Learn with Matrix Charts

Learn with Matrix Charts

A Matrix Chart is really an advanced Compare and contrast chart. It is useful when comparing more than two things. The matrix chart below – or something very similar – is one most biology students are familiar with.

When I was a students there were five classes of vertebrates: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Now, depending on where you look, there are 5, 6, 7, or maybe more. All the differences involve fish. They once were all in a single class. Now they are divided. But, for the purposes of this chart, I have grouped all the fish together.

For a proper compare and contrast chart, I need to list characteristics that are true for all of them. With a matrix, there is no space for this, so I will list them separately:

All vertebrates have: 1. A well-developed backbone with vertebrae 2. A well-developed nervous system with brain, spinal cord, and well-developed sensory organs. 3. A defined head, paired appendages (usually), muscles attached to bones, and a closed circulatory system.

A Comparison of the Five Main Groups of VERTEBRATESA chart (matrix) of five classes of vertebrates

With this kind of chart, you can study the details vertically, considering one class at a time. You can also study the details horizontally, comparing the same system across all five classes of vertebrates. I usually read and record information to fill in the chart vertically. Then I study the information horizontally.

As you study, imagine possible compare and contrast questions. Compare fish and amphibians. Compare the respiratory systems of the fish, amphibians and reptiles. Compare the reproductive systems in all groups of vertebrates.

Using a Matrix with far more information

I used a chart very similar to this for a class in Invertebrate Zoology. The Invertebrate chart covered 34 Phyla with varying numbers of classes in each. The chart covered an entire wall.

Here I used 8 categories, in the Invertebrate chart I had about 15 categories.

How did I study this massive amount of information? I looked horizontally for groups that were the same in one category and circled these areas. I located places where there was a major evolutionary development. In this chart that might be changing from cold to warm-blooded. It could have been the change from eggs to live births. I marked these with a bright marker.

Then, I rehearsed the information horizontally. One day I would practice the digestive system from simple animals like sponges and jellyfish to more complex ones like the octopus. With major turning points marked, it was fairly easy to picture the chart in my mind.

The greatest advantage of these charts is that you can first learn the information vertically, and then study the material horizontally – looking for major similarities and differences.

How can you use a matrix to organize data?

From my personal examples, you can see it is most helpful when you are studying a large number of topics that are divided into a number of categories. Here are several examples.

Plays of Shakespeare (or literature by other authors)  divided into setting (place and time), main characters, plot, category (comedy, drama, tragedy, etc) memorable quotations, etc.

Countries of South America looking at the government, famous people, important exports, capital city, population, or whatever information you might be interested int.

A list of senators or candidates running for office and their positions on a number of controversial issues.

Using a Matrix Chart to evaluate Possible Colleges

It really doesn’t matter is you list the colleges vertically or horizontally. Decide how big the chart will be and how much space it will take.  If you only have three or four categories, I’d list those along the top of the page. I’d add the colleges down the page using several pages, if needed.

Most students, however, will have more categories for information about the colleges. Therefore, I would choose to list those vertically, and list colleges across the top. Then you can add many extra pages to form a long horizontal banner. It would look similar to this:

categories                          Harvard             Yale               MIT              U of Fla          U of Chicago …


Cost per/year

How Selective
to % of class
SAT scores

Grad School

EXPLANATION: For Location, State is clear, for city yo can name closest city or write large, medium, small, or rural  For geography, you might have lake, river, ocean, mountains, hills, etc. and if these don’t matter, don’t use the category. Weather could include rainy, dry, warm, and cold. You could also include distance from home if listing the state doesn’t make this obvious.

Size. You could use the number of students, but it’s easier to compare with categories such as Very Large, Large, Medium, Small, Very Small.

Cost could be the actual amount or you could rate them from Most Expensive, down the low cost.

How Selective gives you an idea how hard it is to get in. I included three ways of understanding this. Most College books rate colleges with terms as Most Selective, Highly Selective, Selective, Less selective, and Not Selective. Do you want to attend a Most selective college?  You might decide which category of selectiveness describes you and highlight those where you’d be likely to get in and fit in easily.

Books also give the average high school class rank: Top 1%,  top 5% , top 10% etc. The lowest numbers are the most selective.  They also often include the range of SAT score of the middle 50% of freshmen. The higher the average  scores, the harder it will be to get in.

Major is only important if you want to major in something unusual. Students who want to study Marine Biology, will find this is only offered at a small number of schools. They might choose one of these, or decide to major in Biology and do graduate work in Marine Biology. You might have three majors you are considering and want to find a school offering all three.

Grad School: won’t make a difference to most students but, if you want to stay in one school for your grad work, this could be important. I enjoyed taking an occasional grad course as an undergraduate. You might also find more experts in your field if there is a graduate school including an appropriate department.  Other students prefer being in a school with only undergraduate students.

Other: You can certainly add many other categories. A student with learning disabilities should look for a college with strong support services. Someone who hopes to play football or another sport, could add a category to distinguish what sport teams are available.  If you want to play in a marching band, add that to your list. Do you want a school with or without fraternities and sororities? You might add this.

As you read more about colleges, you will find more and more categories to add to your chart. One last hint: Instead of organizing them in the order I used, I’d suggest deciding which categories are most important to you and lit them in order of importance. This will make it easier to delete the schools that do poorly in an area that is important to you.

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