5 Tips For Answering Writing Prompts

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Ever since the 5th grade, I can remember having worksheets handed out with hypothetical situations such as:

“If Sara has 9 apples, how many would she have left over if she gave two of them away??”

The problem with this? Well, it didn’t really matter if you answered with the correct amount of apples, because if you didn’t answer the writing prompt with complete sentences you’d still get deducted points. It took me up until about 9th grade to start reciting the question at the beginning of my answer and writing in complete sentences.

This is no different than writing your college admission essay or answering questions on exams, or even the SAT. Part of what your professors are looking for is the correct answer, but just as much they’re looking to see that you answered the question thoroughly and completely. For those who know the answers right when they read the question, it may be hard to remember to answer the question thoroughly before just jotting down the correct number or solution. If you are someone who experiences issues with answering writing prompts, here’s a few personal tips I’ve learned along the way to help you score the full amount of points.

1) Answer the question WITH the question- For example, if the exam prompt is asking you to:

“Explain why Sara was sad once she realized that her apples had been stolen at the park. Do you think she was aware that her apples were being stolen by the other kids?” then you would answer it with what you are explaining first.

For example, an acceptable response to this question would be, ” Sara was sad once she realized her apples had been stolen by the other children at the park because she thought they were her real, true friends. Due to the fact that the other children stole from Sara, she felt as if they were being untruthful to  her, which made her feel upset. Sara was not aware that the apples were being stolen by the other children because she was too wrapped up writing in her diary to notice that they were being taken”.

This response thoroughly answers all parts of the questions being asked, and answers in complete sentences. This is the same idea for any exams you may be taking, because sometimes students get so caught up in answering the question correctly that they forget how to simply format their response correctly and thoroughly.

2) Answer the question DIRECTLY – We’ve all done it at least once or twice in our lives. There’s going to be some essay prompts where you don’t know the exact answer right away. Instead of picking an essay prompt where you only generally know what’s being asked with surrounding details that don’t necessarily answer the prompt, try to pick a prompt where you actually KNOW the answer but have less supporting details. If you have the correct answer but it doesn’t take up enough space, try to elaborate on why the answer is correct and how you came to that conclusion. Sometimes, less is more. And, your professor will be looking to see that you learned the material,  not that you can write a lot of ‘fluff’ without answering the key principles.

3) Answer ALL parts of the question- Much like the example with Sara and her stolen apples, many essay prompts will have open-ended questions branched off of the main question being asked. These aren’t always for you to just think about – a lot of times your professor will be looking for you to answer ALL parts. For example, if the prompt is asking you a question such as, “How did Plato’s argumentative speech effectively represent ethos? Pathos? Logos?” then you will need to answer all three parts. If you do not believe that Plato’s speech showed either pathos or logos then you would need to specify how and why it did not, and how and why it DID show tactics of ethos.

4) Did you backup your reasoning with examples? – Make sure that you aren’t only answering the question in complete sentences and with the correct answer, but also that you’re providing supporting details and examples if the essay prompt asks for them. If you feel a certain way about a character or situation, explain why you feel that way and then back up your reasoning with credible examples from the story, reading, text, or assignment.

5) Format – This may not always be applicable depending on the essay question or test question, but when you are writing an essay or paper, you should always make sure to have a solid structure to guide your writing. Most times you’ll need to create an outline for a research or term paper. Unfortunately during big exams however, you won’t know what the essay question will be until you receive the test. You’ll also more than likely be timed on your writing. In these cases, try to remember the basic principles to an outline. Start your essay about what you’re writing about with a small amount of background information.  Make sure you develop a strong topic sentence. From there, try to briefly go into your points of argument and back them up with at least 3 examples. When you’re done citing your examples, make sure you can get in at least a few concluding sentences or a full conclusion paragraph. This will make sure that you’ve thoroughly answered the question and covered all parts.

Hope these few writing tips are helpful for answering writing prompts- have any more? Share in the comments!


  1. Who-must-not-be-named says:

    This has helped me a lot! Thank you soooooo much! ;}

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