalling conditions in prisons and into safe asylums.

For the test: Know the key Progressive Era women and what they fought for. Also know that women fought for issues that men often overlooked.

Key Amendments

Four important amendments were passed during the Progressive Era:

The 16th Amendment is the graduated income tax, meaning the higher your income, the more tax you pay. This, of course, gave more money to the government but also helped decrease the poor–rich divide.

The 17th Amendment is the direct election of senators. Before, they were elected by state legislatures so this amendment increased the political power of the citizens of a state.

The 18th Amendment is prohibition, or the illegalization of alcohol. This amendment was heavily influenced by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It was seen as a Progressive failure because it increased organized crime.

The 19th Amendment is women’s suffrage. Women were finally given the right to vote, although they were still not treated as equals to men.

For the test: Know what each of these amendments is, but more importantly, be able to identify the impact they had on the nation.

The Progressive Era on the APUSH Exam

As an AP US History student, you need to know all the facts, but you also have to make determinations based on those facts. To put it simply, you have to focus on the impact and the cause and effects of certain events in history. For the Progressive Era, you have to know the ways in which it was effective and the ways in which it was ineffective. Let’s take a look at that right now.

The Progressive Era was effective because it was a time of reformation. Child labor laws made it illegal for under 16’s to work for interstate commerce. Women’s labor laws reduced the number of hours women had to work. Additionally, a very important impact of the Progressive Era is that it greatly increased participation in politics. There were now direct primary elections, initiatives, referendums, and recalls.

Unfortunately, the Progressive Era wasn’t effective in other areas. There was no civil rights reform. Immigrants and African Americans were discouraged from voting because of poll taxes and literacy tests, meaning that a large portion of the population couldn’t vote. Prohibition raised crime levels and was actually repealed 13 years later. Also, the 19th Amendment passed in 1919, meaning during the majority of the Progressive Era, women could not vote.

Photo by Clifford K. Berryman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and Jacob Riis (1849-1914) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By the way, you should check out Albert.io for your AP US History review. We have hundreds of APUSH practice questions written just for you!

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