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SAT精简的语句能让你突破及格,而写作思维才是提分的核心所在

无论是托福写作辅导、SAT作文评讲、还是文书修改,我经常强调语言简洁性 (concision) 这一概念。Concision 可简单粗暴地理解为:以最少的字清楚地表达同样的意思 (giving the same information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive).

能够写出没有语法错误的文章只能算是 writing competence, 也就是写作的及格分数;能够写出既没有语法错误也语言简洁的文章才算是 writing proficiency.

过去我曾经对暴露语言不简洁的 “make” 一词开刀。在鉴赏 Why Yale 文书一文我提及规避形容词是 concision 的体现。

这次我还是要对形容词开刀。马上来看这道17年5月亚太 SAT 语法题:

Electronic medical records accelerate communication between different and various health-care providers, allowing for more efficient patient treatment. For example, when paramedics have access to electronic records in ambulances, they can learn what kinds of treatment they should immediately begin on a patient.

“different and various” 应该用哪个选项替代?

A) NO CHANGE

B) different

C) diverse, different

D) singularly different

这两个句子的意思:尤其在急诊的时候,电子记录帮助医疗人员快速了解病人病历,从而给予更有效治疗。

different, various, diverse 有微妙的区别。但是,这道题的考点不是用词准确性,而是语言简洁性 — “different” 已经足够地表达 “医生通过电子档案快速了解一个新来的病人” 这一意思,因此这里多加一个形容词都是多余的。

正确答案为 B.

同样考察语言简洁性的题目:

City officials and prominent citizens agreed that the statue should stand outside of Florence’s town hall as a symbol and representation of the city’s strength and independence.

A) NO CHANGE

B) to symbolize and represent

C) as a symbol of

D) as a representation that symbolized

Florence 需要能象征他们城市实力和自立精神的雕塑。symbol 的意思是 a thing that represents something else; 而 represent 的意思是 be a symbol of. 由此可见 symbol 可以理解为 representation 的同义词,symbolize 为 represent 的同义词。

所以 “as a symbol of” 和 “to symbolize” 都是正确的改法。

那么什么时候一个句子可以出现两个或以上意思相近的形容词呢?来对比这两个句子:

She has big eyes.

vs

She has big, prominent eyes.

第二句子中的 “prominent” 有 “protruding, 凸出的” 之义,所以 “big, prominent” 告诉我们她有金鱼眼。如果没有 “prominent” 一词,我们可能会把 “She has big eyes” 理解为她眼睛很大很可爱。

此处 “prominent” 补充说明 “big.”

再来一个栗子:

Those who have visited the Yosemite Valley have been overcome by the incredible, almost magical splendor.

这里为表达 Yosemite Valley 景色之壮丽,作者认为 “incredible” 还不足够,还需要加上 “magical” 一词。此处 “almost” 暗示 “magical” 是 “incredible” 的递进。

总之,形容词本身是无害的,但是当你再看见一个句子出现好几个形容词的时候,你要好好分析一下作者为什么需要这么多形容词,如果删掉其中一些形容词,你的阅读理解会如何改变。

 

而写作思维才是提分的核心所在

 

很多学生都知道在托福写作里面不能用 good 和 bad 这样简单的词汇,于是他们改用 beneficial 和 harmful.

但是使用几轮 beneficial 和 important 下来发现词汇还是不够丰富,于是又积累一大堆同义词:essential, critical, vital, crucial, pivotal, imperative, detrimental, deleterious …

但是,改善了词汇单一的问题,写作分数还是没有提高。

为什么?因为同义词替换后的句式依然通篇是:

xxx is critical to achieving the goal of …

It is critical to xxx for the reason that …

xxx can help …, which is good for …

xxx, which is why it is pivotal to …

表面上是词汇、句式单一的语言问题,深层次是写作思维的缺失。只要留心观察,我们会发现专业的作者在写议论文的时候其实很少使用 beneficial 或者其同义词。那么, professional writers 到底如何 skillfully 向读者传达 something is good or something is bad 的信息呢?我们来分析在《大西洋月刊》的一个段落。

背景知识补充:最近十几年,在美国当大学教授已经不是那么体面的工作。美国大学教职有两种类型,分别是 tenured professor (终身教职) 和 adjunct (兼职教授), 后者只是大学的临时工,工资微薄,没有五险一金,合约随时被解除。虽然大学学费每年在涨,但是很多大学现在为了节约人力成本,聘用越来越多兼职教授,让人质疑美国大学教育的价值到底何在。

Adjuncts readily admit they cannot support students outside the classroom, such as when students need extra help understanding an assignment, general college advisement, or a letter of recommendation for a graduate program. And even if they had the time to provide these services, many colleges don’t provide their adjuncts with office space, so they meet with their pupils in coffee shops or at library desks. Olson for her part said that in the past she’s had to meet with students by the trunk of her car, where she kept all her books and papers as she commuted between different college campuses. Without formal meeting spaces, students may find it difficult to locate their professors when they need assistance on their classwork.

在这篇文章,作者争论聘用兼职教授的做法最终损害学生的利益。在上面这一段,虽然没有出现 good, bad 等字眼,但是我们读到最后一句 “Without formal meeting spaces, students may find it difficult to locate their professors when they need assistance on their classwork” 会得出 hiring adjunct professors is bad for students 的结论 — 因为兼职教授没有自己的办公室,很多学生难以在课后得到教授及时的帮助。也就是说,当你在写作的时候把理由解释清楚,读者自然能作出 good or bad 的判断。

以上的专业示范如何应用到写作句式和语言简洁性的提升呢?

例如这个句子:Investment in libraries would expose students to the most cutting edge researches in their fields, which is eventually good for their academic development.

这个句子犯了滥用 which 从句的错误,可以直接后半句删去,因为前半句已经理由非常充分,读者已经可以自行得出 investing in libraries is good for academics 的结论。删掉后半句可提升语言简洁性,让阅卷人看出考生在写句子和论证的从容和自信。

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