The AP Synthesis Essay


If you're reading this chapter, then you're taking the AP English Language exam in the year 2007, and
the analytical/expository and argumentative essays have a new friend: the synthesis essay. This new
essay came about because college professors begged the AP English Language and Composition test
writers to develop an essay that would test students' abilities to read and evaluate multiple sources
and integrate appropriate ones into a coherent, cogent essay. In essence, professors wanted to know
that students who use the Al' English Language and Composition exam for credit or placement out
of freshman English know the rudiments of research paper-style writing.

The good news is that, to allow enough time for students to both read the sources and write about
them, the folks at ETS decided to allot an extra 15 minutes for this essay. Instead of the 40 minutes
you get to write the other essays, you will have 55 minutes to craft the perfect synthesis essay. At the
writing of this book, not a single previously administered synthesis essay question has been released.
However, there is enough information out there for us to predict with confidence what these questions will look like.

When you get to the Essay section, you won't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out which essay
is the synthesis essay. For one thing, it will have four to seven passages, and at least one of them will
be an image. The directions will tell you that the suggested time for writing this essay is 55, and not
40, minutes. That said, be careful: The AP writers will ask you to use the sources in either one of two
ways: either to explain something or to argue a point. Thus, the extra reading aside, what this really
means is that you'll be either writing another analytical/expository or another argumentative essay.

In one sense, this new essay broadens the scope of your analysis because there is so much more to
read and because you'll have images, as well as text, to consider. In another sense, this essay narrows
your possibilities because if you have to argue a point, you will be able to use only the examples that
the Al' test provides-you won't be able to draw substantially from other knowledge of history or
literature or from your personal experiences.


On the synthesis essay, it's more important than ever that you get a clear grasp of the prompt. Unless
you know what you're looking for, you will not be able to deal with the mass of material that you
must read and digest. If you know what to look for, then you can skim the parts that do not pertain
to your thesis-and underline just the good stuff.

What follows is another sample question. Since these questions are so long, in this chapter we'll
break it into parts.




Total time-2 hours, 15 minutes

Question 1

Suggested time-55 minutes. This question counts as one-third of the total essay section score.)

Read or examine carefully the sources that follow; you should keep in mind the validity of the
documents, as well as their relevance to the prompt. Then write a well-organized essay in which you
include citations from at least four of the sources, including a reference to an image. You have an extra 15
minutes on this section to study the sources and to organize your thoughts.

Basing your answer on the information below about the Dreyfus Affair, support, refute, or qualify the
assertion that, over time, even the most despicable historical wrongs are made right.


As always, do your first reading of the prompt and underline the key instructions and other terms.
First you should have underlined the words "support, refute, or qualify." Then you should have
underlined the part of the passage that stated you had to use citations from four sources and refer
to one image. Before you begin writing, you must double-check to make sure, in your outline, you
planned to use at least the required number of sources. The number of sources will always be spelled
out in the instructions; normally you will not be required to use all of the sources provided. Finally,
you should have underlined the thesis: "Over time, even the most despicable historical wrongs are
made right."


In this case, a second reading of the prompt probably won't help you much, unless you have already
studied the Dreyfus Affair; if you have, then you have a leg up on everyone else.


How closely you read the passages should depend on how well you know the context of the topic.
If you are not familiar with the Dreyfus Affair you will have to read the passage carefully enough
to understand the basics; in addition, you should have your pen in hand and be ready to underline
anything that supports or refutes the thesis. Once you've made up your mind about what position
you'll take, you are free to underline only the points that substantiate your position.

As a general rule, you should examine all of the sources. Put a mark through the ones you do not
intend to use. Do not assume that all the sources are relevant; it is unlikely that you will use them all,
but you should use as many as you can-and of course at least as many as they require.

As you plan your essay, remember your task. In this case, no one is asking you to explain the
Dreyfus Affair. Your goal is simply to make a convincing case for or against the notion that "over
time, even the most despicable historical wrongs are made right." Stick to your task.

The sources for this question can be found on the following pages.


Source 1

From "The Dreyfus Affair: The Sequel," by Chaz Lerdthraril

Nearly 2,000 people, invited by France's Central Consistory of Jews, listened to General Jean-Louis
Mourrut deliver a speech about Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who more than a century ago was sentenced
to life imprisonment on infamous Devil's Island. Mourrut admitted that the French army had been
wrong. On the one hand, Jean Kahn, President of the Central Consistory of Jews, was moved by
the speech: "The general said things before us that never had been said by a military man. That is,
indisputably, progress." On the other hand, the satirical Le Canard Enchainé contained this jibe: "The
army got it! Incredible! Dreyfus was innocent!" Although Mourrut's speech did not really constitute
an apology, just admitting that the army had been wrong was an unexpected twist to a lingering
tragic affair.

At the close of the nineteenth century, the Dreyfus Affair engendered a political maelstrom that
ripped through French society. The French were divided into "Dreyfusards," who saw Captain
Dreyfus as an innocent victim of both anti-Semitism and an army conspiracy, and conservative
"Anti-Dreyfusards," who considered any questioning of the army as traitorous and who regarded Jews as
untrustworthy. Nearly twelve years passed before Dreyfus was called back from Devil's Island and
given a new trial-one that would pit justice for an individual against the grandeur, glory, and great-
ness of the French army. Even though a preponderance of proof existed to prove that Dreyfus was
not guilty of treason, the result of the verdict was never in doubt. Dreyfus-was again found guilty;
however, almost immediately after the trial, he was accorded a presidential pardon. In spite of the
outlandish treatment and humiliation, the poor captain returned to the army. As an almost farcical
compensation for a dozen years in a penal colony, the army promoted Dreyfus to the rank of major
and awarded him the Legion of Honor.

