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Aberg-Bengtsson, L. and Ottosson, T.  (2006).  What lies behind graphicacy?  Relating students’ results on a test of graphically represented quantitative information to formal academic achievement.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(1):43-62. 

This article attempts to identify factors that are involved in students' ability to interpret graphic representations at secondary school level.  The authors produced a "test" for 9th graders (in Sweden) consisting of a graph/bar chart/scatterplot or cartogram at the top of the page and 2-8 questions underneath.  The questions were multiple-choice, task-oriented (in which students were supposed to read off a value and write it down), or open-ended. 

This article has a good literature review and examples of their graphs/questions in the Appendices.  The students' performance on the test was compared to their academic performance.  The strongest correlation was between the test and the math/science grades (not surprising).  No gender differences were found.


Berg, C.A. and Phillips, D.G.  (1994).  An investigation of the relationship between logical thinking structures and the ability to construct and interpret line graphs.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(4): 323-344. 

The authors investigated the relationship between logical thinking and the ability to construct and interpret line graphs by 7th, 9th, and 11th graders (in "small town" USA).  They had students draw their own graphs before interpreting ready-made graphs of similar content and students were interviewed to provide an explanation of what they drew and why.  Fewer than 33% of 11th graders were able to use age/weight data to construct a graph correctly and there was little improvement from 7th to 11th grade in the ability to discriminate between slope and height or to identify the greatest rate of change.

The authors interviewed students – each interview lasted 45 to 55 min.  While I'd like to design tools to use in class to build graph-reading skills; the idea of possibly needing to videotape and/or interview students scares me!


Bowen, G.M., Roth, W.-M. and McGinn, M.K.  (1999).  Interpretation of graphs by university biology students and practicing scientists: Toward a social practice view of scientific representation practices.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(9): 1020-1043.  

This article describes a study in which small groups of students in a university Ecology course (in Canada) were challenged to interpret a population graph; the process was videotaped and compared to established scientists (a doctoral student associated with the Ecology course, a postdoc at a different university, an M.Sc. in experimental physics, and an M.Sc. in biology).  The authors discuss designing activities that allow students to gain competence in "graphicacy". 

This article shows that students' lack of experience in generating graphs slows their interpretation of a "ready-made" graph.  In contrast to Dibble, they believe the evidence exists that college graduates with BS & MS degrees have not developed competence in using graphs.  This would be a good article to use in a cited-reference search.


Dibble, E.  (1997).  The Interpretation of Graphs and Tables (Doctoral dissertation).  University of Washington, Seattle, WA.  Retrieved from Dissertations and Theses database.  (UMI No. 9819230). 

This dissertation analyzed the ability of undergraduates to assess the extent of students' graph decoding skills using stacked bar graphs, contingency tables or pie charts.  Students were asked to estimate absolute and relative frequencies as well as absolute and relative proportions – this was done in a mass testing situation with many unrelated questionnaires and short tests including this one.  

Her results were interesting, if students were answering questions about frequency or proportion, the structure of the data display did not affect performance.  However, when answering causal questions students were less comfortable (as in her "Plant Study") and they looked to the data displays for clues about what they should do.  So, the design of the question and the data impacts how students perform on interpretation questions!


Osodo, J., Amory, A., Graham-Jolly, M. and Indoshi, F.C.  (2010).  Visualization skills and their incorporation in biology curriculum.  Educational Research and Reviews, 5(6): 282-291. 

Their project focused on the identification of specific perceptual weaknesses in first and second-year Cell Biology students at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences (Natal, Durban).  The authors adapted a multiple-choice questionnaire from standardized tests requiring students to: (i) match figures to identical rearranged ones, (ii) identify blocks of cubes with similar ones presented from different angles, and (iii) mentally bending flat objects along dotted lines to come up with correct 3D objects. 

As a biologist (who loves structures), I am intrigued by the idea that these simple exercises using/predicting 3D shapes might help students understand the beautiful molecular structures and movies available.

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