TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions

TOEFL speaking and writing transitions: Stay organized; make clear connections of ideas; and make it easy for others to understand. If you can show clear connections of your speaking and writing tasks, you will be able to score much higher on the speaking and writing sections of the exam. So,  how do you organize ideas in a way that will help you get a higher TOEFL score?

TOEFL speaking and writing transitions
TOEFL speaking and writing transitions

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Using transition words

Transition words such as “moreover,” “however,” “therefore,” “similarly,” and so on can be used to connect ideas from one sentence to another or from one paragraph to another. Transition words are used to explain connections between two important points.

Transition word from one sentence to another: The reading passage explains three theories regarding child language learning. However, the speaker in the listening passage casts doubt on each of these theories.

Transition words in a paragraph:  First of all, the author in the reading passages argues that the imitation theory accurately explains how children learn languages.  According to this theory, children learn by imitating words that they hear from adults. Therefore, at least some language, argues the author, must be learned in this way. However, the speaker casts doubt on this theory.  According to him, children often use words that they have not heard before. For instance, a child who calls his father “lady da da” is using words that she has not heard before. Thus, the speaker concludes the imitation theory does not explain how children learn languages in these types of situations.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Including prepositions

Prepositions such as “due to,” “because of,” “in addition to,” despite,” “in spite of,” “next to,” “beside,” and so on can be used to connect ideas together within sentences.

Due to: Due to the rain, the soccer game was cancelled.

Because of: Because of the recession, thousands of workers were unemployed.

In addition to:  In addition to the imitation theory of child language acquisition, the speaker discusses how children can be reinforced or praised when speaking correctly and how they can be corrected or punished when speaking incorrectly.

Despite: Despite the rain, the soccer game was not postponed.

In spite of: In spite of spending less money on education per student, Singapore’s students outperform those in the United States in science and mathematics.

Next to: Next to the San Bernardino Mountains lies California State University, San Bernardino.

Beside:  Tomas makes sure that his alarm is beside his bed every night.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Writing with coordinators

Coordinators such as “and,” “but,” “so,” “or,” “yet,” “for,” and “so” are used to connect two independent clauses (main ideas).

And: The author in the reading passage explains three benefits of reducing taxes in the United States economy, and the speaker in the lecture casts doubt on each of those claims.

But: The author suggests that reducing taxes will encourage consumers to spend more, but the speaker in the lecture claims that lowering taxes will cause the Federal deficit to balloon out of control.

So: According to the speaker in the reading passage, animals sometimes change the color of their coats, so the predators trying the eat them will have difficulty seeing them.

Or: Kentaro had better register to take the TOEFL iBT, or he will not have enough time to submit his university application.

Yet: Su Jen likes dancing whenever she has free time, yet I have not seen her dance recently.

For: Animals being able to blend in with their environments, argues the author, makes it easier for them to avoid confrontation with predators, for these hungry beasts will attack anything that they can easily spot.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Using subordinators

Subordinating conjunctions are used to connect dependent clauses (support ideas) to independent clauses. Noun, adjective, and adverb clauses are three types of dependent clauses.

Noun clauses:  That the moon appears larger on the horizon than it does overhead is merely an optional illusion.

Adjective clauses: Earth, which is the third planet from the Sun, supports life so long as it doesn’t suffer irreversible damage from human activities.

Adverb clauses:  Although global warming is partly a result of naturally-occurring factors, our current warming trends, asserts the speaker in the lecture,  is mostly due to human interventions.

Make a special effort to use these dependent clauses as you do your speaking and writing practice.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Transitional sentences/topic sentences

Using transitional sentences can link one paragraph to another. “In addition to,” “like,” “similar to” are phrases used to link old and new information together.

In addition to: In addition to honesty and respect, a good roommate should also be clean.

Similar to: Similar to hurricanes, tornados can cause massive destruction on coastal and inland communities.

Like: Like the house of representatives, the United States senate can create laws for the president to approve or disapprove.

Understanding and using these types of transitional sentences are not only important to the speaking and writing sections. Recognizing these types of transitional sentences will also help you perform better on the reading and listening sections of the exam.

In reading and listening passages, these transitional expressions refer back to information already mentioned. It may even refer to information that may be implied.  Remember that the transitional part of the sentence “In addition to working well in groups and completing job tasks in a timely manner,” will refer back to something already mentioned or implied. Then the independent clause or main part of the sentence will introduce the new topic of the paragraph:  “A good worker should have sufficient knowledge and training in his career.”

In addition to working well in groups and completing job tasks in a timely manner,” refers back to the key points of working well in groups and completing job tasks quickly, which were two topics previously discussed.

A good worker should have sufficient knowledge and training in his career,” since this idea is framed in the independent clause, introduces the new topic of this paragraph or listening segment.

Listening Example Question about transitions/main ideas.

Listening to part of a lecture in a Geography class:

What was the topic of the previous lecture?

A.  India’s declining economic forces

B. World population trends

C. China’s population demographics

D. Chinese economic policies

Since the speaker uses the words “Like China” and since the speaker talks about India’s large population base in the main part of the sentence, it can be inferred that answer choice “C” is correct.

What is the topic of the new lecture?

A. India’s population trends

B. China’s population statistics

C. Economic policies of China and India

D. India’s innovative agriculture

Since the speaker uses the key words “India…country…enormous…population,” in the main part of the sentence, answer choice “A” is correct.

Reading Example Question about transitions/main ideas.

Long distance running is another cardiovascular sport in which athletes stretch the cardiac tissue of the heart through continuous exercise.  As runners run from one mile to the next, their hearts pump blood through the body.  The blood eventually gets pumped to the muscles where the mitochondria, or powerful cells, use that blood for energy. This energy helps the muscles to contract during movements, thus allowing runners to stay moving for longer distances without stopping.  To facilitate these movements, to improve the quality of the blood, and to help make the best use of the oxygen taken into their bodies, runners need to eat food conducive to helping them stay active.

