Short answer questions (SAQs) can often baffle students, but understanding how to write an SAQ APUSH effectively can turn this section into one of the easiest parts of the exam. With the right approach, you can ace this portion using a simple three-step process known as TEA (Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis). Whether faced with a question with a stimulus or without, the method for answering remains the same.

Understanding the Structure of SAQs

The SAQ section of the APUSH exam constitutes 20% of the overall score. You will have to answer three out of four questions, with each question typically comprising three parts: A, B, and C, each worth one point. Effective time management is crucial as you have only 40 minutes to complete this section. It’s essential to answer all parts to maximize your chances of earning points.

How to Write an SAQ APUSH

The TEA approach is your key to success. Begin each response with a clear topic sentence that directly addresses the prompt. Next, provide specific evidence that supports your topic sentence. Finally, analyze the evidence by connecting it back to your topic sentence and explaining its relevance. This structure helps ensure your answers are concise yet content-rich.

Let’s break down the TEA formula further:

  • Topic Sentence: Start by clearly and directly answering the question. Your topic sentence should be a declarative statement that sets the stage for your evidence and analysis.
  • Evidence: Provide specific examples to back up your topic sentence. This could include prominent historical events, court cases, laws, or influential books related to the prompt.
  • Analysis: Explain how your evidence supports your topic sentence. Connect the dots for the reader, showing clear and logical links.

Strategies for Tackling SAQs

To excel in the SAQ section, focus on the following strategies:

  • Mindset: Approach each question confidently, even attempting them out of order if that suits your strengths.
  • Preparation: Familiarize yourself with the College Board’s rubric and practice categorizing historical events by time period and significance.
  • Detail: Strive for responses that are two to four sentences long, rich with factual information and thorough analysis.
  • Examples: Always anchor your answers with specific historical evidence. For instance, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Evidence Explanation: With recent changes in scoring, it’s critical to not just identify but also explain your evidence thoroughly.

Practical Example

Let’s consider a practical example to illustrate how to write an SAQ APUSH effectively:

Question: “Explain one way in which the Emancipation Proclamation changed social structures in the United States during the Civil War.”


Topic Sentence: The Emancipation Proclamation fundamentally altered social structures by legally freeing enslaved individuals in rebelling states.

Evidence: This proclamation paved the way for over 3.1 million enslaved people to be recognized as free citizens, directly challenging the institution of slavery.

Analysis: By proclaiming freedom for enslaved individuals, the social order of the South was disrupted, weakening the economic and social dominance of the slaveholding class. This marked a significant shift towards the eventual abolition of slavery and a more equitable society.

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