No matter how unfamiliar the terminology may be, all the information you need to answer graph-related questions will be right in front of you. These questions are set up precisely so that you can figure them out without any outside knowledge.
March 19, 2020
Shifting from sentences to lines and numbers can be jarring. You’re solidly in reading comprehension mode, then wham… you have to answer a question about a graph. The good news is, however, that information graphic questions are rarely as complicated as they appear.
While graphs/charts are always related in some way to the passages they accompany, many infographic questions can be answered based on the graph or chart alone; you do not need to take the passage into account at all
Another potential “trick” the SAT could throw at you involves not graphs but the wording of the questions. It is important to understand that although infographic questions may look very different from other questions, they are still reading questions; you must pay careful attention to how they are phrased.
An answer may accurately convey the information represented in the graph but not answer the particular question asked. One factor that you must consider is scope. That is, whether the question asks about a specific feature or piece of data in the graph, or whether it asks you to provide an overview or understand a general trend.
If, for example, a question asks you which answer best summarizes the information in the graph, you may see an option that correctly describes a specific aspect of that graph. Although that answer may be factually correct, it will still be wrong because it does not answer the question at hand.
Which information best summarizes the information presented in the graph?
A. every crop grown in the United States relies on bees for at least 20 percent of its pollination.
B. bees are responsible for pollinating 100 percent of almonds around the world.
C. the percent of peaches pollinated by bees is more than double the percent of cotton.
D. the percent of United States crops pollinated by bees varies dramatically.
Solution: The question tells us that we are looking for an answer that provides an overview of the information represented in the graph. Answers that contain specific facts and/or figures are therefore likely to be wrong.
Three of the answers contain specific figures: A mentions 20 percent, B mentions 100 percent, and C says, “double.” D is the only choice that does not include a specific figure, and sure enough, it is consistent with our summary: the percent of U.S. crops pollinated by bees ranges from just above zero up to 100. D is the correct answer.
Option C is where you need to be careful. The bar for peaches is indeed a little more than twice as high as it is for cotton, but this answer choice only deals with two specific crops, whereas the question asks us to summarize the information presented in the graph. So, even though this answer is true, it’s still wrong.
The following are the three types of questions typically asked:
1. Finding Data
These are the most straightforward quantitative questions. They ask about the information that you can see just by looking at the table, chart, or graph. Some questions will ask about specific values, while others will ask about bigger trends, like whether a variable is increasing or decreasing, or about its lowest point. These questions will often take one of these forms:
- Based on the data in the graph/chart/table, which [variable] [does this thing]?
- According to the data in the figure, what is [some value]?
One of the nice things about these questions is that you don’t need to look at the written parts of the passages to answer them: they are based purely on the charts, graphs, or tables that accompany the readings. This means you can answer them very quickly, and you can even skip to them without reading the passage if you’re running out of time.
If you approach these questions with a general understanding of what a graph conveys, you can often eliminate multiple incorrect answers quickly.
According to the graph, which statement is true about the number of riders who used public transportation in 1945?
A. It was a lot higher than the number of riders who used public transportation in 1950
B. It was wildly out of proportion to the number of riders who used transportation during the previous two decades
C. It was similar to the number of riders who used public transportation a decade later
D. It was lower than the number of riders who used public transportation in 2010
Solution: In this graph, all of the years listed along the x-axis are in multiples of 10 (1920, 1930, etc.); For 1945, we can see that ridership was a little under 20 billion.
A. Cannot be correct. It is clear from the graph ridership in 1945 was lower than it was in 1950.
B. The extreme phrase wildly out of proportion immediately suggests that this answer is wrong A.
C. A decade later was 1955. If we look at the tick mark between 1950 and 1960, we end up with a point in roughly the same range as that for 1945. So, C is the correct answer.
D. This is backward. Ridership in 2010 was lower. That means ridership in 1945 was higher.
2. Interpreting Data
These are a lot like finding data questions, but one step up: instead of just asking you to locate information in a figure, you’re asked to say something about that information. You can easily spot interpreting data questions because they almost always contain the words “support” or “suggest,” as in:
- Which statement is supported by the data in the figure?
- The graph/chart/table suggests that...
Just like with finding data questions, you can answer interpreting data questions without looking at the written part of the passage. In fact, it can often be better to answer these questions without looking at the passage to save time and to avoid falling for trap answers that are supported by the readings but not the figure.
Which of the following statements is supported by the information in the graph above?
A. Beijing is better suited to raising seasonal crops than Johannesburg is.
B. Global warming has affected Johannesburg much more than it has affected Beijing.
C. The climate of Johannesburg is consistently warmer the that of Beijing.
D. The temperature in Beijing fluctuates more over the course of the year than the temperature in Johannesburg does.
A. What crops? The graph does not provide any information about crops, so this answer cannot describe the graph.
B. What global warming? The graph does not provide any information about global warming, so this cannot describe the graph.
