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Writing and Language

SAT Language: Word Choice & Passive Flow

15 min readโ€ขaugust 24, 2021

jed

Jed Q


SATย ๐ŸŽ“

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FICTION = Flow + (Appropriate) Diction ๐Ÿ’•

(Just kidding. Fiction isn't a portmanteau of either word, but for the sake of prepping for the SAT, think of FICTION as your must-have list whenever you read passages!)
Given that you've been through the SAT Reading section right before coming face to face with it, the SAT Language & Writing section will throw a couple of questions asking for the most appropriate 1) word in context and 2) syntax when it comes to sentence/paragraph flow. โ“
Here comes the good news: while there are thousands of ways, words, and passages test-writers can use to ask you questions, your knowledge (and eventual mastery) of how to make the best word choice AND how to make a passage flow smoothly can already take you to awesome placesโ€ฆ like the 700+ score territory on the EBRW section ๐Ÿคฉ
Without further ado, let's jump straight into the content!

Diction: Choose the Best Word (or Phrase) ๐Ÿค 

Let's take a detour and hop onto a flashback to late middle or early high school English class. Your teacher may have brought up "diction," the choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing. It's not even a surprise to see diction come up in an essay prompt regarding how authors present and narrate their literary works. Diction plays a pivotal role even in everyday conversations. Do you catch yourself using different words when you talk to your friends vs. your family? That's definitely not a coincidence ๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ
The SAT will put your vocabulary and language skills to the test. Like the Grammar Convention questions, Diction/Word Choice questions typically involve you getting the option to either leave the underlined word or phrase unchanged ("NO CHANGE") or make corrections โœ”๏ธ
โ— Sample Question: When interviewed by the hiring committee, the enthusiastic applicant mentioned that his fondest errand is to visit the company's main office and meet the CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
A. NO CHANGE
B. revelation
C. assumption
D. desire
Technically speaking, "errand" works for the sentence above, but don't you think the sentence ends in a somewhat patronizing tone? You can also imagine yourself as someone interviewing an applicant. "Errand" doesn't really sound particularly conversationally sensible to the ears ๐Ÿ‘‚
Let's look at the remaining choices. Choices (B) and (C) don't match well with the context of the sentence, either. A "revelation" refers to a confession or a fact of great significance that is surprising, while an "assumption" refers to something that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, even without proof. "Desire" is the best answer as the following thought indicates a future event that is unlikely to happen on a regular basis. This means that the answer is choice (D)!
The interesting thing with Word Choice questions is that there's no "surefire, guaranteed strategy" to get them all right. There will be times when you just know the answerโ€”without even looking at the other choicesโ€”due to your instinct. There will also be times when you have to do Process of Elimination (POE) and narrow down the most appropriate word to one answer.
Here are a couple more handy tips for Word Choice questions:
  1. Simplicity is key! ๐Ÿ‘Œ
Which of the following words or expressions is the simplest: emotionally uplifting, exciting, deserving of excitement? "Exciting," right? Rule of thumb: if the answer choices have more or less similar meanings, pick the least wordy one.
โ— Sample Question: Disneyland rides are annoying because the wait times for most of them are lengthy.
A. NO CHANGE
B. prolonged in nature
C. very extensive
D. brief
ANSWER: (A). It might be tempting to choose choice (D) because it's as short as "lengthy," but that changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Remember, you're only helping the author communicate in a clear, concise manner. "Wait times are lengthy" =/= "Wait times are brief."ย 
Another angle of simplicity that we're shooting for is the level of formality of the language. Words and phrases that are too flowery or exaggerated are typically no-gos. SAT Language sentences are not the type of sentences you write around 11:50 p.m. to fulfill the word count of a take-home essay or research paper (by that, I mean lengthy and with lots of extraneous words).
โ— Sample Question: Harry enjoys visiting museums with their cheerful ambiance and mesmerizing exhibits.
A. NO CHANGE
B. alluringly spirited handiworks
C. immobile bombshells
D. dazzle
ANSWER: (A). (B) is too wordy and exaggerated. (C) is too informal. (D) changes the entire meaning of the sentence. "Mesmerizing exhibits" parallels "cheerful ambiance" and fits the overall tone of the sentence. No changes needed!
  1. Don't get too casual! ๐Ÿ•ถ๏ธ
Again, treat the SAT Language section like you're editing a classmate's essay or written report in English class. You don't want your sentences to be slangy, conversational, or informal.
โ— Sample Question: The manager found the new hire to be bothersome as the latter found every opportunity to slack off throughout the day.
A. NO CHANGE
B. doze off
C. excessively rest
D. fall away
ANSWER: (C). (A) and (B) are too informal. (D) is not synonymous with "slack off." (C) matches the overall tone of the sentence!
  1. Be specific! ๐Ÿ“Œ
Stay away from vague words like "stuff," "something," and "things." If there is an answer choice that makes sense in the context and makes it more specific, then don't hesitate to pick it!
โ— Sample Question: The night sky is such an underrated natural wonder as there is always a broad selection of things, like Ursa Major and Orion, to discover during any given night.
A. NO CHANGE
B. constellations
C. stuff
D. universal objects
ANSWER: (B). (C) is as vague as "things." "Constellations" not only corresponds correctly to the examples given (Ursa Major, Orion), but it also is simpler, specific, and concise than (D).
  1. Watch out for homophones! ๐Ÿ“ฑ
You'll often encounter questions that will attempt to confuse you with homophones, words that sound alike but have different spellings. Here are some words that the SAT might throw at you:
  • affect vs. effect
  • accept vs. except
  • compliment vs. complement
  • course vs. coarse
  • insure vs. ensure
  • respectively vs. respectfully
Your instinct will be your best friend on this one. Don't worry, the SAT won't use 19th-century homophones. In fact, you most likely already know how to differentiate between most of them as you write, talk, converse, and read! ๐Ÿ“–
โ— Sample Question: When you stay at a chain hotel, expect more complementary items than those provided for free from an inn.ย 
A. NO CHANGE
B. complimentary items then
C. complimentary items than
D. complementary items then
ANSWER: (C). Notice how there are not only one but TWO homophones (complimentary vs. complementary, than vs. then)? In this case, "complimentary" means given or supplied free of charge whereas "complementary" means combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another (like two colors). Since the former is more suitable to the context, we can eliminate (A) and (D). We use "then" to signify something in the past or something afterward, while we use "than" in comparisons. Since we're comparing the amenities of hotels and inns, "than" is the correct homophone to use ๐Ÿ˜Œ

