Transitions are one of the most common and trickiest topics tested on the SAT Writing + Langauge and Language Test.
April 25, 2020
A transition word can be either located in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence. For the latter two cases, these questions may initially appear to only test one sentence. However, they are actually testing your ability to identify the relationship between two sentences: the sentence in question and the sentence before it.
Let’s go through how to approach sentence transition questions step-by-step:
- Cross out the underlined word. Always start by crossing out the original word. Otherwise, you may be biased in favor of the original phrasing.
- Read to the end of the sentence. It’s especially important here to make sure you understand how the two sentences are related to each other.
- Ask yourself if anything seems obviously necessary/correct? Sometimes you’ll read the two sentences and immediately recognize what word you would use - that specific transition
- Ask yourself about the relationship type. Is it addition, contrast, or causation? If you’re not sure, it can be helpful to think about whether you would connect the sentences with and (addition), but (contrast), or so/because (contrast).
- Narrow down your choices. Once you have a sense of what you’re looking for, rule out any answers that don’t make sense or that aren’t grammatical.
- Plug answer into the sentence to check your work. When you think you have the answer, plug it into the sentence and make sure the transition is logical.
- If two choices are synonyms, neither is correct. If two of the words mean the same thing, there’s no way to choose between them, so neither can be correct. When you see two choices that are synonyms, rule them both out.
Types of Transitions
1. Additional Information
This is one of the easier relationships to identify: it’s one in which two similar ideas are connected.
EXAMPLE: Between 1880 and 1930, Buenos Aires attracted tens of thousands of European immigrants; similarly, rural Argentinians migrated there to find work during the same period.
These ideas are very similar: two groups of people come to the same place at the same time. So, we would use a word like “similarly” to communicate that the second sentence is just adding some additional information on to the first sentence.
Other SAT words that could fill this blank are:
- as well
2. Supporting Information
This type of transition is a step up from “Additional Information”; it connects two ideas when one is an example or clarification of the other.
EXAMPLE: The university’s debate team had tried several new things to recruit potential members; for example, they held an ice cream social at the beginning of the school year for all freshmen students.
In this sentence, we get one main idea: the debate team is trying to recruit new students. We then get an example of one of the ways in which the team is trying to accomplish this goal: holding an ice cream social. So, we’d use a phrase like “for example” to show that an example is being given!
Other SAT phrases that can fill this blank are:
- for instance
- as a matter of fact
3. Sequence of Events
This type of transition connects different events based on their relationship to each other in terms of time.
EXAMPLE: When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is brush my teeth. Then, I take a quick shower.
In this sentence, we have a list of events: First, I brush my teeth, and then I take a shower. In order to make this sequence clear, we use the word “then” to show an order of events.
Other SAT words and phrases that we could use here would be:
In a cause and effect relationship, one thing or action leads to another thing or action.
EXAMPLE: In the early 20th century, San Francisco was hit with a massive earthquake, as a result, many of the buildings in the city were destroyed.
In this sentence, we’re given a cause: San Francisco was hit by an earthquake. We then get the result, or the effect of that cause: many buildings were destroyed. So, we use a phrase like “as a result” to show that the effect is a result of the cause.
Other SAT words that can fill this blank are:
Another important relationship the SAT tests is contradiction or a change from one idea to another. The SAT uses several different words to communicate this kind of change.
EXAMPLE: Tango is an honored cultural tradition in Argentina, although it was considered scandalous in many other countries until it entered the mainstream in Paris in 1912.
Here, we have an idea: Tango is an honored cultural tradition in a certain country. We have a contrasting idea: that tango was actually considered scandalous in other countries for a long time. We use “although” to show the change in idea.time. We use “although” to show the change in idea.
Other SAT words that can fill this blank are:
6. No Transition
Sometimes, one of our options on the SAT is to leave out the transition word or phrase entirely.
EXAMPLE: The manager went into the meeting and thus started her presentation.
In this sentence, we’re given a transition word: thus. But do we actually need this transition? Would the meaning of the sentence still be clear without it? Let’s try it and see: The manager went into the meeting and started her presentation.
