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Conquering Hard Passages

BUT WHAT DOES THAT WORD MEAN?

Remember this example?

Original version:

The mercurial, tawny fox bounds over the indolent canine.

Simple version:

The … fox … bounds over the … canine.

All the fat cut from the very first sentence we looked at was difficult vocabulary. Let’s look at another example with tougher vocabulary.

Because of the manifold, scabrous details divulged in the publicity surrounding her divorce proceedings, the movie star became the target of much scurrilous gossip in the blogosphere.

Now that you are a pro at cutting the fat, you may be thinking “there is an extra descriptive phrase at the beginning of this sentence that is unnecessary!” You are absolutely right, so cut it. We are left with the following:


Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock.com

The movie star became the target of much scurrilous gossip in the blogosphere.

Now we can focus on our three main parts and cut out any remaining extra fat, which leaves us with

The movie star became the target of gossip.

The extra words we cut, whether they were tough vocabulary or not, add detail, but they are not essential to understanding the general idea of the sentence.

Sometimes, however, the hard vocabulary is one of the three important parts of the sentence, in which case cutting the fat is not as useful. Here is an example.

The proletarians, angered by the death of Rue, the young tribute from their district, destroyed the screen broadcasting the games before the Peace Keepers arrived.

First, trim some unnecessary descriptive phrases that are set off from the rest of the sentence with commas. That leaves us with the following:

The proletarians destroyed the screen broadcasting the games before the Peace Keepers arrived.

Now we can focus on the main parts. The verb is destroyed, and the subject is proletarians—a difficult vocabulary word. However, from the verb destroyed and the objectscreen we can tell that proletarians must mean people of some kind. Therefore, we can simply replace the word proletarians with people to get a general understanding of the sentence.


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The people destroyed the screen.

Once you get the general idea, you can go back and fill in more details if you need them. In this example, the descriptive phrases we cut the first time through give us some clues about what kind of people the proletarians are—we know they are people from Rue’s district.

This technique also works when the difficult vocabulary is a verb. Here is another example.

After the previous rebellion, the Capitol had subjugated the outlying districts by establishing the Hunger Games, which it claimed were meant to provide entertainment, but in reality, they helped to keep rebellions in check.

Start again by cutting the extra descriptive phrases, and we have

The Capitol had subjugated the outlying districts.

Replace the difficult vocabulary word with a simple phrase, and we come up with the following:

The Capitol did something to the outlying districts.

Now that we have the general idea, we can go back to the descriptions we cut earlier to see that the thing the Capitol did was to keep rebellions in check.