How To: Avoid Wordiness on the ACT English Section

After a brief respite over the holiday weekend, we are back in action today with another installment of our ACT Student Weaknesses blog series. Today’s blog does not address a particular grammar rule but instead concerns one of the ACT English section’s overarching themes: a preference for short answer choices. All things equal, the ACT wants us to choose answer choices that use the fewest number of words as possible: in short, don't be too "wordy."

There are three general categories of wordiness questions. The first category is outright redundancy, when a sentence contains two words or phrases that mean the same thing. Here’s a good example of a redundant sentence: “Annually, the city of San Francisco receives 24 inches of rain per year.” Because “annually” means “per year,” this sentence is redundant. If you see this kind of redundancy on the ACT, simply choose the answer choice that removes one of the redundant phrases.

The second category of wordiness questions is slightly less obvious than the first. In many cases the ACT will give us a sentence that includes a particular word along with a near definition of that word. These types of sentences are more difficult to identify because they are not explicitly redundant. Let’s look at an example: “The captain of the ship, who was the person on the ship in charge of navigating and assigning responsibilities, was an experienced man from Ireland.” It’s easy to accept this sentence as it is written, but since we all know what “captain of the ship” means, there’s no need for the extra information. This sentence is better revised as “The captain of the ship was an experienced man from Ireland.”

The third category of wordiness questions is not redundant per se but simply expresses an idea in a less than economical way. Again, let’s look at an example:


Hanon’s La Pianiste Virtuose is an exercise book that, if followed correctly, will bring about abundant amounts of success to those who take the time to practice.

(B) is unparalleled in its ability to engender, against all odds, progress from the vast majority of        those pianists who partake in it.
(C) is being known to be useful for many intermediate pianists.
(D) has proven useful for many intermediate pianists.


In this case, none of the answer choices is explicitly redundant, but A, B, and C all take a straightforward idea and express it in a complicated way. There’s nothing interesting or meaningful that answer choices A, B, or C say that D does not. On the ACT, if one answer choice is significantly shorter than the other three, gravitate towards the short answer. Ask yourself whether or not the other answer choices add any vital information: if not, choose the shortest answer choice.

In honor of the theme of today’s blog, I’m going to make this shorter than usual. We’ll be back tomorrow with some more useful tips!

Related Posts

How To: Simplify Complex Sentences
How To: Connect Clauses

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About Owen

Owen earned a B.A.from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Owen has experience tutoring in a variety of academic areas, but he specializes in the SAT, ACT, and GRE, as well as Math and Physics SAT Subject Tests. His background and test prep experience bring a valuable component to ArborBridge’s curriculum and program development team.

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