The newest section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam, the synthesis essay, is one of three essays you will be completing during the examination’s 2-hour free-response period. However, you’ll also have a 15-minute reading and planning period just for this essay, and if you use this time to plan effectively, you can’t go wrong.
Before we get into specific advice on how to handle the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay, you need to know what this part of the test really is. It is very similar to the argumentative essay you will also write as part of this exam, except that you are provided with a wealth of source material from which to draw some support for your ideas.
While this in some ways makes the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay easier than the argument essay (because you can use quotations, point to authoritative sources for support, etc.), there is an extra element of complexity, and the AP readers want to see how well you can sort through your source material and put it to good use – which makes planning all that much more important. This brings us to our first tip…
1. Use Your 15-Minute Planning Period Wisely.
The main purpose of this 15-minute period is to give you time to read the source materials. This essay will present you with several sources providing different information about or opinions on a certain topic. Make sure you don’t just skim them, but read them closely – make notes, underline key sections you may want to quote later, etc.
You should also begin outlining your essay and considering your opinion on the subject; have this opinion in mind before you start writing the essay, as you will use it to construct your thesis.
You’ve already learned how to structure persuasive essays in this class and in other classes you have taken; put that knowledge to good use now, and have your main points set out before you start writing. Try to have a thesis statement written by the time you start the essay – your thesis should establish your opinion and the general reasons you feel this way; the rest of your essay will go on to justify and exemplify these reasons. Also write down some of the main points upon which you will base subsequent paragraphs and mark quotes or sections of the sources you can use in each of these paragraphs.
2. Evaluate Your Sources.
Every source you can use for the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay will have a small box above it explaining where it comes from and who said it – to see exactly what this looks like, check out the free synthesis essay sample questions at AP Central. There are also public sample questions available there for the rest of the AP English and Composition Exam.
Keep all information about your sources in mind when you’re quoting them or using them to support your arguments. What journal an article appeared in can say a great deal about its potential biases. For example, consider a question on the environmental impacts of corporate practices – an environmental journal is obviously going to be biased in favor of more environmental regulation, while a report from a company spokesperson will probably gloss over some of the negative impacts of his company. Think critically.
3. Keep Your Tone Consistent.
There is no hard-and-fast advice about what tone you should take – some students try to inject a little humor into their essays while others prefer to be as serious as possible, some are extremely critical and others more accepting. However, the one thing you really have to do while writing the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay (or any other essay) is keep your tone consistent. Jot some tone-related ideas down as you outline during the 15-minute reading period, and keep in mind everything you’ve learned about tone and other aspects of rhetoric so far this year.
4. Use Rhetorical Technique to Your Advantage!
The various rhetorical practices you’ve been learning about all year can be put to good use here. This class and this test aren’t just about recognizing and analyzing these techniques when others use them, but about preparing you for college and your career by teaching you how to use them effectively yourself. However, this isn’t just about writing a beautiful essay, so read on to Tip # 5!
5. Your Argument Must be Well-Crafted.
The AP English Language and Composition Exam synthesis essay does not have right or wrong answers; rather, it asks you for your opinion. The AP Examiner cannot take points off because she disagrees with you. However, you must show logical basis for your opinion, drawing on both the sources AND your own knowledge and experience.
To do this, make sure you have a clear and complete thesis. Make sure the ideas expressed in the beginning of each paragraph or section support the thesis, and that you in turn show how those ideas are supported by a source or through your own knowledge and experience. Don’t generalize or write anything down that you can’t support.
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Transcript of Writing the AP Synthesis Essay
Step Two: Before Writing
WRITING THE ESSAY
Process of synthesis writing:
Develop your own original idea, or thesis, based on the sources provided.
Read the materials:
Familiarize yourself with what others have written about the topic by reading the sources provided.
Open with an engaging hook.
What you need to know...
The AP Synthesis Essay requires you to use three sources. You
will lose points
if you use less, but
earn points for using more.
Formulate your own thesis.
The synthesis essay is first and foremost a persuasive argument.
You MUST use the facts and ideas presented in the provided sources.
Use the sources to support or augment your OWN argument. DO NOT summarize the sources and allow those writers to speak for themselves—you are using what they say for your OWN purposes.
Give one reason in support of your thesis.
Explain as necessary.
Present specific supporting evidence
(quotations from the provided sources—but
you may also bring in other evidence).
Make sure all sources are documented.
The writer explains the significance of the specific
supporting evidence (e.g., what does the evidence
show or suggest as true?)
Draw further significance from the
reasons and evidence presented.
Bring the paper to a thoughtful ending. (Be philosophical! Show your wisdom!)
“Synthesis” is the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole.
Read the prompt.
Consider the question.
Determine your opinion.
(It is best to read for a purpose—finding claims with which you agree and disagree.)
It might be worth your time to consider
possible ideas before reading.
Create an organization chart, such as a T-Chart.
You might be asked an agree/disagree question or perhaps to give a list of ideas, such as what is most important to consider in a given situation.
As you read, briefly list claims/information/facts
in your chart that are deemed important. Place the sources of that information in parentheses.
Remember, some sources can contain multiple useful facts or claims—ones that could be listed on either side of your chart.
As you read, add ideas to your chart.
Underline or circle key lines or ideas.
Look for quotable claims.
Annotate the Readings
Look for points that you agree with as well as points with which you disagree. *Remember, addressing the opposition is central to effective argumentation.
In general, mark the texts in such a way that you can easily return to them and find exactly what you need.
QUESTION! QUESTION! QUESTION!
What are the claims made by the writers?
Do you note any logical fallacies or unsupported claims?
What does the writer assume to be true, and is it true?
Look at any charts and statistics. Are there any numerical changes? What is the presumed cause of any change? Might there be other causes?
Question! Question! Question!
Do not just accept what the writer writes as truth. It is your job to evaluate the sources and the claims!
Review your chart. Select the ideas/concepts that you will use to support your opinion.
If appropriate, plan to address the opposition. You can do this in one paragraph. This paragraph should address the opposition’s views and explain why you ultimately disagree with his or her position.
Understand the prompt.
Consider your opinion of the topic.
Read the source material.
Chart your findings.
Decipher the authors' claims.
Quote and cite interesting source material.
Formulate your thesis.
Your thesis must be clear and direct!
Your introduction should hook your reader.
You should provide a paragraph (when appropriate) to address the opposition.
The Body Paragraphs
Create strong topic sentences.
Give one reason in support of your thesis.
Explain as necessary.
Present supporting evidence. Be sure to DOCUMENT ALL SOURCES!
Explain what the evidence shows or suggests as true. DO NOT interpret the source material.
The Concluding Paragraph
Bring the paper to a thoughtful ending.
Your reader should be able to recall the important information you gave in your paper.
Draw further significance from the reasons and evidence presented.
Show your wisdom!
Identify/clarify the issue at hand.
Present a clear, direct thesis statement.
Assemble ideas from the various sources. AP usually requires that you use THREE sources.