GMAT Integrated Reasoning Preparation – How to Prepare for the IR Section

by Emmanuel Carita
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GMAT Integrated Reasoning Preparation – How to Prepare for the IR Section

When thinking about GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation, it’s important to look at the big picture and ensure that you’re approaching the section from a macro perspective. The IR section is, despite being comprised of only 12 questions, deceptively complicated. Because of this, it’s important that you prepare well for it.

What is the GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section?

The GMAT Integrated Reasoning section is a quant- and verbal-reasoning-based section of the GMAT. On a fundamental level, it tests your ability to analyze data from multiple sources and draw conclusions/make inferences from that data. The section has 4 types of questions, which we’ll explore later. As part of your GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation, you should make sure you are ready for the different question types and are not caught on a weak spot.

Is the GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section Important?

It very much depends on the MBA program or business school you’re applying to. It’s estimated that around 60% of grad schools consider it important, so it’s worth assuming that the one you’re applying to is among this number. You could always check with the school, however; if they don’t care about the IR section, then you don’t need to worry about it so much.

Check out our guide on how important the IR score is for you.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Tips: What is the Format of the IR Section?

The IR section of the GMAT is thirty minutes long, and has a total of 12 questions. There are a few things worth bearing in mind about it, however:

  • A number of the questions are for research purposes only, and will not count towards your mark. There is no way of knowing which of the questions are of this kind.
  • Some questions may have 2-3 subsections. This means that you will, in effect, be answering many more than 12 questions.
  • There are four kinds of questions: multi-source reasoning, two-part analysis, table analysis and graphics interpretation.
  • Your score for the IR section is a discrete one; it is not factored into your main GMAT score of 200-800.

Given all of this, it’s important that your GMAT Integrated Reason preparation is on-point and that it fully preps you for the realities of test day. This is easier said than done, of course, so let’s look at some GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation tips that will have you acing this section come test day.

As part of your GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation, it’s first necessary to understand the types of questions that you’ll get – and how to prepare for them.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Preparation - 4 Types of Questions
GMAT Integrated Reasoning Preparation – 4 Types of Questions

Question Type 1: Multi-Source Reasoning

Multi-source reasoning questions are presented in a split-screen format. The left-hand side will display three tabs (as you might find on Chrome or any other similar web browser) and the right-hand side will display the questions. The questions may be dichotomous (yes/no or true/false, for instance) or they may be multiple choice.

As part of your GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation, it’s important to do the following to prepare for MSR questions:

Understand the Data You’re Working with

Before attempting to answer the questions – before even reading the questions, in fact – it’s a good idea to get to grips with the data sets provided across the different tabs. Once you understand the kind of data you’re working with, you can look at the questions, then try to find the answer.

When using practice IR section tests, make sure you get into the habit of doing this.

Ensure You Understand the Question

Once you’ve got a feel for the data, read the first question carefully and ensure you understand:

  • What, exactly, the question is asking of you – does it want a percentage? A fraction? A rate?
  • What sort of data sets are necessary to answer the question.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to…

Establish How You’ll Answer a Question

Once you’ve read a question, you’ll have an idea of the data you’ll need to answer it. Establish which tabs you’ll take the necessary information from, and then find that data specifically. Do not read tabs intensively. You only have about 7.5 minutes to finish an MSR question, so don’t waste time.

Apply Your Established Method

Scan the relevant tabs for the data you require, making sure to make use of your scratchpad. Make sure that the data you record on your data tab is neat and legible; you may need it for other questions.

Question Type 2: Graphics Interpretation

In graphics interpretation questions, you’ll be given a graphic of some kind (e.g. a table, graph or pie chart) and some accompanying text that gives the graphic context.

Following the graphics and the text, there will be 2 incomplete statements with some drop-down options that are used to complete the statements. Your job is to use the data presented in the graphic to complete the statements.

There are no partial scores in the IR section; this means that you must answer both sub-questions correctly to get a mark (or marks).

