Transitions Rules on ACT English

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Transitions are the most frequently tested and the most challenging rhetorical skills topics that you will encounter on the ACT English. Luckily, there are just a few rules that can make answering transition questions much easier.

In this article, we will discuss the 3 main types of transitions and provide strategies to answer ACT transition questions correctly and confidently.

Types of Transitions on ACT English

The ACT commonly tests tree types of transitional relationships: addition, contrast, and cause-and-effect. One of the key strategies to answer transition questions correctly is to understand how these relationships work.

Addition:        Words that indicate continuation of, elaboration on, or support for the previous statement. For example: also, similarly, moreover.

Contrast:       Words that introduce a conflicting point or idea. For example: however, still.

Cause-and-Effect:     Words that indicate causal relationship. For example: so, therefore, consequently.

Let’s look at some examples:

Addition:         Chris is on the basketball team this year. In addition, he is on the soccer team.

Contrast:          Although I eat green beans because they are healthy, I hate them.

Cause-and-Effect:        I was too tired; therefore, I decided not to go to a party last night.

Although not every transition will fall strictly into these three categories, thinking about transitions in these terms can help you pick the right answer on ACT English.

Transitions Between Sentences Rules on ACT English

Transitions Rules on ACT English.

The most common types of transitions questions tested on the ACT English is transitions between sentences.

Example:         Kyle and Jack were best friends. However, they spent every moment of the day together.

Hopefully, you noticed that something about this example sentence doesn’t feel right. That is because “however” is a contrasting transition, but the sentences are not opposed to each other and are positive. If Kyle and Jack are best friends it makes sense that they would spend a lot of time together. It would make sense to use an addition transition, a cause-and-effect transition or drop the transition completely.

Example:         Kyle and Jack were best friends. In fact, they spent every moment of the day together. (addition)

Example:         Kyle and Jack were best friends. As such, they spent every moment of the day together. (cause-and-effect)

Example:         Kyle and Jack were best friends. They spent every moment of the day together. (no transition)

Step-by-Step Approach

Let’s talk about how to approach Transitions Rules on ACT English between sentences, step-by-step.

  1. Cross out the underlined transition word. Physically draw a pencil line through the transition word. If the transition is not obviously wrong you may be biased in favor of the original phrase.
  2. Read the entire sentence (to the end). You should be doing this on every question, but it is especially important here. Reading the full sentence will help you understand the context which will make it easier to understand how the two clauses are related to each other.
  3. Determine if anything seems obviously necessary / correct? Sometimes, as you read the full sentence and immediately recognize the correct transition that should be there. If the transition word you thought of is not one of the answer choices, look for a synonym.
  4. Determine the type of relationship between two clauses. The three types are addition, contrast, and cause-and-effect. If you are not sure, check if the two clauses say something that supports each other and you might use the word “and” (addition), or if the two clauses contradict each other and you might use the word “but” (contrast), or if one of the causes a direct result of the other cause and you might use the word “so” or “because” (cause-and-effect).
  5. Use process of elimination to narrow down choices. Once you have a good idea of what type of transition you are looking for, narrow down your choices by eliminating transitions from the other two groups. For example, if you know the sentence needs an addition transition, eliminate all answer choices that have contrasting or cause-and-effect transitions.
  6. Plug answer back into sentence. When you are reasonably sure that you have the correct answer, plug it back into the original sentence and re-read the entire sentence to see that the transition works within the context.

Key Words

Transitions Rules on ACT English between sentences are generally conjunctive adverbs such as “however” and “furthermore,” or prepositional phrases such as “for example” and “on the other hand.” Here is a list of most commonly found transitions on the ACT English.

Addition Contrast Cause-and-Effect
Also However, Thus
Moreover On the other hand As such
In fact Nonetheless Therefore
Furthermore Nevertheless Consequently
In addition, Still As a result,
Similarly, Instead  
Indeed Despite this  
In conclusion Meanwhile  
In other words,    
Finally,    
Next    
Likewise,    
Then    
For example,    

 

Keep in mind that not every question will contain one of these transitions. Sometimes you will see other phrases or adverbs such as “in general” or “unfortunately” or constructions that are specific to the context.

You may also come across options that are grammatically incorrect. These will usually be in the form of coordinating or subordinating conjunctions.

