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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Language & Composition
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The Synthesis Essay

  • What is a Synthesis Essay?
    • A synthesis essay is a type of essay that asks you to draw information from a variety of sources and synthesize, or create, an analysis from what you read.
    • A synthesis essay always involves multiple sources, at least one of them visual.
    • You don’t have to use all the sources in your final essay, but you should examine them all before making your outline.
  • Why Do I Have to Write One?
    • The synthesis essay was added to the exam years ago because college professors begged for it. And it’s not because they hate you.
    • In college, you will need to read and evaluate multiple sources and integrate them into a coherent, cogent piece of writing.
    • Basically, if you’re going to place out of freshman composition, you have to prove that you already know how to write a good research paper.
    • Once again, this is about your skills, not about the actual content of the prompt.
  • Read the Prompt Carefully (Twice)
    • The first time you read the prompt, underline the directions you’re being given. What question are you being asked?
    • Pay attention to how you’re asked to cite your sources. Are they identified only by letter (A, B, C, etc.) or by author and/or title as well?
    • The second time you read the prompt, look for anything that might relate to discussions you’ve had in class. You might luck out and get an issue you’ve already researched. If not, you’re on your own—but that’s okay, because that’s exactly what this test is designed for.
  • Read the Texts—Sort Of
    • You should have read these texts in depth during the 15-minute reading period. (That’s why the reading period was added!) With luck, you’ve already got your bearings on the topic.
    • Now it’s time to get familiar with the details of the passages, especially the ones you will address, so you’re writing about what’s actually there.
    • Skimming is okay if you’ve already read closely. Use your best judgment.
    • Feel free to underline important points or likely quotes.
  • Find the Main Idea(s)
    • Whatever issue you’re being asked to discuss, the texts will take different sides of it.
    • As you read, try to find the main idea of each text.
    • At least one of your texts will actually be an image. Study it closely if you’re planning to use it; if visual literacy isn’t your thing, you may want to leave it out.
    • Remember that images can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but there are common symbols that appear in certain kinds of art. Try to pick those out so you don’t look too dumb for missing them.
    • Assume you’ll have to interpret what you read. Once again, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer—but you do have to support whatever answer you give.
  • Choose Your Sources
    • That’s right! You don’t have to use all the sources you’re given. You can pick and choose! That’s how real research works, so that’s what this exam will test.
    • Don’t try to use all the sources unless you’ve got one humdinger of an argument. It’s better to explain a few sources in depth than it is to touch on all of them superficially.
    • Not all sources will be relevant to your argument. If something doesn’t make any sense at all, move on; your time is limited.
    • Cross out sources you won’t use, and underline points that substantiate your position.
    • Keep your task in mind!
  • Remember the Little Things
    • Write in the present tense. You won’t be asked to weigh in on a historical debate, or speculate on events of the far future. Your ideas are happening now.
    • Everything the author says or does is always described in the present tense (ditto anything that happens in a work of art, including a book or a movie).
    • Use the past tense for historical facts.
    • Watch your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
    • Make sure your first paragraph is neat.
    • Take a few risks with your language—remember that imaginative use of English can be worth at least a point.

The Synthesis Essay

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.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:08
  • What is a Synthesis Essay? 0:35
    • Involves Multiple Sources
  • Why Do I Have to Write One? 1:08
    • Need to Read and Evaluate Multiple Sources in College
    • Prove You Know How to Write a Good Research Paper
    • It's About Your Skills
  • Read the Prompt Carefully (Twice) 2:31
    • The First Time
    • The Second Time
  • Read the Texts - Sort Of 3:46
    • 15-Minute Reading Period
    • Get Familiar with Details
    • Skimming is Okay
  • Find the Main Idea(s) 5:00
    • Text as Image
    • Common Symbols
    • Assume You'll Have to Interpret What You Read
  • Choose Your Sources 6:06
    • Don't Try to Use All the Sources
    • Not All Sources Will Be Relevant
  • Remember the Little Things! 7:26
    • Write in the Present Tense
    • Everything the Author Says or Does is Always Described in the Present Tense
    • Use the Past Tense for Historical Facts
    • Watch Your Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation
    • Make Sure Your First Paragraph is Neat
    • Take a Few Risks with Your Language