Transition word (TW) questions test your ability to accurately connect two ideas. Getting these questions right relies on two main things: your knowledge of what the transitional words mean and your reading comprehension skills. With those two pieces in place, you can easily learn to get every transitional word question right.*
Like I said, TW questions test your ability to identify the relationship between ideas. Fortunately, there are only three potential kinds of relationships that occur in these questions. They are called the 3 Cs: Continue, Contrast, and Cause-and-Effect.
The two sentences that are being connected by a transitional word can flow well together (aka continue- and, also, in addition, moreover, etc.), they can conflict (aka contrast-on the other hand, however, but, etc.), or they can be in a causal relationship (aka cause and effect- therefore, as a result, consequently, etc.).
Now, for the steps:
- Read the first sentence and restate its meaning in your head.
- Read the second sentence and restate its meaning in your head.
- Decide which of the three Cs accurately reflects the sentences’ relationship.
- Use process of elimination to get rid of the words that aren’t from the right C category.
- If you get down to two words that are from the same category (if there are two continuers, for example), ask yourself which option most accurately goes with the content of the sentences.
- If one of the answers is a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS), take grammar into account. Sometimes there are questions that look like transition word questions, but they’ve got grammar mixed in.
Real Example (from Test 1, W&L, question 14):
Typically, the ice sheet begins to show evidence of thawing in late summer. This follows several weeks of higher temperatures. For example, in the summer of 2012, virtually the entire Greenland Ice Sheet underwent thawing at or near its surface by mid-July, the earliest date on record.
- A) No change
- B) However
- C) As much
- D) Moreover
- I am going to read the two sentences before the transitional word because I don’t feel like the one right before it has enough content. My summary: The ice sheets thaw in late summer.
- My summary: In 2012, this one ice sheet thawed earlier than usual.
- Okay, so the two sentences are talking about conflicting information. The first is about what normally happens, and the second is about what has happened in this unusual situation. This is not continue or cause-and-effect; it is contrast.
- A) is a continuer, so it’s out. B) is a contraster, so I’ll keep it. C) is a continuer, so it’s out. D) is a continuer, so it’s also out.
- B) is the only one left, and I’ll pick that one.
*If you aren’t solid on the meanings of the transitional word answer options, you can easily remedy this by memorizing them. Beyond the dictionary definitions of the words, please make sure to learn how to use them in conversation.