Until Morrut's speech, the army had officially maintained that Dreyfus was guilty-or, at least,
not innocent. The army seems to have, pardoned Dreyfus, but it is doubtful that such an action will,
once and for all, put this divisive affair to rest.

Source 3

On January 13, 1998, Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, answered the "open
letter" (J'accuse...!) that Emile Zola addressed to President Felix Faure exactly one hundred years

Just a century ago, France was experiencing a grave and deep crisis. The Dreyfus Affair was tearing French society apart, dividing families, dividing the country into two opposing camps violently
confronting each other. Because Captain Dreyfus had to remain guilty as charged at all costs, his
subsequent trials became nothing but a pathetic farce. After having been stripped of his rank and
having seen his military sword broken, he was going to suffer, on Devil's Island, for the conspiracy
deliberately plotted against him in the secrecy of some office.

In spite of the unyielding efforts by Captain Dreyfus' family, his case could have been filed away
forever. A dark stain, unworthy of our country and our history, a colossal judicial error and a shameful
state compromise! But a man stood up against lies, malice and cowardice. Outraged by the injustice
against Captain Dreyfus, whose only crime was to be a Jew, Emile Zola cried out his famous "I Accuse...!" Published on January 13, 1898 by L'Aurore, this text struck minds like lightning and changed
the fate of the Affair within a few hours. Truth was on the march.

That day, Emile Zola was appealing to the President of the French Republic. Today we are celebrating the centennial of this letter which has entered History. Today, I would like to tell the Dreyfus and
Zola families how much France is grateful to their ancestors to have been able to give all its meaning
to the values of liberty, dignity and justice.

Let us not ever forget that the man who was rehabilitated to shouts of "Long live Dreyfus!" answered with a strong voice: "No! Long live France!" In spite of his humiliation, his exile, his sufferings,
wounded in his heart and in his flesh, harmed in his dignity, Captain Dreyfus was able to forgive.
Magnificent forgiveness, magnificent answer: love of country against intolerance and hate.

Let us not ever forget the courage of that great writer who, taking every risk, jeopardizing his
peace and quiet, his fame and even his own life, dared to take up his pen and put his talent to the
service of truth. Emile Zola, high literary and moral character, had understood that his responsibility
was to enlighten and his duty was to speak up when others kept silent. Like Voltaire before him, he
has become since then the incarnation of the best of the intellectual tradition.

Captain Dreyfus' tragedy took place a century ago. However, after so many years, it still resonates strongly in our hearts Zola's text has remained in our collective memory as "a great moment in the
conscience of humanity."           -

Half a century after the Vichy regime, we know that dark forces, intolerance, injustice can insinuate
themselves up to the highest levels of the State. But we also know that France, in moments of truth,
can find again the best of herself: great, strong, united and vigilant. This is without a doubt what
Emile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus are telling us, after all these years. It is because they had faith in our
common values, those of our Nation and our Republic, and because they so deeply loved France, that
these exceptional men were able to reconcile her with herself.

Let us not ever forget this masterful lesson of love and unity.

—Jacques Chirac
President of the French Republic
January 13, 1998

(Translation: Jean-Max Guieu, Georgetown University)

Source 4

In 1898, renowned French novelist Emile Zola wrote an open letter to the president of France; the
excerpt below is from that letter. Zola was later accused and convicted of libel; he was forced Jo flee
to England and lost most of his fame and fortune when he left France.

            I accuse Lieutenant Colonel du Paty de Clam of having been the diabolical creator of the judicial
error, unconsciously, I'm sure, and then to have defended his nefarious creation for three years by the
most bold-faced and culpable machinations.

I accuse General Mercier of having been an accomplice, at least through feebleness of mind, of one
of the greatest iniquities of the century.

I accuse General Billot of having had in his hands certain proof of Dreyfus' innocence and of having suppressed it, of having been guilty of crimes against humanity and against justice, for political
ends and in order to protect an already compromised chiefs of staff. (...)

I accuse the three handwriting experts, Beihomme, Varinard, and Couard, of having made untruthful and fraudulent reports, unless a medical examination can prove that an illness has impaired their
eyes and judgment. (...)

I have only one passion, which is the light of truth, in the name of humanity, which has suffered
so greatly and which has a right to happiness. My enflamed protest is no more than the loud voice of
my soul. So let them dare take me to court, and let the investigation take place in broad daylight!

Source 5

After his attempt at vengeance fails miserably, Ludvik, a character in Milan Kundera's The Joke, meditates on the workings of history—both personal and universal.

Yes, suddenly I saw it clearly: most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: they believe
in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins,
wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing
will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress (by vengeance or by forgiveness) will be taken over
by forgetting. No one will redress the wrongs that have been done, but all wrongs win be forgotten.

Source 6

From "The Dreyfus Affair Again," by Bradford R. Pilcher-February 7, 2002 (

It is then with some irony that a second, albeit far more minor, Dreyfus Affair has recently occurred. Just this past week, that statue of Dreyfus was vandalized. A yellow Star of David, like Hitler once forced the Jews to wear, was painted over the statue's plaque. The words, "Dirty Jew" accompanied it.

An act of anti-Semitic vandalism is, sadly, not uncommon in France. Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, worldwide anti-Semitism has seen a marked increase. France has been one of the centers of that upswing, so much so that even top government officials and diplomats find themselves in anti-Jewish gaffes.

France, where Dreyfus was tried and the Vichy collaborated, has been exposed as a nation where anti-Semitism has not been defeated. Instead, its anti-Semitism has been left under the rug to grow like a mold, ready to lash out when the moment is right. Still these recent events speak to more than just France. They speak to the world, and particularly the Jews' role in it.