Integrated Reasoning GMAT Strategy – How to Get Full IR Scores

by Maximilian Claessens
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Integrated Reasoning GMAT Strategy - How to Get Full IR Scores

It’s important to establish and cement an Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy early on. You will encounter tables, graphs, written passages and other forms of data and graphics, and will be required to analyze and interpret them in order to answer the questions posed in the test. Quantitative and verbal skills are both required, hence the title “integrated reasoning”.

The section can be quite intense and overwhelming for the unprepared candidate. It’s therefore crucial that you develop and hone effective Integrated Reasoning approaches, and adhere to them both before and during the test.

In this article, we’ll go over effective Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategies, both in terms of prepping for the test and strategies to use during the test.

What is the Structure of the Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT?

Before going into the Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy, you should know how the section is structured. The Integrated Reasoning section lasts for 30 minutes. It comprises 12 questions; these questions may have a single section, or they may have up to 3 sub-sections.

The overall score for the IR section is 8, and it is scored in whole integers (so no half-points as in the AWA section – check out our AWA guide). Some of the questions are for research purposes only, and will not count towards the overall score. It is not clear which questions are research questions, and there is no way of figuring this out, so it’s important to take every question seriously.

It’s also not clear how each question is scored. It could be that there are 8 questions each worth 1 point, with 4 research questions; it could equally be the case that some questions are worth 2-3 points. Because the scoring system is not public knowledge, there’s no way of knowing.

Because of this, the best approach to the Integrated Reasoning section is to assume that each question is worth one point.

Does the Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT Contribute to my Overall Score?

No – the IR section is a standalone one, and is not factored into your main GMAT score of 200-800. This leads some candidates not to take the section as seriously as those that do count towards your overall score.

Whether it’s important or not is ultimately something for each individual candidate to decide. 59% of MBA programs consider the IR section to be important, and it can be used as a sort of tie-breaker by admissions officers, so it’s probably worth treating the section as you would any other. That said, it’s possible that the MBA course you’re applying for doesn’t take it into consideration, so it’s worth checking.

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

How is the IR Section of the GMAT Similar to the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning Sections of the GMAT?

The Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT requires that you are adept in both quantitative and verbal reasoning. Therefore, any Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy focuses on combining insights from the two other sections and building on that basis. This means that when you are prepping for the quant and verbal sections of the main GMAT, you are also preparing for the IR section. Make sure, then, to prep well for these two sections, as they reap dividends beyond their initial scope.

How is the IR Section of the GMAT Different to the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning Sections of the GMAT?

The IR section may have some similarities with the verbal and quant sections of the GMAT, but it is also distinct in many ways:

  • You are provided with a basic calculator; in the quant section, no calculator is given.
  • Quant and verbal reasoning questions are computer adaptive, meaning they respond to your previous answers. The IR section is static and does not change according to the answers you’ve already given.
  • The verbal reasoning and quant sections count towards your main score; the IR section does not.

Integrated Reasoning Strategy: How to Best Prepare

In order to develop an effective Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions that are likely to pop up on the IR section of the GMAT. The more familiar you are with the question formats, the more likely you are to quickly and efficiently interpret the data you need from them. This is particularly important for the IR section, as a lot of the graphics and tables are designed to bombard you with information both important and extraneous – separating the wheat from the chaff, then, is crucial.

For the most effective Integrated Reasoning approach, it’s important to know what kind of questions you’re likely to face. Let’s take a look at the 4 kinds of question you will see, and the best strategy for dealing with each one.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Strategy: Graphics Interpretation

In this kind of question, candidates are presented with data in the form of graphs, tables or some other form of graphic. There may often be a clarifying sentence or passage that provides context to the graphic.

A number of incomplete statements are placed after the table or graphic. You must choose the most appropriate way to complete the statement using a drop-down box. There are typically 3-5 options in each drop-down.