C. While the graph shows Johannesburg to be warmer in October-April, Beijing is warmer in May-September.
D. This is the correct answer! The line for Beijing goes up and down through a much wider range of temperatures (roughly 25-80 degress) than the one for Johannesburg does (roughly 50°-70 degrees).
The chart above suggests that students’ feelings of anxiety before a final exam are most strongly associated with
A. how difficult they expect the exam to be.
B. the length of time remaining before the exam starts.
C. the types of questions that will appear on the exam
D. how recently they have studied when they answer the question.
A. While students’ expectations of difficulty and levels of anxiety may seem to move together from one day before the test to five minutes before the test, their anxiety levels one week before the test are essentially opposite of their expectation of difficulty.
B. This is the correct answer! The graph shows that students’ reported levels of anxiety consistently, and noticeably, rise as the length of time before the exam shortens.
C. What types of questions? The graph does not provide any information about question types, so this cannot describe the graph.
D. What studying? The graph does not provide any information about studying, so this cannot describe the graph.
3. Interpreting Data
Data interpretation questions ask you to think about the data in the graph, chart, or table along with the ideas in the passage. Unlike the other two question types we’ve looked at, it is very important to check back in the passage what asked to interpret data. These are some of the hardest questions on the SAT Reading Test.
You can easily recognize these questions, however, because they usually mention the author of the passage directly, as in:
- How would the author respond/interpret the information in the graph/chart/table?
- Do the data in the graph/chart/table support the author’s claim?
Let’s practice with this SAT-style passage:
This passage is adapted from H. L. Russell, Outlines of Dairy Bacteriology: A Concise Manual for the Use of Students in Dairying, 1905 by the H.L. Russell. The passage discusses methods of removing or lowering bacteria in milk to keep it safe to drink.
Much can be done to improvethe quality of milk by avoiding a large portion of the bacteria which could normally enter the milk, and slowing the growth of those that do find their way in. But for general purposes, any practical method of preservation at a commercial scale must rely on destroying bacteria that are present in the milk. The two methods of destroying bacteria after they have gained access to the milk are chemical preservatives and physical methods. Numerous attempts have been made to find some chemical that could be added to milk in order to preserve it without interfering with its nutritional qualities, but as a general rule, a substance that is toxic enough to destroy bacterial life is also dangerous to the human body. Physical methods of destroying bacteria are less likely to lower the nutritional value of milk. Some methods that have been tested in experiments are not yet practical for most cases. These methods often rely upon electricity, vacuums, or increased pressure. Condensation has been used with great success for many years, but this process fundamentally changes the properties of the milk. Temperature changes are, therefore, the most valuable methods of preserving milk, since a variation in temperature can bring all bacterial growth to a standstill. Under proper conditions, bacteria is thoroughly destroyed by temperature changes. One of the temperature changes that can be used is sterilization. Sterilization means the application of heat at temperatures at or above 212F. It does not necessarily imply that milk so treated is sterile, i.e., germ-free; it is practically impossible to destroy entirely all these hardy life-forms. If milk is heated at temperatures above the boiling point, though, it can be rendered practically germ-free. Milks heated to so high a temperature have a pronounced boiled or cooked taste, which may explain why sterilization has not become a popular method in this country. The other main use of temperature change to treat milk is called pasteurization. In this method, the level of heat used ranges from 140 to 185 F, and the heat is applied for only a limited length of time. The process was first extensively used by Pasteur (from whom it got its name) in combating various bacterial growths in beer and wine. Its importance as a means of increasing the keeping quality of milk (the length of time the milk stays fresh) was not generally recognized until a few years ago; but the method is now growing rapidly in popularity as a way to preserve milk for commercial purposes. The method does not destroy all germ-life in milk - it affects only those organisms that are actively growing - but if the milk is quickly cooled, pasteurization greatly enhances the keeping quality. Studies investigating the effects of variation in temperature on bacterial life in milk have given us important indicators for the selection of the proper limits for pasteurization. The most marked decrease in the number of bacteria in milk occurs at 140 F (60 C). An increase in heat above this temperature does not substantially lower the number of bacterial organisms present, indicating that those bacteria remaining were in a spore or resistant condition. Further studies have found, however, that developing colonies grow more slowly in Petri dishes treated with highly heated milk (above 149 F or 65 C), showing that the remaining bacteria’s capacity to reproduce and grow was lowered at high temperatures, even though they were not killed.
