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Locavore Movement Ap Essay Rubric English

Detailed Explanation: How to Write The AP Synthesis Essay

Introduced in 2007, the AP synthesis essay initially appears to be quite daunting.  As in the APUSH DBQ questions, students are required to read 6-7 short sources and synthesize them into a persuasive essay which uses three or more of those sources as support.

In actuality, the synthesis essay is the easiest of the three.  Though the AP often chooses topics that are somewhat...unusual  (the 2008 prompt stands out here), the topics tend to be broad-based and relatively apolitical, with several topics being particularly helpful to a wide range of students, especially 2008 B and 2010).

Want to see all the synthesis prompts released through AP Central?  Click this button. LICK FOR ALL AP WRITING PROMPTS
Big Rules to Remember: Surprisingly, You Need to Synthesize

AP Synthesis Topics Since 2007

2007 - ADS
  • Write an essay in which you develop a position on the effects of advertising.
2007 B - ART  
  • Develop a position on the most important considerations facing the person responsible for securing a new work of art or an artifact for a museum.
  • Write an essay in which you develop a position on whether or not the penny coin should be eliminated.
  • Write an essay that develops a position on whether or not there should be specific texts that all students of high school English must read.
  • Develop a position about what issues should be considered most important in making decisions about space exploration.
  • Write an essay in which you use this issue to argue the extent to which schools should support individuality or conformity.
  • Evaluate the most important factors a school should consider before using particular technologies in curriculum and instruction.*
  • Synthesize at least three of the sources into an essay that evaluates daylight savings time and offers a recommendation about its continued use.*
  • Write an essay that identifies the key issues associated with the locavore movement and examines their implications for the community.*
  • Develop a position on the extent to which government should be responsible for fostering green practices.
  • Develop a position on whether the USPS should be restructured to meet the needs of a changing world, and if so, how.*
  • Examine the factors a group or agency should consider in memorializing an event or person and in creating a monument.*
  • Helpful resource: Take a look at the AP's scoring guide for this prompt.  This is the  "Why the 9s got 9s" document.
  • Write a well-developed essay that evaluates whether college is worth its cost.
  • Should your school establish, maintain, revise, or eliminate an honor code?

* The "and," as you can probably tell, is quite important.  Essays failing to include or address BOTH parts of the prompt are guaranteed to get a low score.
Reading and Planning
Step One: Read the Prompt
Step Two: "How Can I Use You?"
Step Three: Make a T-Chart and Fill It In
Step Four: Cluster and Label
Step Five: Realize You Now Have an Outline
Step Six: Now, Write Your Thesis and Make it Match Your Topics and Evidence
Step 6.1: The Thesis Statement
Step Seven: Plan Your Synthesis Sentence
​Step One: Read the Prompt!
  • Obviously, failure to read the prompt will cost you seriously. If the prompt is asking you to evaluate, then evaluate.  If it's asking you to evaluate both "X" and ALSO evaluate "Y," you MUST do both.​

Step Two: Ask, "How Can I Use You?"
  • When you get the synthesis prompt, begin reading the sources, ESPECIALLY THE LITTLE BOXES at the top. 
  • Examine them for bias.  For instance, the New York Times skews slightly left-wing, with an upper-middle-class to wealthy East Coast readership, often college-educated.  That demographic absolutely informs their editorial biases, their choice of article, and their overall expectation of their audience's values. 
  • Ask, "How can I USE YOU?"  In other words, read actively, asking yourself how you can use a particular prompt to support (or work against) a particular side of the argument.

Step Three: Make a T-Chart and Fill It In
  • As you read, make a T-chart in which you label the source and BRIEFLY list the data you will use, placing it on one side of the chart or the other. For example, using the 2014 prompt about whether college is worth it, your T-chart might look like this:
  • College Not Worth It       _________________College is Worth It
  • Source A = better to fix things     *   Source B = Well-rounded learning teaches freedom

Step Four: Cluster and Label
  • As you read, you'll notice certain sources are "talking to" each other.  Maybe both are about college debt, while another pair is about the mind-opening, value-expanding virtues of higher education.  CIRCLE THEM.  Maybe you'll also notice that Source X is about overwhelming college debt, while Source Q says that the debt isn't actually that bad -- federal grants and scholarships, especially to people from lower-income families, can offset college tuition for a substantial number of students.  CIRCLE THEM TOO, indicating with a double slash ( // ) that these two sources disagree.  Here is an example:
  • College Not Worth It       _________________College is Worth It
  • Source E = More debt _______//_________  Source D = Not that expensive
  • You'll notice you have a number of "clusters" -- two or three sources which are all talking about the same basic subject or idea.  Maybe all three are about college debt, and two think it's horrible and one thinks it's not so bad.  LABEL IT.  You can call it something like "debt."

