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Teacher Tips and Answers

Responding to Literary Writing Prompts

Often tests contain writing prompts that ask you to respond to literature. 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.

Analyzing Writing Prompts

Some prompts may provide you a short reading and ask for a written response. Others may present a quotation or thesis and ask you to argue for or against it using evidence from literature that you have read.

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 analyze a character? To demonstrate a theme? To evaluate a work?)
  • Audience? Who is my reader? (Tester? Classmates? Other readers?)
  • Subject? What topic should I write about? (A central conflict? A key setting? Literary/poetic devices?)
  • Type? What type of writing should I create? (Analysis essay? Character sketch? Review?)

Sample Writing Prompt

Often, a person's greatest strength can also be his or her greatest weakness. For example, Albert Einstein's phenomenal intellect made him a genius but also a social misfit. Wealth and fame make actors and destroy them. Argue for or against the idea that great strengths are also great weaknesses. Support your position using evidence from the lives of characters you have read about in literature. Convince other readers of your position.

Answers to PAST Questions

  • Purpose?

    To argue for or against the idea that "a person's greatest strength can also be his or her greatest weakness"

  • Audience?

    Other readers

  • Subject?

    Lives of characters in literature

  • Type?

    Position/argument essay

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