PSAT Writing : Table Interpretation

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Writing

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Table Interpretation

The traditional view of archaeologists usually involves a college professor who spends much of his or her time digging and researching in ancient foreign libraries or a museum curator who works every day to preserve the artifacts the museum holds. While this view isn’t completely incorrect, it is incomplete, both in terms of the types of jobs available to archaeologists and in the types of work within those jobs. For example, college professors may spend summers at dig sites, but much of their time is also spent writing grants, teaching students, and writing about their research projects. Additionally, although there are still many people who work in archaeology as professors and museum curators, the demand for these jobs far outstrips the number of positions available, making the positions difficult to acquire.  1

 

The author is considering adding the following table to the end of this paragraph:

 

Construction Companies

Governmental Agencies

Museums

Universities

Applicants

14,138

12,415

9,884

15,232

Jobs Filled

9,224

5,380

766

2,014

% of applicants hired

65%

43%

8%

13%

The table above details the number of applicants for archaeology-related positions and the number of archaeology-related jobs filled for the year 2018 in the United States.

Should the author makes this addition?

Possible Answers:

Yes, because the information in the table validates the claim made in the last sentence of the paragraph.

No, because the information in the table shows that most archaeologists apply for jobs at universities.

Yes, because the information in the table proves that archaeology professors spend most of their time on teaching and writing.

 

No, because the information in the table does not specify whether the jobs at museums are curator jobs.

Correct answer:

Yes, because the information in the table validates the claim made in the last sentence of the paragraph.

Explanation:

The information in the table shows that while many people apply for archaeology jobs at museums and universities, the actual number of jobs is much smaller, so only 8% and 13% of applicants will find those jobs.  This supports the claim that “the demand for these jobs outstrips the number of positions available, making these jobs difficult to get.” This makes " Yes, because the information in the table validates the claim made in the last sentence of the paragraph."  

Among the other answer choices:  "Yes, because the information in the table proves that archaeology professors spend most of their time on teaching and writing" is incorrect as the table shows what types of jobs are available but does not talk about the activities that take place within the “University” jobs column.  "No, because the information in the table shows that most archaeologists apply for jobs at universities" is incorrect because while the table does show that more people apply to universities than any of the other four categories, that doesn’t mean that “most” (more than ½) do.  Also it is perfectly consistent with the author’s point that many people apply to university jobs (that’s “demand”); the author just adds that not many of those jobs exist, and the table also supports that.  And "No, because the information in the table does not specify whether the jobs at museums are curator jobs" is incorrect because, again, the “because” reason here is consistent with the author’s point that there aren’t many jobs as university professors and museum curators. If the very small number of museum jobs were to even include museum jobs that aren’t for curators, that reinforces the point that the jobs people tend to visualize as archaeology jobs aren’t, in fact, what most archaeologists do.

 

 

Example Question #2 : Table Interpretation

One of the easiest ways to see the way that earthworms change their environment is in the effect that the number of earthworms has on soil fertility, a measure of how hospitable an environment is to plant growth. Even the least fertile soil has around 62 worms per square meter, and as the number of worms increases so does soil fertility. As worms move through the different layers of soil, they eat, digest, and excrete massive amounts of organic matter. They leave their excretions behind in the form of nutrient-rich droppings known as casings. As these casings decompose, they release nutrients into the soil. This process not only moves nutrients from one layer of the soil to another but also converts the nutrients to forms that plants can absorb and process more easily.  1

At this point the author is considering the addition of the following table.

Figure 1: Corn growth by worm count, rainfall, and temperature

Sample

Worms per square meter

Avg. monthly rainfall (centimeters)

Avg. daily temperature (℃)

Avg. corn plant height (meters)

A

82

22

14

1.77

B

106

14

22

1.94

C

93

34

15

1.84

D

124

17

25

2.03

E

168

23

21

2.14

F

88

26

17

1.81

G

113

31

19

1.98

(Adapted from a study of seven unique subclimates in the farmlands of Manitoba, Canada. Measurements were taken for the growing season of 2017, with average corn height measured as of September 1, 2017.)

Should the author make this addition?

 

Possible Answers:

Yes, because it demonstrates that corn grows higher when there are more earthworms in the soil.

No, because corn is not the only type of plant that should be able to grow in soil fertilized by earthworms.

No, because the information displayed in the table is not directly referenced by or connected to the passage.

Yes, because it proves that corn can only grow when there are more than 62 worms per square meter.

 

Correct answer:

No, because the information displayed in the table is not directly referenced by or connected to the passage.

Explanation:

While this table is somewhat related to the topic of earthworms’ impact on soil fertility, note that the passage doesn’t directly link the metrics in the table (corn height, in particular) to soil fertility itself.  Without that direct connection, the table is out of scope of the passage’s subject matter - it’s somewhat related but doesn’t quite fit. That makes choice "No, because the information displayed in the table is not directly referenced by or connected to the passage. 'a good option.

But as in most SAT questions that provide you with Yes/No answer choices that include reasons, this problem is best attacked with process-of-elimination.  With choice "Yes, because it proves that corn can only grow when there are more than 62 worms per square meter.", recognize the extremely strong language in “prove” and “only” - the table does show that for these 7 locations in Manitoba, corn grows and the worm count is above 62 worms per square meter.  But these seven locations don’t prove that that is the only case; there could very well be other corn-growing locations with lower worm counts that just weren’t part of this study. So "Yes, because it proves that corn can only grow when there are more than 62 worms per square meter." has logical problems, and like "No, because the information displayed in the table is not directly referenced by or connected to the passage." alerts you to the topic doesn’t directly connect to the passage, which doesn’t call for proof of worm density in soil.