Flow: Keep the River Running! ๐Ÿž๏ธ

You heard it right! Reading sentences is like a pleasant raft ride down the riverโ€”one without abrupt interruptions or out-of-place rocks preventing you from completely enjoying the experience. We already covered concision in the first half of this article with diction. Now, it's time to take a closer look at some of the elements that'll make our rafting adventure pleasant and exciting ๐ŸŒŠ
ย 

Redundancyโ€”Not Again! ๐Ÿ˜ตโ€

๐ŸŽฏ Your Objective: Get rid of words or phrases that are unnecessary because they either are repetitive or could be further shortened to make the sentence more clear and concise.
Example
Fixed
Why?
President Joe Biden was unwavering and adamant in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden was unwavering in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
"Adamant" and "unwavering" mean the same so there is no point in adding a second word to complete the thought.
Soon, we will be backpacking and camping around the Pacific Northwest in the future.
Soon, we will be backpacking and camping around the Pacific Northwest.
"Soon" and "in the future" mean the same, so one of the two expressions should be omitted.
Alice Huckabee is more faster than her brother Cooper in go kart racing.
Alice Huckabee is faster than her brother Cooper in go kart racing.
We can't say "more/less/most/least" + "-er" or "-est." We can say MORE FAST or FASTERโ€ฆ can't use both!
One possible cause of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima is because of human negligence.
One possible cause of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima is human negligence.
Cause is already established in "one possible cause," so there is no need to repeat the signal word "because."
The six missing sailors were recently found at an uncharted location unmarked by modern-day maps.ย 
The six missing sailors were recently found at an uncharted location.ย 
Too wordy!ย 
50 years later, King Philip hosted a celebration for his golden rule through a kingdom-wide commemoration.ย ย ย 
50 years later, King Philip hosted a celebration for his golden rule.
"Celebration" and "commemoration" mean the same, so one of the two words should be omitted.
โ— Now, it's your time to shine! Try fixing these sentences on your own. What words do you need to remove? ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • In a well-known fanfiction, Supreme Leader Snoke abdicated his rule after Kylo Ren and Rey united to force him off his position.
  • Blinded by greed, Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti in a fit of intense desire.
  • Andrew Jackson's valiant effort, a selfless and brave act, at the Battle of New Orleans paid off when he gained popularity afterwards.