How to Prepare for Graphics Interpretation Questions

  • Familiarize yourself with common graphical ways in which data can be presented, e.g. graphs, Venn diagrams, pie charts, etc. A good source of such graphics is the Wall Street Journal.
  • Carefully read over the options presented before making any required calculations.
  • Be sure to identify relationships between different sets of data or other trends that can be found in the graphic – spikes, direct relationships, inverse proportionality, and so on.
  • Identify the units of measurement used in the graphic and the accompanying questions.
  • Be sure not to confuse rates, percentages and other numbers.
  • The introductory text is important in contextualizing the information presented in the graphic. Read it carefully and try to understand the bigger picture it is trying to paint.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Table Analysis

In table-analysis-style questions, you are presented with a table formatted like a spreadsheet. The data presented therein is used to choose from diametrically opposed answers (e.g. true/false, supported/unsupported, yes/no).

You may sort the data presented by column, but no other true spreadsheet functionality is possible.

How to Prepare for Table Analysis Questions

  • You are given column-sorting functionality for a reason. Carefully read the statements in order to figure out the best way to sort the columns and quickly find the information you need.
  • Take note of the units of measurements used, and how you’ll use them in making any necessary calculations.
  • Carefully read the column titles and make a note of any that may require further exploration.
  • Scan the various entries so that you have an idea of the gist of the information provided. Do not meticulously analyze each entry, however; such detail is necessary only for the entries that directly pertain to the answers.
  • Read the statements carefully so that you can zero in on the data that you need to quickly answer them.
  • This sounds obvious, but ensure that you respond to each statement. No partial scores are given in the IR, so even one missed statement can cost you dearly.
  • Establish a relationship between the statements following the table and the various columns. This will aid you in more efficiently sorting the various columns.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Multi-Source Analysis  

In multi-source analysis questions, you are given 3-4 discrete texts or sets of data separated into individual tabs (like a web browser). You may freely switch between the tabs.

The information presented in the different tabs may be tables, graphics or text. The tabs take up one half of the screen; the other half is taken up by the questions.

The questions may be multiple choice or have diametric yes/no options. It’s possible that there will be multiple tasks for a single source of information.

How to Prepare for Multi-Source Reasoning Questions

  • Read the question(s) before examining the data in the tabs. The questions both contextualize the data and provide a focus for you that will help you find the relevant information more quickly.
  • Look for key information while reading through the content. This ability to skim the text/data and summarize it for later use is a key IR skill.
  • Do not dismiss or exclude information not relevant to the question you’re currently trying to answer. As previously noted, summarizing and remembering the information in MSR questions is an important skill to master. Ensure you have the gist of each tab.
  • Divide your scratchpad into as many columns as there are tabs, and note key data down under each column. This will give you a quick and easy point of reference.
  • Don’t immediately answer questions when you find the answer; continue reading in order to properly contextualize the information and ensure that the answer you have chosen is the right one.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Two-Part Analysis

Two-part analysis is the next topic that needs to be covered by your Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy. In the two-part analysis section, you will be given a text accompanied by two tasks. Both tasks share the same answer pool, and the two answers chosen must not contradict each other. There are typically 5-6 answer choices given.

Two-part analysis questions can take three forms:

  • Quantitative analysis;
  • ‘Follow the rules’ style questions;
  • Critical reasoning.

How to Prepare for Two-Part Analysis Questions

  • Quickly scan the questions to figure out what kind of questions they are. If you can see numbers or algebra, then it’s a quantitative question. If you can see key words like ‘conclude’, ‘infer’ or ‘assume’ then it’s likely a critical reasoning question.
  • Read over the question stems carefully to determine what is required of you. Do not rely on column headings, as they might not contain the information you necessarily need.
  • Determine if tasks are related to one another – does the value found in the answer to one question determine the value of another?
  • If tasks are interrelated, it’s important to adopt an approach that can link the two questions. If it’s a quantitative question, for instance, adopting an approach based on simultaneous equations is a great approach as it relates the two questions to one another.
  • For independent tasks, solve the easier one first. It may provide insight or tips into how to solve the more difficult one.
  • Ensure that you apply the most appropriate technique to the task depending on what kind of question it is. A quantitative question will warrant a very different approach to a critical reasoning one, for instance.
  • Your degree of personal knowledge on the given topic is irrelevant, and it is important not to try to use exogenous knowledge to attempt to answer the questions. All the information you need is contained within the task.
  • Do not forget that the same answer can be used for both tasks.
  • No matter what type of two-part analysis it is, be sure to carefully read the passage provided and mentally summarize all the information given.
  • If it’s a ‘follow the rules’ style question, find and summarize the rules given in the passage.
  • If it’s a critical reasoning question, identify the premises given within the passage, and any conclusions reached.

