How to Write the AP Lang Synthesis Essay with Example

September 5, 2023

AP Lang synthesis essay, AP Language

If you’re highly interested in learning more about writing analysis, then chances are you enrolled in AP Lang. Essentially, AP Lang is an advanced course for high schoolers that combines interest and knowledge in English with critical thinking. In the class, students learn how to analyze and synthesize a variety of texts to construct well-reasoned arguments. If you take AP Lang, then you can opt to take the AP test at the conclusion of the school year. On the exam, students write the AP Lang synthesis essay to demonstrate their learned abilities. In this article, we’ll look at what the AP Lang synthesis essay requires and show an example to provide better understanding of what to expect on the exam.

AP Lang Exam Basics

The AP Lang exam is separated into two sections. In the first section, students have one hour to answer a series of 45 multiple-choice questions. Here, about half of the questions are based on passages students read. The other half are focused on the best revision techniques. Essentially, the answers for the latter 20-22 questions are geared toward revising mock essays.

In this article, however, we’ll focus mainly on the second part of the exam: the AP Lang synthesis essay.

In this second section, students have two hours and 15 minutes to write three essays of their own design. The three open-ended questions in this section are intended to be free-response and allow for a variety of approaches. Each question is intended to allow up to 40 minutes to complete.

For the AP Lang synthesis essay, students are presented with a scenario of the College Board’s design. The scenario will provide its own thesis statement. Usually, scenarios relate to real-world problems like environmental concerns, media, or government policies.

For each scenario, students are provided with 6-7 outside sources. These sources could be in the form of an image, visual graph, or written paragraph. For written paragraphs, the sources are usually no more than 500 words.

Students are then expected to incorporate at least 3-4 of these outside sources into their essay response. The outside sources are intended to be used as supporting evidence for the student’s chosen stance or argument. Students are able to either agree with or disagree with the thesis presented in the original scenario.

AP Lang Exam – Scoring

In the second part of the AP Lang exam, students can earn a possible 6 points on each essay. 1 point is earned for the development of a thesis. Up to 4 points can be earned for evidence and commentary. The final 1 point is earned for sophistication of thought.

AP Lang Exam – Takeaways

Ultimately, the goal of the AP Lang synthesis essay is not whether the student is “right” or “wrong” in their argument. The key is that students are able to reasonably and clearly support their argument using the provided sources as evidence.

The College Board looks for your ability to identify relationships between texts, form a coherent argument, and interpret external sources.

Synthesis Essay AP Lang Examples

If you’re not sure how the questions will look on the AP Lang synthesis essay section, we’ll provide an example. After the example, we’ll break down the strengths and weaknesses of the response. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what the College Board is looking for.

Additionally, the College Board has released previous AP Lang synthesis essay examples you can review. They even have essay questions as recent as 2022. For further support, a scoring commentary and comments from the Chief Reader are also available to view. Additionally, there are other examples you can view from earlier years.

Note: A good strategy to study for the synthesis essay AP Lang exam is to review your rhetorical devices and literary devices. Understanding how these devices function can be essential in constructing a cohesive essay.

Synthesis Essay AP Lang Examples – Sample Question

Below is a sample question from the AP Lang synthesis essay and a response to the prompt. This question was taken directly from a 2022 exam. However, the response to the question will be originally crafted for the purpose of this newsletter. As well, all supporting evidence will be originally created and does not correspond to any previous test.

The Question

Since the early 2000s, the United States government and a number of corporations have sponsored initiatives to improve education in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The emphasis on STEM subjects in elementary, secondary, and higher education reflects concerns that United States students are less proficient in these areas than are students in other countries. Additionally, there is a belief that mastery in STEM fields is now essential in order to join a highly technical and specialized workforce. However, not everyone is convinced that a STEM-focused curriculum is necessary and/or effective.

In your response you should do the following:

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible
  • Select and use evidence from at least three of the provided sources to support your line of Indicate clearly the sources used through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Sources may be cited as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the description in parentheses.
  • Explain how the evidence supports your line of
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your

How to Approach the Question

Maybe your first thought upon seeing this block of text is to feel overwhelmed. But don’t panic. There are effective ways to approach the question so you will be more prepared in your response.

It’s a good strategy to first isolate the thesis. What is the main idea of the text, and what is its argument?

