Tricks for solving data interpretation problems

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    This article is provided by Byju's, a subsidary of Think and Learn Private Limited; with over 20,000 enrollments, it is India's leading provider of preparation courses for various competitive exams like JEE, IAS, CAT, GMAT and supplementary courses for the School. It is the youngest company to win the CNBC-Crisil Emerging India Award (Education) and has also been listed in the Deloitte Fastest 50 Technology Company in India, for the last three consecutive years.

    Why bother?

    • Most of the competitive examinations such as GRE, GMAT, CAT has sections on data interpretation and are seen as vital for selecting and eliminating the massive applications for Ivy League universities
    • Playing with data and accurately interpreting it can assist in solving day-to-day problems

    Data Interpretation School of Thoughts

    There are two schools of thoughts around data interpretation i.e.

    • It’s a complex thing: Not every person is able to get things right on the data front
    • It can be made easier: Training might assist in sharpening the skills and make the process easier for each and every person.  

    We believe that the second school of thought is essentially the right path. Although, it’s easier said than done, it requires individuals to embrace few strategies to sharpen up the skills. These are as follows:

    The three key vital components to streamline data interpretation process is as follows:

    • Pragmatic and standardisation of cognitive thinking i.e. same type of data require similar thinking process to reduce lead duration
    • Shortcuts to fasten results i.e. streamline the overall process
    • Work on approximation approach i.e. look for trends (visual approximation) instead of getting the exact quantitative actionable insights.

    So, once broken down what you can actually do?  

    • Sharpen calculations: This will enhance validity, reliability and speed up the cognitive thinking process. Do not use calculators while practicing, and reply on calculating mentally and breaking the larger calculations into smaller chunks.

    Tip: Find the average of 80, 90 and 100. What you would do is – (80+90+100)/3. Instead try 80+ (10+20)/3 = 80+10 = 90. It is not about working hard, but working smart. This is an easier example, but this process is handy when you have to average out 6 or more even more values.

    • Solve different types of problems: This is essential to develop the lateral thinking i.e. imagination and finding different approaches is vital in data interpretation. So getting acquainted with all sort of problems such as bar graphs, pie charts, statistical representation really helps.

    Tip: Solve the questions in the given order, as in many cases the first question is a start of the pattern to some of the following questions. Solving them in the other they appear will ensure you have a better short at answering the next questions.

    • Visual solution: By looking at some of the data, one would be able to figure one or two outliers that can be eliminated easily. This process of elimination saves time in calculations, and gives you more time to calculate what is needed.
    • Read carefully: Take a moment to see the data and read through the statements, and most importantly the exact questions. Don’t miss any information.
    • Learn the rule of approximation: There is no point in calculating to the last decimal point – get to the closest point possible for increasing the speed of calculation.

    Tip: Example: What is 49% of 46 ? Options are – A) 20 B ) 22.54 C) 25.6 D) 27.3. One of the ways to do this is just to calculate 50% of 46, i.e. 23 – so 1% should be ending at 22.54. Easy right? Or, if you can multiply 0.49X46 - and know that the last number can only end with 4, and hence the answer 22.54.

    • Practice is unbending:  Data interpretation requires patience and not a skill learnt overnight. Daily practice sessions will surely improve speed and facilitate in solving problems of different types and categories.

    As often misunderstood that skills and natural thinking ability are two important ways to solve problems centric to data. The third one is not factored in i.e. tactical (short cuts) and strategies (long-term approach). There have been numerous used cases where individuals have scored better through utilizing shortcuts in competitive examinations. These shortcuts can be further used in professional careers as well to analyse a particular business case. Some of the steps to be followed to build a short-cut approach towards interpreting data are as follows:

    • Get yourself as familiar to the questions as possible
    • Try to analyse as much as possibilities to a particular problem to cover all angels
    • Poor guess work and lack of rationale cognitive thinking will spoil all efforts
    • Select the right sequence of data stream to create a solution pathway

    These might sound very general observations and tactics but data interpretation is all about permutation and combination to reach out to approximation. This skill is surely one of the most highly rated and can provide individuals with cutting edge differentiation on long-term basis.

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