GMAT IR Section: General Tips and Tricks

Preparation is important for the IR section of the GMAT, of course. But it’s also important to get into the right mind-set for test day, so that you’re firing on all cylinders when you sit in the test room and start the IR section.

Here are some Integrated Reasoning strategies for both prior to the test and during.

General Tips and Tricks for Full Scores on the GMAT IR Section
General Tips and Tricks for Full Scores on the GMAT IR Section

Develop and Improve your Ability to Read Graphs  

Graphs pop up in several kinds of IR questions, and so it’s crucial that you’re able to read them quickly and efficiently. It’s also necessary for you to filter out unimportant information and get to the stuff you need to complete the task.

You only have 30 minutes to complete the IR section, so graph-reading skills are very important in order to make sure you can make your way through all 12 questions swiftly and efficiently. Do not waste time trying to learn about every single kind of graphic and table going; simply stay up to date with their use in daily life. As previously mentioned, the Wall Street Journal is a really good source for contemporary tables and graphics.

Take Lots of Practice Tests

A great Integrated Reasoning strategy is to develop your test-taking ‘muscle memory’ by taking practice tests routinely before you sit the real thing. Though you may be tempted to focus exclusively on the main GMAT sections, don’t skimp on this section, as it’s important to get a feel for the IR questions too.

Though there are ostensibly 12 questions in the IR section, the reality is that due to the existence of many multi-part questions, you’re likely to be answering a lot more than 12 questions. This means that speed and efficiency are both important.

When doing IR practice tests, use a chess clock or something similar to time yourself on different questions. How long does it take you to finish each type of question? Are there certain types of question you’re getting hung up on? Is it better to skip questions that are stumping you and come back to them later, so you’re not leaving later questions unanswered?

Developing a good Integrated Reasoning strategy is crucial, and can mean the different between a mediocre score and a great one.

Answer Lots of Sample Questions

One of the most confusing and difficult parts of the IR section is figuring out what, exactly, is being asked of you. There’s a lot of data presented and it can sometimes be hard to parse it in a timely and efficient manner.

Similarly to taking practice tests, the only way to prep for this is by building up your IR muscle memory. The more IR-style questions you answer, the more adept you’ll be. You can get official GMAT sample questions, or make use of the many third-party GMAT-style question packs. It’s a good Integrated Reasoning approach to complete as many of these as possible.

Practice Using an On-Screen Calculator

You can use an on-screen calculator during the IR section of the GMAT, and it’s important to get used to this. If you’re someone who uses a physical calculator (or just uses your phone) then you may not be used to how an on-screen calculator works, and fiddling with it during the test can waste precious time. Get to grips with it prior to the test in order to ensure efficient and speedy use during your test.

Don’t Overdo Your Prep for the IR, and Don’t Practice it over the Main GMAT Sections

Whether or not the MBA course you’re applying for considers the IR section important, the fact is that it’s never as important as your main GMAT score. It’s important that you split your time effectively, then, and that you spend more time prepping for the main part of the GMAT.

Similarly, don’t overdo it when getting ready for the IR section. If you find yourself burning out, you’re only doing harm to your chances. Take a break and come back to it when you’re feeling refreshed and rested.

Make Educated Guesses and Move on Where Necessary

Sometimes, you simply will not be able to answer a question with any degree of certainty. It happens the best of candidates and is nothing to be ashamed of. The important thing is that every question gets answered (there are no partial marks, remember), and so don’t get hung up on something you can’t confidently answer. Give it your best guess and move on in order to ensure an optimal Integrated Reasoning GMAT strategy. Remember – you can always come back later and have another try.

Conclusion

Though the IR section of the GMAT can be intimidating, it’s important to remember that there are no end of Integrated Reasoning strategies that can help you to bring your A-game to this tricky section of the GMAT. Be sure to do enough prep for the test before the big day, but also bear in mind the various Integrated Reasoning approaches we’ve laid out for test day itself. With the right prep and the right mentality, you’re sure to get the score you want.

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