Among the math skills that the SAT tests, reading data from tables or graphs is one of the more straightforward tasks. But there are a number of simple mistakes that might make you miss out on points if you’re not careful. The best way to avoid those totally avoidable slip-ups is to train yourself to follow a pattern.
SAT Graphs Tip – Scanning before reading the question
It’s tempting to jump right into the question, especially if you’re feeling clock pressure. But don’t do it! Usually, the question will make pretty much no sense if you don’t have the context that the figure gives you. You’ll end up reading the question, looking over the table/graph, rereading the question, and then finding the information you need. Why waste the time doing it twice? Scan the figure first.
You’ll want to read the headings, the axes, and the units of measurement, then make note of any missing information or obvious patterns.
After you’ve done that, go ahead to the question.
SAT Graphs Tip – Add in any information from the question
As is often true for other types of SAT math problems, the written question might have some info in it that the figure doesn’t include. Just like you would write in angle measurements, fill in any extra info; there’s no reason to try to keep it in your head.
Find the areas of the table that the question asks about
Your SAT might try to make the question more confusing by adding in a whole lot of superfluous information into the visual. Check what the question asks for, then circle the area in the table or graph that answers the question (or gives you info that will lead to the answer).
For the easiest SAT data questions, you’re already finished—they just want you to locate the info. But it might ask you to go another step.
SAT Graphs Tip – Write the math out
If you’re asked about relationships between to things, look carefully at the relationships between 4-6 pieces of information (two xs and two ys), and write out the pattern. If you’re looking for some variable, write out the equation. If it’s not clear how to go about that, maybe you should try plugging answer choices in to see if they work.
SAT Graphs Tip – Double check your units
After you’ve done whatever math you need to, check your units. It’s easy to make a mistake by using minutes instead of hours, and the SAT takes advantage of that in the incorrect answer choices.
A lot of SAT prep has to do with training yourself against hasty mistakes, and tables and graphs are classic places to make those slips. Follow the rules and you’ll be much safer.
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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