Applied Math Problems: Using Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) to Interpret Math Graphics

Students must be able to correctly interpret math graphics in order to correctly answer many applied math problems. Struggling learners in math often misread or misinterpret math graphics. For example, students may:

  • overlook important details of the math graphic.
  • treat irrelevant data on the math graphic as 'relevant'.
  • fail to pay close attention to the question before turning to the math graphic to find the answer.
  • not engage their prior knowledge both to extend the information on the math graphic and to act as a possible 'reality check' on the data that it presents.
  • expect the answer to be displayed in plain sight on the math graphic, when in fact the graphic may require that readers first to interpret the data, then to plug the data into an equation to solve the problem.

Teachers need an instructional strategy to encourage students to be more savvy interpreters of graphics in applied math problems. One idea is to have them apply a reading comprehension strategy, Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) as a tool for analyzing math graphics. The four QAR question types (Raphael, 1982, 1986) are as follows:

  • RIGHT THERE questions are fact-based and can be found in a single sentence, often accompanied by 'clue' words that also appear in the question.
  • THINK AND SEARCH questions can be answered by information in the text--but require the scanning of text and the making of connections between disparate pieces of factual information found in different sections of the reading.
  • AUTHOR AND YOU questions require that students take information or opinions that appear in the text and combine them with the reader's own experiences or opinions to formulate an answer.
  • ON MY OWN questions are based on the students' own experiences and do not require knowledge of the text to answer.

Steps to Implementing This Intervention

Teachers use a 4-step instructional sequence to teach students to use Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) to better interpret math graphics:

  • 1. Distinguishing Among Different Kinds of Graphics

    Students are first taught to differentiate between five common types of math graphics: table (grid with information contained in cells), chart (boxes with possible connecting lines or arrows), picture (figure with labels), line graph, bar graph.

    Students note significant differences between the various types of graphics, while the teacher records those observations on a wall chart. Next students are shown examples of graphics and directed to identify the general graphic type (table, chart, picture, line graph, bar graph) that each sample represents.

    As homework, students are assigned to go on a 'graphics hunt', locating graphics in magazines and newspapers, labeling them, and bringing them to class to review.

  • 2. Interpreting Information in Graphics

    Over several instructional sessions, students learn to interpret information contained in various types of math graphics. For these activities, students are paired off, with stronger students matched with less strong ones.

    The teacher sets aside a separate session to introduce each of the graphics categories. The presentation sequence is ordered so that students begin with examples of the most concrete graphics and move toward the more abstract. The graphics sequence in order of increasing difficulty is: Pictures > tables > bar graphs > charts > line graphs.

    At each session, student pairs examine examples of graphics from the category being explored that day and discuss questions such as: "What information does this graphic present? What are strengths of this type of graphic for presenting data? What are possible weaknesses?" Student pairs record their findings and share them with the large group at the end of the session.

  • 3. Linking the Use of Question-Answer Relations (QARs) to Graphics

    In advance of this lesson, the teacher prepares a series of data questions and correct answers. Each question and answer is paired with a math graphic that contains information essential for finding the answer.

    At the start of the lesson, students are each given a set of 4 index cards with titles and descriptions of each of the 4 QAR questions: RIGHT THERE, THINK AND SEARCH, AUTHOR AND YOU, ON MY OWN. (TMESAVING TIP: Students can create their own copies of these QAR review cards as an in-class activity.)

    Working first in small groups and then individually, students read each teacher-prepared question, study the matching graphic, and 'verify' the provided answer as correct. They then identify the type of question being posed in that applied problem, using their QAR index cards as a reference.

  • 4. Using Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) Independently to Interpret Math Graphics

    Students are now ready to use the QAR strategy independently to interpret graphics. They are given a laminated card as a reference with 6 steps to follow whenever they attempt to solve an applied problem that includes a math graphic:

    • Read the question,
    • Review the graphic,
    • Reread the question,
    • Choose the appropriate QAR,
    • Answer the question, and
    • Locate the answer derived from the graphic in the answer choices offered.

    Students are strongly encouraged NOT to read the answer choices offered on a multiple-choice item until they have first derived their own answer-to prevent those choices from short-circuiting their inquiry.


  • Mesmer, H.A.E., & Hutchins, E.J. (2002). Using QARs with charts and graphs. The Reading Teacher, 56, 21-27.
  • Raphael, T. (1982). Question-answering strategies for children. The Reading Teacher, 36, 186-190.
  • Raphael, T. (1986). Teaching question answer relationships, revisited. The Reading Teacher, 39, 516-522.