5 Steps for Graphics Interpretation Questions on the GMAT

If you’re familiar at all with the GRE, then Data Interpretation may not be a foreign concept. Data analysis is one of the four main tested Quantitative concepts on the GRE, so it’s no surprise that the GMAT added it as one of the four new Integrated Reasoning question-types. The Graphics Interpretation section will present you with a piece of data in the form of a graph, Venn diagram, scatter plot, etc. Below will be two statements, each with a missing portion. Fill in the blank with one of four choices presented to you in a drop-down menu.

  • 1. Start with the Big Picture

    In a general way, categorize the presented graphic. (EX: “This is a graph showing the change in the price of textiles per yard over the course of five years.”) Do not just skip the graphic entirely and go straight to the two statements! This will significantly decrease your accuracy as you must spend the majority of your time focusing on understanding the graphic thoroughly in order to later “interpret” it. Make sure you read every tiny piece of writing on or near the data, including titles, the labels for the x and y-axes, column names, and even footnotes. Scroll down or left/right if necessary to make sure you’ve caught everything.

  • 2. Pay attention to symbols.

    Once you understand the big picture, take special care to note any units (mph, m/sec, cm2, etc.) on the graph, or any symbols provided. Are we dealing with seconds, minutes, or hours? Does one graph represent the month of June, while another graph represents the entire year? For example, if this Sample Graphics Interpretation question from MBA.com, it’s interesting to note that virtually the entire question hinges on your recognition that the hourglass symbol represents 10 students, and on your ability to apply that to the given Venn diagram.

  • 3. Locate any trend in the data.

    Quickly note the relationship between any given variables in the graph. For Venn diagrams, ask yourself where the least and greatest number of people lie. Do any variables have a direct or indirect correlation? Where does the data seem to spike or significantly decrease?

  • 4. Identify the keywords in the sentences.

    Even small words like “less than” or “equates to” can make a huge difference. What keywords are found in the statements that are ALSO found in the graphic? Move slowly through each statement.

  • 5. Predict before looking at the drop-down

    Come up with your own answer choice before clicking on the options in the drop-down menu. If you do not find your answer as one of the presented options, you have likely made a simple mistake either in 1) your understanding of the way information if presented in the graphic, or 2) your understanding of the specific phrasing of the statement. Don’t worry if your predictions are off at first. Graphics Interpretation can be challenging!