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Each administration of the GWE asks students to write an essay in response to one prompt. The prompt identifies a subject matter and specifies a task. The prompt might present two sides of an issue and ask writers to argue one perspective, providing relevant reasons and examples in support of their views, or it might present two perspectives on a specific topic and ask the writers to compare and contrast these perspectives. The prompt always requires writers to analyze the material in question, to evaluate and take into account what is put forth by the prompt and then, according to the specific instructions, construct an appropriate response in essay form. A competent response will have an introduction that clearly sets forth the main theme of the essay, body paragraphs that develop specifics relevant to the theme, and a conclusion. While personal narrative might be used for certain specifics should they be pertinent, a competent essay will not rely solely on personal narrative, but rather will use a more traditionally academic approach.

Sample Prompts

  1. There is no doubt that America is a melting pot; by the same token, there is no doubt that most members of specific races and nationalities strive their whole lives to maintain a link with their original ethnic identity and culture. The two impulses, blending into American society and maintaining ethnic identity, are not always compatible. Often, success is interpreted as total immersion in and assimilation by the new culture. Do you agree or disagree with this assumption? Argue for a lifestyle that emphasizes assimilation or a lifestyle that emphasizes the maintenance of cultural ties, and indicate which lifestyle better leads to success in the American culture.
  2. From infancy to adulthood, advertising is in the air Americans breathe, the information we absorb, almost without knowing it. It floods our mind with pictures of perfection and goals of happiness easy to attain. . . . We are feeding on foolery, of which a steady diet, for those who feed on little else, cannot help but leave a certain fuzziness of perception.
    Barbara Tuchman

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Select and discuss some specific examples of advertising that illustrate what Tuchman calls “pictures of perfections and goals of happiness”;
    • Explain how such advertisements can lead to a certain “fuzziness of perception,” a distorted picture of reality;
    • Discuss what you consider to be some of the important effects of widespread and pervasive advertising on individuals here in America.
  3. We expect our ties with our immediate family to extend throughout the lifetimes of the people involved. This expectation is by no means always fulfilled, as rising divorce rates and family break-ups indicate. Nevertheless, we still theoretically marry “until death do us part” and the social ideal is a lifetime relationship. Whether this is a proper or realistic expectation of a society in high transience is debatable. The fact remains, however, that family links are expected to be long term if not lifelong, and considerable guilt attaches to the person who breaks off such a relationship.
    Future Shock, Alvin Toffler

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Discuss how marriage as an institution in America is changing;
    • Identify some of the signs that marriages are no longer expected to last a lifetime;
    • Explain the possible social effects of viewing marriage as a less than permanent relationship.
  4. A leading scientist noted that in attempting to solve major problems that confront our world today, we turn to those things that we do best, and our strength is science and technology.  A noted philosopher, however, has observed that almost all our major problems involve human behavior; consequently, our major problems cannot be solved by science and technology, but rather we must change human behavior.

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Contrast the positions of the scientist and the philosopher by selecting a major societal problem (for example, world hunger, disease, AIDS, war, global warming, etc) and discussing the role of technology and then the role of changing human behavior in solving the problem. 
    • Take a position about whether this problem is best solved through the use of technology or through the adjustment of human behavior, supporting your position with convincing details.
  5. It is generally agreed that a society benefits from the contributions of both artists and scientists.

    Write a well organized and fully developed essay in which you do the following:
    • Compare and contrast the contributions of artists to society with the contributions of scientists to society;
    • Identify which type of contribution you think is more valued by society.

NOTE:  The above prompts are retired and will not be used in any administration of the GWE. These prompts are intended to help guide readers with respect to the types of prompts used for the test. Students should not rehearse responses to any of the above prompts to be used on the day of the test. Rather, students should arrive at the test free of pre-conceived ideas as to subject matter, prepared to read and respond specifically to whatever prompt is presented on that day.