AP English Language

Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Comprehensive Review—Synthesis


Strategy 1: Critical Reading of Texts


A word about the texts: The several texts you will be given for the synthesis prompt will be related to the topic, and you can be assured that each text has been evaluated and judged to be appropriate, of acceptable quality, and representing several points of view.


Critical reading of texts specifically for the synthesis essay demands that you determine the following:

• Purpose/thesis

• Intended audience

• Type of source (primary, secondary)

• Main points

• Historical context

• Authority of the author

• How the material is presented

• Type of evidence presented

• Source of the evidence

• Any bias or agenda

• How the text relates to the topic

• Support or opposition toward the thesis

Practice with Critical Reading

Our example: Here is a text provided in the Diagnostic Master exam’s synthesis essay.

Source E

Broder, John M., “States Curbing Right to Seize Private Homes.” New York Times, February 21, 2006.

The following passage is excerpted from an article published in the New York Times.

“Our opposition to eminent domain is not across the board,” he [Scott G. Bullock of the Institute for Justice] said. “It has an important but limited role in government planning and the building of roads, parks, and public buildings. What we oppose is eminent domain abuse for private development, and we are encouraging legislators to curtail it.”

More neutral observers expressed concern that state officials, in their zeal to protect homeowners and small businesses, would handcuff local governments that are trying to revitalize dying cities and fill in blighted areas with projects that produce tax revenues and jobs.

“It’s fair to say that many states are on the verge of seriously overreacting to the Kelo decision,” said John D. Echeverria, executive director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute and an authority on land-use policy. “The danger is that some legislators are going to attempt to destroy what is a significant and sometimes painful but essential government power. The extremist position is a prescription for economic decline for many metropolitan areas around the county.”

Our writer’s critical reading of the passage provides the following information:

1. Thesis: “… What we oppose is eminent domain abuse for private development, and we are encouraging legislators to curtail it.”

2. Intended audience: generally educated readers

3. Main points:

A. qualified opposition to eminent domain

B. opposed to eminent domain for private development

C. acknowledges that there are those who see their position as handcuffing local officials

D. Echeverria says, “The danger …” He fears legislation could destroy essential government power.

4. Historical context: 2006 in response to Kelo decision

5. How material is presented: Thesis + expert’s direct quotation + acknowledgment of opposition + expert’s direct quotation

6. Type of evidence presented: direct quotations of experts in the field

7. Source of evidence: expert opinions

8. Any bias or agenda: both sides of issue are presented

9. How text relates to the topic: specific statements for and against eminent domain

10. Support or not for thesis: one quotation supports a qualifying position: “I can empathize with the home owners affected by the recent 5:4 Supreme Court decision.” The other quotation could be used to recognize those who would oppose it.

Note: This is a process that does not necessarily require that every point be written out. You could easily make mental notes of many of these items and jot down only those that you think you could use in your essay. You may prefer to annotate directly on the text itself.


Now, you complete a critical reading of another text from the Master exam on eminent domain.

Source C

Kelo v. New London. U.S. Supreme Court 125 S. Ct. 2655.

The following is a brief overview of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

Suzette Kelo, et al. v. City of New London, et al., 125 S. Ct. 2655 (2005), more commonly Kelo v. New London, is a land-use law case argued before the United States Supreme Court on February 22, 2005. The case arose from a city’s use of eminent domain to condemn privately owned real property so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan.

The owners sued the city in Connecticut courts, arguing that the city had misused its eminent domain power. The power of eminent domain is limited by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment, which restricts the actions of the federal government, says, in part, that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation”; under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, this limitation is also imposed on the actions of U.S. state and local governments. Kelo and the other appellants argued that economic development, the stated purpose of the Development Corporation, did not qualify as public use.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling: This 5:4 decision holds that the governmental taking of property from one private owner to give to another in furtherance of economic development constitutes a permissible “public use” under the Fifth Amendment.

1. Purpose/thesis: images

2. Intended audience: images

3. Main points: images

4. Historical context: images

5. How material is presented: images

6. Type of evidence presented: images

7. Source of evidence: images

8. Any bias or agenda: images

9. How text relates to topic: images

10. Support or opposition for my thesis: images

What Types of Visual Texts Can I Expect on the AP Language Exam?


You can expect to encounter a variety of visual sources on the AP Language exam. They may include:

• Political cartoons

• Charts and graphs

• Posters

• Advertising

• Paintings

• Photographs

As with the steps involved in the critical reading of written material, visuals also require critical analysis. The following are steps you should consider when faced with a visual text:

• Identify the subject of the visual.

• Identify the major components, such as characters, visual details, and symbols.

• Identify verbal clues, such as titles, taglines, date, author, and dialogue.

• Notice position and size of details.

• Does the visual take a positive or negative position toward the issue?

• Identify the primary purpose of the visual.

• Determine how each detail illustrates and/or supports the primary purpose.

• Does the author indicate alternative viewpoints?

What Follows Is a Sample Critical Reading of a Political Cartoon Taken from the Master Exam

One type of text that could be used for the synthesis essay prompt on the AP English Language exam is the political cartoon. No, AP Language has not turned into a history or journalism course. But, it does recognize the variety of texts that can be created to advance or illustrate a particular thesis. The political cartoon does in a single- or multiple-frame presentation what would take hundreds of words in an essay, editorial, and so forth. It is a visual presentation of a specific point of view on an issue.

Note: Even though the synthesis essay prompt may include political cartoons, or charts, or surveys, you are not required to use any of them. Your choice of texts depends on your purpose.


When dealing with a political cartoon, here are the specific steps to consider that are adapted from the critical reading of a visual.

