The 3 Keys to Success on Integrated Reasoning

by , Mar 14, 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 youll be sitting pretty on test day.

Key #1: Minimize Brain Power Expended

Too many students have made this mistake already: they dont study (or barely study) for IR, then kill their mental stamina during this section. When quant and verbal roll around, theyre mentally exhausted and what was already a hard test becomes impossible.

Your IR score does not directly impact your Quant and Verbal scores, but youll 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 youre 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

Ill recommend one of our own products to help you with this: our IR Interact lessons. Youll learn everything you need to know via a very engaging series of interactive videos, and best of all, its completely free (as Im writing this right nowno 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, lets say that you dislike fraction and percent topics the most. You also hate graphs and you arent 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 youre 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 dont normally mind Two-Part problems.

If youre aiming for a 4 or higher, you can skip 3 or 4 questions in the section. If youre 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 wont answer correctly all of the ones that you do try. (Note: skip means guess immediately and move onyou cant 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, youll have just 2.5 minutes each. If, on the other hand, you skip 2 questions, youll have 3 minutes each to spend on the rest of the questions; skip 4 questions and youll 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 youve 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 youre 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 dont activate the problem set until youre 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 youre doing with IR.

2. Know what you like and what you dont 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. Dont blow off your prep for this section and risk destroying your quant and verbal performance on test day!