Do I really need to worry about the new IR section?

Apr 9, 2012
Tags: GMAT Prep, Integrated Reasoning, Official GMAT, Prepare for the GMAT, Study Tips for the GMAT

Starting June 5, the GMAT exam will include a new section — Integrated Reasoning. This 12 question, 30-minute section introduces new item formats requiring you to effectively use multiple sources of information and complementary skills to solve reasoning problems. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? I contend that IR is merely a more realistic version of what the GMAT exam already tests. The operative word is reasoning, and the GMAT has measured higher order reasoning skills since its inception.

Let’s look at some of the skills one must have to do well on the Quant and the Verbal: Evaluate what is relevant; organize information; apply information you gather from the material presented; manipulate and synthesize data; and make inferences. IR tests the same skills, though in doing so a broader range of related material from multiple sources will be presented.

While it is the case that some of the old GMAT literature referred to the GMAT as a test of basic skills, GMAT has never been a test of basic skills; it has always been a test of reasoning skills. The mathematics and English knowledge required to understand and solve the questions is no greater than what is generally taught in secondary school classes. IR has the same basic requirement. Like theQuant and Verbal, IR tests higher-order skills.

The GMAT exam has always utilized graphs and tables, but they will be more prominent in the IR section. When you see charts and graphs, be sure you understand the data before leaping to answering questions. Legends and headers are important.

IR includes a simple on-screen calculator. This does not mean IR will require more complicated math. The computation level will remain the same. If you are good at estimating and identifying reasonable responses, you will be able to save time and probably not even use the calculator, other than to confirm a tentative answer.

IR is not adaptive. This means that everyone will receive some easy questions, some questions of medium difficulty and some very hard questions. Do not try to figure out which questions are hard (hard for you may not be hard for someone else), and do not be upset if you encounter questions you consider to be super-hard. The questions have nothing to do with how well you are doing.

IR scoring is based on the number of correct questions, and the questions will have multiple integrated parts. To receive credit for a question, you will have to answer each part correctly. There is no partial credit; you will not get extra points for getting part of a question right. Having to get multiple parts correct in order to receive credit is not really new to the GMAT. Our Data Sufficiency questions, for example, require you to correctly evaluate two statements independently and together in order to receive credit for the question. Partial credit is not given. If you have no idea how to answer part of a given question, it may be a good idea to make a best guess and move on. Spending a lot of time on any question is never a good strategy.

The two most important pieces of advice I give for Quant and Verbal—be familiar with the item formats and learn to pace yourself—are also the two most important pieces of advice I can give for IR.  There are four different item formats, and you should be comfortable with all of them. Most of the 12 questions require more than one response, and you will have to average about one minute per response. You will need some of that time to understand the presented material and some time to understand the questions.

Beyond item formats and pacing, studying for IR, Quant, and Verbal is all related. Make sure that you can read and comprehend information efficiently and make sure that your answers reflect your critical reasoning and problem-solving skills. I think you may  find that IR questions are more interesting simply because they are more realistic and more practical.

By Lawrence Rudner

Lawrence Rudner is vice president for research and evaluation and has presented at numerous GMAC summits held for the test preparation industry.