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Writing test prompts

Writing Test (hand-written essay):

You will have 50 minutes to write about one of two topics you will be given that day. Each prompt includes a short passage and two possible questions for you to choose from in developing your essay. Familiarize yourself with the prompts below as a way to prepare for your exam. Your essay will be evaluated by two members of the English department.

Scoring Guide

The writing exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. For more information about how to prepare for the Writing Placement Test, see the Online Writing Refresher.

 

EXAMPLES:

 

Assignment:

The following excerpt is from Kamaal Majeed. He is a high school student in Waltham, Mass. In addition to his studies, he works part-time at the local public library, and enjoys studying foreign languages and writing a personal journal. Majeed hopes to pursue a career in journalism.

“Why don’t you ‘act black’?”

Since my middle school years, I’ve been asked this question more than any other. It seems to me that too many people have let society program into their brains what should be expected of me, a black person, before ever interacting with me. Many people think my clothes should be big enough for me to live in, or expect me to listen exclusively to “black music.” My skin color has done nothing to change my personality, and my personality has done nothing to change my skin color.

I believe in being myself. I believe that I – not any stereotype – should define who I am and what actions I take in life. In high school, popularity often depends on your willingness to follow trends. And I’ve been told that it doesn’t get much easier going into adulthood. But the only other option is to sacrifice my individuality for the satisfaction and approval of others. Sure, this can be appealing, since choosing to keep my self-respect intact has made me unpopular and disliked at times, with no end to that in sight. Others’ being content with me, though, is not nearly as important as my being content with myself.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Describe a perceived stereotype in society today that you feel is inaccurate. Cite a specific example in which you saw the stereotype applied and how you learned that the stereotype was, in fact, inaccurate. Include descriptive details.

Option B: If Kamaal Majeed’s belief is true, that popularity in high school does in fact rely on following trends, what should be done to reverse this situation? Suggest specific steps that students, teachers, and parents should take to make the idea of individuality a virtue in high school.

 

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from professional storm chaser Reed Timmer’s autobiography Into The Storm.

It’s an interesting proposition, seeking happiness from tornadoes. For those few of us who are unquestionably mesmerized by them, chasing tornadoes can be the most fantastic experience in the world. Tornado chasing taxes your intellect and puts you at one with incredible, spectacular forces of nature. Chasing is also a fix for any adrenaline junkie and, if you do it often enough, can become your career.

But an obsession with stalking tornadoes can kill or maim you, too, and even if chasing doesn’t leave you with physical scars or a need for crutches, it’s hard to escape unscathed. You’ll witness death and destruction of property that sickens your stomach and saddens your heart. Your family will worry about you. Significant others will grow tired of playing second fiddle. Peers will disagree with the way you chase, and you’ll lose friends to your obsession.

So when it comes to shadowing tornadoes, you have to ask yourself: What is chasing those violent, crazy, beautiful dreams – and I do mean chasing them – worth to you?

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Like Timmer, have you ever lost friends due to “your obsession?” Describe your obsession and the circumstances in which the friendships were lost. Was it worth it? Why?

Option B: Do you have a “crazy, beautiful dream?” Rock star? Fashion model? Professional sports player? What are some of the obstacles that you might encounter? What is a compromise that you may have to make in order to achieve this in some way?

 

Assignment:
The following excerpt is from Chris Waddell, the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history delivering the Commencement Address at Middlebury College, 2011:

A couple of years ago this little girl rode by on her little pink bike with streamers coming off the handlebars. She might have been six. She said, “What happened to your legs?”

So I told the girl, “I was a ski racer in college. I fell in the middle of the trail, hitting nothing but the ground.”

She said, “You’ll never walk again?”

I said, “No. Probably not.”

As she rode away, she said, “That’s too bad.”

I wish that I’d stopped her. I wouldn’t trade the accident for the experiences that I’ve had. I wouldn’t trade walking for the person that I’ve become. When I had my accident my world switched. I spent 20 years as a white male, suddenly in a moment I became a minority. I didn’t think I’d changed but the way people treated me changed. I often see the best and most generous side of people, but I also see the most condescending and dismissive side as well.

If we are going to be successful, we need to create a community that is successful, a community that allows us to risk and fail in order to succeed. It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you. Sometimes we need to give someone a hand up, just to reach that point.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Describe something about yourself that some may perceive as negative, but you see as a strength. How do you change people’s misconceptions about that aspect of yourself? Use examples from your experience.

