It’s no secret that the reading passages on the ACT and SAT are viewed by many students as the most difficult portion of the test. But understanding them is easier than moving a couch up a flight of stairs on Friends (not familiar with the show? It’s worth an internet search of “Friends Pivot” for no other reason than you won’t be able to stop thinking of Ross yelling “Pivot!” every time you read an ACT or SAT passage). The ACT and SAT reading passages have many signposts to help you navigate the ideas in the text. Fluent readers pass these “pivotal words” without much thought, but less confident readers can use these directional clues to help boost their comprehension of a passage. So how exactly do they work?
Pivotal words can help you isolate the main idea and the author’s attitude toward the topic. Consider an example:
While an argument can certainly be made that an abundance of certain bacteria in the intestinal flora can cause
serious illness, not all bacteria present in excess are harmful.
The subordinating conjunction while indicates that the second part of the sentence will contradict the first idea. The first portion of the sentence contains an argument made by others, and the second part contains the author’s viewpoint: not all bacteria present in excess are harmful.
There are eight types of pivotal words for which to watch on the ACT and SAT, and each type has a specific
function in directing a reader through a passage:
1. U-Turn Words
- Like the example above, U-Turn words indicate contrast and are the most important pivotal words in a passage.
- Examples: but, although, yet, despite, however, on the other hand, still, nonetheless, etc.
2. One Way Words (Additional Information)
- One Way Words indicate that the author is continuing in the same direction, by expanding the same idea.
- Examples: and, also, as well as, not only…but also, besides, further, in addition, too, etc.
Experts agree that unstructured play in early childhood education is important for developing cognitive
abilities as well as crucial for fostering social skills.
3. One Way Words (Comparable Information)
- These One Way Words alert you to a comparison or similarity between two ideas.
- Examples: equally important, just as, likewise, similarly, parallels, by the same token, etc.
Scientists concluded that the constant climate and conditions of the abyssal zone—the deepest part of the
ocean—attracted numerous species. Similarly, the Amazon River basin maintains an unfluctuating tropical
rainforest climate and supports a multitude of species.
4. Cause and Effect Words
- Cause and Effect Words indicate that the author is either citing reasons that an event occurred or describing the effect of a specific action.
- Examples: because, due to, therefore, since, consequently, then, so, thus, as a result, etc.
Because the township did not budget sufficient monies to fund the replenishment of the entire beach, only
the upper beach received new sand; as a result, a steepened beach was created which was only exasperated
5. Example Words
- Example words indicate that the author is presenting evidence to support his main idea or topic sentence.
- Examples: for example, such as, including, for instance, namely, in particular, like, as, etc.
At the meeting, the school board discussed the benefits of changing the school start times, namely reduced
traffic congestion and a staggered bus schedule.
6. Opposing Viewpoint Words
- These pivotal words allow the author to acknowledge the existence of other viewpoints or beliefs besides his or her own.
- Opposing viewpoint words are often used with a U-Turn word to set off the author’s opinion.
- Examples: granted, admit, yes, concede, of course, accept, this may be true, etc.
Granted, some scientists argue that many organisms do not feel pain, and this may be the case in
creatures with simple nervous systems. Yet studies of rainbow trout have proven that not only can fish feel
pain, but also suffer from post-traumatic stress reactions due to previous pain.
7. Emphasis Words
- Emphasis words highlight particularly important points in a passage.
- Examples: in fact, in other words, above all, chiefly, surely, indeed, especially, clearly, etc.
Once a common pastime, needlework has seen a decrease in popularity which is reflected in the shrinking
inventory and aisle space allocated to the hobby in craft stores; in essence, it is a dying art.
8. Conclusion Words
- Conclusion words indicate the reiteration of the main idea, so they are particularly helpful.
- Examples: in conclusion, for these reasons, in any event, in summary, in brief, finally, etc.
The federal court nominee has been proven to be trustworthy, passionate, and fair. To conclude, his
appointment is all but certain.
When you begin your ACT and SAT study, underline any pivotal words you encounter and see if they help you better understand the text you have read. As you become more confident with your reading and more practiced with recognizing the author’s signposts, you may not need to search for pivotal words any longer. PIVOT!