With "Yes, because it demonstrates that corn grows higher when there are more earthworms in the soil."  the logic of the “because” portion is sound (the table does show that corn grows higher when worm concentration is higher) but the passage doesn’t include language to connect corn height to soil fertility, so this lesson doesn’t directly connect to a main point of the paragraph.

And with "No, because corn is not the only type of plant that should be able to grow in soil fertilized by earthworms.", note that if the table were connected to the passage in language it could very well be helpful - showing that earthworm concentration is the best predictor of corn height could very well make the case that earthworms are extremely influential with regard to soil fertility. The table doesn’t have to prove that this is true for all plants in order for this finding from one type of plant to help demonstrate the case that worms are good for the soil. So "No, because corn is not the only type of plant that should be able to grow in soil fertilized by earthworms." is wrong in that the issue with the table isn’t that it only includes corn, but that the passage doesn’t directly connect the idea of corn height to soil fertility.

 

Example Question #3 : Table Interpretation

Ecosystems are made of a complex system of energy and nutrient transfers from one organism to another. Some of these transfers are in the form of predation: one organism eating another – while others are in the form of ecosystem engineering, an organism changing the environment around them. One major form of ecosystem engineering is niche creation, the process of an organism changing its environment to create a competitive advantage. In order for an organism to be considered as creating a niche, three things must be true: the organism must significantly modify its environment, those changes must affect other organisms’ survival, and those changes must lead to an evolutionary response in another organism. 1

One of the world’s most influential “niche constructors” - species known for changing the environment around them - is the earthworm, an organism found almost everywhere on the planet. Earthworms were originally aquatic organisms that were ill-equipped to survive on land. A scientist only concerned with evolution would predict that, in order to live on land, earthworms would have to significantly change. Earthworms didn’t change their physiology a great amount, however, instead, they changed the soil to make it more like the ocean in order to survive. Land with earthworms is less compacted, is more nutrient rich, and is better mixed than land without them, leading to monumental changes in the ecosystem.

To be considered true niche constructors, however, earthworms must change the environment in such a way as to alter the evolution of another species. One of the easiest ways to measure this effect on evolution is in the effect that the number of earthworms has on soil fertility, a measure of how hospitable an environment is to plant growth. Even the least fertile soil has around 62 worms per square meter, and as the number of worms increases so does soil fertility. As worms move through the different layers of soil, they eat, digest, and excrete massive amounts of organic matter. They leave their excretions behind in the form of nutrient-rich droppings known as casings. As these casings decompose, they release nutrients into the soil. This process not only moves nutrients from one layer of the soil to another but also converts the nutrients to forms that plants can absorb and process more easily. Because it is easier for plants to get the proper nutrients, plants don’t have to invest time and energy into making better root systems to gather nutrients. As a result, plants have, over time, lost some of these mechanisms – a form of evolution.

Without earthworms, modern land-based ecosystems would look very different. There is no way to predict the exact changes that would exist without earthworms, but it is easy to recognize earthworms’ impact. As research continues into the effect of earthworms, scientists are confident that it will show an even more complex picture of the earthworm’s contribution to the land-based ecosystem.

 

 

The author is considering the addition of the following table:

Organism

Environmental Modification

Organism with Survival Impacted

Evolutionary Response 

Elephant

Tears bark off of trees

Lizards live on perches created by tree damage

n/a

Caterpillars

Use silk to tie leaves together

Sawflies and beetles live in the shade of the tied leaves

n/a

Azorella monantha

Increase water and nitrogen concentration in high elevation soil

Other plants can thrive in the otherwise harsh soil

n/a

The table above outlines the unique ways in which several organisms have impacted their ecosystems to the benefit of other species.

Should the author make this addition?

 

 

Possible Answers:

No, because it introduces irrelevant information that disrupts the flow of the passage.

No, because it does not include a varied enough sample of different organism types.

Yes, because it demonstrates that not all organisms fit the three-part criteria of being niche constructors.

 

Yes, because it shows the various ways in which niche constructors benefit other plants and animals.

Correct answer:

No, because it introduces irrelevant information that disrupts the flow of the passage.

Explanation:

Whenever you’re asked whether an author should add a sentence, graph, or table, you should look to see where that addition would go and how well it connects to the rest of the information on either side of it. Here the table would be placed immediately after a discussion of the three characteristics of a niche constructor and immediately before the scope of the passage shifts to focus on the earthworm.  Importantly, none of the organisms in the table would qualify as niche constructors, as none has inspired an evolutionary response, and there is no discussion that directly connects to why such a table would fit: were the author to say that niche construction is quite rare given the narrow definition, for example, or that many organisms dramatically impact their ecosystems even without being niche constructors, this table would have a connection to the passage.  But no such reference exists: the passage is meant to go from the general definition of a niche constructor to several paragraphs talking about the earthworm in particular. So choice "No, because it introduces irrelevant information that disrupts the flow of the passage."  is correct - the table is irrelevant to the discussion that surrounds it.

Among the incorrect choices: "Yes, because it demonstrates that not all organisms fit the three-part criteria of being niche constructors."  is “true” in what it says about the table, but the passage doesn’t have any context that calls for such a discussion. "Yes, because it shows the various ways in which niche constructors benefit other plants and animals." is incorrect, as none of the organisms in the table count as niche constructors.  And "No, because it does not include a varied enough sample of different organism types."  misses the point that the table itself isn’t connected to the context, so it doesn’t matter how many organisms are listed as the table just doesn’t have a place.

 

 

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