Concision Questions on the SAT & ACT

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Concise Questions Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language don’t just test grammar rules

These sections are also very interested in your ability to effectively express ideas. In fact, only about 50% of the questions on each test directly concern grammar.

The rest of those questions? They’re what we like to call Expression of Ideas questions, which test students’ knowledge of concise, precise, and logical writing.

In this post, we discuss one of the most important of these question types: concision questions. You’ll find our strategy for approaching these questions and guided examples from official practice tests.

We also give you a chance to apply these rules in practice with our free concise questions worksheet, which includes practice questions, guided examples from official practice tests, and answers/explanations.

Grab a copy of this worksheet below before we get started.

Here’s what we cover:


Where You’ll Find Concision Questions on the SAT/ACT

Students can expect to directly answer concise questions on the following sections of these two tests:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

Approximately half of the questions on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language test students’ capacity to express ideas effectively. But how many of these Expression of Ideas questions test concise writing? It varies from test to test, but we’ve assessed officially released practice exams for both the SAT and ACT and come up with the following approximations:

ACTSAT
8-10 concision questions
(out of 75 questions)
3-5 concision questions
(out of 44 questions)

Students should also be aware that the ability to write concisely is a critical skill. They should be prepared to showcase this skill if they choose to take the SAT or ACT essay, as essay readers will pay close attention to a student’s use of language in their response.

In the meantime, how can you tell if you’re dealing with a concise question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language?

Take a look at the answer choices. With these questions, you’ll often notice the same essential idea expressed in different ways. In many cases, some answers are much longer than others, or you’ll see a DELETE option (but this is not always the case).

Here is a preview of the SAT guided example question we’ll be working through later on in this post:

Concise Question on the SAT

Notice how the answer choices all contain the word “itself.” Three of these answer choices have additional words (“again,” “with damage and,” and “possibly”). One answer is dramatically shorter than the others (B). This is a Concise question!


What it Means to Be Concise

Some students are familiar with the word “concise.” But many ACT and SAT students are new to this word. Concise writing, after all, is not necessarily a staple of high school English curricula (although it should be!).

An easy definition for concise is “to the point.” If one is concise, one is very direct.

A better definition is to use as few words as possible to express an idea. This is the definition we want students to keep in mind as they navigate concise questions on SAT Writing & Language and ACT English.

Concise writing is NOT:

  • redundant
  • “fluffy” or
  • overly wordy

But concise writing definitely IS:

  • succinct
  • to the point and
  • brief

We strongly encourage students to practice writing concisely when completing English assignments, as a good way to boost fluency in this question type. Take a look at a sentence from one of your recent essays, for example. Can you use fewer words to express essentially the same idea? Most likely, you can!

In the next section, we discuss tips for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT, which require a more specific strategy than concise writing in general.

To get a head start on this question type, download our free Concise Questions Worksheet, which includes additional practice questions and explanations.


3 Simple Rules for Approaching Concision Questions

Keep the following rules in mind whenever a concise question appears on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language:

  • Read the full context
  • Identify the essential idea
  • Eliminate redundant and/or wordy answers

1. Read the full context

This is, of course, the most important step for virtually all questions on ACT English / SAT Writing & Language. Students should never skim these 2 sections or read only the underlined portion of each question! Context can profoundly influence how you approach a question, and whether or not you select the right answer.

With concise questions, the full context can help you out with the next rule: identifying the essential idea! It can also clue you into ideas already expressed in the non-underlined passage so that you can be on the hunt for repeated ideas in the answer choices.

2. Identify the essential idea

Ask yourself: What is the core of the idea the writer is expressing here? How would I express this idea concisely?

You don’t have to spend a ton of time answering these questions. But it is vital to answer them, as it can prime you for selecting the answer choice that “trims the fat.”

3. Eliminate redundant and/or wordy answers

Now comes the fun part: elimination time. If you’ve identified that you’re working with a concise question, read for full context, and identified the essential idea, it’s time to cross off answers that:

  • contain redundant or repeated ideas
  • are just way too wordy

If you aren’t sure if an answer choice is too wordy, return to that essential idea you identified. Ask yourself: Is there any way I could say this in fewer words?

You’ll also want to pay very close attention to the shortest answer choice (or DELETE, if that’s an option). These answers aren’t right 100% of the time, but they are often an excellent place to start with concise questions.

Be sure to plug in your final answer choice to ensure that it is, in fact, the right one. This plugging in step can be revealing, especially if you’ve chosen an answer that is too short (yes, this is possible) or wordy.

We’ll apply these rules now to 2 guided example questions.


Guided Examples 

The following two examples are taken from an official SAT practice test and an ACT practice test.

Guided Example #1: SAT Concise Question

This question is from the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Practice Test #1.

              Concise Question on the SAT

The full sentence in question reads: “The pattern Box observed in 2012 may repeat itself again, with harmful effects on the Arctic ecosystem.” The essential idea here is the potential repetition of an observed pattern.

As the word repeat is already in context, we can eliminate A, as “again” would make this choice redundant. Context also says that this pattern’s repetition would have “harmful effects.” We can cross off C as “damage” is a similar and redundant idea. Lastly, because of the word “may” in context, we can eliminate answer D, which also includes the notion of potentiality (“possibly”).

Our answer is B! (Notice how this is also the shortest option.)

Guided Example #1: SAT Concise Question

sample ACT English, concision
example ACT English question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

The full sentence, as currently written, reads: “Reproduction appeared to remix genes (the mysterious and even astonishing genetic elements that program the physical traits we end up observing) in surprising and confusing ways.” The essential idea concerns how heredity works.

Right away, we might notice that while some of the answers sound a little awkward, they’re all technically correct on a grammatical level. That should help alert us to think about concision!

We can then look for the shortest answer, which is D. We check it by reading it in context, and it looks good!

To give a final check, we look at the other options. For choice A, we see that the phrase “mysterious and even astonishing” is a bit redundant, and “surprising and confusing” is also repetitive. Similarly, choice B is repetitive with the phrase “surprising and unexpected.” Choice C gives us “mysterious and little-known (at that time),” which is also repetitive.

Having checked those longer answers and confirmed that they all contain phrases that have unnecessary, repetitive words, we can feel good about our choice of D, the most concise answer!

Download Our Concise Questions Worksheet

Now it’s time for you to apply our strategy for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT to some practice questions. 

You can do this right now with our free Concise Questions worksheet.

Concise Questions on the SAT:ACT

With this worksheet, you get:

  • A recap of the rules and strategy discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of concise questions from official practice tests
  • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.