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).
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:
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”?
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.
1. 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.
2. The milk in trial 1 started with 2,895,00 bacteria per cc, which is higher than any trials. A is the correct answer.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.