Revisions:  Concise & Precise

Revisions: Concise & Precise

You’re honing your SHSAT game—you know what tricks the SHSAT writers are putting in your way when it comes to if/then sentences (see “Logical Sequence”) and voice (see “Voice”).  But, now you need specific tools to pick out the best written sentences on your ELA revising parts of the exam.
Here’s an easy Pro Gamer Tip!  The best written sentences are precise and concise.  When a sentence is precise, its writer uses action verbs, adjectives, and specific details to be clear about a sentence’s meaning.  When a sentence is concise, its author has used the fewest words possible to get the point across.
Now, don’t get me wrong:  sometimes flowery is beautiful.  Sometimes we want the most interesting, big, intelligent-sounding words in our writing.  Imagine a Valentine without a cheesy, wordy poem!  But, the SHSAT is full of useful scientific, historical, and geographical writing.  Those writers are not thinking about their Valentines—they are thinking about writing that is concise and precise.  So, we need to know how to revise sentences to make them C and PC!

Concise Writing

Most people think intelligence is revealed by using the most difficult words possible in any given situation.  But, the best writing for most of the SHSAT work will be concise.  It will be as clear as possible with the fewest words possible.  Concise writing is to the point, and only needs a handful of words to be meaningful.  Here are some reminders about what makes writing concise:

  1. Concise writing does not repeat itself itself itself. Do you remember the goose from Charlotte’s Web?  She used extremely long words and when other people didn’t understand her, she just repeated repeated repeated herself!

  1. Concise writing is not wordy, and usually doesn’t include details you don’t need. How do you know if the example is too wordy?  See if it uses any of these phrases, which are little more than sentence pillows:
  • absolutely essential
  • are connected with
  • as a result
  • close proximity
  • despite the fact that
  • due to the fact that
  • few in number
  • first and foremost
  • for the production of
  • for the purpose of
  • for the reason that
  • in the event that
  • more often than not
  • will depend upon
  • with the exception of

There are more examples, but you get the idea.  Be concise! If you can say something with fewer words, it’s a good revision!

Precise Writing

Sometimes saying a sentence out loud (even mouthing it to yourself, say, during the SHSAT exam!) can help you figure out if the sentence needs to be fixed.  You can get a good sense if it includes extra words, or isn’t specific enough, or even if it is off-topic.  Hearing and feeling yourself stumble through a writer’s words can help you know if the writing is not precise.
The designers of the SHSAT know this, and are going to see whether you will figure out whether an answer choice is imprecise.  During revisions, choose the option that is precise. Here are some tips to revising the texts you’ll face with precision:

1.Strike the twins.

Beware of twin-words:  words that are frequently joined together with an “and” but that mean the same thing.  Some examples: absolutely certain, full and complete, first and initial, every and all, past memories, true and accurate, always and forever, future plans, end result, and various differences.  These words essentially mean the same thing as their pair, so you can revise the sentences that use them to eliminate the repetition.

2.Reject Wimpy Adjectives.

Did you know that many common adjectives are super wimpy and shouldn’t be used in good writing?  “Very”, for example, is a wimpy adjective.  It doesn’t beef up your sentence or add detail in any real way.  Neither does “a lot”.  (p.s. Notice that the way to spell “a lot” is “a lot”, and not “alot”.)  Other examples of wimpy adjectives include:  definitely, kind of, absolutely, basically, really, and practically.  If you can reduce these from a sentence, you’ll be improving the quality of the writing, and making a good revision.

3.86 ‘of’.

Yep, I said it.  “Of” has had its day in the sun, and typically can be rejected as good writing.  Most writers use “of” to show ownership or possession, but more direct language can clear that up.  Instead of writing, for example, “The reason for the success of Gustavo’s cloudy eggs was solid research and excellent food prep,” we can 86 (that’s culinary talk for “get rid of!”) parts of this sentence to make it stronger:  “Gustavo’s cloudy eggs were successful because he solidly researched and excellently prepped.”  We took a passive sentence (see “Voice: Revisions”) and made it active, while 86-ing “of”, which was confusing.

4.Trim the fat.

For revisions on the SHSAT, you are going to be on the lookout for words that are extra, that aren’t needed, and that confuse readers.  One great way to do that is to trim extra words out, especially when their meaning is clear in the sentence.  Check out this example:
“World War Z isn’t a movie for just anyone, but whether you like it depends on certain factors that are hard for people who don’t get it to figure out.”
There are lots of ways this sentence could be improved—but trim the fat. Look for extra words that are included already in the sentence.  Just by trimming those words, you should have:
“World War Z isn’t for everyone.  Whether you like it depends on reasons that are hard to understand.”  Simply by taking out extra words, we’ve revised this sentence down to its essential, simple, meaningful best.

5.Turn the Frown Upside Down

When writers use a negative in a sentence, it usually makes the sentence more difficult to understand.  By using the positive—turning the frown upside down!—you can edit a sentence to use fewer words and make a better sentence.  Here’s an example:
“No one who has a weak constitution should watch live footage from my new Youtube channel.  Don’t even think about taking a look if you haven’t taken your Pepto-Bismol!”
We can keep the same tone of writing—kind of humorous, kind of advertising (this dude really does want you to check out his Youtube channel!), but turning the frown upside down and using the positive:
“You have to have a strong stomach to watch my Youtube Channel. Only take a look after you’ve taken your Pepto-Bismol!”
In the revamped sentence, the positive tone makes the advertisement clearer, and still has the funny sense that the author is trying to convey.
In all of your revisions on the SHSAT, check for the C and P! Make sure you choose the options that are Concise and Precise!