Some GMAT Integrated Reasoning tips for graphics interpretation questions include the following:

Understand the Quantitative Concepts that may be used

Graphics interpretation test your ability to understand the following:

  • Absolute increases/decreases;
  • Trend lines;
  • Correlations (positive or negative);
  • Percentage increases/decreases;
  • Absolute increases/decreases;
  • Probabilities.

As part of your GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation, it’s important that you have a solid grasp of all of the above quantitative concepts.

Understand the Data Sets used

As is common in all quant-type questions you’ll come across as part of your Integrated Reasoning practice, it’s crucial that you figure out the type of data that you’re working with. Puzzle out the elements used within the graphic and read the accompanying text in order to fully understand the context. Only then will you be in a position to understand the question(s).

Examine the Potential Answers

Carefully look over the options given in the drop-down boxes before attempting to answer them. The options will shape the way you approach the data given in the table, so be sure that you understand them fully.

Establish and Apply your Approach

The majority of graphics interpretation questions require that you complete a statement with a value. However, it may not always be necessary to calculate that value; it could already be given in the table. It’s important, then, to figure out if you need to make any calculations or not. If you avoid wasting time making unnecessary calculations, you’ll have more time for the rest of the section.

Once you have figured out the approach you’re going to take, stick with it. Try to guess the answer before checking the drop-down options; if it’s wrong, then you need to reassess and see where you went wrong. Above all, try to be speedy and efficient.

Question Type 3: Two Part Analysis

Two-part analysis questions will open with either a verbal or quantitative problem. There will be two accompanying tasks, and those tasks will share the same pool of answers. The answers you choose must not contradict one another.

There are three kinds of two-part analysis questions: verbal (using critical reasoning), quant (using numbers, formulae and calculations) and logic (using logic to complete a scenario).

There are no partial marks (as with any IR question) and the two-part analysis has, by definition, two tasks. That means you need to answer both correctly to get a mark (or marks).

Each type of two-part-analysis question requires its own approach.

Quant-Type Questions

Preparing for quant-type questions is naturally covered by the preparations you’re presumably already making for the quant section of the main GMAT, so these types of questions pretty much take care of themselves. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind the following:

Understand the Data Set You’re Working with

As with any quant-style question, it’s necessary to understand the sort of data you have to hand. Only then can you begin to figure out how to complete the task.

Establish and Apply your Approach

Try to develop an approach that helps to answer both parts of the task at the same time. This is not always the case, but it is quite often possible to use one answer to help solve another. This is often made clear by what is asked of you in the two parts of the task.

If it’s possible to use one equation or calculation to answer both parts, great! If not, you need to come up with two separate calculations – and do so quickly. Time is as tight here as it is for any other part of the IR section.

Logic-Type Questions

The setup for logic questions can be quite verbose, and answering it may require both critical reason and quant skills. They can thus be quite challenging.

Understand the Presented Text

Your Integrated Reasoning preparation for logic-type questions should involve ensuring that you have a thorough understanding of the text as presented. You should understand the scenario with which you’ve been presented, as well as any constraints under which the scenario operates.

Establish and Apply your Approach

Read the text carefully and the available answers to ensure a good overall understanding of both the scenario and the possible solutions. After that, you can work to eliminate answers that you know for a fact are false. Once you’ve eliminated as many of these as possible, you’ll be in a better position to find the right answer.

Two-Part Verbal Questions

These questions are very similar to the critical reasoning questions found in the Verbal section of the main GMAT. This means that, as with quant-type questions, prepping for the main Verbal section effectively acts as Integrated Reasoning preparation too.

Ensure you fully Understand the Text

As is always the case with two-part questions, you need to have a robust understanding of the premise of the task. In verbal-type questions, this means the text. Read it carefully and identify the premise and conclusion(s) drawn.

Develop and Apply your Answering Strategy

Read through the questions, make sure you understand what is being asked of you (for instance, if you’re applying arguments that strengthen or weaken the original argument made) and relate them back to the conclusions made in the text. You can then, as in a logic-type question, begin to eliminate answers which are incorrect.

Once you have eliminated the answers that you know for sure are wrong, you can cross-reference the remaining ones against the text.

