8 Steps to an 8 on the Integrated Reasoning Section

Springtime has always been a reason to celebrate – we’re recently through Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, and on to “Dads and Grads” and wedding season.  Oh, and next week the GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning section turns one year old.  So grab your party hats and noisemakers and get ready for some sloppy cake eating…let’s celebrate the Integrated Reasoning section’s first birthday with 8 strategies to help you get a perfect 8 on that section.

  1. Use the calculator sparingly.  The calculator on the Integrated Reasoning section is a single-function calculator that comes with some pitfalls – it doesn’t recognize order of operations (type in 2 + 3 x 4 and you’ll  get 20, not 14), and it’s generally not the most efficient way to answer questions.  While the IR section uses authentic data with many “significant figures”, it’s still the GMAT after all and estimates and number properties will typically suffice when just typing in and proofreading your calculations can become laborious.
  2. Read the questions before you consider the data.  Because the IR section uses authentic data – large tables, involved graphs, multiple sources – there are too many “storylines” within each prompt to get a good feel for the data you’ll actually need to answer the questions.  Think about it – you wouldn’t just skim a giant Excel file at your office without knowing that you’re looking for something specific (outliers in P to E ratio, or spikes/troughs in sales numbers).  IR prompts are extremely question driven – you’ll see dozens of data points but typically only have to answer around three questions.  Let the questions help you determine which data points are even relevant.
  3. On Two-Part Analysis quant questions, be prepared to use the answer choices.  Often these questions will ask for a combination – which number from column A works with a corresponding number from column B to satisfy the situation above – for which you cannot simply use algebra to solve – there are multiple solution pairs, and you need to find the one pair that exists in the solutions.  The answer choices are almost always an integral part of your problem solving approach on Two-Part quant questions.
  4. Pay attention to graphs in your day-to-day life.  While some Graphics Interpretation prompts are fairly common – bar, line, pie, and scatter graphs come up frequently –others are unique enough that you won’t find enough GMAT practice problems to master them.  But that’s part of the game – the GMAT  wants you to be comfortable interpreting graphs as you see them authentically in life.  To be better prepare, notice the graphs when you read The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, and practice interpreting them in their natural habitat.
  5. Sort the data tables. The fact that the data tables are sortable isn’t a “nice to have” function, it’s an essential function.  Use the questions to determine how you’ll best group the data (by sales volume, by product type, etc.) and then make the tables your own.
  6. Even on graphs, precision in wording is paramount.  And maybe more so – graphs have a great way of getting your mind to look at the sizes of bars and slices of pie, and in doing so you fail to take note of whether that measures, say, a ratio or an absolute number.  Make sure you compare the description of the data with the question and answer choices to ensure that, for example, if a question is asking about the ratio of sales to salespeople, you’re not basing your answer on the total dollar amount of sales.
  7. Keep an eye on pacing.  12 questions in 30 minutes doesn’t give you very much time, so don’t become too involved in any one question so that you have to rush or guess – especially because panic and hustle that early on test day can sap your stamina and focus later in the test.  The GMAT is more marathon than sprint, so don’t be ashamed to guess on a question or two in order to stay comfortable and on pace.
  8. Don’t worry.  Reports from the first year suggest that the IR section is easier than advertised, with many of the readily-available practice questions clustering around the top end of difficulty. And since the IR section is *not* adaptive, you’ll see easier questions and get a chance to pick off some low hanging fruit.  Stay upbeat and confident and settle in for a successful GMAT, not just a race to the end of IR.

Keep these eight tips in mind on your way to a perfect 8 on the IR section and a welcome gateway to the quant and verbal sections, and in a few springs you’ll be celebrating a graduation, too.

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