Fans of the “Harry Potter” franchise know that the Sorting Hat magically determines which of the four school houses each new student is to be assigned at Hogwarts. This Hat has to take into account data on every new Hogwarts student, and somehow be able to tell a Gryffindor from a Slytherin! Similarly, on the “Table Analysis” questions in the Integrated Reasoning section on the GMAT, you are required to sift through data and draw conclusions. We may not have magic to help us, but sorting data isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

Sorting data is one of the cornerstones of modern data analysis. A company has a large amount of data (or Hogwarts students), and wants it sorted in many different permutations to find relationships between variables (which students will be best in which House). More simply, sorting allows us to list one variable alphabetically, or from least to greatest, greatest to least, etc. Sorting is designed to give you a clearer picture of what the data means, a crucial step in answering Table Analysis questions.

In Table Analysis questions, it’s important not to start sorting until you know why. If the Sorting Hat in “Harry Potter” is wondering whether to place a student in Ravenclaw, he might be sifting through data looking for an indication a student is particularly wise or witty. You need to know what data you need to look at to answer the specific question posed, and then determine which type of “sort” would be the most helpful in finding that answer.

If you have Microsoft Office, you already have the ability to sort data. Using Excel, you can sort data alphabetically (A to Z or Z to A), by numerical values (smallest to largest or largest to smallest), and by dates and times (oldest to newest or newest to oldest). Most sort operations are by column, but it is also possible to sort by rows. The Table Analysis questions will likely eventually permit sorting by rows and columns. Practice shifting in Excel with the following commands:

• To sort in ascending alphanumeric order, click  to Sort A to Z.
• To sort in descending alphanumeric order, click  to Sort Z to A.
• To sort from low numbers to high numbers, click   to Sort Smallest to Largest.
• To sort from high numbers to low numbers, click  to Sort Largest to Smallest.

Excel has many other sorting capabilities, but these are the main ones that will be required on the Table Analysis section. On the Table Analysis questions, a drop-down menu will pre-determine the possible ways to sort, so you will only have a limited number of possibilities. Like the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts, use your best judgment and logic to sort, and that’s all you’ll need!

Oh you may not think I’m pretty, but don’t judge on what you see, I’ll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me.“—The Sorting Hat

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.