Mike MᶜGarry

Tips for GMAT Integrated Reasoning

IR Practice Questions - image by Magoosh
If you’re like many students, you heard about GMAT IR and quickly went to Google and searched “integrated reasoning gmat” or “what the heck is integrated reasoning?” GMAT Integrated Reasoning consists of four completely different categories of questions. This part of the test presents information and poses questions in formats entirely unlike anything else on the GMAT.

Now that you know a bit about this question type on the GMAT exam, here are some quick thoughts about what you need to do to prepare for the GMAT Integrated Reasoning question! 🙂

Six Great Tips for GMAT Integrated Reasoning

1) The Few Similarities

For the most part, the GMAT Integrated Reasoning differs significantly from the rest of the GMAT, but there a few similarities.  Here are the principal similarities with the Q & V sections. 

  1. As with the Quant and Verbal questions, there is no ability to go back to a question.  Once you press “submit,” that question is done and gone forever.
  2. As with Q & V sections, the GMAT IR section is timed: in this case, you get just 30 minutes for the whole section, which makes this a bit more of a time crunch than the Q & V sections—more on that below. 
  3. As on the Q & V sections, some of the questions that appear are experimental and do not count toward your score; as you are taking the test, you have absolutely no way to know which questions count and which are the experiment, so you have to treat each question you see as the real McCoy.
  4. No subscore, whether Q or V or IR, on the GMAT is simple a count of the number you got correct: in all cases, the subscore is a psychometrically determined chimera, the calculation of which need not concern us.

2) Learn the IR Exam 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 IR exam section is not simply another ocean of five-choice multiple choice questions.  The four question types are:

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

Here’s a brief primer on these formats.


Multi-Source Reasoning

This IR exam question format, like the Reading Comprehension on the Verbal, dumps a great deal of information and then asks a few questions in a row.  Just as 3-4 consecutive RC questions come with a single passage, 3-5 consecutive MSR questions will come with a single multi-card prompt.  As with RC, the thought is that one has to invest a good deal of time to understand all the information in the cards, so it makes sense for a student to multiple questions in a row on all this information.

The cards will be on the left side of the split screen.  At any one time, only one card will be up front and in view: you will have to use the tabs to bring one of the rear cards forward to view it.   These cards will have mostly verbal information, perhaps a table or chart, an occasionally there is some kind of formula or mathematical information on one.  You typically will have to combine information from different cards to answer any question.

The questions will appear, one at a time, on the right side of the split screen.  There are two question types.

MSR question #1: just a single five-choice multiple choice question.  This is the only place that this format appears on the GMAT IR.

Improve your GMAT score with Magoosh.

MSR question #2: a set of three dichotomous choice questions.  These will be in a grid, and the top of the first two columns will be some kind of dichotomy: yes/no, true/false, increase/decrease, buy/don’t buy, etc.  There may be a verbal prompt before the chart, explaining the dichotomy a bit.  Then, in each of the three row of the chart below the top row, there’s a question or statement, and for one, you have to pick the correct column.

You can see examples of these in the practice MSR questions on this blog

MSR practice question about the Whizzo Chocolate Company

MSR practice question about Draw Loss Poker


Table Analysis

The centerpiece of a GMAT IR TA question is, of course, the table itself: this is a large table with 4+ columns and typical 20 or 30 rows of data.  This table is sortable, in this sense that we can choose any column by which to order the table.  The GMAT loves to have at least one column that is a set of ranks: for example, suppose one column were a list of populations of various US states, in millions of people (California‘s entry in that column would be 39.1 and New York‘s would be 19.8); another column might be rank in US state population (CA’s entry would be 1 and NY’s would be 4).  Right away, just those two data points tell us that there must be two states that have more than NY, a population higher than 19.8 million, but less than CA, a population less than 39.1  There are all kinds of logical deductions one might have to make from ranking data.

Every TA question comes with just one set of three dichotomous choice questions, the same format that appears on the MSR questions.  Once you answer that question and hit submit, you never see that particular table again.

GMAT IR Practice Question: Table Analysis

BTW, in case you are curious, the two US States between CA and NY are Texas (pop. 27.5 million) and Florida (pop. 20.3 million)

Graphics Interpretation

As you might expect, each of of these questions presents a graph or chart of some kind.  The chart may be a pie chart, a line chart, a bar chart, a scatterplot, a bubble chart, or some more exotic kind of chart.  On the question screen, you will see the chart, and then below the chart, two sentences each with a blank: below that blank there will be a drop-down menu for 3-5 answer choices.  For example, the sentence might show some sequence of economic data over recent years, and then one of the sentences could be “The company made its highest profits in ______.”  The drop down menu might contain the choices {2010, 2011, 2012} and using the chart, we would have to select the correct year.   These tend to be less time-consuming among GMAT IR questions: as long as the data can be figured out readily from the graph, there are only two questions to answer.

Here is a set of GI practice questions.
One particular unusual GI question involves a numerical algorithm flowchart.


Two-Part Analysis

GMAT IR Two-Analysis is the wild card of the Integrated Reasoning section.   The basic form includes some introductory material, then a chart with three columns: the top entries in the first two columns are the questions, and set of entries listed down the right-most column are the possible answer choices for the questions.  The two questions share the same set of answer choices and often it’s impossible to answer the second question without answering the first question first.

What’s brilliant about this design is that it can be entirely mathematical or entirely verbal.  This is the only IR question that could be a pure mathematics question, and it is the only IR question that could be, essentially, a double-barreled Critical Reasoning question.

To get a sense of the variety, see the six practice problems in this set of 2PA practice questions


As you can see, the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section 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 includes the traditional five-choice multiple choice questions as one of its possible question formats.  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.

3) Time-Management

Fact: there are 12 questions in the GMAT IR section—more accurately, 12 “screens,” because almost every “screen” consists of 2-3 individual questions.  The MSR traditional five-choice multiple choice questions are the only questions in which there is simply one task in the question.

Improve your GMAT score with Magoosh.

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.

4) As an Executive Thinks

Some skills demanded on the GMAT Integrated Reasoning are carry-overs from the Quantitative and Verbal sections.  Many of the careful reading strategies used on Reading Comprehension and the argument analysis skills used in Critical Reasoning are highly pertinent to the IR.  Of course, there’s a lot of math on the GMAT 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 Integrated Reasoning 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.

5) 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 Integrated Reasoning expects.

6) Get the free Magoosh IR eBook

Click the image below to read our eBook, which features strategies and practice content to help you improve your GMAT IR score!

Integrated Reasoning GMAT, gmat.ir, GMAT integrated reasoning eBook


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July, 2012, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.


  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as “member of the month” for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike’s Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.

More from Magoosh