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Turning the tables

Many subjects, such as geography, biology, PE and maths use tables of data in exams for data response or data stimulus questions. These questions ask you to make some comment about a set of information.

In an exam, you are being asked to communicate with the examiner. He or she does not know you and cannot be expected to show you any favours. For example, you may think something is obvious but you must still tell the examiners - otherwise they do not know what you are thinking. You will not be given any credit for something that you have not shown. You also need to be clear and keep to the point.

When describing a set of data there are certain features that you should look out for:

  • the highest value (the maximum).
  • the lowest value (the minimum).
  • the trend or general pattern.
  • any exceptions.

Not all sets of information will allow you to show all these features but if you keep them in mind you will get the correct answer across to the examiner. You should use the data to support your answer: this means that you must name names and quote figures.

For example, this table shows the composition of food (per 100 grams)

Table showing the composition of food

You might be asked to:

"Study the table which shows the nutritional value of foods commonly used on bread" and then answer the following questions:

Question 1 Using the data given show which food gives the most energy per 100g (2 marks)

Answer Marmite provides the most energy. It gives more than twice the amount of energy as cheese does and more than three times as much as jam or tuna paste.

Examiner's comment For 2 marks learners will need to say more than just "Marmite". They will need to use the data, as has been done in this answer. The student has correctly identified Marmite, and also gone on to compare it with other foods. She has also adapted the data and converted it into comparative amounts.

Question 2 Which foods provide most protein and which provide most carbohydrates. Is there any pattern that you can see? (5 marks)

Answer Marmite, cheese and tuna paste are all good sources of protein. Marmite contains the largest by far, but even tuna paste contains about 40 times as much protein per 100g as does sugar or honey. By contrast, jam and honey, which are very low in protein, are very high in carbohydrates (66g per 100g and 80g per 100g) whereas Marmite (7g per 100g) cheese and tuna paste (both 0.1g per 100g) are low in carbohydrates. Thus, the foods with a lot of protein contain few carbohydrates whereas those rich in carbohydrates have small amounts of protein.

Examiner's comment This question is worth 5 marks. Sometimes we may look for five points or better still three points supported with evidence from the table. Here the student has identified the basic difference between the quality foods (cheese and Marmite) and the quantity or energy foods (jam and honey). She has used data to support her answer and uses words and phrases such as "by contrast", "hence" and "thus". There is a real feeling that the student is on top of the subject and has communicated this clearly to me. 5/5 - full marks!

Question 3 Which of the foods mentioned in the table is best? Give reasons to support your answer. (5 marks)

Answer I think Marmite is the best food. It contains lots of protein and gives lots of energy although it hasn't got many carbohydrates.

Examiner's comment This is not a strong answer. The data is not used effectively - there is no comparison with the other foods, and the student has not quoted any evidence. However, she has correctly identified Marmite as the best food (we would accept cheese or tuna as an answer providing it is supported with evidence) but has not used the data to support her answer. 2/5.

A better answer might read: Marmite is the best food. This is because it contains extremely high levels of protein (45g per 100g) and provides much energy (886 cals per 100g). By contrast cheese, which is another quality food, only provides about half as much energy and protein. Jam and honey, although they are high in carbohydrates, are low in protein and energy. So, on the evidence provided I think that Marmite is the best food (pity about the taste!).