Synthesis means merging or combining new information (such as that you get from reading a text) with your own prior knowledge in order to form a new idea, position, or perspective on a topic. Synthesis is an ongoing process in our lives; we are constantly being exposed to new ideas and different perspectives and through thoughtful consideration we take that information in and see how it measures up to our current perspective. Perhaps we gain a clearer understanding of a concept, perhaps we are convinced of an argument we had previously dismissed or had not considered. Through synthesis, sometimes our prior opinions are validated or supported by the ideas presented in a text; sometimes they are challenged. But synthesis means that we are changing our thinking or our consideration of a topic as we read and acquire new knowledge. We may adopt a new way of thinking or a new way of responding because we have gained new insight and merged it with our prior knowledge.
To effectively synthesize, readers must be able to separate fact from opinion, draw inferences based on facts, and evaluate information to form their own conclusions. If you do not take the steps of challenging the text and asking questions of it, but just accept everything you read as fact, you will not be able to effectively synthesize; you will just regurgitate without context or connection. You must be able to put key concepts into your own words, explain the importance of each, and make connections to that concept through your prior knowledge or understanding.
Within the Text
Synthesizing within the text means that you are trying to create links and make connections between ideas and concepts in a single text. Using your prior knowledge and experiences, you gather the new information presented and see where it fits into your own understanding. You challenge the text and question it, paraphrase it into your own words, and see which parts “stick.”
Between Two Texts
Synthesizing between two (or more) texts is like building a puzzle. You must put the pieces together from multiple sources to create a big picture that is cohesive and fits together. You must explain the connections you see and the conclusions you have drawn from what the authors have said. As you combine the ideas or concepts from multiple sources, you will connect them with things you already know and be able to explain their importance or significance.
The vocabulary questions you encounter on this test assess your ability to identify the meanings of words in context. This means that you need to use context clues to determine how a word is being used, and perhaps what kind of tone is set as a result of that word’s usage. Using the context clues means looking not only at the sentence a vocabulary word appears in, but also the surrounding sentences to infer intended meaning. Even if you think you know the meaning of a word, be sure to read all of the answer options, as the word may take on a different nuance or meaning in the text. To double-check your selection, try substituting your answer choice for the word in the original sentence and see if it makes sense. Subtle shades of meaning may throw you off and, if you are not careful in your selection or do not consider all of the options, you may select the wrong answer.
Consider this example:
A passage states, “The man was present at the meeting, but did not give his opinion during the conversation.”
The vocabulary question asks, “What is the correct definition of present, based on its use in the passage?”
Answer options are:
A. a gift
B. to introduce
C. in attendance
D. happening currently
If you don’t go back and read the passage containing the word, you might be tempted to see the word present and assume the answer is A - a gift. However, as it is used in the passage, the correct answer would be C. Using context clues, you could infer that at this meeting, the man was in attendance, he was there, but kept quiet. There is nothing in that passage about gifts or the man being introduced at the meeting and D doesn’t really make any sense at all.
You can also use prior knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and root words to help you decipher unfamiliar words. For example, “Julie thought it was a great Injustice that boys could play football at her high school but girls could not.” If you know prefixes, you could identify the in- and realize that it means “not” (you’ve seen it in “incorrect” and “informal”). So, Julie thought it was not fair (or just) that there was this double standard for boys and girls. Knowing prefixes and suffixes and their effect on words can help tremendously in figuring out unfamiliar words.
You might also consider whether the unfamiliar word looks like any other words you know. Do they share a prefix or suffix? Does the word remind you of anything you have seen previously? Under what circumstances have you seen this word before?
For example, consider this prompt:
“The police department planned a covert operation to finally capture the suspected gang members who had eluded capture for so long.”
The question may ask, “In this passage, what does the word covert most likely mean?”
If you have never seen that word before, you may have no idea. But if you look at it and try to break it apart or find something familiar in it, you may see the word cover, which implies that something is hidden or not done out in the open; covert means “secretively.” This trick won’t always work and should be used as one of the last resorts, but anything you can do to narrow down your choices through an educated process of elimination will help you get closer to the answer.
Testing can be stressful. There is a pressure to perform and it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders as you sit down at the keyboard to log in to an exam. Here are some tips and tricks to help you be successful.
Read everything! This means careful reading of the directions, of each test question, and each answer option. However, it also applies to the time before you walk in to take a test. Read everything around you. The more you read, the more efficient reader you become, the more your vocabulary develops, and the wider your breadth of knowledge grows. Your reading comprehension grows by reading challenging texts, but also by reading to continue to use the skills you already have. Even a cereal box can be a source for practicing critical reading and analysis.
Read the whole passage. Skimming a passage is fine when you are looking for main ideas, but make sure that you don’t skim so fast that you are actually skipping parts of the text. You may also find that you face a very challenging text that you don’t completely understand. It’s not really critical that you understand every word, but it is important that you understand the main idea. Focus on the parts you do understand; identify the main idea, author’s purpose, tone, etc. and see if that helps you address the questions. Stop paragraph by paragraph (or even sentence by sentence) to check for understanding. Try to synthesize what you have just read into your own words so that you “own” it and can evaluate it later for the questions.
If you read a question and cannot figure out what it is asking, try dissecting it. What is it really asking you to do? What key words do you see in the question? Try to rephrase the question in your own words.
Dive back into the text! The answers are there somewhere, whether explicit or implied. If you don’t know how to answer a question, try reading the selection again. What different understanding do you gain from a second reading? What questions do you have for the text? What key terms or ideas do you see in this reading that you may have missed the first time through?
Use the process of elimination to help you make the most educated guess you can. Ignore the answer options that you know are wrong—they are just there to distract you. Focus on the possible answers and use your best deductive reasoning to select the best one. Also, make sure the option you select answers the question that was asked. “Distractor options” are there to do just that—distract you from the best answer. So make sure that the answer you pick directly addresses the question that is posed.
Take your time. There is no prize for finishing a test first, so take your time to read carefully, reread if necessary, and double-check your answers both to make sure that you have answers for all questions and that those answers are correct.
As silly as it sounds, having a positive mindset going into a test can have a huge impact. Trust yourself and your instinctive answers—certainly double-check, but don’t doubt. Try to relax and view the test as an opportunity to show your smarts!