Graphs, charts and tables are all around us. If you flip on the evening news, there’s bound to be a set of statistics that’s better explained with a chart. You probably don’t even think twice about the visual aid. So, why do graphs and charts provide such a stumbling block on Integrated Reasoning? Chances are, you don’t have someone telling you what’s significant information in the graph and what you should be doing with said data. The GMAT tests higher order reasoning skills, so it’s one thing to be able to read a graph; it’s an entirely different exercise when you take that data and have to analyze what it means in a greater context. If you need a refresher in graphs and charts, read on:
Why Line? Bar? Pie?
Before you do anything with a graph or chart, think about why that particular format is being used. For example, bar graphs include data points that independent of one another (and often can be counted such as the number of cars sold last year by city). Pie charts tend to represent data points that are free-standing, but represent a part of a whole such as a company’s operating budget. Line graphs show trends typically over a period of time and will often include multiple data points over the same period of time. The type of graph used will be your first clue about what is being asked in the questions.
Labels and units.
Every time you hop into a new car, you take a minute to get your bearings. Where are the windshield wipers? Turn signal? Lights? Every car has them, but you need to make sure you know where everything is and how they work. Labels work the same way. Every chart or graph will have them, but they’re going to be different and provide you with a road-map and context for the questions. It sounds overly simplistic, but remember to read the title first! Next, look at the units used on the graph, especially if the questions ask you to do any type of conversion. If there’s more than one graph, are the units different? Pay special attention to anything in small italicized print at the bottom; footnotes are included for a reason!
How do the variables and data points relate to each other? Is there a direct or indirect correlation between the two? Think about what the graph is trying to convey and the data is being presented in this manner and not via a narrative. If there are multiple graphs and charts, there’s a likely a relationship between the two. Once you determine the relationship, look at trends and how the provided data supports or contradicts it. Also, recognize that there may be information crucial to solving the presented questions that isn’t found directly in the graph, but in the accompanying blurb or question stem.
Start scouring the Economist and Wall Street Journal for articles with accompanying graphs. Think about the value that the graph provides and practice interpreting the article and graph in context. As you gain more experience, you can start timing yourself and work on pacing. As you work through practice integrated reasoning questions, you’ll also familiarize yourself with the types of questions that are asked on the real GMAT which will guide how you read and analyze real-world articles.
Interpreting graphs and charts is a skill that takes time to develop and like riding a bike or playing any sport, will get easier and more intuitive with time. Finding real world examples will take some of the monotony out of simply repeating integrated reasoning questions over and over. Just remember to start easy, break things down into bite sized pieces and always look for relationships.
The above GMAT Tip comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.