Question Type 4: Table Analysis

In table-analysis-style questions, you’ll be presented with a spreadsheet-style table and several dichotomous questions (e.g. yes/no, true/false etc.). The table can be sorted by column, but there is no other dynamic sorting ability beyond this.

You may be asked to calculate range, median, mean, probabilities, proportions or ratios; compare two sets of data and/or recognize correlations between them; or choose a statement that best describes or explains the given data.

Ensure that you are Familiar with Microsoft Excel

While it may not be immediately obvious, being familiar with Microsoft Excel may significantly contribute to your GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation. Table analysis questions present pseudo-spreadsheets with limited functionality, but they are similar to the kind of spreadsheets you’d find in MS Excel. In order to be able to quickly and easily use the spreadsheets found as part of your GMAT Integrated Reasoning practice, it’s therefore a good idea to familiarize yourself with Excel as much as possible.

Do note, however, that the functionality of a table analysis spreadsheet is extremely limited compared to that of a true spreadsheet. You will not have access to the kind of calculation options otherwise open to you (e.g. calculating mean, median, deviation etc.).

Ensure Familiarity with Common Quantitative Concepts

Table analysis questions assume familiarity with the following common concepts:

  • Absolute deviation;
  • Sorting data and inferring information;
  • Mean, median and mode;
  • Deviation;
  • Range;
  • Correlation;
  • Standard deviation.

Understand the Presented Dataset

Read the introductory/contextualizing text, then look at the table, the type of data presented, the relationship between one column and another, and the overall relationship between all columns to one another.

Do not allow the sheer volume of presented data to overwhelm you; when performing your calculations, you’ll only be dealing with a few columns and rows at any given time. Similarly, do not allow yourself to be intimidated by granular data presented to multiple decimal points. You can often round up to more manageable integers when it comes to doing your calculations.

Ensure a Robust Understanding of the Question

As goes for all questions you’ll come across in the IR section of the GMAT, make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the question before attempting to answer it.

There are three yes/no-style questions in a table analysis question. Remember that there is no partial credit in IR questions, so if any one of those three questions is wrong, then the whole question is wrong. It’s important, then, to ensure that you understand each question completely before attempting to answer it. Rephrase it, reformulating it in mathematical terms if this makes your calculations easier.

Develop and Apply an Approach to how you’ll Sort the Table

Once you understand the questions, you’ll understand the data that you need and, correspondingly, how you’ll need to sort the table. Be sure to record any calculations that you make on your scratchpad as you go; you may need this information later.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Practice: General Tips and Tricks

When you’re preparing for the IR section of the GMAT with practice tests and questions (or other sources) try to get into the following habits:

  • Carefully read over all questions and ensure that you understand (a) the type of data you’re working with; and (b) if answering a quant-type question, the type of calculations you’ll need to make.
  • Practice reading graphs and other graphics regularly. Financial publications such as the Wall Street Journal are great for this.
  • Incorporate the IR section into your mock tests. It may be tempting to skip it because it’s “not as important”, but it’s better to get into the habit of finishing the IR section along with everything else.
  • Use the online calculator and column-sorting functionality even when doing practice tests. These are tools that you’ll have available to you, and so it’s important to be familiar with them.
  • Be aware that not all given data will be useful. It’s important that you get into the habit, then, of quickly identifying and making use of relevant data, while discounting that which is not useful.
  • Develop the ability to quickly mentally summarize information. This will improve your ability to complete the IR section at a good pace.
  • Note calculations on your scratch pad as you go, as well as any other information or data you think might be important later. This will speed up your ability to answer questions.
  • Know when to move on from a question you simply cannot answer. Make an educated guess and cut your losses – you only have half an hour to complete the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT, so dwelling on a question you may still get wrong is poor strategy.


GMAT Integrated Reasoning preparation may seem very daunting, but it’s really just a question of familiarizing yourself thoroughly with the kinds of question that you’ll face in the section. Once you have sufficient familiarity with them, you can work on the various skills that you’ll need to answer those questions well, and you’ll soon be ready to take on this section of the GMAT.

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