5 Tips for Dealing with Data Interpretation in Integrated Reasoning

The new GMAT Integrated Reasoning section contain four question-types, several of which require the interpretation of data given in graphs and tables. Data analysis is not a skill required on the GMAT Quant section, so this is new to many students. What skills can we bring to these 12 questions? Here are some hot tips!

  1. Start with the labels.
    Mentally categorize each graph, chart and table. (EX: “This is a graph showing the change in the price of crude oil per gallon over the course of four years.”) Do not just skip the statistics entirely and go straight to the questions! While you may think this will save you time, it actually significantly decreases your accuracy. You’ve got to know what you’re looking at first. Integrated Reasoning questions are like an open-book test. You wouldn’t skip a Reading Comp passage, so don’t skip the data. Make sure you read every tiny piece of writing on or near the data, including titles, the labels for the x and y-axes, column names, and even footnotes, if any. Scroll down to make sure you’ve caught everything.
  2. Pay attention to the units.

    Once you understand the labels, take special care to note the units (mph, m/sec, cm2, etc.). Are we dealing with seconds, minutes, or hours? Does one graph represent the month of July, while the other graph represents the entire year? The units may change from graph-to-graph or chart-to-table. Especially note any given information about percentages, as IR questions may require you to work with percents and raw numbers.

  3. Look for trends.

    Quickly note the relationship between the variables in each table, chart, or graph. Do they have a direct or indirect correlation? Where does the data spike or significantly decrease?

  4. Link the question to the data.

    One common mistake on IR questions is using the wrong data. Make sure you understand what the question is asking, then stop and consider which table, graph, chart, or paragraph provides the information you’ll need to solve for the correct answer. Harder IR questions will require you to use more than one piece of info. The questions may be multi-step, so look closely for key phrases in the question that refer to the labels you carefully studied when you first reviewed the data.

  5. Predict an answer as much as possible.

    You may be able to approximate an answer by rounding off numbers for certain questions. Make sure to be consistent in how you approximate, and only do so if the answer choices are far enough apart that estimation is prudent.

Don’t rush through these questions! When you first practice them, allow yourself plenty of time – Integrated Reasoning can be frustrating, especially for those of us who never took statistics in high school. Take comfort in the fact that those higher-level Reading Comp and Word Problem skills you’ve been honing will definitely pay off on IR!

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

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.