In addition to locating information in text passages, you may be asked to answer questions about a variety of figures, including maps, graphs and charts, illustrations, and advertisements. These questions will test your ability to use these graphic representations of information to answer similar questions to those asked about text passages. You’ll be asked to:
A map is a visual representation of space. It may show the relative location of many features, including roads, buildings, cities, and natural features like bodies of water and mountains. Many of these features will likely be represented by symbols. For example, a forested area might be marked with a drawing of a single tree, and railroad tracks might be indicated using a dotted line. The meanings of these symbols will be shown in the legend. Specific features that do appear in the legend will be labeled on the map itself.
The spatial relationship between the features on a map is indicated both by their position on the page and by the scale, which shows the relationship between distance on the map and distance in real life. The scale will be a short line marked with a specific measurement like 100 kilometers or 10 miles. This measurement provides a conversion factor to find the real-life distance between features on the map. For example, if the scale line is 1 inch long and corresponds to 50 miles in real life, then 2 inches on the map equals 100 miles in real life, and so on.
Maps will also include a compass, which shows the four cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. Traditionally, maps are oriented with the top of the page being north and the right side of the page being east, although this is not an absolute.
Graphs and charts are visual representations of data. These figures include line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, scatter plots, and histograms. These figures have a number of key features that you will need to identify. Graphs and charts will always have a title that provides a brief description of the data being described. The title will often include information that is vital for understanding the graph. For example, the title Graduating Students in the Class of 2016 tells the reader that the data set to follow includes students who graduated in 2016. The graph may also include a subtitle that provides more detailed information.
Graphs also include horizontal and vertical axes with labels describing the data being charted on each axis. Both labels should show the units of the data being displayed on that axis. Axes showing countable data, such as money or the number of students, will include a numeric scale that allows the reader to determine the value of each point or bar on the graph. Axes that show categorical data, such as time or location, will include text with the name for each category.
Other informational figures that may appear on the exam include flowcharts, diagrams, and print media like brochures and flyers. There’s no simple set of rules for handling these questions, but many of the same strategies that are used for other figures and for text passages are applicable.
Always start with the title of a figure—it will provide information that is likely crucial to understanding the figure. An anatomical diagram might have a title like Lobes of the Brain that tells the viewer that the diagram will likely show the names and locations of the brain’s lobes. Similarly, a flyer for a local garage sale might have a title like Biggest Garage Sale in the Neighborhood that tells the viewer exactly what the flyer is promoting.
Also make sure to examine any labels, legends, or scales provided with the figure. Anatomical diagrams, for example, will likely include labels for specific anatomical features, and a flowchart will have arrows indicating an ordered sequence. These labels can be read just like they would be on a map or graph.
Most figures will not require any outside knowledge to use. However, some questions may be easier if you have a basic understanding of common tools. For example, on some tests, you may be asked to interpret the display for a blood pressure monitor or read a scale.
Many of the strategies needed to interpret traditional reading passages can also be used for graphic representations of information, particularly those that may be text heavy. When looking at a flyer or advertisement, it will help to identify:
A flyer for a local bake sale, for example, may be designed to appeal to the viewer’s emotions by including pictures of local schoolchildren. Similarly, a computer advertisement meant to appeal to corporate buyers would probably use more formal language than one aimed at teenagers.
Directions provide step-by-step instructions for completing a particular task; these appear in all aspects of life, from instructions on microwave dinners to best practices for sterile technique. Directions may appear as simple lists, although they are often accompanied by shapes or figures to be manipulated as part of the directions. For example, a question may present a series of shapes, each of which may be rotated, moved, or deleted as designated by the directions.
Following directions requires the ability to identify the initial conditions, understand sequences, and analyze relationships among steps. First, identify the initial conditions laid out by the problem. This might be a spatial relationship between figures or a certain number of items (e.g., three red marbles and two green marbles).
Next, look for markers that indicate sequence. That may be as simple as identifying numbered steps, or the problem might require a closer reading. Certain words provide clues to the sequence of steps. Transition words like first, next, then, and finally indicate the order of tasks to be carried out. Once the order of steps has been identified, they can be carried out in that order.
When working through a set of directions, ALWAYS write down the result of each step. This will help you avoid making simple mistakes and will also help you check your work if you find an error.
When working through directions, pay special attention to the relationships between the steps. The action carried out in step 1 will likely affect the action in step 2, so make sure that each step is completed correctly before moving on. These questions are a test of the reader’s attention to detail.