Merging Sentences: Combine, Combine, Combine โž•

๐ŸŽฏ Your Objective: Combine two sentences using prepositions, clauses, phrases, punctuations, and conjunctions, keep the writer's meaning intact, and steer away from redundancy and informality (tone).ย 
Usually, you'll get this question in the form of "Which choice most effectively combines the two sentences at the underlined portion?" (or something along the lines of that). There are multiple ways to combine two (or more) sentences together. We'll take a look at a couple of examples to demonstrate each of the different ways the SAT may present the correct answer to you.
Strategy
Example
Fixed
Make one of the two sentences a dependent clause!ย 
(Works if subject for first and second sentences are similar)
Galileo Galilei was never acknowledged as a genius during his life. He was persecuted by the Catholic Church when he first revealed his scientific findings.ย ย 
Persecuted by the Catholic Church when he first revealed his scientific findings, Galileo Galilei was never acknowledged as a genius during his life.
Remove the pronoun (he, she, it, they, we, etc.) and attach the second sentence to the first with a comma!ย 
(Works if subject for first and second sentences are similar)
Indiana Jones is more than "just a fictional character." He showed what it takes to be courageous and adventurous.
Indiana Jones is more than "just a fictional character," showing what it takes to be courageous and adventurous.
Use another punctuation (colon, dash, semicolon)!
Sunisa Lee received a gold medal by attempting more daring gymnastics moves. This approach impressed audience members and judges alike.
Sunisa Lee received a gold medal by attempting more daring gymnastics movesโ€”an approach that impressed audience members and judges alike.
Connect both sentences with an infinitive ("to" + verb)!
(Works if second sentence reflects the purpose of the first sentence)
Edgar founded his own Key Club at school. He would actively recruit like-minded advocates for humanitarianism.
Edgar founded his own Key Club at school to actively recruit like-minded advocates for humanitarianism.
Attach the second sentence to the first using a relative clause (starts with "who," "which," etc.)!
(Works if subject is present in both sentences)
Cows release methane into the atmosphere. The atmosphere is highly sensitive to pollutants and harmful emissions globally.
Cows release methane into the atmosphere, which is highly sensitive to pollutants and harmful emissions globally.
Overall tip: Don't repeat words! If you see a repeated word, that's a solid hint: make changes!
Sir Lancelot is a well-decorated knight in his prime. Knights were generally loved by the people for their chivalrous deeds.
Sir Lancelot is among the most well-decorated knightsโ€”generally loved by the people for their chivalrous deedsโ€”in his prime.ย 
Overall tip: Pronouns are cool, but you'd want to minimize them!
Mount Fuji is among Japan's eternal symbols of pride. It towers over the archipelago with a height of approximately 3,776 meters.
Mount Fuji is among Japan's eternal symbols of pride, towering over the archipelago with a height of approximately 3,776 meters.
โ— Sample Question: As of 2021, Jeffrey Bezos has a net worth of around 193.1 billion US dollars. Bezos is also known for undertaking a quick space flight in July.
A. NO CHANGE
B. Jeffrey Bezos has a net worth of around 193.1 billion US dollars, Bezos is also known for undertaking a quick space flight in July.
C. Jeffrey Bezos; who is known for undertaking a quick space flight in July, has a net worth of around 193.1 billion US dollars.
D. Jeffrey Bezos, who is known for undertaking a quick space flight in July, has a net worth of around 193.1 billion US dollars.
ANSWER: (D). (B) is an example of a run-on sentence in which two independent clauses are incorrectly combined by a comma (,). Remember, we can only put either a period (.) or a semicolon (;) between two independent clauses. (C) is incorrect because it is inconsistent with the punctuation (relative clause starts with a semicolon and ends with a comma). In fact, we only use semicolons to indicate a split between two independent clauses, so using it in front of this clause is grammatically incorrect. (A) is incorrect because the original sentence repeats the noun subject twice. While doing so is possible, we are aiming for concision here; thus, (D) is the best choice due to its use of a relative clause.
ย 

