Last week, we talked about what to do if you’re rushing to finish the test before it changes. As promised, this week, we’re going to talk about how to add integrated reasoning to your list of tasks if you’re planning to take the Next Generation GMAT®.
First of all, the quant and verbal sections are not changing at all, nor is the one essay (analysis of an argument). You can still prepare for these sections in the same way that everyone has been preparing for years.
What does Integrated Reasoning test?
GMAC (the organization that makes the GMAT) says that the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section tests our ability to “apply, evaluate, infer, recognize, and strategize.” But how are they actually going to do this? They have developed four new question types that test us on a combination of quant and verbal skills together. If you’re worried about IR because quant is your weakness and you like verbal much more, it won’t be as bad as you think: a decent percentage of your IR questions will be based on verbal skills such as inferring information, articulating strengths or weaknesses, and so on. If, on the other hand, that sounds scary to you because quant is your big strength, the same applies: a decent percentage of the IR questions will be based on calculating averages, probabilities and percentages, reading graphs and interpreting the data, and so on.
In other words, whether quant or verbal is your strength, you’ll be able to carry over some of your skills into IR. And that’s good because, at first, you’re going to look at these new question types and feel a little bit of panic: they’re so long! They’re so weird-looking! They’re so different from what we’re used to! That’s true, but you can still learn how they work and how to handle them. I promise.
There are four IR prompt types:
Multi-Source Reasoning will consist of two or three tabs of information. The tabs might be text-heavy (e.g., an email exchange between coworkers) or they might contain tables or graphs. MSRs usually contain the most information of the four prompt types and, as a result, they usually also have multiple questions to answer. That helps us to make up for all of the time we need to get through the information in the first place, similar to a reading comprehension passage.
Table Analysis prompts will contain tables! Surprise, surprise. We’ll be able to sort the tables by clicking on the column headers; we’ll need to understand the information and figure out how to sort or manipulate it in order to answer the questions.
Graphics Interpretation prompts will present us with charts, graphs, or other visual representations and we will again need to understand the information and figure out how to extract what we need or manipulate certain numbers.
Finally, Two-Part Analysis prompts tend to start out similarly to the standard GMAT questions that we’re used to. The question itself is different though: we have to answer two interrelated questions. For example, we might be asked to find what strengthens an argument and what weakens it. Alternatively, we might be asked to calculate both variables x and y, not just one.
What materials are available and how should I study?
GMAC has released several sources of official information and you should get them all.
First, download GMATPrep 2.0 from mba.com. The software is still free. It contains two practice tests but unfortunately the IR section is identical on the two tests. You can take the first one as a complete test. For the second, I recommend that you “construct” your own IR section using 12 official questions from other locations. Here is a suggested question mix (one of the possible mixes we can see on the test, though not the only possibility):
1 multi-source reasoning prompt with 3 associated questions
3 table analysis prompts, each with 1 associated question
3 graphics interpretation prompts, each with 1 associated question
3 two-part analysis prompts, each with 1 associated question
If you choose to do the above, make sure you set aside these questions – don’t study them ahead of time!
Within GMATPrep 2.0, there are also 90 free practice questions, 15 each for the 6 question types (IR, DS, PS, CR, RC, SC). You can construct another IR test section from these questions.
You also have the option to purchase various official IR materials. Within GMATPrep 2.0, you can purchase a “pack” of additional quant, verbal, and IR questions for $25; this set will contain 24 IR questions. You need to download GMATPrep 2.0 first and you can then buy this product from within the program.
You can also purchase OG13, which will give you access to an online question bank containing 50 IR questions. Alternatively, until June 5th, you can buy access to this online question bank alone for $10. Go to the “store” section of mba.com for details.
Test prep companies are also starting to release materials. For instance, we published our IR book at the end of April and updated our CATs so that students can now choose to take the “old” or “new” version; in addition, our classes now cover IR. We’re also offering free online workshops to learn more about IR. I’m guessing that we’re not the only company to offer free IR instruction or materials right now, so take advantage of the opportunity! The free offerings aren’t going to last forever.
In terms of how to study, you’re going to do the same basic activities that you do for quant and verbal. Read material, attend class or watch tapes of lessons, learn how the question types work, make sure you know the actual facts being tested (certain formulas, etc.). Then you’ll do practice problems and analyze your work and thought process, just like we already do for quant and verbal.
Is there anything else I should know?
Everyone is asking me, “How long will it take me to prepare for IR?” I don’t have a definitive answer for you, any more than I could tell someone exactly how long it would take them to prepare for quant or verbal. It depends on several things, starting with your own strengths and weaknesses.
Also, on the one hand, IR is its own separate section and, in theory, could take as much time to prepare as do quant and verbal. On the other hand, IR is testing the same fundamental math knowledge and verbal reasoning skills, but in a different format – so the work you’re doing on quant and verbal will actually help you with IR and vice versa.
Finally, at least for the first year, the IR section is not going to be as important as quant and verbal in the admissions process. It’s simply too new; the admissions officers don’t yet know how to use the data or how much emphasis to place on it. Further, the score will be on a 1 to 8 scale – there aren’t even that many different gradations to be made. You want to aim for a “good enough” score – some right, but definitely some wrong, too – without stressing about trying to hit an 8. Note: I can’t tell you yet what a “good enough” score is because GMAC hasn’t released the percentile scale that will accompany the different scores. When we know, we’ll let you know!
So let’s say that IR could add anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to your preparation, depending upon how difficult you find the new question formats and how much you’re able to study in a given day or week. (Longer-term, I don’t think anyone will be able to get away with only 2 weeks of prep, but because we only need an okay score right now, we don’t have to do as much as others might in a few years.)
The most important thing to keep in mind? Make sure you’ve prepared enough for IR such that it won’t drain you before you get to the main event: quant and verbal.
Key Takeaways for IR:
(1) Know what materials are available and what your goal is. In general, you’re going to want access to all or most of the official materials, as well as some “prep” materials that teach you what’s on this section and how to prepare for it. Your goal is to get a good enough score and to be prepared enough that IR doesn’t wipe you out before you get to the more important later sections.
(2) Build some flexibility into your timeframe and prep plan. The IR question types are different enough that some people will find they need even more time than they might have expected. Others will think, wow, I wish the whole test were like this! You won’t know until you dive in and start studying, but be prepared to slow down and take a bit more time if IR is really throwing you for a loop.
(3) Your actual prep process will be very similar to what you have already been doing for quant and verbal – same kinds of prep materials, same kinds of study activities, same kinds of analysis of your work, and so on. This will all just be happening with new question types, that’s all.
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