Option B: Do you agree with Waddell’s belief that, “If we are going to be successful, we need to create a community that is successful”? While the idea seems noble, do you believe individuals should be compelled to “to give someone a hand up,” or is seeking individual happiness its own reward?

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from paranormal investigator Ryan Buell’s autobiography My Journey into the Unknown:

My mom definitely didn’t shelter me; she let me go out there and explore the world. I think she recognized early on that I had a deep fascination for films, so we had regular trips to the theater, where we’d see anything from family comedies to horror films like Hellraiser 3. I think that played a large part in my development and appreciation for diversity, education, and adventure.

When my maternal grandfather and his wife would come to visit, however, suddenly I wasn’t allowed to watch anything over PG. Even when I was seventeen, if I wanted to go out past 8:00 P.M. when they visited, my grandfather and step-grandmother would give my mother a look as if she were allowing me to run around doing drugs. Worse, whenever they’d come to visit, it usually meant I’d have to endure their demeaning criticism. I used to be angry at my mom and wondered why all of a sudden we had to change our lifestyle once they came over. As I grew older, I understood the position she was in, wanting to impress her father and step-mother.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Like Buell’s mother, have you ever been in a situation where you behaved differently in order to impress people who were important to you? Describe the circumstances and explain how that experience has shaped you into the person you are today.

Option B: Like Buell, have you been in a relationship with someone who treated you differently when it was just the two of you than when you were with a group of people? Describe the circumstances and explain how it impacted your relationship with that person.

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from Steve Blank’s Commencement Address at Philadelphia University, May 14, 2011. Mr. Blank is Silicon Valley Entrepreneur.

My first story is about finding your passion. My parents were immigrants. Neither of them had been to college—my mother graduated from high school but my father left school after the 7th grade. Still, like many immigrants, they dreamed that someday their children would go to college… Unfortunately that was their dream—but it wasn’t mine.

I ended up at Michigan State because I got a scholarship. Once I got there, I was lost, unfocused and had no idea of who I was and why I was in school. I hated school. One day my girlfriend said, “You know some of us are working hard to stay here. But you don’t seem to care. Why don’t you find out what you really want to do?” That was the moment I realized I, not anyone else, was in charge of my life.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Do you believe that each individual is in charge of his or her life as Blank describes? Or are there circumstances that make some less in charge than others? Explain your position and defend it with examples from history, current events, or your own life.

Option B: Describe a period when you felt you weren’t in charge of your life choices and how that changed. What experiences from your recent past illustrate that coming to BCC is part of taking charge of your life?

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from country singer Larry Gatlin’s autobiography All the Gold in California:

The first real tragedy I experienced in my young life involved The Blackwood Brothers. In 1954, they were doing a concert in Clanton, Alabama. Before the show, R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles decided to take the promoter’s son for his first airplane ride and then come back and pick up the rest of the quartet to fly to the next stop of their never-ending tour of America. Well, it was not to be a never-ending tour. It ended abruptly, tragically, when the plane fell to the ground during the trial run, killing R.W. and Bill and the little boy.

I cried for three days. As a believer in God, I could not understand how this could happen. I had been told in church and Sunday school that God loved and protected everybody, and God would make sure that everything worked out OK in the end. Well, this was the end, and in my mind everything was not OK. It was the first time in my life that I remember questioning God-there would be many others. I was heartbroken and confused and sad beyond my years. My world had suddenly become a very dangerous and confusing place. I could not figure it out and no one could explain it to me. I was six years old and I was devastated.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Describe an experience in your life in which your values or beliefs were challenged because of something that happened to you or someone you love. How did that experience shape you into the person you are today?

Option B: Was the first time that you learned that the world was “a very dangerous and confusing place” similar to or different from Gatlin’s? Use specific details from your experience and connect them with the passage.

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from professional storm chaser Reed Timmer’s autobiography Into The Storm.

My parents divorced when I was young, and once my schoolteacher mother became the family’s primary caregiver, she repeatedly instilled the importance of education and culture in my two sisters and me. When my sisters and I were young, my mom regularly took us to the symphony. When I was ten years old, I told my mom that I liked the sound of the oboe. Soon she put one in my hands.

At first my mom pushed me to play. But that didn’t last long, because I quickly pushed myself even harder. It would be a recurring theme in my young life, my highly motivated mother encouraging me to do something and then frequently standing back to marvel as I’d turn hobbies into passions bordering on obsessions.