Even without this transition word, the sentence still makes sense. We don’t need to transition between the two parts of this sentence because they’re already connected by the word “and.” That means “thus” is redundant and we can eliminate it altogether.
Conditions in the interior of Antarctica are inhospitable to many forms of life: sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and extreme dryness make it impossible for most animals to survive. The Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding islands have milder temperatures and liquid water, whereas more animals can thrive there.
A. No Change
Solution: We need to consider what each half of the sentence is saying:
- Weather conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula are milder than those in the Antarctic interior.
- More animals can thrive on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The second statement is the result of the first. The only transition that correctly conveys that cause/effect relationship is “so.” “Since” would indicate that the first statement resulted from the second. The answer is thus D).
Conditions in the interior of Antarctica are inhospitable to many forms of life: sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and extreme dryness make it impossible for most animals to survive. Therefore, the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands have milder temperatures and liquid water, allowing more animals to thrive there.
A. No Change
B. In contrast,
C. In fact,
Solution: First, forget about the existing transition and consider what the two sentences are saying:
- Antarctica has a very extreme climate, so animals can’t live there.
- The Antarctic Peninsula and its islands have a milder climate, so animals can live there.
Clearly these two sentences express opposite ideas, so we’re looking for a transition indicating that contrast. B is correct because “in contrast” clearly indicates that an opposing idea is being introduced.
Healthy arctic marine mammals have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin. Tropical marine mammals, therefore, have very few fat reserves in their bodies. As a result, many of them dwell primarily in the warm waters that surround coral reefs.
A. NO CHANGE
D. for example
Solution: Consider those two sentences without the transition:
- Healthy arctic marine mammals have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin.
- Tropical marine mammals have very few fat reserves in their bodies.
The two sentences express contrasting ideas: a thick layer of fat vs. very few fat reserves. So, a contradictor is required, leaving C as the only option.
Conditions in the interior of Antarctica are inhospitable to many forms of life. Therefore, sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and extreme dryness make it impossible for most animals to survive
A. NO CHANGE
B. On the other hand, sub-zero temperatures
C. Nevertheless, sub-zero temperatures
D. Sub-zero temperatures
Solution: The two sentences discuss similar ideas, but the second sentence simply provides more detailed information to support the first sentence. It is not a result of the first sentence.
So, A is out. Options B and C can be eliminated because “on the other hand” and “nevertheless” are contrasting transitions, and the two sentences express similar ideas. In fact, no transition is necessary here at all. So, the answer is D.
The following is a summary of all transition types:
- In Fact
- In Addition
- In Conclusion
- in Other Words
- On the other hand
- Even though
- For Example
- For Instance
- As an illustration
- Despite this
- As a result
- As a matter of fact
- After that
Sequence of Events
- At the same time
Drill: Identify the Correct Type of Transition
For each of the following sentences, state which of the above type of transitions will fit in best.
- In the past, coffees were blended to suit homogenous popular taste, ________ many different coffee flavors are now being produced.
- ________ research are unable to drill into the Earth’s core, chemical composition remains a mystery.
- The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world. _________, some people believe that architectural beauty has never been surpassed.
- Music serves no obvious purpose. It has, ________ , played a role in every known civilization on earth.
- ________ modern technology offers remarkable opportunities for self-expression and communication, it also offers many possibilities for distraction.
- ________ modern chemistry keeps insects from ravaging crops, removes stains, and saves lives, constant exposure to chemicals is taking a toll on many people’s health.
- In the Middle Ages, fairs often attracted large crowds and led to rioting. ______, authorities were reluctant to grant permission for fairs to be held.
Transitions Between Sentences
When you are asked to choose the best transition between two sentences within the same paragraph, always read above and below where the transition will be. The best transition will be the one that brings together the main elements on either side, leading from the one topic to the next.
