GMAT Tip of the Week: Outkast Teaches Integrated Reasoning

Now that Integrated Reasoning is here to stay on the GMAT, it’s time to, as Outkast would say, “hush that fuss” about how to avoid IR for your fall application or why IR is a new behemoth worthy of fear. As we’ve mentioned many times in this space, IR isn’t as “new” as the hype would suggest. And to conquer it, it’s probably best to heed some other advice from Outkast and specifically from Andre 3000 (not his SAT score) in the song “Roses”:

Now even though
You’d need a golden calculator
To divide

The time it takes to look inside and realize
That real guys
Go for real, down-to-Mars girls

(From the refrain)
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like poo-poo

What is Andre 3000′s IR advice here? Integrated Reasoning might make you think that you need a “golden calculator” to divide…and the IR format provides you with an on-screen calculator. But lean a little bit closer – roses sometimes smell like, well, poo-poo. In other words, the calculator can be fool’s gold and much less golden than it is pyrite.

After all, this is the GMAT. And the Quantitative Reasoning section focuses on conceptual understanding and mental agility with numbers. You’ve trained for critical thinking with math for Data Sufficiency and quick calculations or estimates without a calculator for problem solving. Why would Integrated Reasoning be that much different?

Here’s why the golden calculator on IR might actually smell like poo-poo. Consider this sequence of calculations:

2 + 4 * 3

The answer is 14, right? Order of operations dictates that you do the multiplication first. But on the single-function calculator, the program will add 2 + 4 first, giving you 18. And if you’re relying solely on the calculator without critical thinking, you’ll fall into that trap.

Consider another example:

A team of 17 elementary school students will form a relay team for a 3-mile race. If each student runs the same distance, approximately how many feet will each need to run (1 mile = 5,280 feet)?

Answers: Between 800 and 900; Between 900 and 1000; Between 1000 and 1100; Between 1100 and 1200

You *could* use the calculator to type in 3 * 5,280 / 17. But look at how many keystrokes that is and how much room for error exists if you miskey a digit. You’re already thinking in terms of divisibility. 5,280 is just above 5,100, which is 17*300. So each runner will need to run just above 300 feet per mile, and there are three miles. The answer has to be between 900 and 1000, and you can quickly do that math in your head without the margin for typo-error. Note that most calculations on the IR section do not require precise answers – they’re generally asking for ranges. You can do most of the math by recognizing divisibility the same way you would on the cleaner-number Problem Solving questions.

Now, for one calculation, the above problem might go just as quickly with the calculator. But consider a question such as:

City Amount Saved Total Budget
Andersonville $8,225 $47,975
Bronxtown $16,750 $142,950
Chadwick $3,925 $20,325
Dodgeville $3,350 $16,275
Edgewater $13,100 $51,675

Which city had the lowest savings as a percentage of its total budget?

You wouldn’t want to key in this many division problems, but you don’t have to. You can simply use fractions and divisibility. You’re looking for the lowest fraction of left column to right column. A is approximately 1/6; B is less than 1/7; C is around 1/4; D is around 1/5; E is around 1/4. B wins, and you could do this by recognizing that the “golden calculator” might actually smell like poo-poo. On most questions, the calculator is for business school outcasts. Take a lesson from Outkast: avoid the calculator when you can, keeping your math so fresh and so clean.

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