So long as I’d obsess over things like studies or classical music, my mom didn’t discourage me. Why should she have? In due time I became pretty accomplished at the oboe, to the point that I turned into the oddball high schooler who went to music camps and preferred classical songs over pop tunes.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Like Timmer, have you ever participated in an activity that made you the “oddball” among your peers? Describe the activity, how you overcame social obstacles, and how it shaped you into the person you are today.

Option B: Have you ever turned “hobbies into passions bordering on obsessions?” Select one hobby and explain in detail why you value it, how it became obsessive, and the process that you apply to prevent it from taking over your life.

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from Felipe Morales. He was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1974, and immigrated with his family to Tampa, Florida, in 1990. He now lives with his wife and children in Rowlett, Texas, where he enjoys spending time with his family and friends.

A few years ago, I took a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C. Standing outside the Ronald Reagan Center, I heard a voice say, “Can you help me?” When I turned around, I saw an elderly, blind woman with her hand extended. In a natural reflex, I reached into my pocket, pulled out all my loose change, and placed it on her hand without even looking at her. I was annoyed at being bothered by a beggar.

But the blind woman smiled and said, “I don’t want your money. I just need help finding the post office.”

In an instant, I realized what I had done. I acted with prejudice—I judged another person simply for what I assumed she had to be. I hated what I saw in myself. This incident reawakened my core belief. It reaffirmed that I believe in humility, even though I’d lost it for a moment.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Why is humility such an important characteristic to possess? When you think of our society, what types of people, laws, and institutions keep us humble? Describe how we as a people can best keep our humility and not “lose” it as Felipe Morales did. Give specific examples.

Option B: Can acting with prejudice improve us if we learn from it? Describe an incident in which you acted with prejudice, or you were the victim of prejudice. Choose an incident in which the outcome was positive. Did you learn something positive? Did the other person?

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from Ashley Yuill’s essay “Choose Wisely”.

Choose wisely. I didn’t always. Sometimes, hanging out with my friends seemed like a much better choice than staying home and finishing a paper or project, and I would act on that desire. I paid the price, however, when I had to work into the early morning hours before the paper was due. During my sophomore year, I completely fabricated a major project; instead of actually visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit that came to my town, I simply Googled his work and crafted a paper around what I gathered from the Internet. When I received a failing grade on the assignment for not providing evidence of attending the exhibit, I learned never to do it again. I learned to calculate my decisions, weighing the costs against the benefits. I learned that acting on my whims and desires usually led to the worst consequences. I learned to be accountable.

Do what you think is right. I didn’t always. Was getting drunk during the after-graduation celebrations the right thing to do? Probably not. Neither was lying to my parents about where I would be actually going that night.

More often than not, I did do what I felt was right. I kept my eyes on my own paper, I never stabbed a friend in the back, I volunteered at the poorest elementary school, and I helped my classmates on difficult homework assignments. When I did mess up, it was the exception, not the rule. Being able to think and decide for myself allowed me to become an independent person. I learned from any poor choice I made. I learned to be accountable.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Describe a time when being held accountable taught you something about yourself. What exactly did you learn about yourself? How did you apply that lesson to your decisions since then?

Option B: Have you ever done something that you thought was right while you were doing it, but discovered that you were mistaken afterward? What got in the way of seeing right from wrong at the time? How could you stop someone in the same position from doing the same wrong?

Assignment:
The following excerpt comes from TV show host Conan O'Brien’s Commencement Address at Dartmouth College, June 12,2011.

Way back in the 1940’s Jack Benny was one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with a changing medium, pulled him in a different direction. And yet his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson, and was not, and as a result my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are --- my peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this: It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention.

So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me and it should not define you. In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.

Your written response:
Write an essay in response to one of the options below. Create a multi-paragraph paper. Include examples to explain each of your points, and be sure to use correct grammar. Focus your essay on either Option A or Option B, not both.

Option A: Describe an episode in your life or that of someone you know that illustrates O’Brien’s belief that a “perceived failure can be a catalyst for profound re-invention” What was the failure? How did it contribute to making you, or the person you know, unique?

Option B: O’Brien believes that, “No specific job or career goal defines me and it should not define you.” Are there people who fundamentally define themselves by their jobs? Take a position and use examples from history, current events, or your own life.

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