Revisions:  Word Choice, Part 1–Clumsy Words

Revisions: Word Choice, Part 1–Clumsy Words

Think about your favorite fiction book.  What makes the bad guy the villain?  Is it a tough answer?  Maybe.  There are lots of reasons why a bad guy could be a villain—he could have a maniacal laugh, kidnap the good guys, rob banks, steal the moon, or just be a bully.

Just like there are lots of reasons that could make a bad guy a villain in your book, there are lots of reasons why a passage on the SHSAT could need revisions.  Some of the problems come from a bad structure (they have a bad form, for example, see “Logical Sequence”), some need transitions (see “Transitions”), some are in the passive voice when they shouldn’t be (see “Voice”), and some use word choices that are confusing and unclear.  This last category can be difficult to prep for as you get ready for the revisions section of the SHSAT, because it means that you need to be ready to pick out the most well-written answer.  But, if you can master identifying (and eliminating!) bad word choices, you’ll be ready to rock Part A and Part B of the SHSAT!

Clumsy Words

The problem with clumsy words in a passage is that they can be unspecific, vague, and unclear.  If the SHSAT wants to see if you can fix a text to make it the most correct and clear, it is going to also test you to see if you can choose answers that don’t include clumsy words.

Clumsy words can make sentences hard to read.  Clumsy words can create other problems with the sentence making sense logically.  They can make it confusing to know when things happen in a sentence.  There are certainly many ways in which words can be ‘clumsy’ in a sentence, but here are some common ways:

  1. Clumsy words make the parts of the sentence out of balance.

Example: During the sleepover, Phoebe wants to ride bikes, eat spaghetti, and being in front of the iPad at night.

We know what this sentence means, of course.  Phoebe wants to do three things during the sleepover, but the clumsy words are found in the verb in the last of part.  We need to revise this sentence to read:

Example: During the sleepover, Phoebe wants to ride bikes, eat spaghetti, and be in front of the iPad at night. 2.  A sentence can be awkward because it has mixed construction.

  1. Clumsy words make the sentence have a mixed construction, when the subject doesn’t match the verb.

Example: Whenever Jeter is playing shortstop, for another, like Rodriguez, is the hardest job in baseball.

Once again, we know what this sentence is trying to say.  If Jeter plays shortstop in place of ARod, it’s very demanding.  But, the verb phrase “is the hardest job in baseball” comes after “like Rodriguez”, which makes it sound like ARod is the hardest job in baseball, which doesn’t make sense at all!  A person is not a job, but the clumsy wording makes it seem like it is.  We need to revise this sentence to read:

Example: Whenever Jeter plays shortstop in place of Rodriguez, he has the hardest job in baseball.

This revision clears up all of the clumsy phrases and is better written.

  1. Clumsy words can make a sentence almost unreadable.

The writers of the SHSAT know that many students will be attracted to the longest word they can use.  Be on the lookout!  Just because the writers use a word you don’t know, doesn’t make it correct!  Long words are often confusing, and on Part A and Part B of the SHSAT, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t be seduced by the trickiness of words that are too confusing.  Here’s a good example:

Example: Opulent realms will cultivate competency-based technologies through the experiential-constructed erudition process.

The above is a fantastic example of a “thesaurus-ized” sentence.  Rather than being clear, the writer used the longest words in the thesaurus to make the idea sound smarter.  But, it didn’t work, did it?  Instead of sounding intelligent, the sentence is incomprehensible.  Good writing is not about using the most intelligent word; it is about using the word that is most clear and meaningful.  Here’s a shot at revising the crazy sentence above:

Example: Rich countries develop experiential learning technologies to help educate their children.

There is content that’s left out here, but that’s OK.  Clumsy words can just add extra words that aren’t meaningful.  When you are putting something in your own words, work with the most meaningful segments of the sentence, and build from there.

Now that you know some of the ways clumsy words can cause problems in sentences, you have to figure out what to look for when finding them in SHSAT texts.  Next up, you’ll tackle just this—and how to fix them!