Step Five: Realize You Now Have an Outline
  • You now have an outline.  Let's say that you see a "clump" in which A and B agree with each other and C and D agree with each other (but not with A and B).  Your paragraphs could be organized as follows:  

Body Paragraph 1: Source A                                                  OR ALSO                       Body Paragraph 1: Although Source A
                                  Source B                                                                                                                           Nevertheless,                                                                                                                                                                                       Source C

Body Paragraph 2: Source C                                                                                          Body Paragraph 2: Although Source B
                                 Source D                                                                                                                             Nevertheless                                                                                                                                                                                         Source D
As you'll see below, I'm actually going to advocate for the plan on the right-hand side.

Step Six: Now, Write Your Thesis and Make it Match Your Topics and Evidence
When you're writing your thesis, your thesis should accurately predict the major topic sentences you're writing AND ALSO the evidence you're using.  You should have key words that match or are similar or are related across ALL THREE elements of your paragraph.

For instance, if I have a source that states unicorns are made of chocolate rainbows, then the phrase "chocolate rainbows" or "a colorful, yet also chocolatey, arch of refracted light," should appear IN MY TOPIC SENTENCE and also IN MY THESIS.

Step 6.1: Write a Thesis Statement Template
​Your basic thesis statement will need to acknowledge both sides of the argument -- the pro as well as the con.  When you do that, you'll be accomplishing the crucial task of complexity that the AP graders are looking for.  You also help to ensure that you are covering your basis by having a sufficiently diverse group of sources to argue your point.  Your basic thesis statement template should look like this:
  • Although X because [reason], nevertheless, Y because [reason 1, reason 2 and optional reason 3].

Example: Although many consider chocolate unicorns to be mythological because there is no evidence of their having existed, nevertheless, chocolate unicorns do exist because Santa says so, Hot Topic has a poster of a chocolate unicorn in the poster display area, and finally, chocolate unicorns have appeared to people in their dreams.

NOTE: Whichever reason is your WEAKEST, put it last.  This is purely strategic.  If you run out of time, go back to the thesis, cross out reason C, and write a conclusion.  

ANOTHER NOTE: This thesis can certainly be criticized as being mechanical and formulaic, which it is.  I completely concur.  That said, however, having a mechanical formula is often a necessary first step in writing nonformulaic pieces.  In short, it's a place to begin.

Step Seven: Plan Your Synthesis Sentence
Your synthesis sentence (see below under "Big Rules to Remember: Surprisingly, You Need to Synthesize") is crucial to your success.  Start planning it NOW.  Include at least one in every body paragraph and put it toward the END of your body paragraph.  A sample outline for one body paragraph of your synthesis would look like this:

Thesis: Idea A, idea B, Idea C, idea D.

I. Topic: Idea A and B are correct.  (CLAIM)
A. Context and explanation of A (CONTEXT AND DATA)
B. Commentary  about A (WARRANT)
C. Context and explanation of B (CONTEXT AND DATA)
D. Commentary about B (WARRANT)
F. Transition/conclusion

Step Eight: Write Your Essay
See "General Game Plan" below.
Synthesize Your Sources: Peanut Butter Jelly Time
Paraphrase Rather than Quote
Penultimate Big Rule: As Always, ATSQ...and READ CAREFULLY
Big Rule to Get and 8 or 9: THINK FOR YOURSELF
There are a few ways to get a poor grade immediately on an AP synthesis paper.  Not synthesizing is one of them.

"Synthesizing" means, in essence, "Putting together ingredient A with ingredient B and as a result, getting ingredient Q."  The mistake many students make on the synthesis essay is that they don't put together ingredients.  This is the difference between chocolate cake versus a piece of chocolate next to a piece of cake.  The lower-level papers tend to discuss only one source per paragraph.  If they bring in another source, they do so separately, and never discuss how or in what way those sources relate to each other. Do they agree?  Do they disagree? Do they partly agree?  One way to look at this process is as CONVERSATION.  Get Source A to "talk back" to Source B, and so on.

For true synthesis, you need X PLUS Y.  You can't just have X over here in one paragraph and Y over there in another paragraph.  When you do that, you haven't made a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich; you have made one peanut butter sandwich and one jelly sandwich.  Inlude AT LEAST TWO DIFFERENT sources per paragraph.  If you write at least two body paragraphs (which you should), and use a minimum of three different sources,  this choice automatically means you are satisfying the AP's rule of "use at least three sources."

In other words, say what X and Z mean when you put them together.

Include at least two places per paragraph in which you use one or more of the following phrases or ones like them.  When you use these phrases, you are moving far closer to actual synthesis.  I've highlighted words I think of as "synthesis" words or phrases -- that is, words suggesting that you have made not just a peanut butter sandwich, and a jelly sandwich, but a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
  • Although X says ____, and Y argues____, they both fail to acknowledge that ____.
  • Because X says ___, and Y argues___, they both succeed in acknowledging that___.
  • [My argument] is that ____, as X makes clear by pointing out ____, and Y also clarifies by adding the idea that ___.
  • Separately, X and Y shed very dissimilar lights on the issue, but taken together, both sources suggest that _____
  • As both X and Y acknowledge, [my central argument] is crucial because________.
  • X points out ___, but Y points out ___, so taken as a whole, these sources suggest that____.

