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SAT Writing & Language: Rhetorics

Concision and Word Choice

Concision works on one very basic principle: it is incorrect to use 10 words to express an idea you could express using 5. For example, the following are two instruction sentences regarding concision problem types on the SAT:

  1. You will be asked to edit to make sure that passages are phrased in as clear, lean, and brief a manner as possible so as to express the text’s meaning and fulfil its intended purpose.
  2. You will be asked to edit passages for concision.

These two sentences convey the exact same meaning. Just by knowing the full meaning of “concision,” you are able to make the first sentence 26 words shorter, as well as far smoother and easier to understand.

Important: Not all long sentences need to be made more concise! Some sentences are expressing extremely complex thoughts, and are, even if they seem long, exactly as long as they need to be. Remember that some relatively short sentences can be edited and made more concise, and some extremely long sentences are as concise as they can possibly be.

The shortest answer isn’t always the right answer, but when in doubt, the shortest answer is the best one far more often than not.

This is a very powerful tip - but with great power comes great responsibility. It is your job to put in the maximum amount of effort and attention into every single SAT problem! However, if you’re really not sure, and you can’t make up your mind - go with the shortest answer left.

Example 1
When for the first time the United States imported more oil than it exported, Americans should have realized than an energy crisis was imminent and could happen in the future.

A.
NO CHANGE
B. could happen imminently in the future
C.
is an imminent thing
D.
might be imminent

Solution:
So, this question would be difficult if you didn’t know the definition of “imminent.” There is nothing grammatically wrong in the underlined phrase. However, the word “imminent” means something is likely to happen. The phrase “might be imminent” means the same thing as the underlined phrase and is expressed much more succinctly. Therefore, the correct answer is D. If you did not know the meaning of the word “imminent,” you should have gone with the shortest answer, which also happens to be D.
Example 2
I was strongly considering buying a painting the other day. I liked the piece, but it was because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece. I ended up purchasing a book of photography instead.

A.
it was because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.
B.
because of the expense I chose not to buy it.
C.
it was on cause of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.
D.
it was only and simply and rightly because of the expense that I chose not to buy the piece.

Solution:
The only option that successfully eliminates the wordiness while maintaining the grammatical structure and meaning of this compound sentence is option B. This option cuts the unnecessary addition of “it was” and the repletion of “the piece.” Answer choice B is correct.

Redundancy

A longer sentence is usually more redundant than a shorter sentence. Actually, redundancies are fairly easy to spot – you just need to know how to look out for them and avoid the temptation to be swept away by the flow of the passage or sentence you are reading.

Example 3
That deep-sea sub can’t fit very many people. During its last solo expedition, it carried just one scientist. She not only collected data about rarely seen sea creatures, but also piloted the sub and helped run checks on its navigation system and safety features.

A.
NO CHANGE
B. During its last solo expedition, it carried just scientists.
C.
During its solo expedition, it carried just one scientist.
D.
During its last expedition, it carried just one scientist.

Solution:
The word “solo” conveys the same information as the phrasing of “carried just one scientist.” Because “carried just one scientist” can’t be omitted from the sentence, removing “solo” is the easiest way to fix this redundancy error. The correct answer is D
Example 4
Located in Midland County, Michigan, the Chippewa Nature centre is one of the most prominent American nature centres that is known by many people in the United States.

A.
NO CHANGE
B. being known by many Americans.
C.
known by many people there.
D.
OMIT the underlined portion (inserting a period after centers)

Solution:
Since prominent means “known by many people,” the underlined portion is unnecessary. D is the correct answer.

Avoid Synonyms

Please remember that you should never use two synonyms to describe something when you can just as effectively use one. In addition, you must sometimes look at the non-underlined portion of the sentence to identify redundancy.

Wrong: The ancient, historic, enduring Drum Tower and Bell Tower, located in Beijing’s Inner City, afford tourists a glimpse into the city’s long history.

Correct: “Ancient,” “historic,” and “enduring” all basically mean the same thing. Just one of these words would get the point of the sentence across.

Often, we’ll see not just multiple words that mean the same thing, but entire phrases that mean the same thing as well.

Wrong: In order to increase capacity, 11,000 temporary seats were added to Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics so that more guests could attend.

Here we’ve got two phrases that mean the same thing. Only one is necessary, so we can just eliminate the second phrase.

Correct: In order to increase capacity, 11,000 temporary seats were added to Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Examples 5 - 8
Henry was never expected to be king. His older brother Arthur was [5] the heir and next in line to the throne, but when Henry was 11 years old, Arthur [6] perished fatally. Arthur had recently married Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand of [7] Spain, a short time ago. Eager to protect diplomatic relations with Spain, Henry’s father betrothed [8] his son Henry to marry Catherine when he came of age.

