Introduced in the summer of 2012, the Integrated Reasoning section (IR) is the newest addition to the GMAT. Unlike the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the test, for which we have years of data pertaining to scoring and methodology, IR is at this juncture a bit of a mystery to teachers, administrators, and students alike. Predictably, our students are inclined to approach this latest aspect of the test with no shortage of anxiety. It typically surprises them to know that this anxiety – while understandable – is largely unnecessary. The reason for this is twofold. First, and perhaps most surprisingly, the IR section is, frankly, the most insignificant of all the sections of the test at present. Because IR is so new, there is a dearth of data concerning the percentile ranking that accompanies the 1 to 8 scaled score. (Bear in mind, this score, like the score for the Analytical Writing Assessment, is separate from your 800-point score on the Quantitative and Verbal sections.) Owing to the novelty of the section, the structure and content of the questions have yet to be fine-tuned by the makers of the test. In time, the IR section will doubtless be better understood and, with this familiarity, become more central to the application process. For the time being, however, it’s best to get yourself accustomed to IR fundamentals, to the extent that it may help curb the anxiety so many students feel in response to this first section of the GMAT.
The second reason for not being unduly worried about the IR section is that, despite the fact that the questions are new and have yet to be perfected, as with all standardized exams, the novelty is tempered by a large degree of repetitiveness. This means that you can prepare by learning a few techniques in advance.
IR questions come in a few formats: Table Analysis, Two-Part Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Multi-source Reasoning. There are 12 questions and you will have 30 minutes to complete the section for a maximum score of 8. The biggest hindrance to your optimal performance on this section is an overabundance of information in the question stem, coupled with a shortage of time in which to process it. The trick here is to recognize that there is intrinsically not enough time: this owes to the structure and content of the question, not any fault of your own. Avoid the trap of getting bogged down on any single question. You must quickly process the data, answer each question as quickly as you can, and use strategic guessing wherever appropriate. Determine what your strengths are and play to them, redistributing your time to questions that involve things you’re good at. A student skilled at math might spend more time on data-based questions than one skilled at reading critically, so on and so forth. Approaching the section this way will maximize your efficiency and minimize your losses.
A few notes in closing: because of the information overload in the IR section, it’s very important to move through the section quickly. Scan each chart or table for trends, anomalies, or patterns in the data, absorb the information provided in the axes, including the units of measure, for example, but do not spend time trying to commit it all to memory or even trying to understand every aspect of the question’s framework. There is simply not enough time for this to be a viable approach. I have noticed quite a bit of redundancy in a number of the sample questions I’ve examined, which is especially problematic given the time constraints (about two and a half minutes per question). For many of the data-based questions, there are several accompanying paragraphs that accomplish little besides repeat information readily available in chart form above the text. This ultimately slows you down even further! Proceed with caution and skim with abandon.
Above all, chin up. The section is new; it’s not perfect and, like teachers and tutors, the schools to which you are applying are well aware of the pitfalls and pock-marks inherent in the newest incarnation of any standardized exam.