Time Saving Tips

  • If two choices are synonyms, neither one is correct. If two choices mean the same thing (they must be synonyms, not just be from the same category), there is no way to choose between them, so neither can be correct and both can be eliminated. For example: nonetheless and nevertheless.
  • If one of the choices completely omits the transition word, check that one first. It is usually the correct answer. Always check an answer that leaves out the transition word first. If the sentence or paragraph works without it, pick that as the right answer.
  • Transition words do not only come in the beginning of the sentence. Sometimes, you will see them in the middle. In that case, keep in mind that they must be at least surrounded by commas. If they are supposed to connect two independent clauses, they must have a period or a semicolon.
  • What if the answer choices don’t fit into the three categories? Don’t worry. Not every transition word will fit into the three categories outlined above. Think about how the two parts of the sentence relate to each other, eliminate choices that don’t make sense, and plug in the choice that you think might work.
  • Watch out for questions that ask for the NOT acceptable or LEAST acceptable option. Although “NOT” and “LEAST” are always in CAPS, it is still easy to miss them. If you see a question with 3 answer choices that fit, check if you should be looking for the one that doesn’t work.

ACT Example

Let’s apply what we’ve learned about transitions to a real ACT Example.

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Explanation: In this example, the transition appears in the middle of the sentence. Let’s apply our rules to determine which transition would work best. First step is to look at the two sentences without the transition:

Snowflakes form from tiny water droplets, following a specific process of chemical bonding as they freeze, which results in a six-sided figure. The rare “triangular” snowflake confounded scientists for years because it apparently defied the basic laws of chemistry.

Does the obvious transition jump out at you? No.

How are the two sentences related to each other?  The first sentence describes how snowflakes are formed. The second brings up an exception to the rule. This relationship is contrasting.

Eliminate answers that don’t work. “Similarly” and “additionally” are too similar to choose from. They are also from the addition category, so both can be eliminated. “For example” doesn’t make sense since the second question describes an exception to the rule, not an example of it.

Plug in the remaining choice. The only choice we have left is “however,” which is a contrasting transition. Including “however” in the original sentence, results in:

Snowflakes form from tiny water droplets, following a specific process of chemical bonding as they freeze, which results in a six-sided figure. The rare “triangular” snowflake, however, confounded scientists for years because it apparently defied the basic laws of chemistry.

The transition makes sense, so the correct answer is J.

Transitions Between Clauses

Transitions Rules on ACT English

Questions dealing with transitions between clauses are similar to those about transitions between sentences, so we can use the same approach. These questions involve a different set of transition words: coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

Addition Contrast Cause-and-Effect
And But So
  Yet Because
  Unless Since
  While As
  Though Such that
  Although  
  Whereas  
  Otherwise  

 

One of the tricks the ACT English uses to confuse unsuspecting students is to mix the different types of transitions. They might try to use a conjunction (normally used to connect clauses) to introduce a sentence or use a conjunctive adverb (normally used in the beginning of the sentence) to connect two clauses. Those answer choices will always be incorrect.

The ACT may test transitions questions together with punctuation questions, so watch out for comma and semicolon usage. For example, if you see the transition word “however” between two independent clauses, the proper punctuation would be “; however,” and any other option is incorrect. If you need a refresher on connecting independent clauses, read our article about sentence fragments and run-ons).

ACT Example

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Looking at the underlined word and available answer choices, we can immediately determine that they are subordinating conjunctions, so this is a question about connecting clauses and not sentences.

The next step is to remove the transition word and consider the relationship of the two clauses (for simplicity, we will also eliminate the description clause at the end).

There’s not much chance that a seven-year-old just learning the game can hit a pitched baseball.

The umpire puts the ball on top of a stationary tee

Does an obvious transition jump out at you? Yes, I would put the word “because” or “so.”

How are these sentences related to each other? The idea of the first clause (that a seven-year old cannot hit a pitched ball) is followed by the solution in the second clause (that an umpire puts the ball on a tee). This is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Eliminate answers that don’t work. We can immediately eliminate “while” and “although” because they are interchangeable and are also both contrasting transitions. “Unless” doesn’t make sense.

 

Plug in the remaining choice.  By process of elimination we are left with “since,” which is a cause-and-effect transition. The original sentence makes sense, so the correct answer is A.