Try it out. Reread the prompt and see if you can identify what the statement is asking you to develop an opinion on.

Think you’ve got it? In this example, we will be focusing on whether or not a STEM-focused curriculum in K-12 education is necessary and/or effective. In short, we will be arguing either for (highlighting the benefits) or against (highlighting the pitfalls) a STEM-focused curriculum.

How do we know what this statement is asking us?

Well, the statement provides a lot of background information. For example, we receive a definition of what STEM stands for. As well, we know that since 2000, there has been a greater initiative for STEM-focused classes.

When you read the prompt for the first time, it’s a great strategy to learn how to differentiate between background and contextual information from the heart of the argument.

A good way to learn how to isolate the argument is to look for transition words. Usually, these appear near the end of the question. Words like “however” and “yet” are signals that the statement is offering a differing opinion. Typically, the statement will tell you which two positions it’s offering for argument. These opinions are usually signaled by contrasting transition words.

So, now that we know what the question is asking us, what is the best way to respond?

Synthesis Essay AP Lang Examples – Sample Answer

The following is an essay response I crafted to the above question. After reading the sample, I will break down what it does well and what areas can be improved.

A STEM-focused curriculum is not as essential to providing a meaningful K-12 education. Because the majority of high school students are not proficient in STEM-focused classes, prioritizing these classes causes harm to student’s mental health and academic performance.

As seen in Source A, 60% of high school seniors in the Midwest only scored a C average in math and science-based classes (Langston). This statistic suggests that the majority of students do not resonate with STEM classes and therefore perform poorly. Earning a low score in any class does not bode well for students’ mental health.

When looking at the primary argument in Source C, it’s clear that most high schoolers prefer creative outlets to fact-based research (Kohler). Allowing students the opportunity to be more creative and initiate conversations about coursework lets students be more active in their learning. When students can discuss the nuance in their opinions, more personal growth happens. These conversations are not always easy to have in STEM-focused classes.

As well, when looking back to Source A, it’s clear that high school students in the Midwest earned higher grades, on average, in their English and art classes (Langston). This figure suggests that students perform better in these classes because they relate more to the source material. When relating to what they learn, they perform better in class.

In conclusion, STEM-focused curriculum is not as essential in K-12 education because most high school students do not relate to their STEM classes. When students do not earn satisfactory grades in these classes, it negatively affects their future college applications and job prospects.

Synthesis Essay AP Lang Examples – Answer Breakdown

So, what does this essay response get right, and where can it be improved? Let’s start with what the response does well.

First, the response establishes its thesis right away. Usually, it’s a good idea to clearly state your argument within the first paragraph. Not only is this a good practice because a reader can easily identify your stance, but also you can refer to your thesis as you write to make you stay on track.

With your thesis, it’s also a good idea to include one to two supporting sentences with the reasons why the thesis is concluded. Like in this example, I wrote that STEM-focused classes should not be prioritized because they can negatively affect both mental health and academic performance.

Another positive aspect of this response is that it is sure to not only reference but also cites its sources. It’s important that the reader understand where your information is coming from. That way, the readers can ensure you are interpreting the sources correctly.

AP Lang Synthesis Essay (Continued)

However, when rereading the instructions, it’s clear that this response fails the basic requirement of referring to at least three sources. Always make sure to reread the instructions to ensure you meet the standard requirements for incorporating source material.

Further, this AP Lang synthesis essay does not fully support its arguments. Ideas are simply stated and are not expanded upon.

For example, I mentioned a few times that earning low grades in STEM classes leads to negative mental health for high school students. However, there is no source referenced that either confirms or denies this claim. Therefore, there is no sufficient evidence to support my argument. It relies purely on inference.

Additionally, this AP Lang synthesis essay does not arrive at a sufficient level of sophistication of thought. Basically, sophistication of thought means avoiding broad generalizations and vague claims. The more specific you can be, the better your argument will sound.

Synthesis Essay AP Lang – In Conclusion

In the end, it’s always helpful to read the prompt thoroughly before writing. As well, making notes while you read could be a good strategy to pinpoint main ideas both in the prompt and the sources. That way, you can reread the material quickly. Similarly, sketching an outline may also be helpful. In addition, you should always carefully read the instructions to ensure all guidelines are followed.

As long as you avoid broad generalizations and use enough supporting evidence for your claim, you will be on the right path!