CAT Data Interpretation Tips & Tricks

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With a few CAT data interpretation tips & tricks, you can boost your score in-section and overall! Image by geralt.

Many test-takers worry about CAT Data Interpretation questions. In this section, examinees answer quantitative problems based on graphic stimuli (charts, tables, and graphs) the exam provides. Because most people don’t work with complex graphs on a day-to-day basis, approaching CAT Data Interpretation can feel overwhelming at first. However, a few CAT Data Interpretation Tips and Tricks can make the section more approachable—and help you get a better score.

Tip #1: Learn the Data Formats

Surprisingly few students approach CAT Data Interpretation as logically as they could. After you take your first practice test, go back and analyze the different types of data you encountered and how well you did answering associated questions. You’ll find that the CAT primarily presents data as:

  • Line graphs
  • Bar graphs
  • Pie charts
  • Scatter plots
  • Tables

Or any combination of these.

Tip #2: Learn the Question Types

Next, analyze the types of questions you saw on your CAT. Most likely, you’ll have found some (if not all) of the following question types:

  • Percentages
  • Averages
  • Ratios
  • Proportions
  • Data comparisons (i.e. at what point is data about two subjects the closest or furthest)

Of course, the trickiest CAT Data Interpretation questions will force you to use these concepts in multiple steps. For example, you may be given a ratio of men to women in a table, then told in the problem the number of men. From there, you might have to then determine the number of women, and perhaps compare this number to another given in a different chart or graph. It can be complicated!

Tip #3: Know Your Timing

If you’re at least three months away from your test date, timing isn’t as much of a problem for you. However, as that test date approaches, you’ll want to ensure that you’re working toward reasonable timing for each question.

What does reasonable timing look like? In Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning, you have one hour to answer 32 questions. You may encounter 16-18 Data Interpretation questions, but you’ll want to leave plenty of time for Logical Reasoning, too. So let’s assume an even distribution of time for each type of question: 32 questions in 60 minutes is less than two minutes per question. To be on the safe side and allow for computer loading, answer selection, and other potential time thieves, let’s say that gives you 1:30 per problem. Not very much!

Of course, that 1:30 only holds true if you try to answer every question. Most test-takers will find that they actually maximize their scores by not answering every question. Because of this, analyzing your practice tests and figuring out which types of problems you consistently get wrong, even close to the official exam, can be helpful in determining what you’re going to skip.

In terms of timing, consider the following to give you the best chance of a high score on the official exam:

  1. Know how many problems you’re going to attempt, and which types of problems you’ll skip;
  2. Minimize your use of the on-screen calculator. It takes a lot of time to use, and you won’t often need it;
  3. Practice mental math and approximation as much as possible;
  4. Run timed practice drills, decreasing the time you give yourself per question as your exam approaches;
  5. Get used to skimming data quickly when you first see it. Immediately identify what each axis of a graph, or column and row of a table, represents, what units the stimulus uses, and how the test-maker has ordered the data (chronologically? By size? Alphabetically?)

A Final Word

These CAT Data Interpretation Tips and Tricks will help you raise your score if you get used to using them consistently and cleverly. That’s why, at the end of the day, there’s really no substitute for good old-fashioned practice. Drills, practice tests, and careful response analysis of them will be the biggest pieces in the puzzle contributing to your CAT score. So keep practicing—and good luck!

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