GMAT Impact: The 2013–2014 Strategy for Integrated Reasoning

When it comes to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this weekly blog series, Manhattan GMAT’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

We know that business schools are not using the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section much (if at all) this first year, for admission in the fall of 2013, but we also know that IR will probably become more important—gradually—over time.

So what should you do if you are taking the GMAT sometime this year in preparation for a fall 2014 start? How much attention do you really need to pay to IR, and what kind of score will be good enough?

The mean score is a 4.34 (on a scale of 1 to 8). In general, as with the essays, we want to try to hit or beat the mean. Because the mean is between two scores, we should aim for a 5 in general. If you are applying to ultracompetitive programs, you may want to aim for a 6, just in case.

Why not just go all out for an 8? Given that the Quant and Verbal sections are critically important—and they come after the IR section—we need to make sure that we are saving most of our effort for these two sections.

How do we get that “good enough” score?

Given that we are not going for a perfect score, we can decide ahead of time to skip a certain number of questions. That is right, we are just going to guess outright, randomly and immediately, on multiple questions!

If you are going for a 5, guess on three questions in the section; if you are going for a 6, guess on two questions.

On which questions should you guess? IR is a pretty even mix of quant and verbal reasoning skills, so weight your attention more heavily toward your stronger area. Really good at Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension (RC)? Bail more quickly when you see a really hard quant-based IR question.

Alternatively, is math your thing? Then be ready to guess and move on more quickly when you encounter a really long, convoluted text with reasoning-based questions. If RC is a big weakness for you, you might even decide to bail on the entire Multi-Source Reasoning prompt, which usually comes with two or three questions.

How do we study for IR?

Next, IR is probably pretty different from any kind of test question you have seen before – so you are going to need some resources that can help you learn how to tackle these things. I will start you off with some free resources, and then you can work from there.

Table questions: We are given a table with lots of data to interpret; half of the trick here is knowing what we can ignore!

Two-Part questions: These are not that different from the standard multiple choice given in Quant and Verbal, except that we have to answer two questions, not just one.

Graph questions: We are given a graph or chart of some kind and have to figure out what it means so we can answer some questions.

Multi-Source Reasoning questions: These are somewhat reminiscent of RC, though the questions can include quant concepts. We are given a bunch of information spread over two or three tabs; we have to wade through it and then answer two or three questions (usually three), all about the same information.

Key Takeaways for IR:

(1) Know your goal: To get a good enough score and be prepared enough that IR does not wipe you out mentally before you get to the more important later sections.

(2) Build some flexibility into your time frame and prep plan. Some people will find they need more prep time than they might have expected. Others will think, “Wow, I wish the whole test were like this!”

(3) Your prep process will be very similar to what you have already been doing for Quant and Verbal—same kinds of fundamental content, same kinds of study activities, same kinds of analysis of your work and so on. This will just be happening with new question types, that is all.


* GMAT is a trademark of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Use of the name or any material does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

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