ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Transition Words

Bonus Material:PrepMaven’s Transition Words Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions 

Both the ACT and the SAT test your ability to identify and use transition words correctly.

The good news about transition words is that most students are actually already familiar with them. 

Most high school English teachers encourage their students to use transition words like however or furthermore in classroom essays.

We’re here to demystify transition words as they are tested on both the SAT and the ACT. 

We walk you through sample questions and a key strategy for approaching these. Plus, we give you access to our free Transition Words worksheet, which includes guided examples, free practice questions, and more.

Grab a copy of this below.


Where You’ll See Transition Words on Each Test

As we’ve discussed in other posts, the ACT and the SAT are very different tests. That’s why we encourage students to devote their studying time to the one most likely to give them their highest score.

If you’re not sure which test is right for you, you can ask yourself these five questions to find out right now.

Because the ACT and SAT are different exams, they each test English grammar rules in different ways. This is reflected quite simply in the names of the sections that test grammar on these two tests.

ACT test-takers will apply their knowledge of English grammar rules and writing strategy to the ACT English test. SAT test-takers, however, will do so on the SAT Reading and Writing test.

Regardless, both sections care about transition words. ACT English and SAT Reading and Writing both directly assess a student’s ability to identify and use transition words effectively.

Yet knowledge of transition words can be helpful on other sections of these tests.

Both the SAT and ACT include an optional essay, for example. Using effective transition words in your essay response can help you organize ideas and produce a logical, coherent response.

Identifying transition words in reading passages on ACT Reading or SAT Evidence-Based Reading can also be helpful in quickly comprehending the structure and reasoning of an author’s argument.

So, in sum, your knowledge of transition words will help you on these sections:

ACT

  • English*
  • Reading
  • Essay

SAT

  • Reading and Writing*

*These sections most overtly test a student’s knowledge of transition words and their appropriate usage.


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: What Are Transition Words?

So what exactly are transition words anyways?

Transition words do exactly what they sound like they do: they create transitions between ideas in writing. With transition words and phrases, we can show relationships between ideas quickly and easily.

You likely already use transition words in the academic writing you do for your high school English, composition, and/or language courses.

As a refresher, though, here is a table of the transition words and phrases high school students are most familiar with:

for this reason regardless nonetheless also/too in addition on the other hand
in fact therefore so furthermore finally hence
however for example last whereas and eventually
moreover thus indeed next previously in conclusion
first/second/third despite consequently nevertheless yet as a result

Now, it’s important to note that each transition word will show a specific relationship between ideas. The word “however,” for example, will show a contrast of some kind, while the word “furthermore” shows similarity.

Identifying the relationship a transition word shows can be essential when it comes time to answering transition word questions on the ACT and SAT.

Take a look at this table, which groups the words and phrases from the previous table into general relationship categories:

Contrast Similarity / Addition Cause-and-Effect Sequence
however furthermore for this reason first
regardless in fact therefore second
on the other hand moreover consequently third
despite for example as a result finally
nonetheless indeed so previously
whereas and in conclusion next
nevertheless also/too thus eventually
yet in addition hence last

Viewing transition words in terms of the relationship they are trying to show can be helpful when preparing for these questions on the SAT or ACT.


How Transition Words Are Tested on the ACT and SAT

When you encounter a transition words question on ACT English or SAT Reading and Writing, chances are you’ll have to demonstrate the following:

  1. Your knowledge of the transition words in question
  2. Your ability to identify the relationship between the ideas in question
  3. Your capacity to choose the right transition word to reflect this relationship

Yes, this sounds like a lot, but our strategy for approaching transition words questions simplifies things significantly.

How do you know you’re dealing with a transition word/phrase question?

Easy!

You’ll see standard transition words in the answers, as you can see in this sample question:

SAT Writing transition question
from SAT Official Practice Test #1      

Most students are likely familiar with the transition phrases that appear in this question: for example, in contrast, nevertheless, and in broad terms (the “no change” option). In fact, most of them appear in the tables above! The tricky part (which we discuss in the next section) lies in choosing the right one based on the relationship shown in context.

Transition words tend to appear slightly more frequently on the ACT English section than they do on SAT Reading and Writing, but numbers can fluctuate. Here’s a general comparison of frequency based on our analysis of officially released ACT and SAT practice tests:

Transition Words Questions on the ACT Transition Words Questions on the SAT
3-7 1-5

Remember: transition words are tested directly on ACT English and SAT Reading and Writing. Knowledge of them is useful (but not directly tested) on the Reading and Essay sections of both tests.


Our Strategy for Transition Words

Transition words questions may seem complicated, especially because they require a fair bit of textual analysis. This strategy, however, is designed to simplify the process and help you arrive at the right answer every time.

When you see a transition words question, follow these steps:

  1. Categorize the transition words in the answers
  2. Read for full context
  3. Identify the relationship between the ideas presented
  4. Eliminate accordingly

We’ll apply this strategy to the sample SAT question mentioned in the prior section:

SAT Writing transition question
from SAT Official Practice Test #1

1. Categorize the transition words

The four transition words in the answer choices here are for example, in contrast, nevertheless, and in broad terms (the “no change” option). Let’s categorize them based on the relationships they show.

For example demonstrates similar or additional ideas. The phrase in contrast indicates something that’s the opposite (contrast). The phrase nevertheless is a bit similar — we use it to indicate something despite something contrasting. Finally, the phrase in broad terms introduces a definition or summary.

2. Read for full context

It’s essential to read for full context so that we understand the ideas the writer is linking.

The first sentence of this passage describes how studying philosophy can be a useful background to one’s career. The second sentence offers a definition or explanation of what philosophy is.

3. Identify the relationship between the ideas presented

The second sentence explains a specific word, “philosophy,” used in the previous sentence.

The relationship here is one of explanation or definition.

4. Eliminate accordingly

The only answer choice that introduces a definition is choice A, in broad terms. We can confidently choose this transition phrase.

Note: There are some cases where a transition word is not necessary. This is a common trap on the ACT, which sometimes includes an answer choice that doesn’t have a transition word in it. For these questions, it’s vital to first read for full context and determine if a transition word is necessary before working through the other answers.


Download Our Transition Words Worksheet

Ready to apply what you know about transition words to test-like questions? Download our free Transition Words worksheet for additional practice!

Transition Words Worksheet

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the rules we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of questions from official practice tests
  • 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.