SAT Writing: Transitions

To demonstrate what transitions are and how they're used, let's consider the following sentence:

May's cookies are sweet and sugary. Sam eats them all the time.

In this sentence, it's understood that Sam eats May's cookies because they are sweet and sugary. Despite the implied cause and effect relationship here, the reader can't be completely sure. It could be that the two sentences represent two totally independent ideas: May's cookies are sweet and sugary, and it just so happens that Sam eats them all the time. To make the cause-and-effect relationship absolutely clear, we could insert a transition:

May's cookies are sweet and sugary. Therefore, Sam eats them all the time.

This is a bit of an extreme example, but it illustrates an important point—transitions have meaning. They express how two sentences or paragraphs relate to one another, and they make that connection explicit, even if it's a bit unnecessary to do so. In this case, the therefore is probably not needed, but suppose we wanted to imply that sweet and sugary were bad qualities:

May's cookies are sweet and sugary. Nevertheless, Sam eats them all the time.

With one word, we're able to shift the meaning entirely. Now, sweet and sugary cookies are unhealthy snacks to be avoided.

How sentences connect to one another comes naturally to most students. The hard part is staying aware of the full context. In this one made-up example, we can't be completely sure what the author's intended meaning is, but on the SAT, the author's intention will always be clear. Your job on SAT transition questions is to read the context, figure out the author's meaning, and choose the transition word that conveys that meaning. Always read the sentence before and the sentence after the one in question.

Although you'll typically see transitions at the start of sentences, they can also be inserted into the middle of a sentence:

Every culture holds on to its own myths and superstitions. Many Chinese people, for example, believe the number "4" to be unlucky.

And while there are many transitions out there, as long as you are familiar with the ones in the table below, you shouldn't need to memorize anything. In fact, this table includes almost all the transitions that have shown up on released past exams. The best way to get better is to practice and review, practice and review.

Common Transition Words
ExampleTransition...Similar Transitions
I love eating vanilla ice cream. However, too much of it makes me sick.presents an opposing point or balances a previous statementfortunately, on the other hand, conversely, whereas, while, in contrast, on the contrary, yet
Math trains you to approach problems more analytically. Furthermore, it helps you calculate the minimum tip when you eat out.adds new and supporting informationin addition, also, moreover, and, too, as well, additionally, not to mention
Pandas are rapidly becoming extinct.In fact, some experts predict that pandas will die out in 50 emphasis to a point by adding a specific detail/caseas a matter of fact, indeed, to illustrate, for instance, for example
The state is facing a flu epidemic.Consequently, all hospital rooms are filled at the moment.shows cause and effectas a result, because, hence, therefore, thus, accordingly, so, for this reason
Granted, the SAT is a long and tedious exam, but it's necessary for college admissions.concedes a point to make way for your own pointnevertheless, although, regardless, despite, even if, nonetheless, still, even so
Place the bread on an ungreased baking sheet. Finally, bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes.shows order or sequencesubsequently, previously, afterwards, next, then, eventually, before
Social security numbers uniquely identify citizens. In the same way, IP addresses identify computers.shows similaritysimilarly, likewise, by the same token
In conclusion, the world would be a happier place without nuclear a summary or restatementin summary, to sum up, in short, in other words

Some other transitions that didn't quite fit in the table are meanwhile, instead, and otherwise. If you understand all these transitions and how they're used, you should have no problem answering these questions on the SAT.

The most commonly tested transition is however and it's not even close. It also turns out to be the correct answer most of the time. Know this transition well.
  1. The process of donating an organ can get quite complicated. Blood types and other characteristics must match before organs can be transferred. In spite of that, unexpected incompatibilities may exist, resulting in further medical problems.

    B) Similarly,
    C) According to some people,
    D) Even then,

  2. Although women in cities from New York to Boston demanded equality in academic opportunities, most East Coast universities did not yield to such demands. In fact, coeducational balance did not become a prominent issue for East Coast admissions officers until the 1960s.

    B) In addition,
    C) For example,
    D) Be that as it may,

  3. As it turned out, Senator Aldrich did not plan his Jekyll Island trip for relaxation purposes. Therefore, he confidentially planned the weeklong affair to confer with Wall Street executives for a specific purpose—to draft a banking reform bill that would create a centralized American banking system.

    B) Nevertheless,
    C) Instead,
    D) Afterwards,

  4. Some conservatives claim that America was founded as a Christian nation by devout men who sought to establish a system of law and governance based on the Bible. More secular voices, in summary, have argued that the ``Christian nation'' concept is a misnomer.

    B) likewise,
    C) for instance,
    D) on the other hand,

  5. The general knew that the price of victory was enormous. Moreover, there would be over a hundred battles and thousands of deaths by the time the war was over.

    B) Yet,
    C) Eventually,
    D) Indeed,

Want more questions? Our SAT Writing Advanced Guide and Workbook contains over 500 additional practice questions (grouped by topic) and 3 practice tests.

  1. D
  2. A
  3. C
  4. D
  5. D