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David Recine

New SAT Reading Graph and Chart Questions

There is an increased emphasis on information visuals in the New SAT. While older versions of the exam only included infographics in the Math section, you will now see charts, tables and graphs in every section of the exam. In this post, we’ll look at the skill of interpreting visuals in new SAT Reading, with a typical example question.

In New SAT Reading, graphs and charts are presented for careful analysis. Just as you would infer ideas and understand the implications of a written passage, you also need to make inferences and aggregate information form the infographics that accompany some of the articles.

The information in the written passage will always complement and support the information in the visual. At the same time, it is often possible to get the correct answer just from looking at the chart or graph that comes with the reading. Here is a bar graph that could easily appear in a New SAT Reading section (although on the exam itself, the graph would be black-and-white, not color):



Here’s a question that could easily follow this type of Reading section visual:

  • The graph offers evidence that depression and low self-esteem

A) generally happen together as a linked pair of emotional problems
B) always happen in a sequence, with one feeling leading to the next
C) cannot happen without a distressing event or biological predisposition
D) affect people differently, depending on the nature of the cause-effect relationship

It can be tempting to just skim an SAT Reading chart, treating it as an easier read than the more densely written text in the passage. This approach to visuals on the New Sat is a mistake, and it can lead to incorrect answers.

A very careful reading of the chart above shows that (A) is the correct answer. In all three-cause effect relationships depicted, depression and low self-esteem happen together. Either one causes the other, or both happen at the same time as a result of other factors. A shallow, overly fast reading of the chart could lead to the other incorrect answer choices.

To see that depression and low self-esteem don’t always happen in a sequence, you need to make careful note of the direction of the arrows in each part of the graphic. In the third cause-effect relationship, the arrows don’t show low self-esteem or depression causing each other. Instead, both mental health maladies are simultaneously caused by depressing events or biological predisposition. (C) can be mistakenly chosen if you misread the chart and see relationship number 3 as an expanded, more complete version of relationships 1 and 2. (It’s actually a third wholly different cause-effect relationship that’s distinct form the first two cause-effect relationships shown above it.)

Answer (D) is a tempting choice if you infer a little too much, logically, it’s certainly possible that depression and low self-esteem feel different depending on their root causes. This infographic does not touch on the way personal experiences vary at all. There is no evidence in the chart for answer (D).


The Takeaway

Graph and chart reading is different than passage reading. The use of words in infographics is minimal compared to all-text passages. So when you read infographics, you’ll need to look at them much more closely. Even the tiniest detail in a chart or graph can be an important factor in getting the right answer. Charts and graphs may be structured differently from regular prose, but on the SAT they carry just as much important information, even with fewer words. Approach this kind of visual reading with an eye for detail, and make sure you are as comfortable with infographics as you are with more traditional texts.


About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!

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