Why We Should Avoid Wordiness in our Writing

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Writing, College Application Essays, High School, SAT Essay, SAT Prep, SAT Writing, Study Tips, Teaching, Tutoring
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One of the worst habits that students develop in their high school classes is that of writing in a wordy fashion.   Students find that if they write longer and longer papers, their grades often get better and better.  They also discover that in classroom discussions and Socratic Seminars, the more they monopolize the discussion, the higher their “participation” grade.  Our grading system has a built-in tendency to inflate grades for those who inflate the length of what they create.    

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to ignore the length of a student’s response when evaluating it.  It is much easier to justify a higher grade for a student who has put in more time to write an extended response than someone who has created a relatively brief analysis.  Why?  You can say that “Johnny put in so much more work into writing his essay than you did because his essay is twice the length.”  When grading a massive stack of papers, the tendency to start “scanning” the papers rather than reading them super-carefully is a temptation to which quite a few teachers will succumb.  Not to scare any teachers, but I have known of a case where a student put swear words in the middle of his essay to see if his teacher would actually catch them.  The teacher did not, and the student shared this episode with all his friends, significantly damaging the teacher’s reputation. 

Both students and teachers can change the expectations of the school grading process if they are aware of 5 ways that wordy writing will cause problems on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, during the college admissions process, and in the workforce:

1.       You Won’t Develop Your Ideas on the SAT or ACT Essays.  The SAT only gives you two pages and 25 minutes for its essay, and the ACT only provides you 4 pages and 30 minutes.  If you are accustomed to writing in a wordy way, you will spend forever introducing your topic and not enough time developing your ideas and examples. 

2.       On the SAT and ACT Grammar Questions, You Will Consistently Pick the Wordy Answers.  Don’t get me wrong  – often, being more descriptive is exactly what is called for.  However, if you have it ingrained into your mind that the more you write, the better your writing is, you will pick the longest, most complex answers, even when they are not appropriate. 

3.       Your College Essays Will Be Pure Fluff.  When you write your Common Application Essay, you will be limited to 500 words.  If you are not used to packing a big punch in a short essay, you will not stand out among the thousands of applicants. 

4.       Job Applications.  For the foreseeable future, the job market will be extraordinarily competitive.  You will only have one chance to impress a potential employer with a fantastic cover letter.  It is critical that you are able to succinctly convey what makes you an incredible applicant. 

5.       Business Communications.  Whether in business meetings, conference calls or company-wide emails, no one wants to listen to someone blab on and on.  Your bosses and coworkers will respect you if they know that when you speak, you will immediately convey something of substance and value. 

So what can teachers and students do to avoid wordy writing?  First of all, if you are aware of a tendency to write wordily, that is half the battle.  You’ll recognize when you’re doing it and that will empower you to stop it.  Second, I would like to see more school assignments that require word maximums instead of word minimums.  Word minimums are the norm, and they encourage students to be verbose.  By requiring word maximums, students will learn to be more concise and precise in their writing, and teachers will be able to evaluate much more thoroughly since they won’t be overwhelmed with endless piles of grading.  This paradigm shift will help students do better on standardized tests, their college applications, and in the real world. 

I hope you found this piece helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart


What is the Best Book to Use to Prepare for the SAT and PSAT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, PSAT, SAT Essay, SAT Math, SAT Prep, SAT Reading, Tutoring
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The quality of SAT test preparation books is much higher than that of ACT test preparation books.  Why?  The SAT is much more popular in areas – large cities on the East and West Coast of the United States –   where parents invest significantly more money in test preparation for their students.  As a result, the market for creating high quality SAT test prep questions is far more competitive than it is for ACT test prep questions.  With more competition comes higher quality.  So, if you are looking for test prep materials for the SAT, you will find much more out there that is very solid to utilize. 