For EXAMPLE: Lambert confirmed that we as humans have a finite amount of mental energy and attention. Tough decision making, such as that used when following a diet, saps us of our ability to exercise the same discipline later on. Based on this research, Lambert designed a diet that minimizes the need for discipline and protects against regression. Her program has been used by everyone from celebrities to world-class athletes who vouch for its effectiveness.
The sentence in orange font is an amazing transition between the two topics in the same paragraph. The opening phrase “Based on this research” refers back to the statements on mental energy. In particular, the word “this” makes that link explicit. The diet that Lambert designed leads into the focus of the next sentence: the program. In short, this transition guides us from the research she completed to the diet program she developed.
Note: When asked to insert the best transition between two sentences, look for words such as “this,” “that,” and “these.” These reference words must point to other nouns that exist in the surrounding context, which means the transition sentence itself may need to include them.
On the SAT, these types of questions will be worded in the following ways:
- Which choice would provide the most effective link between Sentences X and Y?
- Which choice most effectively signals the shift from the preceding sentence to the rest of the paragraph?
- At this point, the writer wants to add a statement that would lead to the sentence that follows it. Which choice would best accomplish that purpose?
A major component of a pilot’s flight training is preparing for emergency situations. However, it is not practical to rehearse all the scenarios that might occur. Often, a candidate demonstrates excellent flying skills, but loses composure when under pressure.
A. NO CHANGE
B. It is vital that all cabin crew know basic first aid in the event that a passenger becomes ill.
C. All important flight instruments, such as the course deviation indicator, must be regularly monitored by the co-pilot.
D. Therefore, assessors will look for candidates who can adjust calmly to unexpected events.
Solution: The last phrase “loses composure when under pressure” means that pilots who can withstand the pressure are sought after. Therefore, the correct answer is D.
Sherlock Holmes would sometimes use a loose network of casual spies called the “Baker Street Irregulars.” These were young boys who provided intelligence to Holmes on an ad hoc basis. After all, even a detective as great as Sherlock Holmes needs help sometimes. But in the event that the amateur sleuths provided a clue of some special importance, they might just find themselves in receipt of a full dollar!
A. NO CHANGE
B. His assistant Watson, however, was the primary companion on most of his cases.
C. Their reward for such services was 25 cents a day.
D. It wouldn’t be until the final novel that they would play a crucial role in the mystery.
Solution: The last sentence expresses an added reward for good work. Therefore, the transition must express what the standard reward is. Only option C speaks about a reward. The correct answer is C.
The reality is that the oil boom of the past 10 years caused a spike in the population levels of socially advanced western nations. Clean water is considered to be a major factor in the population growth as well. Due to the boom, the majority of central banks in Europe have now upgraded their economic forecasts for the coming years.
A. NO CHANGE
B. However, this growth may be unsustainable.
C. Population levels in South Asia will soon outstrip those in the United States.
D. It also caused unprecedented growth in industries such as steel making, retail, and agriculture.
Solution: The chosen transition should express why Europe is upgrading its economic forecasts, economic being the keyword. The option that speaks about the economyis the correct answer D.
Transitions Between Paragraphs
The final type of transition question deals with transitions between paragraphs. Rather than asking about a specific word or phrase, these usually deal with full sentences.
- On the SAT, these types of questions will be worded in the following ways:
- Which choice most effectively guides the reader from the previous paragraph to the new paragraph?
- Which choice most effectively signals the shift from the preceding paragraph to this paragraph?
- Which choice would most effectively introduce this paragraph?
By the time Heart of Darkness was published in 1902, a movement was already underway to expose the large-scale theft and murder occurring in the Congo. Dozens of missionaries had begun sending reports including photographs, to bear witness to the violence. William Sheppard, an African American Presbyterian, was one of these missionaries. He sent out shocking testimony of lands seized by force, of people living under a reign of terror, and of soldiers cutting off the hands of women and children.
An Englishman named E.D. Morel gathered the many reports and photographs and published them. He gathered crowds to listen to eyewitness accounts of colonial atrocities. He lobbied the British Parliament to denounce the Belgian King’s horrifying practices. This became the first modern humanitarian movement, and it successfully exposed the horrendous violence in the Congo. Historians estimate, however, that, by that time, between 10 million and 20 million Congolese people had lost their lives.
