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Structuring Answers - Transition Words

Structuring your answers is hard to do if you don’t use the right words. If you do use the right words, it can be pretty simple. There are some specific phrases and words that we’ll call transitions that can really help. So let’s take an example. In this speaking task, I’m going to talk about a subject that I enjoy and why I enjoy it.

And here are a few sentences from an answer. I’ve always enjoyed studying math. Math problems feel like puzzles to me. Figuring out an answer is very satisfying. Okay, that is a fine answer, but we can make it better. We can make it clearer by adding transitions like these.

I’ve always enjoyed studying math, in part because math problems feel like puzzles to me. This gives a relationship. What I mean is, getting a correct answer is very satisfying. This also gives a relationship. So now I understand that this is a reason why this.

And this here is a clarification, it is the same idea again in different wording. So now, the original doesn’t look quite as good, right? Yes, okay, I enjoyed studying math. Math feels like puzzles. Is that good or bad? Figuring out an answer is very satisfying.

Okay that’s good, but how this is related to the puzzles? We can make it more direct by giving those transition words. It will sound just more comfortable, more natural. Native speakers use transitions like these all the time. It makes it easier to understand too, and remember clarity is important. You need to be clear.

So, this makes things clearer. Now, there are many different types of transitions, but I’m going to give a few of them here. Let’s say you want a transition that gives your opinion that introduces an opinion. Here’s an example. If you ask me, schools should always serve vegetables.

So there are many other transitions similar to this. If you ask me personally, I would say there’s other phrases and other words you can use. But this is one category, one type of transition to change the topic, transition the topic into your opinion. Here’s another, listing.

First of all, it keeps kids healthy. So you could use first of all. You could use first, or you could say what’s more if you’re adding the next thing, secondly. There are many of these, again.

Explaining causes, the cause, like because, because, that is why something happens. So here’s one that explains the cause of this idea here. That’s because growing bodies need vitamins. So that’s why it is healthy. Comparing and contrasting is another example, unlike or opposite, similar to.

Explaining effects, emphasizing, clarifying, giving examples, conceding, this is really interesting. Conceding means you’re going to say something which actually disagrees with your main idea, something that is opposite of your main idea. After you concede something you should almost always dismiss what you conceded. So you say, maybe my idea is wrong.

But then you come back and you dismiss that. You say, actually it is right. So this helps to keep clear if you do these together. So there are many, many different types of transitions that you can use that organize your answers in different ways.

So I’m not going to give all the transitions here, and there are other functions too, other types of transitions. But this gives some ideas about how you can use these phrases in different contexts in different relationships. And notice this is actually all one answer. Oops, this is all one answer here, so you can use a lot of transitions in a single response.

So how do you improve? What can you do to get better? I cannot stress this enough, this is so important. Study how to use the transitions. Don’t just memorize meanings. Dictionaries only help a little bit.

You need to know how to use it, and dictionaries don’t do that. You need more than just a meaning. You need to see it in real text. You need to see how other people use it. And when you see it, when you read, make note, underline them. Look for examples online.

Search for examples of the usage of phrases or words that you recently learned. Find examples, so you see what the structure looks like. For example, the phrase for example is a transition, and after this there should be a full sentence, a full clause, an independent clause.

I can’t say, for example, a dog. That would not work because a dog is not a sentence. So you need to find these examples so you understand the structure. So you’re gonna note the structure, note the context. Is it positive? Is it negative?

And note the meaning as you see in a dictionary. All together this can help to learn the usage. But, be careful, on your TOEFL don’t use a list of transitions which are new to you. This is very commonly a problem. Students learn all these meanings of transitions. And then they try to use lots and lots and lots of transitions in their answers.

But they don’t use them correctly. If you use transitions incorrectly, they are confusing. You need to use what you know. Use what you know is correct. And learn that it’s correct by reading a lot and paying attention to these structures, the grammar structure and the usage.

Some examples are in our templates. If you go to the Resources, the Resources page is up, up there far at the top right of your screen. And you click on Resources in the menu, then you’ll find resources for speaking templates and writing templates. These give many transition words, examples, and structures of how they’re used.

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