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

  • 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.
  • Reading the Prompt—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.
  • How to Speed-Read Texts
    • With luck, you’ve read in depth during the 15-minute reading period, and you’re already thinking about ways to approach this essay.
    • Skim over your textual sources, using your rhetorical-analysis skills to find main ideas.
    • Pay close attention to language—look for words and phrases that stick in your memory. You may have to analyze how an idea is portrayed or perceived, and language is your key to subtle distinctions.
    • Cross out the texts that you don’t intend to use. Move on to those you can employ.
  • Interpreting Images
    • At least one source will be visual—a painting, a sketch, a photograph, a cartoon, any kind of picture.
    • Look at composition. What’s inside the frame? What takes up a lot of space, or draws the eye? Why did the image-maker choose to frame the image in this way?
    • Are there people in the image? How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with their environment?
    • How does the image-maker use light? How does the image-maker use color and shape?
    • Are there any identifiable symbols in the image? What do they mean? Do they have more than one meaning?
    • Does this image resemble any earlier images, or prefigure later ones?
    • Do you know anything about the context of this image that will give you information about it? How does it relate to what you know about the image-maker?
    • Does this image make you feel a certain way?
  • Follow Your Instincts
    • It’s likely that one or more of the sources on the synthesis essay will give you a strong gut reaction. Follow that reaction—it’s a clue to the direction of your argument.
    • Use the sources that connect to that reaction, and organize them into your argument if you can.
    • At some point, check your gut against the prompt. Make sure the essay you feel like writing will actually answer the question. If it will, then full speed ahead!
    • If you run across a source that doesn’t engage your instincts at all, and you can construct an argument without it, feel free to discard it.
  • How to Answer
    • Outline before you write. YES, REALLY. AGAIN.
    • Begin with the main idea, or ideas, outlined in the text. Include your slant on the issue—not your opinion, but your analysis of what all the sources’ opinions mean.
    • Imagine you’re explaining this topic to a friend who hasn’t done the reading that you’ve done. How do you sum up the big ideas and make the issue make sense?
    • Once you’ve chosen the direction of your writing, leave your feelings out of it as much as possible. Your job is to report and analyze, not to opine.
    • As you outline and write, organize your sources according to the structure of your argument, not according to what they do or don’t have in common.

The Synthesis Prompt

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 0:09
  • What is a Synthesis Essay? 0:34
    • Involves Multiple Sources
  • Reading the Prompt - Twice 1:07
    • The First Time
    • The Second Time
  • How to Speed-Read Texts 2:10
    • Skim
    • Pay Attention to Language
    • Cross Out Texts You Don't Need
  • Interpreting Images 3:07
    • One Source Will be Visual
    • Look at Composition
    • Identifiable Symbols
    • Resemblance to Earlier Images?
    • Context of This Image
  • Follow Your Instincts 5:46
    • Use Sources That Connect to That Reaction
    • Check With Prompt
  • How to Answer 6:33
    • Outline
    • Include Your Analysis on What All the Sources' Opinions Mean
    • Report and Analyze, Not Opine.