Are You Ready for the SAT & ACT?

Conquering Hard Passages

Answers and Explanations: Trim the Fat

The object of this drill is to cut out at much as you can without losing the important parts of the sentence. If your answers include more information than these answers do, that’s fine. If you’re not sure whether a phrase is important, it’s best to keep it in the sentence.

1. Wild pigs in Hawaii, which first arrived on the islands with Polynesian settlers over 1,200 years ago, are now a major threat to the delicate native ecosystem because of their destructive foraging habits.

Subject: wild pigs

Verb: are

Object: a threat

Simple version: Wild pigs in Hawaii are a threat to the ecosystem.

Cut the fat:

• Phrases that start with the word which are not essential to the meaning of a sentence and can be ignored, so we can cut “which first arrived … years ago.”

• Extra adjectives (those are descriptive words such as beautiful, blue, or flamin’ hot) can often be cut to get at the main idea of a sentence. Here we cut “major” from in front of “threat” and “delicate native” from in front of “ecosystem.”

• Sometimes a whole phrase is used to describe something. Just as extra adjectives can be cut, so can extra descriptive phrases. In this sentence, the phrase “because of their destructive foraging habits” adds detail to the sentence, but we get the big picture without it.

But don’t cut:

• The information that tells us where the pigs are and what they threaten—these are important details in this sentence.

2. While still an undergraduate at Yale, Maya Lin, the youngest daughter of Chinese immigrants, won the open competition for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the first of many such honors she has subsequently received.

Subject: Maya Lin

Verb: won

Object: the competition

Simple version: Maya Lin won the competition for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Cut the fat:

• Phrases set off from the rest of the sentence with commas can often be trimmed. They can appear in a variety of places in a sentence: the beginning (“While still an undergraduate at Yale,”), the middle (“… , the youngest daughter of Chinese immigrants,”), or the end (“… , the first of many such honors she has subsequently received.”)

But don’t cut:

• A really simple version of this sentence would be “Maya Lin won the competition.” But because the word the appears in front of competition, we need to know which competition it is that she won, so keep the prepositional phrase “for the design … Memorial.”

3. The curious children peeking over the sides of the boats out on the river in great numbers for the holiday weekend seemed to be mocking Sophie, as she sat on shore and glumly stared at her half-submerged rowboat.

Subject: the children

Verb: seemed to be mocking

Object: Sophie

Simple version: The children seemed to be mocking Sophie.

Cut the fat:

• This sentence has lots of prepositional phrases. Prepositions are words that indicate relationships between things. The prepositions in this sentence are over, of, out, on, in, for, and at. Many prepositional phrases (such as over the sides or out on the river) can be cut from a sentence without losing essential information.

• We can cut the extra adjective “curious.”

• There’s a descriptive phrase set off by a comma at the end of this sentence (“as she sat … rowboat.”) that can be ignored.

4. Two different inventors, Frank Whittle in Britain and Hans von Ohain in Germany, simultaneously developed the jet engine, which has become standard apparatus in modern aircraft, in the 1930s.

Subject: two inventors

Verb: developed

Object: the jet engine

Simple version: Two inventors developed the jet engine.

Cut the fat:

• The names of the inventors, which are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, are unnecessary.

• Extra adjective alert! We can ignore “simultaneously.” It adds detail but is not crucial to understanding the basic idea of the sentence.

• There’s that pesky “which” phrase again, describing the jet engine. Get rid of it.

• And wouldn’t you know it, an unnecessary prepositional phrase (“in the 1930s”) tops it all off. Get rid of that too.

5. Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite as a safer alternative to earlier explosives that had burned down his factory two times, founded the Nobel Prizes to counteract the reputation he had earned as a “merchant of death” because of his success in the explosives business.

Subject: Alfred Nobel

Verb: founded

Object: the Nobel Prizes

Simple version: Alfred Nobel founded the Nobel Prizes.

Cut the fat:

• The phrase that starts “who invented …” is set off from the rest of the sentence by commas—get rid of it.

• The whole end of the sentence, starting with “to counteract” is a long string of prepositional phrases that give us more detail but aren’t essential to the basic idea of the sentence.

6. The major reason time-turners are closely regulated by the Ministry of Magic is that the magic related to time travel is highly unstable, and the potential for a catastrophic mistake, such as a the accidental death of one’s past or future self, is high.

Subject: the reason

Verb: is

Object: the magic is unstable

Simple version: The reason time-turners are regulated is that the magic is unstable.

Cut the fat:

• The extra adjectives (“major,” “closely,” and “highly”) can be ignored.

• So can the extra prepositional phrase (“by the Ministry of Magic”) and the extra descriptive phrase (“related to time travel”).

• The whole second half of this sentence is extra explanation. The word and tells us that the second half will agree with the first half; it’s not going to make a whole new point. The words such as tell us that we’re about to read an example. An example can further illustrate a point but isn’t the main idea. This whole second part of the sentence is non-essential.

But don’t cut:

• “The reason is that the magic is unstable” and “time turners are regulated.” By itself, the reason is unclear; we also need to know what it refers to.

7. In 1572, a pug named Pompey saved the life of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, by barking at the approach of Spanish troops who had come to assassinate the prince while he slept.

Subject: a pug

Verb: saved

Object: the life

Simple version: A pug saved the life of William the Silent.

Cut the fat:

• The date at the beginning is set off by commas, so it is not necessary.

• The pug’s name and William’s title are extra descriptive information but non-essential.

• The second half of the sentence (“by barking … while he slept”) is more information about just how the pug managed to save the prince’s life, but we understand the main idea without those details.

But don’t cut:

• We need to know whose life the pug saved, so keep “of William the Silent.”

8. Anakin’s first prosthesis, which was a replacement for the right arm he lost in a fight with Dooku, was connected to his body by a synthennet neural interface, which allowed him to register feeling in the mechanical limb.

Subject: Anakin’s prosthesis

Verb: was connected

Object: to his body

Simple version: Anakin’s prosthesis was connected to his body by an interface.

Cut the fat:

• There is not one, but two phrases that start with which in this sentence. They can both be cut.

• First is an extra adjective, so it can be ignored.

• Technical terms (“synthennet neural”) are just like extra adjectives, so they can also be ignored.

But don’t cut:

• The phrase “by an interface” is a lot easier to understand once we got rid of the “synthennet neural” part of it, and it tells us how the prosthesis was attached, which is probably an important detail. Keep it.


1. “Cut the fat” in a sentence to get at the meat, or the main idea.

2. Parts of a sentence that can usually be cut include

• Phrases that start with the word which

• Adjectives and descriptive phrases that provide details but aren’t essential to the main parts of a sentence

• Phrases set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, whether at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence

• Most prepositional phrases

• Technical terms and sometimes proper nouns