The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) and User’s Guide

Topic: Use of Numbers

Topic: Use of Numbers

Item 6: Numbers appearing in the material are clear and easy to understand (P)

Ratings: Disagree = 0       Agree = 1    No numbers = N/A


As a general rule, a material should use numbers only as needed. When numbers are used, they should be clear and easy to understand. There is no hard and fast rule about what to avoid (e.g., fractions, percentages), but in general, expressing probabilities as frequencies (e.g., 1 out of 10,000) instead of percentages (e.g., 0.01%) is easier to understand.

Similarly, it may be helpful to explain the numbers qualitatively alongside the number (e.g., very few people—1 out of 10,000 people who have this condition—will experience this symptom), but they should generally not be used in place of numbers.

Note: Time and dates should not be considered numbers for this item.

Not Applicable

Choose N/A if the material has no numbers.


CHOOSE "AGREE"—Easy to understand: There’s a very small chance that you could have a heart attack because you take this medicine. Out of 10,000 people taking this medicine, no more than 3 of them will have a heart attack.
CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—Hard to understand: The risk of having a heart attack because you take this medicine is 0.029%.

CHOOSE "AGREE"—Easy to understand: Take 1 pill in the morning and 1 pill at night.
CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—Hard to understand: Take twice daily.

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Item 7: The material does not expect the user to perform calculations (P)

Ratings: Disagree = 0       Agree = 1


A calculation is when the material asks the user to add, subtract, multiply or divide, or perform any other mathematical operation. Do not consider the following calculations: simple counting (e.g., count out 2 pills, hold your breath by counting to 10), simple references to time (e.g., wait 24 hours, brush your teeth for 2 minutes), or calendar-based information (e.g., in 1 week).


CHOOSE "AGREE"—The material does not expect the user to perform a calculation to determine his/her body mass index (BMI).

BMI table that includes explanation of how to use the chart. A BMI of 27 is circle, along with corresponding height of 63 inches and weight of 152 pounds.

Taken from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Body Mass Index Table 1

CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—The material expects the user to perform a calculation to determine his/her BMI.

  • To calculate your body mass index, multiply your weight by 703, and divide by the square of your height in inches.
  • Call your doctor if your weight increases 2 pounds over a 2-day period or 5 pounds in 1 week.
  • Add up the calories in a meal.

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Page last reviewed October 2013
Internet Citation: Topic: Use of Numbers. Content last updated October 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.