• Identify the subject of the cartoon.

• Identify the major components, such as characters, visual details, and symbols.

• Identify verbal clues, such as titles, taglines, date, cartoonist, and dialogue.

• Notice position and size of details within the frame.

• Does the cartoon take a positive or negative position toward the issue?

• Identify the primary purpose of the cartoon.

• Determine how each detail illustrates and/or supports the primary purpose.

• Does the cartoonist indicate alternative viewpoints?

Notice that a political cartoon assumes the reader is aware of current events surrounding the specific issue. So, we recommend you begin to read a newspaper or news magazine regularly and/or watch a daily news program on TV. Even listening to a five-minute news summary on the radio as you drive to and from errands or school can give you a bit of background on what’s happening in the world around you.

Example: Source D, political cartoon

The following political cartoon appeared in an Omaha, Nebraska, newspaper.

Jeff Koterba, Omaha World Herald, NE


1. Subject of the cartoon: eminent domain.

2. Major components: one chicken, one cow in a barnyard.

3. Verbal clues: Print size and form indicates the chicken is very excited, even panicked, while the cow is calm and unimpressed.

4. Position and size of details: The chicken and cow are drawn mostly to scale and perspectives with the chicken taking center stage.

5. Position of the cartoonist: Sees fears surrounding eminent domain as overexaggerated.

6. Primary purpose of the cartoon: Ridicule those who believe that all is lost if eminent domain remains in effect.

7. How details illustrate the primary purpose: Size and form of print indicates the chicken’s state of mind. The sigh of the calmly chewing cow indicates its recognition of the chicken’s silly warning. The chicken’s last warning that says the cow is a threatening monster is just wrong and over the top.

8. Indication of alternative viewpoints: Yes, both sides are indicated.

As pointed out previously, each of these steps is important in understanding a political cartoon, but it is not necessary that you write out each of them every time you come across one in the newspaper, and so forth. Most of the analysis is done quickly in your mind, but when you are practicing techniques and strategies, it is most beneficial to write out, just as our writer did, each of the previous eight steps.

Practice critically reading political cartoons that you find in newspapers and news magazines. You might even try a few included in your history textbook.

Strategy 2: Selecting Sources

Once you’ve carefully read the prompt, critically read each of the given texts, and decided on your claim, you must choose which of the sources you will use in your essay. This choice is dependent on your answers to the following:

• What is your purpose?

• Is the text background information or pertinent information?

• Does the source give new information or information that other sources cover?

• Is this information that will add depth to the essay?

• Does this text reflect the viewpoints of any of the other texts?

• Does this text contradict the viewpoints of any of the other texts?

• Does the source support or oppose your claim?

Our writer has to make some important decisions about the seven texts provided in the Master synthesis essay prompt. As the writer answers each of the previous questions, he or she will decide which texts to use in the essay.

My purpose: to qualify the support and opposition to eminent domain

Background information: Constitution (Source A) Kelo decision (Source C)

Pertinent information: 60 Minutes (Source B) Broder (Source E) Survey (Source G)

A helpful technique to answer the next several questions is to construct a quick chart that incorporates all of the sources at once. The following is a sample of such a chart.



There certainly is a great deal of information to gather and consider. The good news is that the more practice you have with this process, the more quickly you will be able to complete the task. Writing the answers to the previous questions for each of the given texts is a good practice technique for you. But, when it comes to a timed writing situation, you will be annotating the given texts as you read them and jotting down brief notes that reflect the type of thinking our writer performed previously. You will NOT have time to write answers to each question for each text.But, you WILL be thinking about them as you read and as you plan.

Practice responding to these questions using editorials, letters to the editor, and editorial cartoons that revolve around current events issues in which you have an interest. Don’t ignore your school and local newspapers, and columnists in news magazines and newspapers. Become an informed reader and citizen!

After carefully considering each of the given texts, our reader has decided to eliminate both political cartoons because neither seems to add much depth. The other five sources can be used to develop a position.

Strategy 3: Choosing Which Parts of the Selected Texts to Use

Pay no attention to those texts you have eliminated. For those sources you have chosen to include in your essay, do the following:

• Review the notes/highlights on each of your chosen passages.

• Ignore those items you have not annotated.

• Determine if each excerpt contributes to the development of your thesis.

— Identify the major point each will support.

— Does it strengthen your position or not (if not, ignore it)?

— How much of the excerpt will you use?

— Why have it in your essay?

— What comments can you make about it?

For example: You might construct a chart such as the following:


Our writer now has a clear idea of what part(s) of each text to use. The next task is to plan the essay. The following are some planning notes:

INTRO:    Background

Basic prompt info

My room when grandmother visits

My position—qualify

POINT 1: Kelo decision + Saleets (oppose current ruling)

Saleets’ mayor (supports ruling)

My comments

POINT 2: Broder = Bullock & Echeverria (both qualify and for ruling)


With this brief outline in mind, our writer knows where to place each of the chosen excerpts. If this were a class situation that allotted time for prewriting plans, more details would be possible when constructing the outline.

Note: Our writer chose to jot down a brief outline, but could have chosen to plan the essay in a number of different ways, such as:

• Mapping

• Charting

As we stated earlier in this chapter, for the AP English Language exam, you only have time to write a first draft, and it must be clear, organized, logical, and thoughtful. In developing each of your major points, make certain to:


• Relate it to the thesis/claim

• Use specific examples (personal and otherwise)

• Use selected sources to support the major point

• Incorporate sources into the development of your point

— Attribution and introduction of cited sources

— Transitions

— Mix of direct quotations, summary, and paraphrases