Working with charts, graphs and tables

1 Your worries and concerns with charts, graphs and tables

Do you sometimes feel that you do not fully understand the way that numbers are presented in course materials, newspaper articles and other published material?

What do you consider are your main worries and concerns about your ability to understand and interpret graphs, charts and tables?

Spend a few minutes writing these down before you read on.

One student has said:

I am never quite sure that I have understood what the figures mean. I tend to skip over the graphs or charts that I come across, hoping that I can get the information I need from the text.

This is one unit in a series of Student Toolkits; there are (or will be) others to help you with such things as effective use of English, essay writing, revision and exams, and other areas of study skills.

As a student, the amount of numerical information that you will have to deal with varies greatly from course to course. Many courses with no mathematical, scientific or technical content still require you to be able to interpret and draw conclusions from tables and graphs, and understand basic statistics. This unit is primarily aimed at those who are not confident about their ability to do these things.

You may well feel that difficulties you have with the numerical information are holding you back from making progress in your studies. We hope that when you have worked through this unit, you will have gained the confidence to understand and interpret the graphs, charts and tables you meet in your course work. That is, that you will be able to draw conclusions from tables and graphs, understand basic statistics, and answer the questions associated with them more effectively. Having a greater understanding of these areas will also allow you to read newspaper and magazine articles containing graphs, charts or tables with a more critical eye. This is a practical unit and if you look at the unit home page www.open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy/ you will see that it begins by asking you to reflect on your own ideas about mathematics. Many people try to avoid this area altogether, although they are actually using many more mathematical concepts in their everyday life than they realise. We strongly recommend that you spend some time on this section. The rest of the unit works through the skills that you are likely to find useful, and which will allow you to get the most out of your studies. There is a technical glossary, which provides a basic explanation of the common mathematical terms we have used, and at the end we give you some suggestions for further sources of help.

We expect you to be an active learner and, as with your course material, we shall ask you to work through this unit with a pen and paper handy so that you can do the activities as you go.

We anticipate that after you have worked through this unit you will feel more confident about your ability to interpret and work with graphs, charts and tables. Hopefully, your understanding of course materials will be more complete and you will find it easier to tackle any assignments you may have to undertake. Remember though that these things do not happen instantly and that, as with any skill, it often takes a long time to master it completely. If this unit helps to put you on the road to a better understanding of the numerical information that you meet everyday, then it will have achieved its aim.

Good luck!