5.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
the successive heir
C.
the heir
D.
the successive next in line

6.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
died.
C.
fatally died.
D.
perished and died.

7.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
Spain, shortly before.
C.
Spain.
D.
Spain, not long ago.

8.
A. NO CHANGE
B.
his son, Henry,
C.
Henry, his son,
D.
Henry

Solutions:
5.
Heir implies next in line and successive. The correct answer is C.
6.
Died is all that is needed. Perished and fatally both imply death. The correct answer is B.
7.
Recently means the same thing as a short time ago. The correct answer is C.
8.
Father implies that Henry was his son. The correct answer is D.

Word Choice

Word choice is choosing the most appropriate word in context. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to cover the infinite number of ways this concept can show up on the SAT. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of words and no formulaic rules for why one word should be chosen over another.

Although you’ll have to rely on your fluency in English for most questions, the SAT does not make these problems difficult. In fact, the answer must be clear enough so that it’s not left up to opinion or preference. Here are a few general guidelines:

1.  Avoid Dramatic or High-Sounding Language. Don’t choose overly complicated words when simple words are enough to express the intended meaning. On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of thinking a word is high-sounding or complicated just because you do not know what it means.

Example 9
The startup didn’t become financially beneficial until it reached a critical mass of customers using the app on a daily basis.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
profitable
C.
commercially rewarding
D.
worthy of great compensation

Solution:
The answer here is B, the simplest choice.
Example 10
The employees put forth a plan to cut spending by 50 percent but their bosses rejected this audacious scheme.

A.
NO CHANGE
B.
brash industrial action.
C.
bold proposal.
D.
spirited counsel.

Solution:
The answer is C. All the other choices are overly dramatic and exaggerated.

2. Choose Specific Words. Let’s explain through an example:

Example 11
Fish with bright colors have to be especially careful of dangerous things that lurk in the sea.

Which choice fits best in the context of this sentence?
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
animals
C.
mammals
D.
predators

Solution:
The answer is D. The most specific words convey the most meaning, and on the SAT, the most meaningful words will usually be the answer.

Example 12
In anticipation of Black Friday, store owners are making sure they have a wide variety of products.

A.
NO CHANGE
B.
items for customers
C.
stuff to sell
D.
things that can purchased

Solution:
The answer is A. The other answers are unnecessarily vague and wordy.

3. Be Wary of Commonly Confused Words. Again, best explained through an example.

Example 13
Ketchup is a better compliment to French fries then mustard.

A.
NO CHANGE
B.
compliment to French fries than
C.
complement to French fries then
D.
complement to French fries than

Solution:
The answer is D. A complement is something that goes well with something else, whereas a compliment is something nice you say to someone. Than is used for comparisons; then is used to mean at that time or next.

Here is a list of other commonly confused words you should know:

  • accept vs. except
  • affect vs. effect
  • allusion vs illusion
  • cite vs. site
  • ensure vs. insure
  • advice vs. advise
  • council vs. counsel
  • elicit vs. illicit
  • eminent vs. imminent
  • allude vs. elude
  • discreet vs. discrete

4 . Avoid Casual or Informal Language. Always pick the answer choices that use formal language. Avoid answer choices that include slang or casual words.

Example 14
Tired from the 20 mile hike, Yasmine retired to her tent and snoozed.

A.
NO CHANGE
B.
hit the sack.
C.
slept.
D.
dozed off.

Solution:
The answer is C
. The other answers are too informal.
Example 15
A recent law requires that public transportation meet new safety standards, forcing states governments to foot the bill for the construction of new railroads.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
pick up the tab
C.
pay
D.
shell out

Solution:
The answer is C. Again, the other answers are too informal.

5. Don’t Forget Your Grammar Rules. Some questions look like they’re testing you on word choice when they’re actually testing you on gram­mar

Example 16
The zombies raised from their graves and hunted the survivors.
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
rise
C.
rose
D.
rised

Solution:
Notice that choice D - rised - is not a word. Choice B is in the present  tense when the sentence is in the past tense. Choice A uses the wrong verb; the meaning of raise is not quite the same as that of rise. The answer is C.
Example 16
I do my laundry while she does the dishes.

Which of the following alternatives would NOT be acceptable?
A.
NO CHANGE
B.
at the same time
C.
as
D.
then

Solution:
The answer is D. Yes, all the other choices share the same meaning, but more importantly, choice D would make the sentence a run-on. No matter what type of question you’re tackling, always keep your grammar rules in mind.

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