3 Keys to Dominating GMAT Integrated Reasoning

What should you make of the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section? Two years after its introduction, there’s still no great answer to that question. Business school admissions offices still aren’t giving all that much weight to your IR score. And yet, you have to post one. If the first 30 minutes of your GMAT are going to be spent muddling through this challenging section one way or the other, you might as well do as well as possible on it, right? Whether you’re an IR pro or you dread this section like the plague, here are three tips to help you navigate the otherwise murky waters of GMAT Integrated Reasoning:

1. Focus on the Quant and Verbal Sections

I know it may seem a little weird for me to start an article about how to improve your Integrated Reasoning score by telling you to focus most of your study time on the other sections of the test. But hear me out. The reality is that most of core math and verbal concepts you’ll see in Integrated Reasoning questions are the same as what’s tested elsewhere on the GMAT. Granted the questions formats are a bit more convoluted, but the core competencies are the same.

Consider this example from the Veritas Prep website:

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Blog Post - Image 1

What do you notice? Looks like a run-of-the-mill distance/rate/time problem like you’d expect to see on GMAT Problem Solving, doesn’t it? (Here’s an article that shows you a shortcut for solving problems like this). Sure, you have to figure out what all those different answer choices mean with respect to Crew Alpha and Crew Zeta. But solving the actual problem itself isn’t all that hard, and it’s the type of thing you should be studying for the GMAT quant section anyway. Whether a Table Analysis question asks you to calculate a percent increase/decrease or a Two-Part Analysis question asks you to identify an author’s assumption, it’s all stuff you should already know how to do if you’ve adequately prepared for the other sections of the exam.

2. Know When to Cut Your Losses

Let’s be honest: The hardest part about GMAT Integrated Reasoning for most students is time management. You have 30 minutes to answer 12 questions, which only leaves 2.5 minutes per question. But unlike normal GMAT problem solving, each IR question has multiple parts! How can you possibly be expected to finish them all?

Well, the good news is that you don’t have to. When it comes to the Integrated Reasoning section, quality is more important than quantity, meaning that you don’t have to answer every question correctly to get a good score. In fact, you can get quite a few wrong and still get an above-average score. Here’s a short video about the important tradeoff between “time”and “accuracy”that you need to constantly juggle on the GMAT, and it applies just as much to IR as it does to the other sections:

So what does this mean for you? Learn when to cut your losses. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t spend much time on questions that give you particular difficulty. If Multi-Source Reasoning questions always take you the longest and you never seem to get them right anyway, for example? Consider skipping one or two of them altogether and save the time for questions you have a better chance of getting right. Learn to speed up when you see questions you can tackle quickly, and slow down when you need extra time to figure something out. And like with GMAT Reading Comprehension, don’t waste time reading every single thing in the prompts. If you truly want to boost your IR score, sometimes less really is more.

3. Reading Comprehension is the Key

GMAT Integrated Reasoning is as much about understanding what the question is asking as it is about actually solving questions. As I mentioned in point #1, the math and verbal concepts tested in IR aren’t all that hard (or, at least, they’re not new). The difficulty is with the way the questions are asked. So take your time. Read the questions for “Big Picture”understanding like you would a Reading Comprehension passage. Don’t get lost in the details, but rather spend some time getting your mind around the interplay among the content in the different tabs and what information each table or chart is presenting. Toward that end, always start by reading titles and captions, because they create the framework within which everything else in the question works. And always, always read the questions closely and look for tricky wording that’s meant to throw you off.

Consider this sample Table Analysis question, also from the Veritas Prep website:

GMAT Integrated Reasoning Blog Post - Image 2 Let’s look specifically at Statement #4. Here it is again in case it’s too small for you to read in the graphic above:

“No orange-scented bathroom cleaner sold more units in 2009 than in 2010.”

Notice that I’ve already taken the liberty of sorting the table by “Fragrance”since the statement is asking about “orange-scented”bathroom cleaner.

So what do you think? Is the statement True or False? At first glance, it would seem to be False. After all, the “Unit Sales”columns for all of the orange fragrance products show positive percent change, meaning they did sell more units. Right? But wait. What do the numbers in the “Unit Sales”columns represent? Upon a closer reading of the caption under the table, it’s clear that the numbers represent 2010 numbers as compared to 2009. And because Statement #4 is expressed in the negative, it’s actually TRUE that “no”orange-scented bathroom cleaners sold more units in 2009 than in 2010 because the positive growth numbers in the table indicate that more were indeed sold across the board in 2010, without exception.