Take note of the sentence in orange font. This sentence serves as a transition between the two paragraphs, but how do we know? A good transition sentence references both preceding key terms or ideas and the ones following it. In this case, the transition brings up not only E.D. Morel, who is the primary focus of the second paragraph but also the many reports and photographs that were the focus of the first paragraph.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to help you narrow down your choices:
1. Pay attention to what the question is asking for. Though many of these questions simply ask you to identify the sentence that provides the best transition or introduction, some may ask about a more specific purpose. Make sure to read the question carefully and think about what being asked.
2. Read (at minimum) a couple of sentences into the paragraph. Ideally, you’ll read the whole paragraph before answering transition questions, but you absolutely must read at least one sentence after the first to get a sense of the context.
3. Keep in mind types of transitional relationships. Though most of these questions don’t involve transition words, it can still be helpful to consider whether there’s a clear, contrasting, or causal relationship.
4. Look for anything that needs to be introduced because it’s referred back to later in the paragraph. In the subsequent sentences, look out for pronouns like “this” and “these,” which reference ideas or nouns that need to be introduced in the first sentence. This will often be the best hint at the correct answer.
5. Narrow down the choices. Rule out answers that don’t make sense or don’t fit with the general tone of the passage.
6. Plug in the sentence you think works best. When you’ve eliminated three choices, read the last answer in context and check that it makes sense.
Let’s walk through how to approach a paragraph transition question from a real SAT.
In the mountains, Quezada found shards of pots, and an occasional complete pot, painted with intricate red and black designs. These were artifacts from his ancestors,the Paquime (or Casas Grandes) Indians, who lived in the area from about AD 1000 to AD 1400. Fascinated by the geometric designs, Quezada wondered, if he could make pots like these.
 He dug the clay, soaked it, and tried to shape it into a pot. In time, he figured out how his ancestors had mixed the clay with volcanic ash to keep it from cracking and had used minerals found nearby to create paints. When it was time to paint his pots, Quezada designed his own complex geometric patterns.
8. Which of the following true statements would provide the best transition from the preceding paragraph to this paragraph?
A. The village of Mata Ortiz is only three streets wide but stretches for a mile between the Casas Grandes River and the railroad tracks.
B. The patterns on Mata Ortiz pottery that Quezada admired are based on the techniques of the ancient Paquime.
C. Quezada began working with clay from the mountains.
D. Quezada’s painted designs became increasingly complex.
Solution: What is the question asking for? The best transition between the paragraphs.
Read both paragraphs. The first paragraph describes Quezada’s discovery of and interest in the ancient pots. The second paragraph details his attempts to recreate them.
Is there anything referenced later in the paragraph that needs to be introduced? The sentence that currently opens the paragraph mentions “the clay” without really explaining which clay it’s talking about.
Narrow down choices. We can immediately rule out A because it’s about the town and not the pottery, which is the topic of these two paragraphs. B and D are both relevant to the topic of the ancient pottery, but neither makes sense as a transition. The patterns are initially described earlier in the passage, and Quezada’s painting doesn’t come up until later in the second paragraph.
Plug in the remaining option. Let’s look at the passage with C the only remaining option, plugged in. C is the correct answer.
Boston has become the central hub for food, tourism, and entertainment in New England. New businesses and restaurants are popping up all over the place and its sports team pack the stadiums every week.
The reasons for Boston’s growth can be traced back to excellent state policy decisions a decade ago. Old brownstones, once affordable to even those on government welfare, are being listed for thousands of dollars. Many people who prefer single studios now have no choice but to find roommates to soften the cost of living.
A. NO CHANGE
B. Despite the city’s modern appeal, Boston’s cultural and historical significance cannot be ignored.
C. Rents for apartments have been on the rise due to the booming economy.
D. Boston also has a large variety of housing options.
Solution: A connection must be made between the first paragraph - Boston’s bustling economy - and the second paragraph - the high cost of living. The correct answer is C as it makes that connection.