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Ap English 11 Synthesis Essay Sample

The AP English Language persuasive (or argumentative) essay is one of the three long-form free-response questions that will make up 55% of your score on the AP English Language and Composition Exam. While the multiple-choice section and the rhetorical analysis essay will test you on how well you have learned the various rhetorical techniques you have been exposed to this year, the persuasive essay and a similar task, the synthesis (also see our article “5 Tips to the AP English Language Synthesis Essay You Must Know”), will test you on how well you can put these techniques to use yourself.

It’s time for you to follow in the footsteps of the established, respected writers you have been reading all year and put everything that you’ve learned to work in the AP English Language persuasive essay.

How the AP English Language Persuasive Essay Works

Persuasion through essay writing is something you probably learned about a long time ago, but the AP English Language Exam’s persuasion essay requires some more specific tips. You will be given a prompt that may or may not reference a reading sample; it will ask you to then “defend,” “challenge,” or “qualify” a position on a public issue – either the position espoused in the reading sample or one simply stated by the author of the question.

To defend a position is to agree with it and rationalize that agreement, to challenge it is to disagree with it and show holes in its supporting logic. To qualify a position is to attempt to truly understand all sides of the issue and see that both sides may have some valid points. However, you still need to take a definite stand, no matter what you do, although it can be a stand such as “Idea X is ethical in certain situations and unethical in others” – however, expand on that to give the AP Examiners an exact notion of your opinion, and then use logic and beautiful writing to persuade them to see your way of thinking.

No Issue is One-Sided

Although taking a definitive stand is one of the most important things you need to do during the AP English Language persuasive essay, you will often score higher if you show the full complexity of issues and exhibit understanding of the other side of the argument. This can not only show that you are intelligent and appreciate the complexity of the types of issues you may be talking about on the exam, but may actually help strengthen your argument, in that you can foresee potential arguments against your support for your beliefs, then undermine them as you write about them.

Even in issues that you are very passionate about or cannot see the other side’s logic on at all, keep in mind that you should be respectful and mature in all your AP Exam writings.

Draw from All Possible Sources – But Don’t Be Self-Centered!

This AP Language persuasive essay allows you to draw on your knowledge from other subjects, what you’ve read inside and outside of school (be it a classic novel or this morning’s paper), and your personal experience; a well-rounded, well-thought-out essay will use all or at least most of these. That being said, don’t be too focused on using your own experience to justify your beliefs – this is a less mature, less powerfully logical way of arguing than what the Examiners expect. Use personal experience, when relevant, as one facet of a wider, more nationally and globally aware argument.

For example, a prompt on advertising could probably use some personal anecdotes about your experiences with advertising alongside things you may have seen in the news or learned in a statistics class and analogies you can draw using global events or literature. A prompt on the ethics of experimentation on animals probably shouldn’t use much personal experience (unless you have a biologist in the family), because your “experiences” will be limited to feelings, not fully lived and understood events that will hold up in an argument.

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The newest section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam, the synthesis essay, is one of three essays you will be completing during the examination’s 2-hour free-response period. However, you’ll also have a 15-minute reading and planning period just for this essay, and if you use this time to plan effectively, you can’t go wrong.

Before we get into specific advice on how to handle the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay, you need to know what this part of the test really is. It is very similar to the argumentative essay you will also write as part of this exam, except that you are provided with a wealth of source material from which to draw some support for your ideas.

While this in some ways makes the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay easier than the argument essay (because you can use quotations, point to authoritative sources for support, etc.), there is an extra element of complexity, and the AP readers want to see how well you can sort through your source material and put it to good use – which makes planning all that much more important. This brings us to our first tip…

1. Use Your 15-Minute Planning Period Wisely.

The main purpose of this 15-minute period is to give you time to read the source materials. This essay will present you with several sources providing different information about or opinions on a certain topic. Make sure you don’t just skim them, but read them closely – make notes, underline key sections you may want to quote later, etc.

You should also begin outlining your essay and considering your opinion on the subject; have this opinion in mind before you start writing the essay, as you will use it to construct your thesis.

You’ve already learned how to structure persuasive essays in this class and in other classes you have taken; put that knowledge to good use now, and have your main points set out before you start writing. Try to have a thesis statement written by the time you start the essay – your thesis should establish your opinion and the general reasons you feel this way; the rest of your essay will go on to justify and exemplify these reasons. Also write down some of the main points upon which you will base subsequent paragraphs and mark quotes or sections of the sources you can use in each of these paragraphs.

2. Evaluate Your Sources.

Every source you can use for the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay will have a small box above it explaining where it comes from and who said it – to see exactly what this looks like, check out the free synthesis essay sample questions at AP Central. There are also public sample questions available there for the rest of the AP English and Composition Exam.

Keep all information about your sources in mind when you’re quoting them or using them to support your arguments. What journal an article appeared in can say a great deal about its potential biases. For example, consider a question on the environmental impacts of corporate practices – an environmental journal is obviously going to be biased in favor of more environmental regulation, while a report from a company spokesperson will probably gloss over some of the negative impacts of his company. Think critically.

3. Keep Your Tone Consistent.

There is no hard-and-fast advice about what tone you should take – some students try to inject a little humor into their essays while others prefer to be as serious as possible, some are extremely critical and others more accepting. However, the one thing you really have to do while writing the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay (or any other essay) is keep your tone consistent. Jot some tone-related ideas down as you outline during the 15-minute reading period, and keep in mind everything you’ve learned about tone and other aspects of rhetoric so far this year.

4. Use Rhetorical Technique to Your Advantage!

The various rhetorical practices you’ve been learning about all year can be put to good use here. This class and this test aren’t just about recognizing and analyzing these techniques when others use them, but about preparing you for college and your career by teaching you how to use them effectively yourself. However, this isn’t just about writing a beautiful essay, so read on to Tip # 5!

5. Your Argument Must be Well-Crafted.

The AP English Language and Composition Exam synthesis essay does not have right or wrong answers; rather, it asks you for your opinion. The AP Examiner cannot take points off because she disagrees with you. However, you must show logical basis for your opinion, drawing on both the sources AND your own knowledge and experience.

To do this, make sure you have a clear and complete thesis. Make sure the ideas expressed in the beginning of each paragraph or section support the thesis, and that you in turn show how those ideas are supported by a source or through your own knowledge and experience. Don’t generalize or write anything down that you can’t support.

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