Want to know how to read MCAT graphs and charts? The MCAT is a tough exam, and its use of graphs, charts and tables can stump quite a few students. Many students struggle with reading and interpreting MCAT graphs, losing precious time to answer questions and getting stuck on a particular data representation. But how to study for MCAT graphs? Can you practice reading MCAT graphs and make it a part of your MCAT prep? The answer is yes. In this blog, we’ll look at why the MCAT uses graphs, what makes them hard to read, the type of graphs used on the MCAT and strategies for interpreting them. We’ll also explore other resources that can help you master reading MCAT graphs.

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Article Contents
7 min read

Why are graphs used in the MCAT? What makes MCAT graphs hard to read? Types of MCAT figures How to read MCAT graphs and figures How to improve your MCAT graph interpretation FAQs

Why are graphs used in the MCAT?

The MCAT uses a variety of visual tools to present complex information quickly and efficiently on the exam. These visual tools can include a number of different graphs, charts, maps, images and tables to represent statistics, categorical data, relationships, trends and patterns. Graphs especially are used to represent information from the exam’s written passages, and they are used in the MCAT biology section, the MCAT chemistry section and even now in the MCAT psychology and sociology questions.

Being able to read and understand all types of graphs is an essential part of your MCAT physics prep, too since this section uses, of course, a number of formulas, graphs and images to represent data, statistics or problems. The MCAT uses graphs as a tool to help you better understand the question and passages on the exam, and most of the time the answers are hidden within the graph’s available information. So it’s to your benefit to know how to read MCAT graphs quickly and efficiently.

You’ll need to know how to read scientific graphs not only to answer questions on the MCAT, but for your studies throughout medical school and in your future career as a physician. As a med student and future doctor, you’ll often need to interpret and understand complex data, results and other information. For the sake of ease, much of this information will be formatted into a graph. Learning how to read MCAT graphs now will help you during the many years of medical study and medical practice to follow, so it’s an excellent idea to make graph reading practice a part of your MCAT study schedule.

What makes MCAT graphs hard to read?

MCAT graphs can be tricky to read and understand because they present a large amount of complex information in different ways. Plenty of students get lost when reading graphs, trying to memorize all of the information represented there, and end up losing time to answer questions. Others get overwhelmed with the amount of data represented in the graph and aren’t sure how to correctly identify the main result or the key relationships between the data.

At first glance, a graph can look confusing or chaotic, and can be intimidating to many students. Especially for students who are not visual learners or are not familiar with using scientific graphs. There are many students, too, who don’t know the purpose of the different types of graphs, figures and charts used to represent data, and don’t know how to correctly read them.

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Many students wonder how is hard the MCAT, and while the MCAT graphs can be a significant hurdle and require a bit of practice to master, they are not considered the most difficult part of the test. This honor goes to the MCAT CARS section! Many MCAT test-takers look for an MCAT CARS tutor to help them ace this part of the MCAT, and fortunately an MCAT tutor can help you master the difficulties of MCAT graph reading as well.

As soon as you know when to start studying for the MCAT, slide a bit of graph reading practice in while you study for the math and sciences sections. To start practicing how to read MCAT graphs, first we’ll look at what kind of figures the MCAT includes.

Types of MCAT figures

There a few types of visual data figures the MCAT likes to use on its exams. Some of these require very little interpretation or are very straightforward in what they represent. Others require a bit of knowledge and analysis to fully understand them. We’ll look at each of the different types of MCAT graphs so you can become familiar with them, and then we’ll look at some strategies to reading and interpreting them.

How to read MCAT graphs and figures

Reading and understanding these MCAT graphs and figures can be your secret to a high MCAT score. While a graph will not be present on every question, they can unquestionably help you understand the MCAT passages better and even hint at the question’s answer. Another way you can prepare yourself for reading graphs is to check what high yield MCAT topics you can expect to see. While the graphs and passages will change for every exam, there are some subjects and topics which pop up again and again. Knowing what these topics are can provide you with some contextual information when reading graphs, and you might even be able to find some practice graphs to use based on these topics.

The strategies we’ve outlined below will help you interpret any graph quickly and fully and use the important information to answer the question.

#1 Read the Passage First

When you see a graph on the MCAT, resist the urge to evaluate it first. Read the written passage first so you can gain the context of the problem. The problem will inform your understanding of the graph and tell you what the key information will be. If you read the graph first, it might confuse the issue or distract you. Reading the passage will also take longer than reading the graph should, so it’s better not to jump between the two and potentially lose time to answer the questions. MCAT reading comprehension is an important part of your prep, and for slow readers who already struggle with time management on exams, read up on some CARS strategy for slow readers to learn how to quickly cut through the MCAT’s written passages. 