I have worked with a number of books over the years for the SAT:  Princeton Review, Barron’s, Kaplan, Gruber’s and others.  Overall, these are all of pretty good quality to use for practice for the SAT and PSAT.  However, the very best book to use is “The Official SAT Study Guide” from the College Board.  You can find it here:

Why is this?  Because it has 10 previously used SAT tests.  Even though it has very little in terms of strategy, it does have a decent content review for the Math and Writing sections.  Most importantly, it will give you the best replication of what you will find on the actual SAT because it comes right from the makers of the test. 

Since the SAT book has no solid answer explanations and little strategy, I have created several hundred practice questions of my own that are designed to be a bit harder than the actual SAT so that when you take the real thing, it seems easier.  Additionally, each question has a video solution so you can see how to think through the question.  I hope that they will provide a helpful resource to do targeted, in-depth practice for you as you prepare for the SAT:


What is covered on the SAT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, SAT Essay, SAT Prep
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The SAT is much more of a critical thinking and reasoning test than it is a test of knowledge.  This being said, there are some things you should know how to do in order to do your very best on the SAT.  The SAT gives you a decent summary right here, but it is too broad to be of much help:

Let’s break it down by section, starting with the SAT Critical Reading. 


What is covered on the SAT Critical Reading? 

First, you will have to have a solid vocabulary.  Not just for the sentence completion questions that have you pick out the best word or words for a given sentence, but also in the reading passages.  There is not a “master list” of SAT vocabulary words, but we have done our very best to come up with the 1,000 words that are most likely to be on the SAT.  More importantly, we have provided the words with Latin/Greek root hints so that you might be able to decipher words if you can dissect the parts of the words.  Click here for our SAT Vocab Flash Cards.

Second, you will need to be well-read.  The SAT Critical Reading passages have a wide variety of types of reading:  fiction, memoirs, history, science, humanities, and much more.  They have short passages, long passages, and passages with conflicting viewpoints (Passage 1 and Passage 2).  You can prepare for the SAT Critical Reading by doing some SAT Reading Practice Questions and also by reading independently from the books and magazines on my recommended SAT reading list


What is covered on the SAT Writing?

Roughly 30% of your SAT Writing Test score will be determined by your Essay.  This essay tests your ability to formulate an argument, drawing upon your background knowledge and experiences.  I have written several sample SAT Essay prompts, all of which have videos where I explain the prewriting process for each prompt. 

The remainder of your SAT Writing Test will be determined by your ability to identify and correct grammar and style issues.  The more that you read, the stronger you will be in finding errors because you will be more familiar with the appropriate forms of written English.  Here is a summary of the key concepts you need to know:

  • Consistency (e.g. tense, subject-verb agreement)
  • Logical Expression of Ideas (e.g. logical comparison, word order)
  • Clarity and Precision (e.g. wordiness, pronoun vagueness)
  • Appropriate Use of Conventions (e.g. idioms, misplaced modifiers)

For a detailed review of this material, please do my SAT Grammar Flash Cards and also do some SAT Writing Multiple Choice Practice Questions


What’s covered on the SAT Math?

The SAT Math section covers material from Algebra and Geometry.  There is no trigonometry or pre-calculus on the SAT.  The SAT Math does provide you with several formulas from geometry at the very beginning of each section, but you should still memorize them so that you don’t have to go back and waste time looking them up. 

The SAT provides a solid review of the math concepts covered on the SAT right here:

For an much more in-depth review of the math formulas you need to know for the SAT, please check out my SAT Math Flashcards.

You can also do some challenging SAT Math Problems with Video Solutions that I have made.   

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart 

SAT Sample Essays

SAT Essay, SAT Prep
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When it comes to reading sample SAT Essays, be mindful of your source.  There are tons of sample essays on websites out there that have never been evaluated by the College Board.  Here are two places you can go to get actual essay responses: 

Another place to get samples would be from a friend of yours who has taken the SAT, as long as he or she doesn’t mind sharing.  Your friend can log in to his or her SAT online account at, go to view scores, select the writing section, and then you can see a copy of their response to the SAT Essay on their test. 

For a variety of ideas on SAT prompts, please take a look at my test prep practice page under the SAT, and then under Writing.    With each of the 20 prompts I’ve written, I have videos that demonstrate the prewriting process for each essay. 

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