1. According to the table, how many bacteria were found in 1 cc of milk heated to 122 F in Trial 3?
2. Based on the data in the table, which trial used milk with the highest initial number of bacteria per cc?
A. Trial 1
B. Trial 2
C. Trial 3
D. Trial 4
3. According to the table, as the temperature was increased from 140 F to 158 F, the number of bacteria per cc of milk in Trial 3
B. remained the same.
D. increased, then decreased.
4. Which of the following claims is best supported by the data in the table?
A. The methods used in Trial 3 were more effective at eliminating bacteria than those used in Trial 2.
B. Between 113 F and 140 F, increased temperature is related to decreased numbers of bacteria per cc of milk.
C. Heating milk to temperatures above 140 F causes the number of bacteria in it to increase.
D. No matter how high you raise the temperature, it is impossible to completely sterilize milk through heat.
5. Do the data in the table support the author’s claim that sterilization can render milk “practically germ-free” (lines 40-41)?
A. Yes, because at 140 F, the number of bacteria per cc of milk was below 40,000 for all the trials.
B. Yes, because the evidence from Trial 1 show continuous decrease in bacteria as the temperature is increased.
C. No, because the table only provides evidence about bacteria.
D. No, because the data do not provide information for temperatures above 158 F.
6. The author would likely attribute the increases some trials found in the numbers of bacteria per cc of milk at 158 F to
A. the addition of toxic preservatives.
B. the limited length of time for which heat was applied to the milk.
C. resistant forms of bacteria or bacteria in spores.
D. failure to quickly cool the milk after heating it.
- We see in the row for “Trial 3” and the column for “122 F” that there were 260,000 bacteria found in 1 cc of milk. B is the correct answer.
- The milk in trial 1 started with 2,895,00 bacteria per cc, which is higher than any trials. A is the correct answer.
- As the temperature was increased from 140 F to 158 F, the number of bacteria per cc of milk in Trial 3 went from 575 to 610 to 650. C is the correct answer.
- Looking along the row for each trial, we see that the values in the columns from “113 F” to “140 F” consistently go down as the temperatures go up. Above these temperatures, we see some numbers of bacteria start to rise again. B is the correct answer.
- The author states in the passage that sterilization occurs at or above 212 F, so the data in the table cannot support this claim because they do not include anything above 158 F. D is the correct answer.
- In lines 76-81, the author states, “Increase in heat above [140 F] does not substantially lower the number of bacterial organisms present, indicating that those bacteria remaining were in a spore or resistant condition.” C is the correct answer.
This passage is adapted from Sharon Tregaskis, “What bees tell us about Global Climate Change” 2010 by John Hopkins magazine.
Standing in the apiary on the grounds of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, Wayne Esaias, A&S ’67, digs through the canvas shoulder bag leaning against his leg in search of the cable he uses to download data. It’s dusk as he runs the cord from his laptop—precariously perched on the beam of a cast-iron platform scale—to a small, battery-operated data logger attached to the spring inside the scale’s steel column. In the 1800s, a scale like this would have weighed sacks of grain or crates of apples, peaches, and melons. Since arriving at the USDA’s bee lab in January 2007, this scale has been loaded with a single item: a colony of Apis mellifera, the fuzzy, black-and-yellow honey bee. An attached, 12-bit recorder captures the hive’s weight to within a 10th of a pound, along with a daily register of relative ambient humidity and temperature. On this late January afternoon, during a comparatively balmy respite between the blizzards that dumped several feet of snow on the Middle Atlantic states, the bees, their honey, and the wooden boxes in which they live weigh 94.5 pounds. In mid-July, as last year’s unusually long nectar flow finally ebbed, the whole contraption topped out at 275 pounds, including nearly 150 pounds of honey. “Right now, the colony is in a cluster about the size of a soccer ball,” says Esaias, who’s kept bees for nearly two decades and knows without lifting the lid what’s going on inside this hive. “The center of the cluster is where the queen is, and they’re keeping her at 93 degrees—the rest are just hanging there, tensing their flight muscles to generate heat.” Provided that they have enough calories to fuel their winter workout, a healthy colony can survive as far north as Anchorage, Alaska. “They slowly eat their way up through the winter,” he says. “It’s a race: Will they eat all their honey before the nectar flows, or not?” To make sure their charges win that race, apiarists have long relied on scale hives for vital management clues. By tracking daily weight variations, a beekeeper can discern when the colony needs a nutritional boost to carry it through lean times, whether to add extra combs for honey storage, even detect incursions by marauding robber bees all without disturbing the colony. A graph of the hive’s weight which can increase by as much as 35 pounds a day in some parts of the United States during peak nectar flow reveals the date on which the bees’ foraging was most productive and provides a direct record of successful pollination. “Around here, the bees make their living in the month of May,” says Esaias, noting that his bees often achieve daily spikes of 25 pounds, the maximum in Maryland. “There’s almost no nectar coming in for the rest of the year.” A scientist by training and career oceanographer at NASA, Esaias established the Mink Hollow Apiary in his Highland, Maryland, backyard in 1992 with a trio of hand-me-down hives and an antique platform scale much like the one at the Beltsville bee lab. Ever since, he’s maintained a meticulous record of the bees’ daily weight, as well as weather patterns and such details as his efforts to keep them healthy. In late 2006, honey bees nationwide began disappearing in an ongoing syndrome dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD). Entire hives went empty as bees inexplicably abandoned their young and their honey. Commercial beekeepers reported losses up to 90 percent, and the large-scale farmers who rely on honey bees to ensure rich harvests of almonds, apples, and sunflowers became very, very nervous. Looking for clues, Esaias turned to his own records. While the resulting graphs threw no light on the cause of CCD, a staggering trend emerged: In the span of just 15 seasons, the date on which his Mink Hollow bees brought home the most nectar had shifted by two weeks from late May to the middle of the month. “I was shocked when I plotted this up,” he says. “It was right under my nose, going on the whole time.” The epiphany would lead Esaias to launch a series of research collaborations, featuring honey bees and other pollinators, to investigate the relationships among plants, pollinators, and weather patterns. Already, the work has begun to reveal insights into the often unintended consequences of human interventions in natural and agricultural ecosystems, and exposed significant gaps in how we understand the effect climate change will have on everything from food production to terrestrial ecology.
