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Synonyms: Easy Points On the SAT Writing and ACT English Section

The purpose of the SAT Writing & Literature section and the ACT English section is not only to address grammar mistakes, but also to improve the quality of writing. One way of creating clearer writing is by eliminating repetitious elements.

Often these repetitions come in the form of synonyms. If two words serve the same function, one of them needs to go.

Let's look at an example:

'Linda felt excited and jubilant as she went home.'

'Excited' and 'jubilant' signify the same thing: Linda is very happy. While it's true that no two words in English mean exactly the same thing, and these two words have slightly different connotations, the difference isn't enough to justify the redundancy. So when you see two words on the SAT / ACT which serve roughly the same function - whether they're verbs, adjectives, or adverbs - look out for an answer that eliminates one of the synonyms.

Let's look at some samples from practice exams:

Examples Example #1

'Response to the advertisement was overwhelming, even tremendous, and Harvey soon replaced the male servers at his restaurants with women.' Question #1 A) NO CHANGE

B) Response to the advertisement was overwhelming,

C) Overwhelming, even tremendous, was the response to the advertisement,

D) There was an overwhelming, even tremendous, response to the advertisement, (1)

The answer is B). Choices C) and D) are wrong because they're convoluted. But even the original statement is problematic, because of the use of both "overwhelming" and "tremendous." These words mean the same thing; one is sufficient.

Example #2

'It's because of skilled environmental graphic designers that we can enter and step into just about any home, store, or business and feel, "I know where I am."

Question #2


B) establish a presence by entering

C) enter and go into

D) enter (2)

The answer is D). The only problem with the underlined portion is that "enter" and "step into" serve the same function. Eliminating "and step into" is enough to fix it.

Example #3

'At the same time, however, his political views were radicalizing, and in 1967, with a small militia that he had founded, Mishima attempted to overthrow and remove from power the emperor of Japan, whose views he saw as too liberal.'

Question #3


B) to remove from his position as Emperor

C) to throw over and usurp

D) to overthrow (3)

The answer is D). "Overthrow" and "remove from power" mean the same thing.

Although option B) removes the "overthrow" option, it creates a redundancy with the word "emperor". The answer with B) would have been:

'Mishima attempted to remove from his position as Emperor the emperor of Japan, whose views he saw as too liberal.'

Always plug in your chosen option into the original sentence to see if it makes sense.

Further, option B) is too convoluted. There's a general rule on these Writing / English sections: shorter is (almost) always better.

Which brings us to our next point:

The Underlying Principle: Concise Writing Is Higher Quality Writing

A common principle you may have noticed in the examples above is that the shortest answer was always the correct one.

This hearkens back to a principle we've discussed in the past: shorter, correct writing is higher quality writing. For a greater understanding of this principle, please read "Rewording" Questions On the SAT Writing and ACT English Sections.

This doesn't mean that the shortest answer will be correct 100% of the time; it still has to be grammatically viable. But it will be correct 80 + part of the time, so if you're uncertain, go with the shortest answer choice.

For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.

Happy learning,


(1) 'SAT Practice Test #3 | SAT Suite of Assessments – The College Board',

Accessed 10 Feb. 2021

(2)'SAT Writing & Language Practice Test 1', SAT Writing and Language Test 1

Accessed 10 Feb. 2021

(3)'SAT Writing & Language Practice Test 1', SAT Writing and Language Test 1

Accessed 11 Feb. 2021


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