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Teacher Tips and Answers

Analyzing Writing Prompts

Often tests contain writing prompts that you must respond to. A writing prompt is a specific set of instructions that you must follow to write a well-targeted essay. If you write an excellent response that does not answer the prompt, you will score poorly. To succeed on writing assessments, you must start by analyzing the writing prompt.  You can use the PAST questions:

  • Purpose? Why am I writing? (To argue for a position? To compare two concepts? To define key terms?)
  • Audience? Who is my reader? (Tester? Classmates? Other citizens?)
  • Subject? What topic should I write about? (A problem that must be solved? A key period or discovery?)
  • Type? What type of writing should I create? (Position essay? Letter to the editor? Proposal?)

Sample Writing Prompt

"The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison."—Nathaniel Hawthorne

This single sentence has a great deal to say about human society. Unpack the ideas. What is Hawthorne saying? Do you agree or disagree? Write an essay that explains Hawthorne's position before stating your position. Argue using logic and historical evidence to convince Hawthorne of your position.

Answers to PAST Questions

  • Purpose?

    To explain Hawthorne's position and state and support my own position using logic and evidence

  • Audience?

    Hawthorne as well as readers of the test responses

  • Subject?

    Human societies (specifically Utopias) and the problems that they face

  • Type?

    Position/argument essay

This lesson is a part of the Reading and Writing for Assessment unit.

Click the title to view more information about this unit and a full list of lessons that are included.

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