SAT Tip of the Week: 4 Tips to Solve Pie Chart Questions

The SAT Math section is guaranteed to have some Data Analysis questions. These questions can take several forms: tables, graphs, charts, etc. These figures may look intimidating, but most of the questions that follow them require relatively easy algebra skills: setting up equations, finding percentages or averages, and using substitution. To do well on Pie Chart (also called Circle Graph) questions, follow these basic tips:

1.     Start with the heading.

It tells you exactly what you’re looking at, yet it’s amazing how many students skip the title of the chart and the labels and go straight to the question-stem! Really slow down and examine every tiny piece of writing on and around the pie chart fully before reading the question. What’s the biggest slice? The smallest slice? How many slices total? What does each slice represent? What can be readily inferred? Make sure there isn’t any additional information printed below the chart that may be required to solve.

2.     Don’t confuse percents with numbers!

The pie chart may display numbers in each slice (17..19…35, etc.) but these may or may not be percentages. Look for the “%” symbol, or a note somewhere at the bottom of the pie chart that explains what the numbers actually refer to – a percent is always a fraction of 100, while a real-world number is always a fraction of a real-world total.  

3.     Round numbers up or down to make the math easier.

Just like in other SAT math questions, the answer choices may be far enough apart so that it is somewhat easy to estimate. Rounding to the nearest whole number, percent, or fractional equivalent can sometimes be the simplest way to solve. For example, 47.8% could become 50%, and 69% = 2/3. If you’re pressed for time, approximation can help you eliminate four choices faster than doing the math with the most-accurate values.

4.     Don’t forget your knowledge of circles.

Just like in a Geometry question, we can always set up proportions based on part/whole ratios. You might not need to use Circle properties for these Data Analysis questions, but its good knowledge to have up your sleeve! A sector (or “slice”) of a pie chart is always part of the entire area of the pie chart, and an arc of the pie chart is always part of the entire circumference.

If you’re nervous about your SAT prep, you can take a free SAT full-length practice test with Veritas Prep that will give you the perfect jumping-off point to start your studies. The best part is that you don’t have to complete all 80 questions at once! Pause anytime and come back. Once you finish, you’ll get a free score report that breaks down your strengths and weaknesses on each question.

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT. 

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