Integrated Reasoning? The Whole GMAT Is About Reasoning!

All of the hoopla leading up to the introduction of the GMAT’s new Integrated Reasoning section makes this month feel very much a part of 2012. Every four years we hear all about the summer Olympics, and then roll from that right into the U.S. presidential elections… And don’t forget that it’s a leap year.

It seems that the world saves special events for years that are divisible by four, and GMAC went along with the plan by waiting until 2012 to introduce its biggest change to the GMAT is nearly two decades. The new Integrated Reasoning section goes live on June 5, but judging by all of the chatter, it feels like it’s been here for months already. “Why the big change to the test?” everyone has been asking.

Here’s the thing: It’s not as big a change as many people seem to think. As we wrote nearly two years ago, when GMAC first announced the new section:

These are the skills that really matter in business school (and, more importantly, in business in general). And the good news for GMAT examinees is that these skills are consistent with those that already lead to success on the GMAT. As the exam has involved, it has included, among other things, greater emphases on Number Properties and Data Sufficiency on the quantitative section, and on statistical premises in Critical Reasoning and logical accuracy in Sentence Correction on the verbal section.

For decades now, the GMAT has primarily been a test of your reasoning skills. Yes, the new section is the mostly finely honed measure of those skills that GMAC has yet come up with, but it’s not the only one. Around the same time that GMAC began promoting the Integrated Reasoning section, GMAC representatives’ verbiage for the rest of the test subtly evolved as well. In presentations and conference calls, they began referring to the “Quantitative” and “Verbal” sections as the “Quantitative Reasoning” and “Verbal Reasoning” sections. Further, they carefully named the new section Integrated Reasoning, a term that can be broken down to show you the true intent of the test. “Reasoning” is the operative word here, and keep in mind that it’s significantly different from “knowledge.” Reasoning refers to your ability to think -– to apply knowledge and create solutions, not just to remember content. The GMAT is a test of how you think, not of what you know, so in order to be successful you need to sharpen not just your content knowledge, but also your reasoning ability.

For the Integrated Reasoning section, this means that while it will be important to familiarize yourself with common types of graphs (for example, for the Graphics Interpretation question type), it will be just as important to train yourself to read those graphs critically: Does the scale of the graph provide you with a skewed visual representation? Check the legend: Does the graph illustrate absolute number data or ratio data?

For the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections, this means something similar: What you know is only as useful as what you can do with it. Knowing the Pythagorean Theorem, for example, is helpful; recognizing that circles, squares, and three-dimensional objects often lend themselves to right-triangle diagonal distances is what separates you from the rest –- success means being able to find unique opportunities to employ your knowledge. The fact that GMAC has been so emphatic with its use of the term “reasoning” should be evidence enough.

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