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SAT Graphics Questions: The First Trap to Check

By May 24, 2018May 30th, 2018SAT

SAT graphics questions test one deceptively simple concept over and over: knowing exactly what the graphic measures. Trap answers referring to something the graphic can’t measure are so common that for some questions, every wrong answer is wrong for that reason.

Think that sounds easy to spot? Check out these graphics to see how the SAT makes its traps look tempting.

What does the graphic suggest about terrestrial mammals and birds? Would you choose a trap answer like “Birds are more numerous than mammals”?  Those tall bars sure look big, but they measure the number of species. This chart can’t tell us how many individual birds there are.

Don’t let the SAT bluff you with a complicated-looking graph. Check out the title, legend, and axis labels; here, they can help you see that the graph establishes a “normal” time at the 0 mark and measures how much earlier or later bats left their caves in wet and dry years. Does the chart indicate that bats at all locations left their caves earlier in 2011 than in any other year? Yes! Does it indicate that 2011 was drier than any other year? No! It does not measure rainfall.

Does this chart show that “in 1992, there were more males in the ASN than in any of the other organizations”? It sure looks like it does! But this chart lists percentages, not actual numbers of people. Males were 75% of the ASN, but if the ASN had 100 people in it and the APA had 10,000 people in it, the APA would still have more males.

Catch the SAT at its tricks. Always start a graphics question by identifying exactly what the graphic measures and how it measures it.

The Compass Team

Compass is one of the world's leading providers of in-home and online, live one-on-one tutoring for high school students aspiring to attend selective colleges.


  • b. smith says:

    Hello, I have a rising senior who recently scored a 35 on ACT and 1470 on SAT. When applying to colleges, should my student only submit the ACT score? Would there ever be a reason to submit both?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      In your student’s case, the only reason I can think of to why you would submit the SAT score is if a college requires ALL scores — the Georgetown policy. Your student’s 35 is the stronger score.

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