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


Order of Difficulty of the Questions on the SAT and PSAT

ACT and SAT Test Prep, PSAT, SAT Math, SAT Prep, SAT Reading, SAT Writing
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There is a definite order of difficulty with which the questions on the SAT and PSAT appear.  By knowing the order of difficulty of the questions, you will know when you should watch out for careless mistakes and when you should be sure to allow more time to contemplate the question.  You will also realize when it might make sense to skip a question due to time considerations, since all questions are worth the same number of points. 

The general rule for question difficulty on the SAT and PSAT is as follows:  When you have a different type of question that does NOT involve paragraphs, the questions begin over in order of difficulty.  In other words, the reading & the paragraph improvement writing questions have a random order of difficulty while the math, vocab, the writing sentence error and the writing improving sentences questions do go in order of difficulty. 

Here is a more explicit presentation of the order of difficulty of the different types of questions on the sections of the SAT:

SAT Critical Reading Section:

  • Vocabulary Sentence Completion Questions – Go from Easy to Hard
  • Reading Passage Questions– Random Order of Difficulty
    • Most students find the difficulty of the SAT Reading Passages to go in this order from most difficult to least difficult:  1. Passage 1 & Passage 2; 2. Fiction 3. Non-Fiction. 

SAT Math Section:

  • Multiple Choice Math Questions – Go from Easy to Hard
  • Math Fill-in Questions– Go from Easy to Hard
    • When you do the math section with the fill-ins, the first 8 questions are multiple choice, and they go easy to hard.  When you start on the fill-ins, they begin over again going from easy to hard. 

SAT Writing Section:

  • Improving Sentences Questions – Go from Easy to Hard
  • Identifying Sentence Error Questions – Go from Easy to Hard
  • Improving Paragraph Questions – Random Order of Difficulty
  • Since there is only one Essay question, no need to worry about its order of difficulty!

I hope you have found this summary helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

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