How to Write the AP Lang Synthesis Essay

AP Lang Synthesis Essay

The AP Language and Composition exam tests your ability to read and analyze rhetorical situations across various texts and compose reasoned arguments. A key element of the exam is the synthesis essay, which evaluates your skills in controlling a variety of sources to develop an original argument. Crafting an effective synthesis essay can be challenging, but breaking down the process into clear steps makes it more manageable.

In this guide, we will provide tips and examples to help you earn a top score.

What is AP Lang?

AP Lang, or AP English Language and Composition Exam, is an advanced high school English course and exam administered by the College Board. The course focuses on rhetorical analysis of nonfiction texts and argumentative writing. Students analyze the use of rhetorical devices and logical reasoning in works ranging from essays to political speeches.

The AP Language and Composition exam has two main sections: a multiple-choice section testing rhetorical comprehension and analytical reading skills and a free-response section requiring the composition of three distinct writing tasks. Scoring well on the exam can often earn students college credit and placement out of early English requirements.

What is the AP Lang Synthesis Essay?

The synthesis essay is one of the three free-response questions on the AP Language exam. The purpose of this essay is to assess a student’s ability to argue a position by combining and citing several given sources.

For the synthesis task, you will be presented with a prompt relating to a specific issue or concept. This prompt will include anywhere from six to eight sources of various genres and media that all pertain to the issue at hand. These sources could include newspaper articles, literary excerpts, charts and graphs, pictures, or transcripts of things like speeches or radio broadcasts.

You will have a suggested reading time of 15 minutes to review the prompt and sources. You’ll then have 40 minutes total to write the actual essay using at least three of the provided sources to support your thesis. Sources should be properly cited in MLA format both in-text and in a works cited list.

The completed essay should form a cohesive argument defending the position you stake out in your thesis. Strong essays will seamlessly blend information and perspectives from multiple sources to reinforce the writer’s position. Weaker essays will simply summarize sources instead of truly synthesizing ideas.

AP Lang Synthesis Essay Outline

Crafting a structured, logical outline is a crucial first step to tackling the AP Lang synthesis task before you begin writing your full essay. Below is an outline template you can follow as you organize your own AP Lang synthesis essay:


  • Brief background on the rhetorical situation in a prompt
  • The thesis clearly stating position on the issue

Body Paragraph 1

  • Claim 1 supporting thesis regarding perspective from Source A
  • Claim 2 supporting thesis regarding perspective from Source B

Body Paragraph 2

  • Claim 1 supporting thesis regarding common ground between Source C and Source D
  • Claim 2 supporting thesis regarding disagreement between Source E and Source F

Body Paragraph 3

  • Claim 1 supporting thesis regarding unique insight from Source G
  • Claim 2 supporting thesis regarding implications proposed by Source H


  • Summarize key support for the argument made
  • Discuss the broader significance of your thesis

This format provides an organized way to group related ideas and plan how you’ll connect various source materials as evidence for your position. The exact breakdown of claims per paragraph will vary depending on the number of sources provided and the convergence of their content. But overall, this gives you a column to map out the logical flow of analysis.

Writing an AP Synthesis Essay

Let’s go through the key steps to composing an effective, well-synthesized AP Lang essay:

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

Start by carefully reading through the exam prompt to comprehend the issue you need to address. Underline or highlight any important keywords related to the prompt’s stance, focus, or instructions. Make brief notes about your first impressions of the prompt and where you might take your argument.

Prompt analysis is crucial because your entire essay needs to connect back to the prompt in a meaningful way. Failure to write to the actual prompt is one of the most common mistakes students make on the synthesis portion.

Step 2: Read the Sources Carefully

Next, read through each of the provided sources. As you review them, consider aspects like:

  • The author’s argument and whether they take a clear stance
  • Rhetorical techniques used to build the author’s case like evidence, appeals to emotion, style, etc.
  • How the material connects back to key themes in the prompt
  • Instances where sources complement or contradict each other

Take notes on each source to help keep perspectives distinct in your mind. Identifying these rhetorical elements as you read will make the sources easier to blend later on.

Step 3: Write a Strong Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement on an AP Lang synthesis essay serves the same purpose as on any other college-level paper. It clearly communicates the specific position or claim your essay will argue based on a careful reading of the sources and prompt.

An effective thesis takes a definitive stance on the issue while remaining rooted in the information provided. Avoid vague or wishy-washy language. Also, refrain from focusing on what your essay will accomplish; that’s the job of your introductory paragraph, not the thesis.

A properly constructed thesis gives clarity and direction to both you as the writer and the eventual reader. From the thesis statement forward, readers know exactly where your analysis is headed.

Step 4: Create a Minimal Essay Outline

Before drafting your full essay, create a short outline mapping out your planned structure and main points. Outlining serves several key purposes:

  • It forces you to logically order your main ideas before getting bogged down in prose.
  • You can ensure that each main paragraph ties back to the part of your thesis.
  • Changing direction is easier early on than when rewriting whole paragraphs.
  • It saves time to organize beforehand rather than getting midway through an essay draft and realizing your structure is flawed.

Given the rigid time constraints, your outline should only consist of your thesis statement and one central claim per body paragraph. Resist the urge to outline hyper-specifically; remember, it’s just a guide.

Step 5: Write your Essay

With your outline completed, it’s time to flesh out your full AP Lang synthesis essay draft. ABA format is standard; you’ll likely write four or five total paragraphs.


