# Interpreting data

WHEN you are required to write an article based on the graphical information given in the question for MUET Paper 4, you need to be precise in describing the information or process and adhere to the word limit which is between 150 to 200 words.

Two ways to sharpen your skills at interpreting graphical information involve describing and interpreting the figures or tables.

To describe, determine how the figure or table is set up. It is the part that everyone would agree about and is not a matter of interpretation. For instance, what are units on the axes (for a figure) or heading of the columns (for a table)? Make sure you understand what these units mean. Pay attention to the symbols on a figure, the differences between dotted and solid lines, and so on.

Now look at the pattern in the data. For a figure with lines, what is their pattern? For instance, do they increase linearly and then level off? In a table do the numbers increase across the column? Pay attention to detail; that may be important.

At this point you should have a pretty good idea of the question addressed by the data set and the experimental design — how it was carried out.

Now you are ready to interpret the data. What conclusions can you draw from the pattern that you have described? What do these results tell you about the phenomenon being studied? How do they fit into the larger picture of ecological thinking? Before you look at the table, read the labels to see what is being measured and what units are used. You see tables on the back of every cereal box and food packets — nutrition labels are a type of table.

Here’s an example of a nutrition table for potato chips.

Calories 140

Cholesterol

Carbohydrate 17g

In this table, the labels are along the top row. The first column shows the amount per serving. There is no unit of measurement listed beside the label because the rows in the column don’t share a common unit. For example, fat is measured in grammes, while sodium is measured in milligrammes. The second column is labelled “% Value”, and all the numbers in this column are shown as percentages.

The key to interpreting tables is to read the labels carefully. When you understand how a table is organised, you will be ready to understand the information, A pie chart is used to show how a part of something relates to the whole. This type of graph makes it possible to view the data quickly and to determine how things are related. A pie chart consists of a circle that is cut into pieces much like a pie would be cut. Each of the pieces represent a different set of data.

The pieces are cut based on percentages. The given data must be converted to percentages before the pie can be cut into its appropriate pieces. The different pieces are usually identified by a different colour. A legend is often used to display what the colours represent. The pieces should also be labelled with the appropriate percentages to help make observations more quickly.

1. Tables

Nutrition Facts

2. Pie Charts

Example of a pie chart: Jogging

Surfing the Internet Reading

Outdoor Games

3. Summarising Charts

5

Based on an interview with 100 students, “outdoor games” is the preferred activity at 45 per cent after “surfing the Internet” standing at 35 per cent. The least popular is “jogging” at 5 per cent.

Summarising charts always involves making comparisons particularly if you have to describe stages or have more than one piece of visual material. Part of the task of organising your answer involves deciding how to categorise or group the information you need to compare.

In written reports, sometimes we do not need to describe statistics using exact numbers as this can be very boring and distracting for the reader. Instead we use approximation to round numbers up or down. Here are the examples of describing numbers in different ways:

(a) 35,455: It is just over 35,000, thus, we could write it as — approximately/roughly/around/about 35,000;

(b) 134,575 compared to 396,530: In this case, we could opt for one of the following phrases — “over triple”, “around 200% more”, “about three times as many”, “roughly 260,000 more”, “about a third as many” or “approximately one in three”.

Remember that in the exam you should use a