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Tips for GMAT Integrated Reasoning

Here are some quick thoughts about what you need to do to prepare for the GMAT’s newest question. 

1) Learn the Question Formats!

The Verbal Section is, essentially, an ocean of five-choice multiple choice questions.  Yes, the tasks differ among SC, RC, and CR, but the question format is identical.  One could certainly make the argument that DS is just a five-choice multiple choice question in disguise, and that would make the Quantitative section another ocean of five-choice multiple choice questions.

The Integrated Reasoning another ocean is not of five-choice multiple choice questions.  It consists of four completely different categories of questions, and both presents information and poses questions in formats entirely unlike anything else on the GMAT.   This ain’t your granddaddy’s GMAT! The four question types are

  1. Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR)
  2. Table Analysis (TA)
  3. Graphics Interpretation (GI)
  4. Two-Part Analysis (2PA)

Each one of these contains a variety of categories of information it will present, a variety of ways of present information, and a variety of question formats.  Only the MSR, as one of its possible question formats, includes the traditional five-choice multiple choice questions.  The other MSR questions, and all the TA & GI & 2PA questions formats, are entirely new.

Part of success on this section is simply getting as familiar as possible with the format of the presentations and the format of the questions.  One way to reduce significantly the challenge posed by this section is to understand, in detail, the simple logistics of the formatting, so that this presents no surprise on test day.


2) Time-Management

Fact: there are 12 questions in the IR section, but most questions consist of two-three individual questions.  The MSR traditional five-choice multiple choice questions are the only questions in which there is simply one task in the question.

Fact: there is no partial credit on the IR.  None.  Zilch.

Those two facts, combined, have some powerful strategic implications for time-management.  Suppose an IR question has multiple parts — -for example,  a MSR or TA section posing a Multiple Dichotomous Choice Question — this format presents two possible choices (“true”/”false”, “company gains money”/”company loses money”, etc.), and makes three statements: you have to decide the right choice for each statement.  Because there’s no partial credit on the IR, you would have to choose the correct option for all three of those statements in order to get any credit for this question.

Well, if you are sure about the first two statements, it would probably be worth investing a little time to figure out the third statement.  BUT, if the first two statements completely confused you, and you had to guess, it is not worth investing a ton of time in the third statement in an effort to figure it out.  You randomly guessed on the first two, which means your chances of getting any credit for the question have already dropped to 25%.  If you can’t answer the third statement quickly, it’s best to cut your losses, guess and get out of that question, so you have more time to devote to later questions.


3) As an Executive Thinks

Some skills demanded on the IR are carry-overs from the Quantitative and Verbal sections.  Many of the careful reading strategies used on RC and the argument analysis skills used in CR are highly pertinent to the IR.  Of course, there’s a lot of math on the IR, especially reading graphs and interpreting data, so there’s a lot of overlap with what you need to know for the Quantitative section.

What’s new and different on the IR involves critical thinking and executive function.  That latter term, “executive function” is not “executive” in the business world sense; instead, it is a term from neurobiology that refers to the commanding and coordinating role of the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex.  While many aspects of prefrontal lobe executive function (e.g not acting out a socially unacceptable impulse) are more or less irrelevant to GMAT performance, some — those most closely aligned with critical thinking — are vital to the IR.  These skills include deciding priorities, weighing benefits vs. liabilities, designing strategy, resolving conflicting values, etc.  The term “executive function” comes from neurobiology and has nothing to do with the business world, but ironically, many of these skills are absolutely essential for success as an executive in the modern business world.

How do you learn that stuff? Read how the experts do it every day.  You need look no further than the WSJ or the Economist Magazine to get myriad examples of successful, and not-so-successful, executives exercising these skills in the real world.  If you happen to be friends, or family friends, with someone who is a successful executive, pick their brain: listen to them talk about their craft.  How do these folks make decisions and allocate limited resources and assess risks?  Learn from the pros.


4) Graphs!

If you are not a math nerd by nature, you probably need to get more familiar with graphs.   Again, both the WSJ and the Economist Magazine are wonderful sources: rare is an issue of either than won’t have a couple graphs scattered somewhere amongst its articles.  Find those graphs, and practice interpreting them in context.  If you understand everything a graph is communicating in a WSJ or Economist article, you are well on your way to the level of mastery that IR expects.


5) Get the free Magoosh IR eBook


By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh GMAT Prep!

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