GED Science: Reading Diagrams

Instructor: Jordan White

Jordan has been a writer, editor and Web researcher for educational publications since 2010. He holds a bachelor's in English from Western Michigan University.

The GED Science test uses a variety of visual prompts to present information to the test taker. Read this lesson to learn about diagrams, how to read them, and strategies for understanding this information.

Diagrams on the GED Science Test

The GED Science test uses a variety of visual prompts, including charts, tables, graphs, and diagrams. When we say diagrams, we mean a simplified illustration that demonstrates how a process or structure looks or works. This could mean looking at a diagram of the internal structure of an atom, or a diagram of the entire Milky Way Galaxy, or anything in between! The GED Science test will often use these tools to represent scientific processes, and to test your knowledge of those processes. In some cases, they will be paired with short reading passages for additional explanation, but sometimes the diagram will be all you have to answer one or more questions. So what do you need to keep in mind when reading diagrams for the GED Science test?

Use the Information Provided

An important point to remember when taking the GED Science test is that, for the most part, all the information you need to know to answer the question is provided to you in the prompt. So, the science test ends up being more about your ability to properly read and analyze the information you're given, rather than testing your knowledge of scientific concepts. Don't let diagrams of structures or processes you're not familiar with overwhelm you. Even if you don't recognize the diagram you're shown, you should be able to answer the question correctly just by analyzing the information in the prompt and/or diagram.

Parts of a Diagram


The first thing you need to do when analyzing a diagram is read all of the text that appears in the picture. This text will label the parts and processes being presented, and will help you understand the picture that you're looking at. For instance, let's take a look at a sample diagram and multiple choice question:


Based on the diagram above, which of the following statements is true about the structure of an atom?

A) The nucleus is made up of neutrons and electrons

B) The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons

C) Protons are made up of neutrons and electrons

D) Neutrons are made up of the nucleus and electrons

The correct answer is 'B) The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons.' As you can see, you don't need any prior knowledge of the structure of an atom to answer this question correctly. Just by looking at the image and its labels, you can see that the other answer choices are not supported by the information you're provided.


Knowing how to read keys will also come in handy when analyzing diagrams in the GED Science test. For example, let's take a look at the image below:


Based on the diagram above, which of the following statements about Africa's biomes is true?

A) Northern Africa is mostly made up of grasslands

B) Southern Africa is mostly made up of extreme desert

C) Semi-deserts are usually bordered by grasslands

D) Extreme deserts are usually bordered by forests

The correct answer is 'C) Semi-deserts are usually bordered by grasslands.' We can tell this by using the key in the bottom left corner to decipher the information given to us on the map. The key tells us what the colors on the map represent, and we can use that information to determine which of the answer choices is correct. Seeing that grasslands are a light yellow green and that semi-deserts are light brown, we can determine that answer choice C is true, while none of the other answers are supported.

Strategies for Reading Diagrams

Now that we've covered the major features of the GED Science test diagrams, let's talk about a few strategies that will help you approach these prompts.

Identify Key Information

One thing to keep in mind while reviewing diagrams is that you will commonly be presented with more information that you need to answer the question. In a lot of cases, there will be a lot of extra information included, and your job will be to sift through and find the information you need to answer the question. One effective method for dealing with this is to read the question first, then return to the prompt and identify the key information you'll need. This will make your approach more direct, and it will be more time-effective. For example:


Based on the diagram above, which of the following statements is true about a plant's cell structure?

A) The outer layer of the cell is also called the nuclear envelope

B) The nucleus is inside the nucleolus

C) Mitochondrion and small membrane vesicles serve the same purpose

D) The cell wall surrounds the entire cell

The correct answer is 'D) The cell wall surrounds the entire cell.' As you can see, there is a lot of information in this diagram, but the question only requires us to know a few pieces of it. By reading the question first, you can narrow down your search, rather than trying to read and learn the entire diagram before proceeding.

Diagrams of Processes

For some GED Science test diagram questions, you'll be presented with an image that depicts a series of events. This could include many different processes, including things like weather patterns, food chains, or electrical currents. In order to read these diagrams, follow the arrows presented to assess the order of the system being presented.


Based on the diagram above, which of the following is true about the carbon cycle?

A) Fossil fuels and cement production absorb carbon

B) Soil contains no carbon

C) Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere

D) When a fire burns, it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere

The correct answer is 'C) Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere.' By following the arrows on the diagram, we can trace the path of carbon as it goes through the cycle. So, by determining the direction the carbon is traveling, we can determine that any object with an arrow moving away from it is a producer of carbon (like the fire and the fossil fuels), and that any object with an arrow moving towards it (like the trees) absorbs carbon.

Lesson Summary

In conclusion, a diagram is a labeled image that tests your knowledge of the information or processes presented in the picture. To effectively analyze images, make sure to read labels and keys carefully, and also be sure to correctly follow arrows when tracing the order of a process. To manage your time wisely, it could be more effective to read the questions first, and then return to the image to look for specific information.

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