Solving GRE Data Interpretation Questions
For many GRE students, the data interpretation questions are the most challenging types on the GRE. These questions contain visual information using several types of graphs, charts, plots and tables. Data analysis is a very important skill required at the graduate level. Hence you should expect to see many data questions on the GRE.
How many data interpretation questions?
Expect to see at least 3-4 Data interpretation questions on each section of the GRE i.e. a total of 6-8. These questions usually test your knowledge of percentages, ratios and basic statistical measures such as mean, median, mode etc. The questions itself are pretty simple, however due to the deluge of information, numbers and data given in the charts they are very time consuming to solve. You should definitely spend more than a couple of minutes doing each of the analysis questions.
Useful Tips for tackling Data interpretation Questions
Read and understand the labels.
Start off by reading and going over the statistics for each chart, graph or table. A lot of times students make the mistake of going to the question directly – you may have this false impression that by doing so you will save time, however this not only decreases your accuracy but you may also end up spending more time on the questions. My advice is to thoroughly read and understand every chart, graph, table that you come across – focus especially on the labels and see what each graph is about.
Make a small note for yourself – such as for the chart in figure 1 above you can jot: “This chart shows the % of 250 Male and 200 Female faculty members for 10 different fields in university X.” Now by doing this you have made sure that you glean over every piece of information. This includes the titles for the figures, the x (percent) and y (field) labels, column names (males and females). Scroll up and down to make sure you grasp everything.
Focus on the units
The units for the figures are very important. A lot of times GRE would trick you by scaling the units over a certain range – for example you need to see whether the units are hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds etc. What period of time does the graph represent – is it just a single month or the entire year? It is typical of GRE to make things more intricate by changing units of every figure. Don’t be stymied by it, just make a note of any given information about the units.
Again lets take an example for the figure above. If we look at the vertical columns we just see numbers from $0 to $160. However these are not just dollars – if you look at the titles of the chart you would see it says “in billions of dollars”. This means that each value on the vertical axes is actually in billions of dollars. So the numbers range from 0 to 160 billion dollars. It is very common for students to skip this vital piece of information – therefore it is essential to focus on the units associated with any visuals.
Identify any secondary axes
GRE will all of a sudden toss you figures, graphs, charts or pie charts with multiple axes such as in the one figure below. Here you are given two vertical axes, one on the right and the other on the left. Both have different numeric values therefore they represent different variables. Always look for such information in charts. Once you know what each axes stands for, the more likely it will be that you fetch the correct information.
Identify and highlight trends
Whenever you are reading the charts, make a habit of identifying relationships between variables – in short look for trends. Is there any correlation? If there is, is it direct or indirect? Are there any outliers, any maximum or minimum values? For instance in figure 2 above we can see that both the public and private school expenditures are directly correlated to time. However the rate of growth in expenditures for public schools is much higher than that of the private schools.
Approximate without fear
Many times ETS will give you unpleasant numbers. For example it may ask you to find the expenditure for June as a percentage of the yearly expenditure. It may give you the yearly expenditure as $119,000 and the June expenditure as $39,000. For questions like these you do not need to use the calculator – just round them off to 120,000 and 40,000 respectively and quickly find the percentage, which comes down to approximately 33%.
Whenever approximating just make sure that you stay consistent in how you approximate so that your estimation is realistic.
Note: Data Interpretation questions take time – don’t rush through them. Allow more than 2 minutes to solve them on the test day. Save time on easier questions and consume that in these questions. Data interpretation can be frustrating, especially for those who are not used to looking at data and lots of numbers. Just keep practicing and you will do well. You can find hundreds of Data Interpretation practice questions, from those found with us and those created by ETS.