SAT Essay Prep, Part 7: Three Tips for Transitions
This is the seventh part of our series on preparing for the SAT essay. All of these articles are excerpts from the curriculum for WriteAtHome’s new and popular SAT Essay Prep course.
A solid essay is organized – built solidly brick by brick. If you follow your outline and the organizing guidelines we’ve discussed previously, you have taken an essential step toward a high-scoring essay.
But an excellent essay is also coherent – it holds together. There must be mortar between the bricks, or a good shove will knock the wall over. The distinct parts you created in your outline should transition naturally from one sentence to the next.
A paper that is well-organized, but jumps abruptly from one idea to the next, or that is clumsy and difficult to follow will score lower than one that flows easily. That flow of ideas depends upon a wise use of transition devices. Transitions are the mortar that holds your bricks together.
Never leave the reader wondering, “What does this have to do with the thesis?” Make it obvious. He should never have to ask, “Where are you going with this?” Be sure to show him.
Below are three transition devices you might find handy in increasing the coherence of your essays.
1Key Word Repetition
Sometimes you can create an effective transition by repeating a word or two from an earlier sentence or paragraph. Here’s an example:
I’m a loyal sports fan. I pull for the same teams year after year. Once my favorite team has been eliminated, however, I tend to root for the underdog.
The underdog in last year’s Super Bowl was the Cleveland Browns, so you know which team I was cheering on…
See how repeating the word underdog pulls you from one paragraph to the next? Use this repetition technique sparingly, however. It can be awkward and distracting if used too often. Let your ear be your guide. If repeating a key word sounds uncomfortable to you, find a different way to make the transition.
Writers commonly use the word this as a transition from one idea to another. This technique is fine, but we recommend using this as an adjective, not as a pronoun.
If your grammar skills are rusty, just remember this: if you use this as a transition word between sentences or paragraphs, stick a noun after it: this point, this perspective, this accomplishment, etc.
Bad: Henry Aaron overcame enormous obstacles on his way to setting the major league record for career home runs. This gained him both admirers and enemies.
Good: Henry Aaron overcame enormous obstacles on his way to setting the major league record for career home runs. This accomplishment gained him both admirers and enemies.
This, when used as a pronoun, is too often vague, as in the bad example above. It is difficult to determine what exactly this is referring to. In the first example, this seems to refer to Aaron’s overcoming of obstacles, rather than his home run record. By using it as an adjective to modify a clarifying noun (like accomplishment above), you make things clear.
3Transition Words & Phrases
Many words and phrases exist to join ideas and show the relationship between them. If you care about the grammar, they are conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, and prepositions. But we don’t care if you know what they are called as long as you know how to use them. Below is a list of common transition words and phrases categorized by the kind of relationship they create.
|Time or Sequence||before, during, after, earlier, then, later, soon, first, next, finally, once, eventually, in time|
|Logic||since, therefore, as a result, because, inevitably, besides, consequently|
|Similarity||as, like, and, again, too, also, likewise, equally, similarly, another, moreover, in addition|
|Degree||better, best, more, most, worse, worst, less, least, greater, greatest|
|Contrast||but, yet, not, still, nevertheless, however, in contrast, otherwise, although, on the other hand, nonetheless|
|Introducing examples||as, like, for example, that is, such as, namely, for instance, to illustrate, in particular|
|Signaling emphasis||indeed, in fact, in other words|
|Signaling more information||in addition, moreover, besides, also, furthermore, as well|
|Signaling explanation||for example, that is, in other words|
You’ll notice that just about all of these transitions are common, familiar words. You don’t need to be taught how to use them, just reminded to use them!
As you write your essay, cement the parts of your outline by making clear transitions between your paragraphs and sentences. Read the short essay excerpt below to see how a wise use of transition devices can strengthen the readability of an essay.
Growing up in the early part of the 21st Century means being familiar with a wide variety of entertainment choices. Our great-grandparents gathered around radios. Our grandparents saw the birth of the television age. Our moms and dads have grown comfortable with personal computing. But today’s teens can listen to music from satellite radios and ultra-portable MP3 players. Only a generation ago, a movie fan had to buy a theater ticket. Today, your favorite movies and TV programs can be carried in your pocket. Video games provide unlimited access to fantastic virtual worlds, and internet technology allows us to chat and play with anyone anywhere in the world. The question is, does easy access to all this entertainment make us happier? I don’t think so.
Of course, there is a kind of pleasure in all this entertainment. It can provide escape and relaxation when used wisely and in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, after all. Too many of us, however, don’t understand the concepts of wisdom and moderation.
Teenagers are famous for lacking the kind of discretion needed to keep entertainment in perspective. Too many teens become so enamored with the latest movie or video game that it grows into an obsession. For example, I recently read an article on a high school student who dedicated so much time to an online virtual reality game that he had become an internet legend. He now ignores his school work and gets paid for coaching other teenagers in the video game. I can’t help but wonder how far that particular skill will take him…
Use these simple transitional devices to guide your readers through your essay. As you practice essay writing to prepare for the SAT, read each sentence as though you were hearing it for the first time. Is it easy to follow the line of thinking? Is it obvious how each sentence contributes to the point of the paper? These questions will help you evaluate your essay’s coherence.
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