1.What was the previous topic before this paragraph?

A. Disadvantages of long distance running

B. A different form of exercise

C. Stretching and flexibility exercises

D. World class athletes

Since the author uses the words “another cardiovascular sport” in the first line, it can be inferred that answer choice “B” is correct.

2.What is the main idea of this paragraph?

A. Athletic competition

B. Blood flow

C. Muscle movements

D. Long distance running physiology

Since the author uses the words “long distance running” in the first line and since the paragraphs talks about what happens to the body when it is running, answer choice “D” is correct.

3.What topic will the author most likely discuss next?

A. Oxygen tanks

B. Blood donors

C. Nutritious food for runners

D. Improving the longevity of long distance runners

Near the end of the passage, the author mentions that “runners need to eat food” which helps them to keep moving, so it can be inferred that the best answer is “C.”

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Repeating key words/synonyms

Repeating key words or using synonyms can help to transition from one idea to the next.  Notice how in the below essay how the writer repeats words and uses synonyms of the key words from the thesis.

Sample writing prompt: What change about your country would most benefit its citizens.  Use examples and reasons to support your point of view.

All countries want to help their citizens reach their full potential.  Citizens who earn middle class or upper class incomes will be able to pay taxes to help build their infrastructures such as building roads, schools, and other public building. Therefore, countries provide educational and work opportunities so that their citizens earn living wages.  Like other countries, my country wants to help its citizens succeed. However, we have many poor people. In fact, the poverty rate in my country is more than 35%.   As a result, if my country made one change, I would hope that it would make higher education more accessible to average citizens.  Allowing more people to get educated would reduce the poverty rate, it would make college graduates more culturally diverse, and it would create more tax revenue for the federal government. 

First of all, if my country made higher learning more available, many citizens would be able to rise from poverty.  Currently, about 35% of the citizens in my country are poor, which means they are making the equivalent of less than $1,200 US per month.  My friend Kana was a person who fit into this limited earning capacity.  Unhappy with her situation, Kana took advantage of a tuition grant from the government and pursued a Bachelor’s Degree with Accounting.  Then, Kana completed a graduate degree in Accounting.  After her graduate studies, Kana found a job working as an accountant. Now instead of earning less than $1,200 a month, Kana is earning $6,300 monthly, so she is no longer considered poor. In fact, she can be considered upper-middle class. If people in my country were given grants to attend college, they would be able to move out of poverty just like Kana.

Second of all, if most citizens had a chance to attend college, they would broaden their cultural viewpoints.  For instance, even though my friend Kana is from Japan and even though she  completed her undergraduate degree in accounting in the United States, Kana was required to take many general education courses such as English literature, geography, anthropology, psychology, sociology, gender studies, and race and racism.  As a result of these classes, Kana learned more about the world around her and not just her major accounting.  For instance, by studying in the United States, Kana learned a lot of American culture, which was very different from her native culture.  Kana, therefore, broadened her cultural viewpoints of American culture and also of the microcultures within the United States.

Third of all, citizens study who complete university studies will pay more taxes to the federal and local governments compared to those who only complete their high school studies.  To illustrate, the average salary of someone who only completes high school is $25,000.  However, workers who complete a bachelor’s degree earn approximately $60,000.  Those who complete graduate or professional degrees will earn about $95,000.  My friend Kana who has an MBA degree in accounting is earning about $75,000 right now.  The tax rate in my country is about 25%.  Therefore, someone earning $25,000 is paying about $6,250 in taxes annually. On the other hand, my friend Kana is paying $19,000 in taxes every year.  Her example shows that citizens who are given the chance to attend college will pay about 3 times more in taxes every year compared to those who don’t attend college.

To sum up,  I definitely feel that if my country helped more of its citizens attend college we would have fewer poor people, citizens with wider cultural perspectives, and a larger tax base from which local, provincial, and federal government could draw funds.  Therefore, this is the one change I hope my country can make for its citizens in the near future.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Having Grammatically similar sentences

Another way to connect ideas together within a paragraph is to use several similar grammatical sentences in a row.  If the grammar in the sentences are similar, then readers will assume the ideas in those sentences are also similar.

Another important quality in co-workers is that they share one another’s burdens.  For instance, at my last job, I was working as a marketer.  The CEO tasked my team of 8 with developing a slogan that our company could use to advertise its products in China. Our team remarkably shared our tasks as we completed this arduous project. We worked on developing a marketing strategy that would appeal to Chinese consumers.  We crafted a slogan in Mandarin to which consumers in China could relate.  We used graphics, video, and a sound script to communicate this message. Therefore, our team’s sharing these time-consuming tasks helped us to complete this project in about 7 days time, without any one team member having to do too much of the work.  Thus, being able to share our burdens is an important quality in co-workers.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Using extended example

In the above example about one change a country can make, the writer uses the example of the friend Kana who was given some financial aid from the government to attend college. Through paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, Kana was able to get out of poverty, she was able to become more culturally diverse, and she began paying more taxes to the federal government because of her financial success.  Discussing that one example effectively connects all of the body paragraphs together.  In addition, the writer shows depth by threading the example of Kana throughout the three body paragraphs.

TOEFL Speaking and Writing Transitions: Final tips

Over a period of a few months, practice what you have learned on this web page.  Make sure in your TOEFL speaking practice tests that you are using these types of transitions to connect your ideas together, Similarly, as you complete integrated and independent writing practice, use these techniques so it is easier for others to see how your ideas are connected.  

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,