In the lesson, our professor Rebekah Hendershot goes through an introduction on synthesis practice. She discusses some possible approaches, the scoring guidelines, the sample essays and tips for the synthesis essay.
The prompt offers a hypothetical situation (a community developing a locavore movement).
The prompt makes demands:
Use at least three sources
Create a coherent, well-developed essay
Identify the key issues
Examine their implications
Cite your sources, but don’t merely summarize them—use them to support your point.
Reading the Texts
Source A (Maiser) lists a variety of reasons to buy and eat local—including economic, nutritional, sensory, and ethical concerns.
Source B (Smith and MacKinnon) qualifies a common argument in favor of locavorism: it holds that the nutritional benefits of fresher food are nominal, but concedes that the experiential difference is profound.
Source C (McWilliams) qualifies the locavore arguments about food miles and carbon footprints, holding that mileage alone doesn’t tell the whole story and that consumers should have other concerns as well.
Source D (Loder et al.) compares the “carbon footprints” of various food categories.
Source E (Gogoi) discusses the impact of the locavore movement on the recent Farm Bill.
Source F (Roberts) points out problems with the locavore (“localvore”) principle—namely, that food production in the United States is decentralized and it can be difficult to define “locally sourced” foods.
Source G (Hallatt) is a comic strip parodying the locavore movement by both pointing out the lack of food sourced near the characters’ home (above the Arctic Circle, apparently) and the convenience of a “local” supermarket.
Some Possible Approaches
The sources provide a variety of arguments for locavorism—Sources A and D are especially good for this.
Other sources (B, C, E, F, and G) either refute or qualify common locavore arguments, or point out unmentioned difficulties with locavorism.
Because the sources present a wide variety of arguments, you may choose to address all the areas of debate (economics, health, aesthetics, ethics) or only a few.
Remember, however, that you must use at least three sources.
Note that a score of 9 is reserved for essays that meet the 8 criteria but are unusually good—and that a good essay, in this case, “effectively develop[s] a position that identifies the key issues associated with the locavore movement and examines their implications for the community.”
The descending scores of 8, 7, and 6 are allotted according to:
This essay began with a good hook—the description of a stroll through a farmer’s market.
This essay considers a variety of sources, and makes counterarguments to some (such as Source D).
The reader praises the essay’s organization and the way that it addresses issues in an orderly manner.
The reader appreciates the essay’s “nodding to the opposition” by acknowledging opposing claims.
The prose style isn’t perfect, but the essay is well-written overall and earned its 8.
Let’s look at Sample 1B, which earned a 5.
This essay looks impressive because it’s long, but the student has padded it with extensive quotation and paraphrasing—and he or she hasn’t done much to analyze the sources that are so exhaustively described.
There aren’t many well-developed explanations or arguments beyond repeating the source material and adding a line about Michelle Obama.
The student does cite sources well and describe the concerns on all sides of the issue, but because this essay didn’t go beyond the sources, it earns only a 5.
The 2011 sample essays are also available on the College Board’s website.
Let’s look at Sample 1C, which earned a 3.
This student adopted a weak position—that there are good reasons to be for and against locavorism. Basically, this student is trying to be on both teams at once, which defeats the purpose of this essay.
The student has padded the essay with long quotes.
There’s a glimmer of original thought in the weather example, but then went back to long quotes instead of developing the idea.
The reader finally judges this essay “insufficient and unconvincing.”
Tips for the Synthesis Essay
Language still matters. It’s still the difference between an 8 and a 9 in many cases.
Read the prompt carefully! Because you will encounter many sources with wildly different opinions, remember that you only have to answer the question you’ve been asked—not fix the ozone layer.
Using a lot of sources is better than using only a few sources.
Don’t use long quotations or summaries unless it’s absolutely necessary. Readers know filler when they see it.
Once again, this question doesn’t have a right or wrong answer—the right answer is the thorough, well-supported, and well-expressed one.
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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