What do students find difficult about tables and graphs?

Students experience a number of common difficulties when constructing tables, interpreting tables, drawing graphs and interpreting graphs. An understanding of these difficulties will help you when using tables and graphs in your teaching.

Constructing tables

Many students are reluctant to tabulate data, preferring lengthy repetitive text which is occasionally punctuated by the quantities they want to report. Units also pose a problem and it is not uncommon to see mixed units in the same column.

Interpreting tables

Students find the following skills difficult when interpreting tables:

  • drawing any conclusions from tables especially when there is a large data set;
  • translating the data in to a verbal description or written statement; and
  • answering or asking questions when the data is hidden in a table of data.

Drawing graphs

In order to draw the perfect graph, students need to remember a number of points. They can find the following things difficult:

  • choosing the right scale and origin;
  • labelling axes;
  • plotting the actual points;
  • units; and
  • drawing a smooth curve of best fit.

Interpreting graphs

The skill of interpreting a graph correctly develops with practice. The following difficulties are common to many students:

  • looking at the graph as a picture rather than a set of individual data points;
  • translating the data from the graph into a verbal description or written statement;
  • using the graph to ask and answer questions;
  • interpreting small sections of the graph; and
  • reading the scales correctly, especially when there is more than one graph on the same set of axes.
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