TIP: On the synthesis essay, you're usually better off paraphrasing rather than quoting.  

Why?  When you paraphrase, you can condense a significant amount of information into a small space, which is what you want -- you do NOT want to waste time quoting in general, particularly if you're not analyzing the important impact of a word.  If you're attempting to convey information, such as the essential argument of an author's piece, you're generally better cutting it down to the basics through paraphrase.  OBVIOUSLY, YOU MUST CITE.

​You will get nowhere unless you ATSQ -- answer the stinking question.  The trick here is to look for the word "and."  Consider the prompts from 2010 onward (The list is below), and you will see that the questions tend more often than not to be two-parters: "Consider ____ AND____."  You may possibly forget to address the "and" -- but your AP grader will not.

The second issue is that you must correctly interpret the arguments of the sources you're reading.
  •  If the source is an editorial cartoon, AUTOMATICALLY ASSUME THE PRESENCE OF IRONY.  It is not a full guarantee, but it is a safe assumption.  
  • Look at the blurb.  If the blurb tells you that the source is from an online magazine focused on higher education, you can be sure that the magazine article probably supports higher education, for example.

​Here's an example of thinking for yourself: On the 2015 administration of this exam, the synthesis question addressed the issue of honor codes and cheating, asking students to take a position on whether their school should establish, maintain, revise, or eliminate an honor code.  The best essays WENT BEYOND the sources.  Among many issues the sources did not address with regards to cheating were issues such as the culture of cheating created, in some cases, by the emphasis schools and parents place on GPAs, high-stakes proficiency exams, and standardized testing (including such tests such guessed it.. THE AP EXAM).  The most proficient writers brought in this information and talked about it, using the sources to support their OWN argument about honor codes.  In short, they went above and beyond, which is why they got the 8 or 9.  

Bottom line, if you know anything about a particular subject, show off this information during the AP.
  1. Intro Paragraph -- The classic "funnel" approach or "thesis-as-intro" works fine.
  2. Body One -- Introduce your first claim, support it with Source #1, comment on Source #1.  Introduce source #2 and comment on it.
  3. THEN SYNTHESIZE.  Using the phrases above, explain Source #1 and #2 TOGETHER.  
  4. (For the 8 or 9) -- Go beyond the range of information provided by the sources.  Using your own knowledge, make your argument and discuss how or in what way sources #1 or #2 support, refute, or qualify it.
  5. Repeat this process for any remaining body paragraphs.  Don't feel as if you have to write a five-paragraph essay.
  6. Conclude by putting your central claim in different words and explain why it matters to the reader.
Synthesis Essay Checklist 
  1. Did you ATSQ (Answer the Stinkin' Question)?
  2. If the stinkin' question was a two-parter with "and," did you answer BOTH parts?  (For example, on the monuments essay of 2013, a successful thesis would address BOTH the reasons why a person or event should be memorialized at all AND ALSO the factors involved in a monument's creation such as cost, location, or materials.)
  3. Did your topic sentences begin with transitions such as First, Initially, Although, At first glance it might appear that, or some other indicator?
  4. Did your topic sentences match the thesis? That is, did each topic sentence contain key words (or their synonyms) that appeared in the thesis?
  5. Did you provide context (who, what, where, when, why) to prepare your reader for the data?
  6. Did you GENERALLY AVOID DIRECT QUOTATION?  (Note: In the rhetorical analysis essay, quotation is vital.  In the synthesis essay, it is usually a wiser choice to summarize and paraphrase unless the exact words are crucial to your point.)
  7. Did you clearly read and understand the sources?  Misreading or oversimplifying the sources is a major reason students do not succeed.
  8. NO MORE THAN THREE LINES should go by without ... A citation with parentheses, e.g. (Smith); without a name of a person or event, using capital letters, e.g., "Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, DC..."; without a specific date or title using capital letters, e.g., "In his 2011 article 'Bring Back Food,' author David Martinez asks..."
  9.  Did you use the words because or since or the phrases " which proves that," "which suggests that,"or "which argues that" after EACH data?
  10. Did you replace at least 50% of your pronouns with names and nouns?
  11. Did you avoid dead words such as good, bad, positive, negative, people, things, stuff, different, way, and replace all fake questions?
  12. Did you eliminate at least 50% of your "to be" verbs and replace with action verbs? (E.g., "Bob was going to make a monument to his wombat Ogilvy" changed to "Bob memorialized his wombat Ogilvy.")

Synthesis Essay Rubric
  • Great example of an AP synthesis essay rubric for in-class evaluation here.  (Props to Mr. Gunnar, AP teacher par excellence.)

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