Transitions Between Paragraphs

Transitions Rules on ACT English

The final type of transition questions deals with transitions between paragraphs. These questions usually deal with complete sentences rather than asking about a word or a phrase and will most likely be asked in the following way:

Given that all of the choices are true, which one would most effectively introduce the main idea of this paragraph?

Which of the following sentences offers the best introduction to this paragraph?

The phrasing may vary, but the question will always ask about “transition” or “introduction.”

Step-by-Step Approach

Because it is impossible to predict the content of an entire sentence, it is important to use the process of elimination for questions that ask for Transitions Rules on ACT English between paragraphs. Let’s use this step by step approach to make answering this type of questions easier.

  • Be aware of what the question is asking for. Although many of these questions ask for the sentence that provides the best transition or introduction, some of the questions can be more specific. Read the question carefully and make sure you know exactly what it is asking.
  • Read at least a couple of sentences into the paragraph. Ideally, you should be reading the whole paragraph before answering questions, but you absolutely must read at least two sentences at the beginning of the paragraph to get the sense of the context.
  • Keep the types of transitional relationships in mind. Most of these questions don’t involve specific transition words, but it is still a good idea and can be helpful to understand whether there’s a clear adding, contrasting, or cause-and-effect relationship.
  • Is there anything referred to later in the paragraph? That might be the concept that needs introduction. In the sentences within the paragraph look for relative pronouns such as that, this, or these that reference ideas or nouns that need to be introduced in the first sentence. This will usually be the best hint for the introduction sentence.
  • Use process of elimination to narrow down choices. Eliminate answer choices that don’t fit with the general tone of the passage or don’t make sense.
  • Plug in the sentence you think works best in context. When you’ve eliminated three choices, plug in the remaining choice and read a few sentences into the paragraph to see if it makes sense in context.

Keep in mind that not all of these steps will apply to every questions, but it is important to think about these ideas as you are working through available choices.

ACT Example

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What is this question asking for? Transition between paragraphs.

What are the paragraphs about? The first one describes Quezada’s discovery and fascination with ancient pots. The second paragraph talks about his attempt to recreate them.

Is there anything mentioned in the second paragraph that needs to be introduced? The current first sentence mentions clay but doesn’t explain what clay it is talking about.

Eliminate answer choices. We can eliminate answer choice F because it is about the town, not the pottery, which is the subject of the two paragraphs. Choices G and J are both relevant to the topic of ancient pottery, but neither one works as a transition. The pottery is described in the beginning of the first paragraph and Quezada’s painting does not come up until later in the second paragraph.

Plug in the remaining option. The only option left is H. When it is plugged in, we get:

Fascinated by the geometric designs, Quezada wondered if he could make pots like these.

Quezada began working with clay from the mountains. He dug the clay, soaked it, and tried to shape it into a pot.

The underlined sentence makes sense as a transition, so the correct answer is H.

Summary: Rules and Strategies for Transitions on ACT English

As you are working through Transitions Rules on ACT English questions, keep in mind that they can vary widely; therefore, it is helpful to use the process of elimination to narrow down possibilities. Here’s a summary of the most important points from this article.

  • Always consider the type of transitional relationship. Understanding how sentences, clauses, and paragraphs relate to each other is key to finding the right transition between them.
  • Read the questions carefully. Anytime there’s a written-out question, make sure to read it carefully and know what it is asking for. Don’t make assumptions. If a question is dealing with transition between paragraphs, make sure you read enough of the second paragraph (at least two sentences) to understand the context.
  • Use the multiple-choice format of the test to your advantage. Eliminate answer choices that are synonyms and are interchangeable. If there is one choice without a transition word, it is usually the correct one – check it first.
  • Plug the answer you think is best back into the passage.  Always make sure your chosen transition works in context. If nothing else, this approach will help you recognize when you pick the right type of transition that doesn’t fit into the context of the sentence or paragraph.

Next Steps

Transitions are frequently tested in combination with punctuation. I strongly encourage you to read our article about commas and other punctuation on the ACT English.

If you are struggling with rhetorical skills questions, review our articles on redundancy and author technique.

Make sure you are familiar with what the ACT actually covers and 5 critical concepts you must know to ace the ACT English.

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