#2 Read Graph Titles and Headings

Once you’ve read and understood the passage, it’s time to look at the graph. Read the title of the graph, followed by the headings on the X and Y axes or the titles of the data represented. These will give you vital clues and might even hint at the correct answer to the question. Reading these will also help orient you within the context of the passage’s problem, experiment or situation. In short, the headings and title are a dead giveaway for what the key information of the question is and what you should be focused on.

#3 Make Note of Units Used

Next, make a mental note of any mathematical units the graph uses. If the question involves mathematics or a formula, it could be critically important to know what units are being used in the data. If the graph uses mathematical units but they aren’t integral to the answer, make note but focus on the numerical or qualitative data being presented.

#4 Identify Trends and Patterns

Aside from knowing what the graph is representing, knowing the result or main point is the other part of reading an MCAT graph. Take a scan and identify the key trends or patterns in the graph. Are there noticeable spikes or drops in a linear graph? Any interesting gaps in a bar graph? Notable comparisons in a pie chart? What does the overall shape of a linear graph look like? This part should take up the most of your time evaluating the graph. Determine the main relationship between the data you see. You can do this quickly by jumping on any of the noticeable trends and comparing them to the rest of the data.

#5 Draw a Conclusion

Once you know what the main idea of a graph is, you can then draw a conclusion about the data or determine the important result the graph is demonstrating. You don’t need to write this down, but knowing what the end result or key idea is will help you determine the correct answer to the question or inform your response to questions related to the passage.

#6 Practice Timing

You should be able to read an MCAT graph in about 30 seconds or less. This might sound like an extremely limited amount of time, but with practice, 30 seconds will be all you need to read an MCAT graph and glean the most important information from it. All the other data can be considered not important or not relevant to answering the question. Practice interpreting graphs quickly as part of your MCAT timing practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes you longer than 30 seconds at first. With time, you’ll be able to scan a graph without getting stuck or muddled in the information. 

How to improve your MCAT graph interpretation

The best way to improve your MCAT graph reading and analysis skills is, of course, to practice. MCAT prep typically involves a fair amount of practice tests and self-timed practice questions to effectively prepare for the test conditions. If you want to know how to read MCAT graphs better, add some graph interpretation practice to your study habits. There are plenty of free resources you can use as practice graphs, but there are professional tools and services as well, including MCAT prep books and or an MCAT prep course.

If the scientific sections of the MCAT are a weak point for you, or you struggle with reading MCAT graphs with self-studying, students can also turn to private tutoring services. Finding the best MCAT private tutoring can take some effort, but one-on-one instruction and guidance can help students who find themselves stuck on tricky graphs.


1. How do you read MCAT graphs?

To quickly read and understand an MCAT graph, follow a few key steps: read the question passage, read the graph titles and headings, pick out the key trends or patterns in the graph and conclude the main result the graph represents. Then, move on to the questions!

2. Why are graphs used on the MCAT?

Graphs are easy and fast ways to represent complex data in a visual form. Graphs and charts are used consistently in research and data evaluation, and you’ll need to know how to interpret graphs not just for med school but for your entire career as a physician.

3. How do I get better at data analysis for the MCAT?

Practice with sample graphs and passages so you can learn to connect the written information provided with the information represented in the graph. Use key graph-reading strategies to practice reading and understanding graphs quickly. Time yourself when practicing with graphs so you can evaluate where you’re getting stuck or lingering too long.

4. How long should I spend on MCAT graphs?

Reading and interpreting graphs can take away a lot of your allotted time on the exam. By the time you’re ready to take your exam, aim to be able to read an MCAT graph in 30 seconds at the most.

5. What types of graphs are used on the MCAT?

The MCAT uses a number of different graphs, charts and images to represent data, problems or situations covered in the written passages. Some of these include pie charts, bar graphs, linear graphs and box plot graphs.

6. Are statistics included in the MCAT?

Yes; many of the passages in the maths and sciences sections of the MCAT include statistics or numerical data you will need to interpret and understand to answer questions.

7. Is the math section the hardest on the MCAT?

While the MCAT is generally considered a long and difficult exam, most students consider the CARS section even more rigorous than the sciences and math sections of the test. This is backed up by average student scores, which are lowest overall on the CARS section.

8. Is it hard to read MCAT graphs?

Graphs can be tricky to read at first glance, but with a few strategies to interpreting them, they become much easier to handle! Remember that a graph is a visual representation of data, and is designed to highlight the most important data, making it easier for you to quickly analyze key information.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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