Easy as Pie: Tips to Solving Pie Chart Questions on the SAT / ACT

pie-chartMost students have the unfortunate belief that they are bad at math.  Students dislike math for three reasons: 1) They are intimidated by math. 2) No one has taken the time to help build their self-confidence in this subject. 3) Students simply believe they cannot do math.  The study, “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?,” concluded that “only 6 percent of the students in the U.S. graduating class of 2009 performed at an advanced level in math.” The study went on to say that of the 56 countries included in the study, the U.S. ranked 31st.

[Source: Huffington Post, I Hate That Kids Hate Math]

Knowing math is difficult for almost everyone, we’re here to say – YOU CAN DO IT!  And we’re willing to show you how.

The mathematics section has two types of questions:

  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Student-produced responses

The questions require students to apply mathematical concepts and to use data literacy skills in interpreting tables, charts, and graphs. They cover skills in four major areas:

  • Numbers and operations
  • Algebra and functions
  • Geometry and measurement
  • Data analysis, statistics, and probability

Each section is broken down by 20-25 minutes and unanswered questions do hurt the SAT student.

Mathematics (multiple-choice and student-produced response) 25
Mathematics (multiple-choice) 25
Mathematics (multiple-choice) 20
Variable (unscored, multiple-choice) 25
[Source: College Board]

Today we are going to go over pie chart questions on the SAT.  Each SAT multiple choice section is bound to have some Data Analysis questions where a graph is shown and several questions follow in regard to the graph.  For many students, large sections dependent on one image can be intimidating.  It seems if you look at the graph right or wrong depends on whether all of the questions in this section count for you or against you.  So we’ve created some basic steps for you in answering pie chart questions on the SAT.

1.  Read the title of the graph.

The usually bold, centered title of the graph will explain to you exactly what you are looking at.  Too many students overlook the purpose of the graph and answer questions based on their assumptions of what the graph is telling.  Slow down!  Examine every titled pice of the graph.  What is the graph telling you?  What’s the biggest percentage of the pie chart represent?

2.  Differentiate numbers from percents.

Some pie charts will only give you numbers and a visual representation of what the relative percent is.  Some pie chart will give you just percents with an overal total of how many subjects were involved in the pie chart.  Don’t let the common mistake of assuming numbers mean percents (or vica versa) mix you up on the SAT!  Look for the % symbol somewhere at the bottom of the pie chart or labeled within each slice.  A percent will always be a fraction of 100 (totalling to 100%).  Something that is just a number will not have a % written by it or underneath the overall chart even if this number also appears to be a fraction of 100.

3. Remember what you’ve learned about circles.

There is a reason why Geometry is usually required prior to your Junior year SAT.  Just like in your Geometry class, remember that each part of the pie chart is a proportion based on the whole of the circle.  You may not always need to use circle properties for solving a pie chart question, but knowing them can help.  A slice of the pie will alwasy be part of the entire area of the pie chart, relative to the proportion of the whole and representative of it’s percentage.  An arch of the pie chart is always part of the entire circumference.  For an example of how “eyeballing” the pie chart can be required for a question: view this pie chart question.

Graphs and pie charts do not have to be intimidating.  In fact, they can become a math section you look forward to as you begin to understand critical thinking in data analysis.  For additional SAT prep, you can take our free SAT full-length practice test from SAT Preparation Group.  This is always a great study tool for practicing sections that are most intimidating to you on the SAT or ACT.  Once you’ve finished and returned your test to SAT Prep Group, we will send you a free score report that breaks down your overall strenghts and weaknesses on each question.  Take the test multiple times to see how you’ve improved.

If you’re planning to take the SAT soon, check out our list of comprehensive SAT Courses and ACT Coursers available worldwide!

In the blog comments below, tell us what do you think your strongest and weakest section of the SAT or ACT is?

file-1510552563SAT Preparation Group advises in test prep, college planning, and success strategies for teens. Call Us Today at 877-672-8773 or click here for a free consultation.

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