Sentence Placementโ€”Where Does It Go? ๐Ÿš—

๐ŸŽฏ Your Objective: You'll encounter sections of a passage with numbered sentences ("[#]"). Your job is to either insert, add, or change the order of a sentence in order for the passage to make more sense and be presented in a logical and clear manner.
โ— Sample Question (from Varsity Tutors):
[1] The sport of lacrosse, while perhaps not as widely popular today in the United States as baseball or football, is far older. [2] These games served many important cultural functions. [3] They were used to settle disputes between tribes, as festival events, and to train young men to become warriors and hunters.
[4] Hundreds of men and women from rival tribes or villages would gather to play at once. [5] The playing field was sometimes several miles long. [6] The original game was very different from the organized sport played today. [7] A single game would be played from dawn until sunset, and be followed by dancing and feasting.
[8] Modern, standardized versions of lacrosse started to be played in the 1850s and soon became very popular throughout Canada and the United States. [9] For over a century, it has been one of the most widely played sports in high schools in both nations.
To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 6 should be placed
A. Where it is now
B. After Sentence 1
C. Before Sentence 3
D. Before Sentence 4
To tackle these types of questions, it is highly suggested that you read the sentences right before and right after each of the places you're thinking of inserting sentence 6 into. If you're considering choice B, for example, read sentences 1 and 2 and see if the passage still makes sense:
[1] The sport of lacrosse, while perhaps not as widely popular today in the United States as baseball or football, is far older. [6] The original game was very different from the organized sport played today. [2] These games served many important cultural functions.
It doesn't sound right, don't you think? "These games" in sentence [2] actually refers to all three sports: lacrosse, baseball, and football. By adding sentence [6] between [1] and [2], we're adding a non-essential detail about how the original lacrosse is different from modern-day lacrosse. In other words, the order isn't logical!
Let's try choice C:
[2] These games served many important cultural functions. [6] The original game was very different from the organized sport played today. [3] They were used to settle disputes between tribes, as festival events, and to train young men to become warriors and hunters.
Again, inserting sentence [6] interrupts the idea developed by [2] as [3] enumerates the "many important cultural functions" from [2]: settling disputes, functioning as festival events, and training young men.ย 
Let's take a look at choice D:
[6] The original game was very different from the organized sport played today. [4] Hundreds of men and women from rival tribes or villages would gather to play at once. [5] The playing field was sometimes several miles long. [7] A single game would be played from dawn until sunset, and be followed by dancing and feasting.
Hmm, it flows nicely but I still don't see the connection between the "original game" and the "organized sport played today" in sentences [4] to [7]. Let's keep readingโ€ฆ
[6] The original game was very different from the organized sport played today. [4] Hundreds of men and women from rival tribes or villages would gather to play at once. [5] The playing field was sometimes several miles long. [7] A single game would be played from dawn until sunset, and be followed by dancing and feasting.
[8] Modern, standardized versions of lacrosse started to be played in the 1850s and soon became very popular throughout Canada and the United States. [9] For over a century, it has been one of the most widely played sports in high schools in both nations.
There you go! Knowing that [8] and [9] discuss modern-day lacrosse, it makes sense to put [6] before [4] as that first paragraph first talks about the "original" format of lacrosse. Therefore, the answer is choice (D)!
Another type of SAT Language sentence placement question involves you directly inserting a sentence to either clarify a subject, noun, or example:
โ— Sample Question (from College Panda):
[1] The Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle collider in the world, was built to test theories of particle physics. [2] In particular, it was used to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, a new type of particle that helps explain why things have mass. [3] The Collider is based at the CERN Laboratory and contains four types of detectors. [4] Having more than one detector carry out the same tests gives scientists the ability to cross-check results and identify any anomalies in the data they generate.
Where is the most logical place in this paragraph to add the following sentence?
Two of them, the ATLAS and CMS detectors, are very similar and can run the same class of experiments.
A. After sentence 1
B. After sentence 2
C. After sentence 3
D. After sentence 4
Don't get thrown off by the difference of this question from the first example! Remember, we usually insert sentences to clarify something or introduce examples of the concept brought up by the previous sentence. Let's look at the sentence again:
Two of them, the ATLAS and CMS detectors, are very similar and can run the same class of experiments.
What's them? ๐Ÿค” Exactly! That's a hint that the previous sentence should be talking about detectors as the ATLAS and CMS are types of detectors. [1] finishes with particle physics theories. [2] finishes with the mention of the Higgs Boson. [3] finishes with the reference to four types of detectors. [4] finishes with data anomalies. Upon closer inspection, sentence [3] talks about detector types; hence, the correct answer is choice (C)!ย 
The key takeaways for this article are:
  • Choose the best word to use in a sentence without being too casual, exaggerated, or vague. โ˜๏ธ
  • When asked to switch up the order of sentences, read before and after. You want the sentence placement to make the entire passage clear and logical, not confusing! ๐Ÿ’ง
Like the other question formats of the SAT Language & Writing exam, it's suuuuuuper important to invest more time in familiarizing yourself with the types of questions asked (i.e. word choice, passage flow) rather than hyper-fixating on every single homophone in the English language. Remember, the more familiar you are, the more confident you will be in the testโ€ฆ and the more confident you are with your answers, the more questions you'll get right!
Best of luck, and when in doubt, "keep the river running!" ๐Ÿ˜
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