  • 1-2 sentences introducing the rhetorical situation and debate addressed in the prompt
  • Clearly state your thesis, presenting the position/claim to guide your analysis

Body Paragraphs (2 or 3)

  • Devote 1-2 sentences to introduce the purpose of the paragraph and the main claim
  • Discuss 2-3 sources, properly citing evidence that supports your reasoning
  • Include rhetorical analysis of sources when useful to strengthen your case
  • Connect back to the central thesis statement at the end


  • 1 sentence summarizing your principal arguments and asserting the stance taken in your thesis
  • End by addressing the broader implications of your thesis within the current rhetorical landscape

Remember as you write to use sources fairly and comprehensively. Ground all analysis back in the provided texts. As the name implies, “synthesis” requires blending multiple perspectives to form a new coherent perspective.

Tips for a Good Score in Your  Synthesis Essay AP Lang

Here are helpful recommendations from AP Lang exam graders for earning a strong synthesis essay score:

  • Read and annotate sources actively; don’t just skim
  • Pick a side; don’t simply summarize sources without taking any stance
  • Support claims with evidence; quote sources using MLA conventions
  • Allow some sources to agree with your view; not all have to oppose
  • Use transitions to fluidly integrate cited text and analysis
  • Allocate time for proofreading grammar and adherence to prompt

Sticking closely to the guidelines laid out in this guide will set you up for success on the AP Language synthesis task. For additional practice with past real exam prompts, visit the College Board website.

AP Lang Exam Basics

The AP Language and Composition exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes total. Section I accounts for 45% of your score. It contains 52-55 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 1 hour. These test skills include rhetorical technique identification, analytical reading, reasoning skills, etc.

Section II accounts for 55% of your score and lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes. It contains 3 required free-response questions focused on rhetorical analysis of texts and evidence-based writing/argumentation. The synthesis essay is one of these three mandatory essay questions.

Each AP Lang essay gets scored on a 9-point scale mapping to overall categories:


A score of 5 is generally required to receive college credit. The average score on AP Language exam essays falls between 5 and 6.

How Will AP Scores Affect My College Chances?

AP Lang and other AP exams act as standardized indicators of student proficiency in a given subject area, similar to SAT subject tests. Many colleges grant course credit for AP scores of 3 or above as it suggests you are prepared for intro-level college work.

Earning a 4 or 5 on the AP Language and Composition exam signals strong critical reading and writing skills. It implies you will adapt well to analyzing complex texts and debates in your future humanities and social sciences courses. High AP scores can support college admission by highlighting your academic rigor.

However, the impact of specific AP scores differs between institutions. There are no absolute guarantees for earning college credit based on your exam performance. The best way to tell is by checking credit policies listed on college websites.

AP Lang Essay Prompts

The synthesis prompt on each year’s AP Language exam shares a common thrust in asking you to combine multiple sources to effectively argue a position. However, the specific rhetorical situation and research materials change annually.

Recent real AP Lang synthesis essay prompts have centered on:

  • Evaluating the role of artificial intelligence in children’s toys (2020)
  • Assessing the merits of working from home (2021)
  • Analyzing genetic modification of foods (2019)
  • Discussing access to technology and digital tools (2018)

The College Board curates sources representing arguments from diverse perspectives for each prompt. Expect materials to vary in complexity from grade-level texts to college preparatory ones.

AP Lang Synthesis Essay Example

Below is an abridged synthesis essay response to a past College Board prompt asking students to consider media roles and responsibilities given six sources:

Media companies this century face the challenge of responsibly conveying truth in an era saturated with unverified digital content. While the ease of modern information dispersion expands accessibility, it also necessitates scrutiny of accuracy to maintain public trust...[thesis establishes clear position grounded in prompt]

The breakneck viral momentum enabled by social platforms delivers news globally faster than traditional publishers can even hope to achieve. However, the 2019 study of 44 countries reports only 43 percent of web-based news stories strictly adhere to basic accuracy standards compared with 59 percent for print, TV, and radio journalism (Source B). By relying wholly on metrics of clicks and shares devoid of accuracy, media companies forsake their duty...[skillfully cites source statistics that back claim]

Whereas print journalism once dominated information consumption, digital-first publishing now prevails across all ages, according to the Pew state of news data from 2018 (Source A). While the matter of platform does not inherently dictate veracity, online’s lower barriers to entry pose credibility challenges traditional outlets rarely face. 

Yet this represents a valuable opportunity more than a fatal flaw...[analyzes digital media strengths and weakness] The modern media landscape empowers passionate citizens to responsibly participate as community correspondents on issues of local import as borne out in examples such as the Public News Network throughout Midwest America detailed by Source F...[provides a pertinent example from source to support argument]

In summation, step one for companies reconstituting themselves around digital distribution involves self-awareness of distinct challenges posed by immediacy and reach. However, the ultimate test will come down to whether the proverbial click aligns with trust when policies elevating accuracy over algorithmic popularity reshape the modern media paradigm to serve audiences rather than chasing engagement metrics.

What’s Next?

Succeeding on the synthesis essay exam presents requires:

  • Carefully interpreting the prompt
  • Selecting credible sources that are organized to support a defensible thesis within a 40-minute writing period
  • Sources used through direct quotation from reading materials provided in the 15-minute reading period,
  • Precise grammar and punctuation in communicating your perspective. 

Reviewing sample synthesis essays to understand exactly what the College Board chief reader evaluates will sharpen your ability to synthesize arguments effectively. With practice in breaking down prompts, compiling organized research to present a persuasive viewpoint, and writing coherent responses citing sources, you will be primed to tackle whatever synthesis assignment the exam presents. But if you need expert help, our essay writing service will come in handy.

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