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Tips for Charts, Graphs, and Tables on the ACT and SAT

Karen S.

In this lesson, we’re going to cover three tips that apply to the charts, graphs, and tables that accompany written passages on the ACT and the SAT. Whether you’re looking at the relatively basic graphics on SAT Reading and Writing or the more complicated figures found on the ACT Science section, these strategies will help you to avoid falling for deliberately-misleading wrong answer choices.


Identify what the graphic represents

The scope of what an ACT or SAT graphic can measure is extremely limited. For example, let’s say a pie chart breaks the population of the United Sates down by occupation and the description says “occupation of public transportation passengers.”  All that this chart can tell you is that a certain percentage of people in certain occupations take public transit. The chart cannot tell you the frequency with which any group takes mass transit, whether a particular group prefers to take mass transit, or any other such information.


Eliminate wrong answers that go beyond what the graphic can tell you

Once you know what a graphic can tell you, your next step should be to eliminate any answer choices that include information that the graphic cannot tell you. If a question asked you for the conclusion that is supported by the data in our hypothetical pie chart, for instance, you would want to eliminate any answer choices that contain phrases such as “more often” or “less often” or that speculate about the motivations of the various groups for taking public transportation.


There’s a good chance that eliminating these “trap” answer choices would leave you with the correct answer outright. However, if you still had a couple of answer choices left, the correct choice would be the one that most closely matches the percentages in the chart.


Look at only the data that a question asks about

In our ACT Science tips lesson, we noted that a question must tell you which data you need to use to successfully answer that question. If a question says “based on the information in Figure 1,” look only at Figure 1. If a question mentions two specific variables, look at only those two variables.


The same holds true for SAT graphic questions. Let’s say our transportation pie chart was followed by a second pie chart with different but related information and that both appeared after a Reading passage. A question could ask you to consider the data in first pie chart, the data in the send chart, the information in the passage, or some combination thereof.


The key is to consider the data from a particular source only if a question specifically asks you to do so. If a question asks about the first chart, don’t bother looking at second chart and/or the passage. If a question asks you to compare the data in the two charts, ignore the information in the passage. In the unlikely event that a question asks you to draw a conclusion from multiple graphics and a passage, any answer choices that misrepresent the graphic(s) and passage in any way whatsoever will automatically be wrong.



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