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Essay Prompt: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Taught by

Mary Firestone

Find out what an essay prompt is and how to use it. Learn how to use the prompt to develop your ideas and topic sentences. Read the lesson, then take a quiz to test your knowledge.


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 analysis skills. Essay prompts are frequently used in English composition and literature classes, and in college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.

Examples of Essay Prompts

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 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 that 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 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.

Responding to the Prompt

Before you jump into your response read the prompt carefully, and then read it again. During the second reading, underline key words. If the prompt asks you to express your point of view, make it clear which side of the argument you feel strongest about. Make sure that you're responding to the question being asked, and review each question to make sure that your essay includes an answer. Some students find it helpful to write down the prompt in their own words, which you might also find helpful.

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