My title is a little odd there – why the very specific timeframe? Well, we know that business schools aren’t using the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section much (if at all) this first year, for admission in the fall of 2013, but we also know that IR will probably become more important over time.
How much more important? Nobody knows, but it’s a good guess that the process will be fairly gradual. We have decades of data for the quant and verbal sections, so the schools can feel confident in interpreting that data to help make admissions decisions. After the first year of IR, we’ll still have only one year of data; as a result, it’s highly unlikely that IR will suddenly rise to the same level of importance as quant and verbal.
So what should you do if you’re taking the GMAT sometime this year in preparation for a fall 2014 start? How much attention do you really need to pay to IR and what kind of score will be good enough?
Here are the current percentile rankings for the 1 to 8 IR scoring scale:
The mean score is a 4.34. In general, as with the essays, we want to try to hit or beat the mean. Because the mean is between two scores, we should aim for a 5 in general. If you’re applying to ultra-competitive programs, you may want to aim for a 6, just in case.
Why not just go all out for an 8? It takes a certain amount of brain power to hit an 8… and we don’t have unlimited mental energy. Given that the quant and verbal sections are critically important – and given that they come after the IR section – we need to make sure that we’re saving most of our effort for these two sections.
How do we get that “good enough” score?
We don’t know exactly how many questions we need to answer correctly in order to hit certain scoring levels. We do know, though, that a score of 5 or 6 on a scale of 8 leaves room for multiple errors.
The time pressure on IR is intense, just as it is on quant and verbal. Given that we’re not going for a perfect score, we can decide ahead of time to skip a certain number of questions. That’s right, we’re just going to guess outright, randomly and immediately, on multiple questions! This will reduce the time pressure for the rest of the section.
If you’re going for a 5, guess on 3 questions in the section; if you’re going for a 6, guess on 2 questions.
On which questions should you guess? How do you make that decision? IR is a pretty even mix of quant and verbal reasoning skills, so weight your attention more heavily towards your stronger area. Really good at CR and RC? Bail more quickly when you see a really hard quant-based IR question.
Alternatively, is math your thing? Then be ready to guess and move on more quickly when you’ve got a really long, convoluted text with reasoning-based questions. If RC is a big weakness for you, you might even decide to bail on the entire Multi-Source Reasoning prompt, which usually comes with 2 or 3 questions. (This one is typically the most RC-like.)
How do we study for IR?
First, keep in mind that, while you don’t want to spend too much valuable studying time prepping for IR, you also need to be prepared “enough” for IR that it won’t overly tire you out before you get to the main event (quant and verbal). Mental fatigue manifests as a decreased ability to concentrate: the feeling that you aren’t “getting” what you’re reading and you have to read it again, an impatience to be done with the test already and I don’t care what the answer is, or significant difficulty in making decisions, to the point of feeling “paralyzed” on a question.
Next, IR is probably pretty different from any kind of test question you’ve seen before – so you are going to need some resources that can help you learn how to tackle these things. All of the major GMAT companies have published IR books / materials that will give you strategies (and Manhattan GMAT is no exception of course!). I’ll start you off with some free resources and then you can work from there.
Note that IR tests the same kinds of facts and reasoning found on the quant and verbal portions of the exam – you’ll already be learning all of this information for the “main event.” The only real difference is in the format of the questions.
Table questions: we’re given a table with lots of data to interpret; half of the trick here is knowing what we can ignore!
Two-Part questions: these aren’t that different from the standard multiple choice given in quant and verbal, except that we have to answer two questions, not just one.
Graph questions: we’re given a graph or chart of some kind and have to figure out what it means in order to answer some questions.
Multi-Source Reasoning questions: these are somewhat reminiscent of RC, though the questions can include quant concepts. We’re given a bunch of information spread over two or three tabs; we have to wade through it and then answer two or three questions (usually three), all about the same information.
Key Takeaways for IR:
(1) Know your goal: to get a good enough score and to be prepared enough that IR doesn’t wipe you out mentally 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 more prep 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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