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Writing: Precision — Video Lesson

David works through a Precision question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] This video is going to be about question 13 on this page here. It is a single, underlined word. And the choices over here are all single words with related meanings, so that means that this is a precision question. There are one to two questions like these on your official SAT, and you're being asked to identify the word that is most precisely appropriate for this context, which word best fits the sentence. Let's dive into the passage because one of the most important things about a precision question is context. What's the text about? Is the author expressing an opinion? Is that opinion positive or negative? We wanna match the context of the passage with the connotation, the second essential thing, of the right choice. We wanna match the feeling of the context with the feeling of a word. So if the context is expressing a mildly positive opinion, we want a word with a mildly positive connotation. So let's read up to the end of line three of "The Beaver as Ecosystems Engineer." "An ecosystem is a complex web of interactions between organisms and their habitats. Each component is vital to the sustainability of the others and to the system as a whole. Beavers, large rodents that use sticks, mud, and leaves to build dams in streams, are perhaps one of the best examples of the," here's the word, interpersonal is what it says now, "of the interpersonal relationship among all aspects of an ecosystem." So instead of thinking about interpersonal, let's just imagine there's a blank there. What is this text about? Ignoring that word, what is this text about? It's about how beavers are a great example of how ecosystems connect organisms to habitats. The text uses best examples. So that means that we're looking for something with a positive connotation, or at least not a negative connotation. We're also looking for something that is about interconnectedness with an added connotation of nature or systems. So our choices are interpersonal, interdependent, societal, and associative. And all of these words have similar meanings, right? They all mean something approximately like interconnected, but our job here is to sort through that nuance and choose the precise word. Interpersonal. Does that have a connotation of systems? I'd say yes, but they're human systems. It has the word person in it and we're talking about the relationship between beavers, streams, and other animals and plants in that ecosystem. A stream isn't people, so a relationship between a beaver and a stream can't be interpersonal. Cross it off. The next choice interdependent, doesn't have a peopley connotation or a negative connotation, and it could be used to talk about systems, and specifically natural systems. I like that choice, let's leave it for now and see if the next one is better. Choice C, societal has for me, too much of a human civilization connotation to it. Beavers may have a society, but we're not just talking about beavers on their own. This passage is about how beavers relate to a broader ecosystem made up of trees, and sticks, and streams. And these things can't have societies because they are not social animals like beavers or humans. So I'm gonna cross off C for the same reason as A, because it's too peopley. And that leaves us with interdependent and associative. While I couldn't tell you with great certainty about every possible meaning of the word associative, I do feel quite confident that interdependent has the connotation that we're looking for. And that means that interdependent is our choice. It matches the context of the paragraph, it has a connotation of systems without the added connotation of human cities or relationships, and unlike associative, it doesn't have a primary connotation with math. So overall your strategy for precision word choice questions is to think about connotation and context. And so in that vein, I would say number one, eliminate extreme choices. Anything that doesn't seem to match the context, that feels too wild or out there, you can safely get rid of. Number two, eliminate tone mismatch. If you detect that the tone of the context is very positive, for example, if the passage was about the beauty of bird song and one of the choices was screeching, screeching seems like too negative of a word to go along with the pretty bird song passage so you can safely eliminate that tone mismatch. And with that strategy in your pocket, you should feel confident about being able to answer precision questions on the SAT.