For those taking the ACT, here are some good tips for the science sections:
It’s a good idea to actually spend some time looking at the graph before diving into the questions. At the very least, you should examine the following:
1. The Title
What is the graph/table/chart depicting? There will often be more than one graph, so knowing the difference between what each graph is showing is an absolute must for answering the questions.
2. Graph legends
Is there more than one set of data on your graph(s)? (Almost definitely.) Better figure out which symbols correspond to which data sets!
3. X and Y-axis labels
Sometimes you can figure out exactly what the graph is depicting by reading the title, but sometimes you can’t. It’s important to know what each axis of the graph represents. Also pay attention to units!
Let’s take a look at an example:
1. This set of data interpretation problems is based on one graph and one chart. The title of the graph tells us that it will be depicting a percentage of annual income; the title of the chart tells us that it will be telling us percentages of weekly food and household expenditures. This is important because we now know that questions asking about annual income will be referring to the graph, and questions asking about weekly expenditures will be asking about the chart.
2. There are six data sets, one for each type of occupational category. Each data set is split into several components as well. The data sets and individual components are the same in both the graph and the chart. This is important because we now know how the data is organized, which allows us to more quickly locate the data being asked about in the question.
3. By looking at the Y axis of the graph, we can see that this is a graph of percentages; the chart also gives us a list of percentages, but in the rightmost column, it also tells us an actual amount. This is important because any question asking about an actual amount must be referring to the chart, not the graph.
By the time I reach the data interpretation problems, my mind is so hopped up on crunching numbers that having to read and examine a graph feels like entering the swimming leg of a triathlon only to find that someone replaced the water with tar. It may be tempting to try to Michael Phelps your way to the end, but resist that urge! It’s imperative that you take your time and wade through the problems carefully and deliberately. It only takes a minute to look over the charts and graphs and make these important deductions. The greatest detriment to data interpretation isn’t lack of understanding — it’s impatience.
Like any problem type, the key to success is familiarity and practice. Make sure you know the ins and outs of each question type and section for any test you are preparing to take – this knowledge can be the difference between a decent score and an outstanding score.