How to Write an AP Synthesis Essay

The AP synthesis essay asks students to combine information to create their own conclusions.

Advanced Placement courses allow motivated students to earn college credit while still in high school. To acquire this sought-after credit, the students must successfully complete end-of-the-year AP exams. One of the most challenging parts of the AP exam for English is the composition of an AP synthesis essay. To successfully compose this essay, the AP candidate must combine information from a number of provided sources into one, cohesive essay that expresses their understanding and makes a statement.

Review the suggested reading and writing times. The College Board provides test takers with suggested reading and writing times. They generally recommend that you take 15 minutes to read the question and source material, and use the remaining 40 minutes of your 55-minute allotment to compose your actual essay. The suggested reading and writing times for each prompt are listed above the question. Before you begin, review these times and try to stick to them as faithfully as you can.

Read the question carefully. If you misread the question, your essay will likely miss the mark. Do not begin reading the source material or composing your response without carefully reading the question.

Study each source, highlighting important information that you may want to include in your essay. After you understand the question, you can begin seeking supporting material in the sources. Move through the sources one at a time, reading each carefully and highlighting anything that seems important. Do not be too liberal with your highlighting, or you will over-highlight, and the markings will be of no use. Be careful to only highlight the most important information in each source.

Follow the five-paragraph theme format to ensure that your essay is organized and cohesive. There is no set format or length requirement for a synthesis essay, but selecting an organized format can help you more easily plan and write your essay. For ease of writing, compose your essay with the first paragraph introducing your topic, your body paragraphs discussing key arguments or points, and your conclusion summing up your main points and reiterating your topic.

Create a rough outline in which you integrate as many sources as possible. An outline is not required, but it does make the actual essay writing much easier. Take roughly five minutes to compose an outline before you begin the composition of your actual essay, so you know where your essay is going. To earn the highest number of possible points, you must integrate at least three sources into your essay, but if you can integrate more, do so.

Compose your essay. Follow your outline to write your essay. Make clear reference to your sources, so the essay scorer will see where your information came from and will be able to tell that you integrated the information.

Read over your essay and correct errors with any remaining time. The AP graders know that your essay is a rough draft, and they are not grading on grammar and spelling. However, having few or no errors makes the essay easier to read and enhances the overall quality of the final product.

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.