1. Data in the graph provide the most direct support for which idea in the passage?
A. Human intervention in agriculture can have unintended consequences
B. Peak nectar collection now occurs earlier than it did in recent years
C. Bees that consume sufficient nutrients during the winter can survive in northern regions
D. Bees collect the largest amount of honey during the month of May
2. Do the data in the graph provide support for Wayne Esaias’s claim that the time when his bees were collecting the most nectar had shifted by two weeks?
A. Yes, because the data provide evidence that peak collection moved from late May to mid-May
B. Yes, because in each year, peak collection occurred during the month of May
C. No, because the graph indicates that peak collection shifted from the beginning of June to the beginning of May
D. No, because peak collection time did not move earlier in every two-year period
3. The information in the graph best supports which idea in the passage?
A. Lines 13-15 (“In the 1800s…melon”)
B. Lines 56-62 (“A graph…pollination”)
C. Lines 83-87 (“Commercial…nervous”)
D. Lines 91-95 (“In…month”)
4. The author of the passage would most likely consider the information in the graph as
A. questionable data that the author would dispute
B. intriguing but unsupported by personal observations
C. an accurate illustration of why some farmers are concerned
D. more accurate for some regions than for others
5. Which lines from the passage provide the best evidence for the previous question?
A. Lines 62-63 (“Around…May”)
B. Lines 83-87 (“Commercial…nervous)
C. Lines 91-95 (“In…month”)
D. Lines 102-106 (“Already…ecosystems”)
- All of the answers restate points mentioned in the passage, so you don’t need to check whether a given answer is there. The question itself gives you all the necessary information. Your only job is to figure out which one of the points the graph supports.The fact that the graph’s bars get progressively shorter indicates that peak nectar collection occurred steadily earlier in May between 1992 and 2006. That’s exactly what B says, which means it’s the correct answer.
- The easiest way to approach this question is to answer it upfront so that you do not become confused by the choices provided. The graph shows that peak nectar production declined from late May to mid-May between 1992 and 2006. That’s two weeks, so yes, the graph does support Esaias’s claim. That makes A the correct answer.
- The graph shows us that crops that receive most of pollination from bees (high bars) would be strongly affected, while crops that receive less pollination from bees (low bars) would be less affected. Now that we’ve figured out the basics let’s look at the answer choices.The graph doesn’t depict losses, but it does depict almonds, apples, and sunflowers. In fact, those are the crops that get the highest percentage of pollination from bees (highest bars). It follows logically that the bees’ disappearance would affect those crops the most severely, making beekeepers nervous. The correct answer is C.
- At first glance, it might look as if the answer could be anywhere. The title of the graph provides some very important information. It tells you that the graph is about crops. Logically, then, the necessary section of the passage must relate to crops in some way. Based on that information, the words “farmers” in C and “some regions” in C seem to suggest that the answer is likely to be one of the places, with C the more likely option. If you scan for the word farmers, you’ll discover it appears in one place: line 66. And if you read the entire sentence in which it appears, you’ll see that large scale farmers are particularly concerned because they rely on almonds, apples, and sunflowers. So, the correct answer is, in fact, C.
- In lines 88-93 (“Commercial…nervous”), the content that overlaps with the graph should be clear. Even if you don’t immediately make the connection between the bars of the graph and the relative vulnerability of various crops, the fact that both the graph and this section of the passage have the same focus provides an important clue that B is the correct answer.