Acing the Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT

by Christine Chadwick

Think of the Integrated Reasoning Section of the GMAT as a test to evaluate the applied version of the same skills the GMAT is designed to test overall. The GMAT is intended to assess your competence in analysis, writing, and quantitative reasoning as well as your reading and writing skills. In this section, the key word is reasoning. While the IR includes a basic on-screen calculator, if you possess a talent for estimation and identification of rational responses, you will likely save time and may not even need the calculator.

All participants will receive questions of increasing difficulty. There are four question types: tabular analysis, graphical analysis, two-part analysis and multi-source reasoning. While you likely aren't thrilled about adding additional study on top of your prep for the quant and verbal portions of the GMAT, a couple of straightforward methods can give you peace of mind when confronting the Integrated Reasoning section.

Get to know graphs, because they abound in IR, particularly bubble charts or scatter plots. They are there to test your ability to extract information from a data set by analysis. Reviewing graphs outside of the typical practice materials, like those found in The Economist, can make you feel more at ease with the various symbols and text. Interspersing the standard data sets with graphs like these can keep your prep work from becoming too tedious.

Give the multi-source reasoning questions a close read. While this may seem self-evident, many of us rely on skimming to deal with the volume of text in our lives. If you concentrate enough to nail each piece of information in the exercise on the first read, you save yourself the time spent glancing back and forth from the original text as you answer the questions. This is important when you consider that the entire IR has only 30 allocated minutes. While practicing, evaluate both your timing and how much information you are able to absorb.

Don't fear the spreadsheet: there are questions in the Integrated Reasoning section that measure how well you can extract information from a spreadsheet. As long as you have beginner-level familiarity with Excel, the tasks that you have to execute are nowhere near as complex as you might anticipate. It's mostly a matter of being comfortable with the sorting function. Master that, and you will likely be fine.

The two-part analysis section is similar to Critical Reasoning and has shorter, clearer prompts than the multi-source reasoning section and spreadsheets in table analysis. However, since the two-part analysis questions comprise one-third of the test, budget your time accordingly. Run through practice sets of twelve questions in one-half hour: four multi-source reasoning, two table analysis, two graphic analysis and four two-part analysis. Like the reading comprehension section, the time-consuming part of multi-part reasoning is reading the material. There is more time on average than in the other sections of the GMAT, but there is not as much time to catch up if you fall behind. Do not be afraid to guess - it is better to include a little informed guesswork in your answers than to run out of time before the final question. With some study and practice, you can acquire the skills needed to meet this challenging test head-on.