Answering SAT Reading Questions on Graphics

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The redesigned SAT Reading section features two or more graphs, charts, maps, or other visual elements. At least one of these graphics relates to a history passage and another to a science passage. You can be sure that one or more questions attached to the passage will rely on your accurate interpretation of the graphic. These questions are easy, and you should aim to answer every single one correctly. And you will, as long as you keep these points in mind:

  • If you see a graphic element, examine it carefully. Look at the title and every label that appears. Check the source line. Don’t skip anything!

  • Be especially careful to note the units used in the graph. A graph might say “Number of Barrels of Oil, in Thousands” or “Number of Barrels of Oil, in Millions.” One line on the graph may reach 5. If you see a question about oil supply, you can be sure that the units will matter. A wrong answer will refer to 5. The correct answer will be 5,000 or 5,000,000 (depending on the unit the graph specifies).

    Also note dates, if any are provided with a graph. You may see a question about a portion of the time span covered or a question that refers to a period of time that does not appear in the graph. To trip you up, the test-makers will include a wrong answer that appears correct to those who pay no attention to dates.

  • Some questions may test your ability to combine information from the graphic element and the passage. For example, you may see a paragraph about the development of energy sources paired with a graph about oil production. Always consider both sources before selecting an answer.

  • A circle graph resembles a pie, cut into uneven slices. Each “slice” usually has a number on it. For example, you may see a big slice labeled “80” and a smaller slice labeled “18,” next to an even thinner slice labeled “2.” A question may ask you to compare or rate these groups or to draw a conclusion about their importance or prevalence.

  • A bar or line graph combines two ideas. Typically, the vertical line (the one going up and down) and the horizontal line (the one going from side to side) carry labels. For example, the vertical line may be “number of cases of smallpox.” The horizontal line may represent years. The information you seek comes from both lines, working together. Check both to determine, for example, how many cases of smallpox occurred in 1950.

  • Questions about graphs often refer to trends — what is rising or falling. Look at the entire graph before you answer. If you see an exception (a brief decrease in a graph showing an upward trend), take note.

Graphics are new on the SAT, but they aren’t new in your world. Don’t tense up when you see one, and you’ll score some easy points.