By: Kevin Vu (Lead SAT Tutor)
Everybody has that friend or relative that drones on and on. Somehow, they‘re able to take a simple subject like the weather and turn it in into a full-length novel. They often repeat themselves unnecessarily, and it’s unbearable to listen to them for an extended amount of time.
Likewise, the SAT and ACT often feature sentences or answer choices I like to describe as “word salad.” The test makers will throw unnecessary conjunctions, verbs, and subjects into the mix just to confuse a student. By sounding complex and mysterious, the test-makers hope to confuse the tester into misunderstanding a “word salad,” or if it’s an answer choice, picking it as a right answer. The sentence is so confusing, and since the SAT/ACT are confusing, the correct answer must be something confusing too.
In reality, these exams test a student’s ability to detect or create an efficiency of prose. Sentences that are short, to the point, and minimize redundancy without losing any meaning are generally the correct answers. The clients I tutor often say that a short answer must be a red herring; it can’t be that simple to effectively communicate!
In order to combat this type of thinking, students have two SAT tips to use:
1) Make sure to read the sentence out loud (in your head) to see if it sounds right to you. In normal, non-blabber conversation, unnecessary words will sound out of place.
2) Compare the sentence lengths and determine the shortest sentence that will make the sentence understandable without losing any significant meaning. While the shortest sentence won’t always be the correct answer, it often is. If it’s not, it at least points to ways to correctly simplify (or not) a question on The SAT or The ACT.
These two strategies can help students effectively identify and then correct overly wordy sentences. Above all, it is absolutely vital that students continue to use their own experience in normal conversation to help them with the writing section. The goal of the test has always been to test if students can write efficiently and conservatively. By tuning out the drone of the “word salad” of long answers, students can remain focused on the important parts of the sentences and pick grammatically correct and stylistically sound answers.
Read more tips on the Reading section here. Also check out our blog post on the ideal college prep timeline here.