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Logical Transitions On the SAT Writing Section and ACT English Section

The SAT / ACT recycles certain traps, questions meant to render even familiar rules and grammar confusing. Unfortunately, these traps tend to be effective, and many students get such questions wrong.


The question type we'll address today is related to the logical connection between sentences, often shown through linking words. Linking words are words that show the relationship between two clauses. There are several categories of linking words, as shown below.



Linking word categories

Contrast: but, however, nevertheless, conversely, in contrast, whereas, still

Agreement: and, also, in addition, furthermore, moreover, similarly, indeed, certainly, in other words

Cause-and-effect: therefore, since, because, consequently, as a result of, thus

Specifying a general comment: for example, for instance, namely, notably


There are other categories, but these 4 are the most important.


Most of these words are intuitively familiar to us. We know when to use them and how. However, in the midst of a convoluted text, we tend to skirt by them. Our brain assumes that we understand their meaning and don't need to give them undue attention.


This allows for sneaky questions like the following:


Example #1

Conductors of the astrological experiment, however, maintained that their findings were conclusive. Several parallel studies had been done in other universities with much the same effect, and little variance was detected when the data had been thoroughly analyzed. Despite this, the leading figure in the experiment, Dr. Harold Greenspan, believed that its findings could be considered almost definitive.


Question #1 A) NO CHANGE

B) As a result

C) For example

D) In other words


(Note for those unfamiliar with how SAT Writing & Literature / ACT English questions are presented: All, or, part of a sentence in the passage is underlined. Of the answer options, you're meant to pick the answer option which, when inserted in place of the underlined section, would make for the highest quality English. On the ACT English section, there will be a question before the options: 'Choose the best answer.' The SAT simply presents the options, without a question beforehand.)



Reading through the passage, the words 'despite this' may seem in sync. But closer examination of the section before these words, along with the one after, shows that there's a disconnect.


Let's examine the two parts:


(1) 'Conductors of the astrological experiment, however, maintained that their findings were conclusive. Several parallel studies had been done in other universities with much the same effect, and little variance when the data was thoroughly analyzed.'


(1) Restated: The people who conducted the experiment said that it was convincing. The reason is that similar experiments have shown the same results, etc.


(2) 'The leading figure in the experiment, Dr. Harold Greenspan, believed that its findings could be considered almost definitive.'


(2) Restated: The person who led the experiment, thinks that it was convincing.


That is, the two segments are basically saying the same thing, in different words. The answer is D), 'in other words.'


Note that the beginning of the paragraph includes a contrast word, 'however.' The word serves to plant the idea that the other contrast word - 'despite this' - is fine, since clearly there's an element of contrast here. Hyperawareness of how the SAT / ACT tries to distract and confuse will make it easier to avoid falling into such traps.


The process for linking-word questions

When confronted with questions targeting linking words, use the following method:

1) Cover the linking word. And I mean cover it physically: either with a finger, or blot it out with pencil.


(2) Read the section before the linking word, and the one after. Briefly clarify each statement in your mind. Do they agree? Do they disagree? Is one an effect or a cause of the other?

After you've established the connection between the two sentences, you should be able to easily pick the appropriate linking word.


This method is only necessary when your first instinct is to choose 'NO CHANGE.' If the linking word already seems incorrect, there's no need to go through this process. Otherwise, it's important to clarify whether the word is a good fit, or whether your brain is simply playing tricks with you.


That doesn't mean that 'NO CHANGE' is necessarily the wrong answer; this answer choice is as likely to be correct as any of the others. It does, however, mean that you need to check whether your instinct is justified.


Let's try another example.


Example #2

'Kanago businessmen usually congregate in the mountains later in the summer, after tentative meetings have been established, but before proceedings have been finalized. For example, dozens of Kanago businessmen concluded transactions this year before arrival, and so were able to enjoy outdoor alpine activities with their colleagues in August.


Question #2

A) NO CHANGE

B) In addition

C) However

D) Moreover


At first glance, the transition seems smooth. A gerneral statement is given and an example follows shortly after. This is a classic example of how an assertion is often made in such passages. As such, our answer would seem to be "NO CHANGE."


Let's cover the linking word, look at the segment before and after it, and check if the linking word makes sense.



(1) 'Kanago businessmen usually congregate in the mountains later in the summer, after tentative meetings have been established, but before proceedings have been finalized.'


(1) Restated: Kanago business usually set up meetings, get together in the mountains in the summer, and then wrap up their dealings.


(2) 'Dozens of Kanago businessmen concluded transactions this year before arrival, and so were able to enjoy outdoor alpine activities with their colleagues in August.'

(2) Restated: This year, some Kanago businessmen wrapped up their dealings, and then enjoyed summer (August) in the mountains.


Side by side, it becomes clear that these two segments contradict each other. The linking word needs to be one of contrast. The only option which fits is C), 'however.'


Let's look at one last example.


Example #3

'The creators dreamed of a brave new world, where the technology they had designed would allow for an atmosphere of peace and fulfillment. But herein lay the problem - their technology proved to be effective enough for production to begin within the following decade.


Question #3

A. NO CHANGE

B. And here lay the problem - their technology was enough

C. Furthermore, their technology proved to be effective enough

D. For example, their technology was enough


This question is slightly more confusing, since more than just the linking word is underlined. But since there is a linking word in the underlined section, and that linking word is noticeably changed in the options, we'll use our usual approach.


At first glance, the linking word 'but' might seem to fit smoothly in the passage. Let's try our new approach:


(1) 'The creators dreamed of a brave new world, where the technology they had designed would allow for an atmosphere of peace and fulfillment.


(1) Restated: The creators of a new technology dream that it will create a great world.


(2) 'Their technology proved to be effective enough for production to begin within the following decade.


(2) Restated: The creators' technology is effective, thus allowing them to start working on their dream soon.



'But', the original linking word used here, is used to establish contrast. However, these two ideas don't contrast each other. Rather, the second part fortifies the first: the creators will be able to implement what they have dreamed of doing. A more correct linking would be 'and' or 'furthermore'. Hence, the answer is (C).

Note that option D) doesn't work, since the second segment isn't a more specific instance of what the first segment is saying.


A question centered on linking words usually appears at least once in the SAT Writing / ACT English section, and often it appears several times. Start approaching these questions correctly, and you'll begin to look upon them as gift questions.


For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.


Happy learning, Tova