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Essay Prompt: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Mary Firestone

Mary Firestone has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Firestone has experience as an instructor for English, English Composition, Advanced Composition, Contemporary World Literature, Contemporary Literature, and Creative Writing. She has taught at a variety of schools such as Ottawa University Online, Rasmussen College, Excelsior College, and Southern New Hampshire University.

In this lesson, find out what an essay prompt is and when you will encounter it. Learn how to use the prompt to develop your ideas and topic sentences.

What Are Essay Prompts?

Essay prompts are statements that focus on a topic or an issue, followed by questions. The purpose of an essay prompt is to inspire a response in the form of an essay, which will test your writing, reasoning, and analytical skills. Essay prompts are frequently used in English composition and literature classes, and in college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.

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  • 2:35 Responding To The Prompt
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Types of Essay Prompts

There are different types of essay prompts. In this section, we will explore three of them.

College Entrance Exam Prompts

When you reach the essay portion of a college entrance exam, you'll be asked to read a prompt and respond to it. A few questions always follow the prompt and these questions might ask you to decide on a moral issue or express your point of view about something declared in the prompt. For example:

People are surprisingly willing to give up their personal integrity if it means losing their place in a social group. While they may convince themselves that what they're doing is not significant, the fact is that they've sacrificed something in themselves that can never be regained.

Do you agree with this statement? Do the choices people make in order to belong cause a permanent loss of something? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view, using examples and personal experiences.

English Literature Essay Prompts

In an English literature course, your instructor might give you an essay prompt that goes something like this:

In the Ernest Hemingway short story 'Hills Like White Elephants,' a man and woman are having a conversation at a cafe. Who does the narrator sympathize with the most? Does Jig appear to be a victim? Who comes out ahead in this story? Write a 5-paragraph essay that answers all of these questions and support your answers with examples and quotes from the story.

English Composition Prompts

Your English composition instructor might suggest that you write a persuasive essay based on a controversial social issue. The prompt may go something like this:

Your community library has received complaints from parents about the violent and explicit sexual content in the teen books at the library. Because of these complaints, librarians have decided to remove all of the books the parents find questionable for teen readers.

Do you agree with this choice? Why or why not? What is lost or gained? Do you think it helps to protect teens from this kind of material? Write a 5-paragraph essay in which you express your point of view. Be sure to support your response with examples and consider all the people involved: parents, teens, and librarians.

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