Understanding the Prompt

Understanding the Prompt

Before you jump right away to writing down your essay, you must make sure that understand EXACTLY what the prompt is asking. When you feel rushed, it’s easy to overlook details in a prompt. Also, if looking at prompts is unfamiliar to you, then it can be stressful to see one for the first time!

The first step toward getting comfortable with writing the ACT Essay is knowing how prompts are typically structured and how you can best read them. Just remember that nearly every ACT Essay prompt you receive comes in three parts. Knowing these parts will help you better understand what you’re reading and how to perform well on the task. The three parts are:

1. The Situation: Describes the basic problem or dilemma
2. The Sides: Shows multiple opinions people related to the situation may have
3. The Question: Directly related to you, the writer, asking a “yes” or “no” question

Below is a sample prompt with an explanation of how it is set up. We’ll give you the good old classic “metal detector” question.

ACT Essay Prompt: Sample

The security of students at school is becoming more and more of a concern throughout the nation. While students come to school to learn, they also face the potential threat of physical harm from unexpected violent acts. To better protect students in school, administrators are considering installing metal detectors at every entrance to scan students, teachers, and visitors. While many people applaud this idea as it will ensure no metallic weapons are brought inside, others insist that the effectiveness of metal detectors is limited and infringes students’ rights. In your opinion, should schools install metal detectors?

Now, let’s break it down. Notice how this prompt is set up in three different parts.

1. The Situation:The security of students at school is becoming more and more of a concern throughout the nation. While students come to school to learn, they also face the potential threat of physical harm from unexpected violent acts. To better protect students in school, administrators are considering installing metal detectors at every entrance to scan students, teachers, and visitors.”

2. The Sides:While many people applaud this idea as it will ensure no metallic weapons are brought inside, others insist that the effectiveness of metal detectors is limited and infringes students’ rights.

3. The Question:In your opinion, should schools install metal detectors?”

Now try to apply this structure to every prompt you see. You’ll notice pretty quickly that they all have the same three parts. And, now that you can identify these parts, you are better prepared to understand what you should do with each one of them!