The Next-Gen GMAT: Graphics Interpretation

by , Mar 26, 2012

The launch of the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is getting close! The last administration of the old version of the GMAT will be on 2 June; the next-generation GMAT will launch on 5 June. Its not too late to study for the old version, but its also not too early to start thinking about studying for the next-gen test, including IR.

So lets talk about one of the four IR question categories: Graphics Interpretation. IR in general is a mix of quant and logical reasoning, so expect to bring your critical reasoning and reading comp skills into play on this section.

Before we dive in, just a note: a new Official Guide (13th edition!) was just published; it has an IR section along with an additional IR resource online (to which you get access if you buy the book). I would guess that most test prep companies will also be releasing their IR study materials next month (we certainly are!).

Try the problem

Lets try out the question: here it is. Just in case that link changes, you can also click on this link to go to the next-gen GMAT website, and then, about halfway down the page, click on the Graphics Interpretation link. Were going to try the 2nd of the 4 questions.

Note: when you are done, do NOT click the next button. Just leave it up on the screen and come back here.

Set your timer for 1.5 minutes and go! (Note: we have an average of 2 minutes and 30 seconds for each IR question in the section, but some question types are more complicated than others. I recommend trying this one for 1.5 to 2 minutes initially, as it is shorter than some of the other question types. Just note that, as you study, youre going to have to determine your strengths and weaknesses so you can learn to balance your time appropriately.)

That graph is scary.

Yes, it is. Im with you. Dont look at the graph first. Read the text below it; that will help orient you to what the graph contains.

The first sentence tells us we have three columns (we can see that ourselves) with a bunch of geologic info. I found the second sentence really confusing and had to read it twice; the but otherwise language confused me because all three columns have timeframes to the left, so why is there contrast language there?

I did eventually understand what they were talking about but only after I was done with the problem and read it yet again. Heres the thing: I still wasnt sure I fully understood it when I was doing the problem. I just said to myself (after the second reading), okay, each one has its own timeframes. And thats good enough for now.

The third sentence (and actually the second sentence as well, but I didnt get this when I was doing the problem) indicates that the 2nd column is a subset of the first and the 3rd is a subset of the second. The gray shading and dotted lines help make that more clear.

Okay, next I did look up at the graph, but not for very long. What am I going to do, memorize all the numbers and names? :) No way. Moving on to the first question.

The Questions

The Miocene epoch spans closest to _______ of the era of which it is a part.

The Miocene epoch okay, lets go find that in the graph. Only the third column has a header labeled epoch, so look there. Okay, found it now what does the question say? The Miocene is part of an era. Which one? Oh, I see the gray shading and dotted lines indicate the Cenozoic era in the middle column.

And I suddenly realize that Im not quite sure what kind of thing is supposed to go in that blank. I should have looked at the answer choice options. There are three: 3%, 25%, and 85%.

The Miocene epoch spans closest to (3% / 25% / 85%) of the era of which it is a part.

This is making a lot more sense now. The Miocene was what percentage of the Cenozoic? The Cenozoic is that whole third column, so it was about 65 million years. The Miocene isnt 85% - thatd be way more than half and it isnt 3% because thatd be almost nothing. So it must be 25%. Now Im really glad I looked at the answers I was able to avoid actual calculations!

(If you do want to check the calculation, estimate the length of time for the Miocene. That was about 5 million to about 23 million, or about 18 million years. 18 million / 65 million = 28%, roughly.)

Heres the second question:

According to the diagram the beginning of the _____________ marks the onset of a new eon, era, and period in geological history.

I learned from the last one: Im going to look at the answer choices right away. They are: Cambrian period, Triassic period, Pliocene epoch, and Precambrian eon.

Hmm. One of the (many) timeframes shown on the charts is the beginning of three new division groupings: an eon, an era, and a period. Examine the graph. Only the second one shows eon, era, and period together, so lets start there. The horizontal lines indicate the divisions between different eons, eras, and so on. Are there any where the horizontal lines go all the way across?

Yes! Towards the bottom, we have one horizontal line going all the way across, marking the Phanerozoic eon, the Paleozoic era, and the Cambrian period. Are any of those options in the answers? Yes, the Cambrian period.

The answer to the first question is 25%. The answer to the second question is the Cambrian period.

Key Takeaways for Graphics Interpretation questions:

(1) The Graphics Interpretation questions will always contain a graph! You may see more traditional graphs, such as pie or bar charts, but you may also see more unusual graphs like the one we had in this problem. As a general rule, read the introductory text before examining the graph.

(2) Dont try to understand or learn everything about the graph. Know how it works and what kind of information it gives, but thats it. You dont need to take down a bunch of notes about the details of the graph, though there may be times that youll want to jot down a note about how the graph works.

(3) The Graphics Interpretation questions can be less dense, and therefore faster to answer, than some of the other question types (such as Multi-Source Reasoning). Youll probably spend a bit less time, on average, on these in order to spend more time on some of the more dense questions.

* All quotes copyright and courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this material does not imply endorsement by GMAC.