The 3 Keys to Success on Integrated Reasoning:

by on March 14th, 2014

exam_2Your performance on Integrated Reasoning (IR) can affect the part of the test you really care about: the Quant and the Verbal. Follow the below 3 Keys to Success and you’ll be sitting pretty on test day.

Key #1: Minimize Brain Power Expended

Too many students have made this mistake already: they don’t study (or barely study) for IR, then kill their mental stamina during this section. When quant and verbal roll around, they’re mentally exhausted and what was already a hard test becomes impossible.

Your IR score does not directly impact your Quant and Verbal scores, but you’ll always have to do the IR section before you get to quant and verbal. In order to avoid an adverse outcome, you want to make sure that you can get a “good enough” score on IR without doing too much.

What’s a good-enough score? As of March 2014, the general consensus is to aim for a 4 or higher on IR; if you’re planning to apply to a top-10 school, aim for a 5 or higher. (The top score on IR is an 8.)

NOTE to future readers! The advice in the previous paragraph will likely change over time, so if you are reading this a year or two from now, check our blog for more recent advice.

Do not put your IR study off until the last minute. At least 6 weeks before the test, start to learn about the four types of IR problems: Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR), Table Analysis, Graphical Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.


(1) the strategies needed to answer each question type

(2) the one or two question types you like the least

I’ll recommend one of our own products to help you with this: our IR Interact lessons. You’ll learn everything you need to know via a very engaging series of interactive videos, and best of all, it’s completely free (as I’m writing this right now—no promises for future!).

Key #2: Know When to Guess

Next, do you generally like quant or verbal better? How do you feel about fractions, percents, and statistics, the math topics the most commonly tested on IR? Do you like those topics more or less than you like critical reasoning problems? Do you like pulling data from tables and manipulating it to conclude something? Interpreting graphical information? Or do you prefer synthesizing material from two or three primarily text-based sources?

Decide what topics you like least and combine that information with the one or two question types you like least. For instance, let’s say that you dislike fraction and percent topics the most. You also hate graphs and you aren’t too thrilled about tables either.

During the test, if a fraction or percent-based graph prompt pops up, guess immediately and move on. Ditto for a tables question. If, on the other hand, you get a table prompt that asks statistics-based questions (and you’re fine with statistics), then go ahead and do that one. If you see a really terrible fractions or percents Two-Part problem, you might skip that one, too, even if you don’t normally mind Two-Part problems.

If you’re aiming for a 4 or higher, you can skip 3 or 4 questions in the section. If you’re aiming for a 5 or higher, then you can skip 2 or 3 questions in the section. Also, you can still get some others wrong! Those “skip” numbers already account for the fact that you won’t answer correctly all of the ones that you do try. (Note: “skip” means “guess immediately and move on”—you can’t actually skip a question.)

Best of all, this strategy will allow you to spend more time on the questions you do answer. If you address all 12 IR prompts, you’ll have just 2.5 minutes each. If, on the other hand, you skip 2 questions, you’ll have 3 minutes each to spend on the rest of the questions; skip 4 questions and you’ll be able to spend nearly 4 minutes each on the remaining questions!

Key #3: Practice Just Enough

First of all, do the IR section (and the essay section) on any practice CATs you take. Even with the best of preparation, these sections will take some amount of brain power and you need to make sure that you’ve got the necessary mental stamina to take a full-length test. You also need to practice your timing and skipping strategies under real conditions. When you’re done, make sure to review whether you made the best decisions about which ones to skip; if not, how would you decide differently (and better!) next time?

Second, do enough practice with the four prompt types that you are familiar with the general strategies for tackling each one. Practice your guessing strategies as well, from deciding which questions to skip to deciding what to pick on those questions. (You do have to guess in order to get to the next question. The IR section does not penalize you for wrong answers.)

The best practice problems are the real ones. If you have The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th Edition (OG13), then you have a special code that provides online access to a 50-question set. Note that your access expires a certain amount of time after activation, so don’t activate the problem set until you’re ready to start studying IR. The official GMATPrep software gives you 15 free IR problems, as well as 12 more in the first free practice test. (As of now, the second free practice test contains the same 12 IR problems as the first test.)

Final Words

3. Practice just enough to know what you’re doing with IR.

2. Know what you like and what you don’t like, so that you know how to decide when to guess and move on.

1. Your goal is to prepare enough to get a 4+ (or 5+) score while using the minimum necessary brain energy. Don’t blow off your prep for this section and risk destroying your quant and verbal performance on test day!


  • Great advice. I scored a 7 in IR (sadly didn't get a good score in the sections that matter). My strategy was to aim for 8-10 correct answers depending on the time left and guess the rest. I practiced a few questions before hand and already knew that some questions that involved calculating percentiles or some other time consuming calculations were not my type. So I decided to guess on those and move on immediately, thus saving me time for the easier ones to answer.

  • Thanks Stacey for this article.  I wish I found this article before my GMAT exam. Under the presumption that all questions can be solved in the stipulated time, I tried to solve each one of them and ended up not finishing the section. And to make matters worse, it really did affect my quant and verbal. My brain kind of stopped working. I started to think if I couldn't do well in the IR, then how am I going to perform well in Quant and Verbal. Anyways, I hope to do well in my next attempt. 

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