As you might have already deduced, data interpretation questions test your ability to navigate one or more diagrams to find relevant information to answer a set of questions. Some data interpretations will be more straightforward, while others will ask you to determine if the graphs you’ve been presented with provide enough information to answer the question at all. To help you get started with data interpretation questions – and to reinforce the fact that you should be preparing for them – here are three strategies that will give you even more confidence on test day.
1. Take in the big picture
Test takers are often surprised by how complicated data interpretation graphs and diagrams can be to navigate. With all the numbers, facts and lines strewn about on any given graph, it can be easy to feel defeated before you even begin tackling the questions. Even worse, some test takers will start by reading the questions and referring back to the graphs without absorbing the information first.
Before you do anything, take a minute to review the graphs and make mental notes of what information is being displayed on the X and Y-axis. Once you’ve done that, read any information provided below the graph(s). This won’t take a lot of effort, but taking a minute to put the pieces of the big picture together will make you far more effective when referring back to the graphs.
2. Approximate values and percentages
While you might not need to understand the Pythagorean theorem to tackle a data interpretation question, you will be asked to handle some unwieldy numbers. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean your calculations need to be precise. In fact, data interpretation questions will often ask you to find the approximate value from a graph, which should tip you off to the fact that you can ballpark the figures to find the correct answer. Consider the example below.
Total number of players: 37
The organizers at a company softball picnic discovered that 17 players that accidentally registered as teenagers were college-age adults. Approximately what percentage of all players would now be considered adults?
It would be easy to get caught up in two things: 1) that the chart is somewhat vague and 2) the fact that these are not round numbers. However, don’t forget that the question is asking for an approximate value. To solve this problem, let’s assume that 45% of the 37 players – the closest percentage to the dot on our chart – were considered teenagers when this chart was made. When we do that, we quickly find that 16.65 players were originally teenagers. Since it’s impossible to have only 65 percent of a person, let’s round up to 17 teenagers, leaving us with zero players considered teenagers.
We also need to find the number of adults who registered correctly, to which we’ll need to add the 17 teenagers to find the current percentage of adult players. If we assume that 15% of the players were adults when this chart was drafted (again, the closest number to where dot on the chart lands), we find that (0.15)(37) = 5.55 adults were playing in the game. As we did earlier, let’s round up to 6, since we can’t have 55 percent of a person.
Now we can do some simple arithmetic to find that 17 + 6 = 23 players in this softball game are considered adults. To calculate the percentage being asked in the original question, we can divide 23 by 37 total players, and we find that the closest answer choice is 62%, which is B.
(23 / 37) * 100% ≈ 62.162%
Although none of these calculations were precise, we were able to ballpark our figures and land on the correct answer choice.
3. Avoid getting caught up in all the details
As important as it is to take the lay of the land, graphs and charts on the GRE can contain lots of superfluous information that appears to be essential at first glance. Once you take a minute to understand the big picture of a graph, move on to the questions and refer back to it as needed. Let’s refer back to the chart we used earlier.
While this is a fairly straightforward example, it would be easy to get caught up in a number of things about this chart. Even the fact that the Y-axis lists percentages from 0% to 50% can be a distracting piece of information that you might find yourself spending too much time reading. Not only would this affect your timing on the GRE, but will make the chart far more confusing to refer back to when responding to a data interpretation question. Give yourself the time to outline where the relevant pieces of information can be found on a chart, but don’t worry too much about understanding everything about a given chart or graph.
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