I know it can be tricky, but that’s the point: Pay as much attention to the wording of the questions and prompts as you do to the actual math and verbal being tested, and it will serve you well.

Got GMAT Questions? Visit GMAT 101 for advice.

Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate the GMAT, a leading provider of GMAT courses online and topic-specific GMAT video lessons. He has taught the GMAT for 10 years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a triathlete, and an avid Duke basketball fan.


The GMAT and EMBA Programs

Need GMAT Advice?

There is no substitute for real world experience.

With fulltime MBA programs, it is fairly obvious why the GMAT is such an important component to one’s application – with less work experience, admissions committees need to find other measurements to gauge potential success in a program. Academic preparedness can clearly be evidenced with a strong undergraduate GPA coupled with a strong GMAT score. With Executive MBA programs, a GMAT score’s relation to the rest of one’s application is less obvious, since other factors seem to be of more importance.

Criteria for admission to an Executive MBA program (often in this order) include work experience and the type of insight an applicant can bring to the classroom, future potential, and academic preparedness. During my time at Cornell, I would often say we were looking for students who could teach just as much to their fellow classmates as the faculty who taught in the program. There is no substitute for real world experience to ingrain concepts presented in the classroom.

Once the box is checked for work experience, it is necessary to ensure an applicant can handle the rigorous work in a program. Admissions committees evaluate this in a variety of ways, primarily through undergraduate performance. Not all Executive MBA programs require the GMAT, but for those that do, the GMAT score also is an indicator of potential academic success while in a program. There is less emphasis placed on it than in full-time MBA admissions, however, since an applicant is typically much further removed from standardized testing than a full-time applicant.

If an applicant has strong work experience and a strong undergraduate record, but a weak GMAT score, the undergraduate record usually “trumps” the GMAT score. If an applicant has strong work experience and a strong GMAT score, but a weak undergraduate record, there will probably be further investigation on the part of an admissions committee to see if there were any mitigating circumstances leading to a low GPA. If not, it’s possible an admissions committee might ask for some additional evidence to indicate academic preparedness – for example, suggesting an additional quant course either online or from a local college. Bottom line, an EMBA admissions committee wants to admit individuals who are fully prepared to hit the ground running when a program starts, and the GMAT is one indication of an applicant’s ability to do just that.

Got GMAT Questions? Visit GMAT 101 for advice.

Jennifer Weld worked as an admissions consultant and Former Asst. Dir. of Admissions at Cornell’s EMBA program (4 years) prior to joining Accepted.com. She has an additional 10 years of experience in higher ed and corporate marketing.

GMAT NEWSFLASH: GMAT to Feature Score Preview

Big GMAT News!

Big GMAT News!

There’s big news going on at GMAC this week: they’ve announced a new and exciting GMAT feature – test takers will now be able to view their GMAT scores before either reporting or canceling them. This update will take effect this Friday, June 27, 2014, and will be available to all test takers at all 600 testing centers around the world.

“We are pleased to offer this feature as part of our efforts to make preparing for and taking the GMAT exam easier,” said GMAC VP Product Management, Ashok Sarathy. “The new score reporting feature gives test takers more certainty and control in the testing process and in how their scores are reported to schools.”

Here’s how it will work: After completing the exam, test takers will get to see their unofficial scores, broken down separately for IR, Quantitative, and Verbal, and then as a total. They will then get two minutes to decide either to accept the scores or cancel them. If their decision timeframe times out, then their scores will be canceled. All of this is done before they even get up to leave the testing center. (Analytic Writing Assessment scores are not included in this new feature and may not be canceled.)

If testers decide to cancel, they’ll receive a 60-day grace period during which they may change their minds and reinstate their scores for a $100 fee. After that, there will be no way to retrieve the canceled scores.

Sarathy, who says that this feature is meant to make the testing experience easier, offers test takers two tips: “If there were two things I would recommend to test takers to get the most out of this new feature, they would be:

• Know what score you’re willing to accept so that when asked whether your wish to send your scores or cancel them, you have already considered your answer.

• Understand that you have 60 days to reinstate a score you might have canceled but decide later that you want to send.”

Thoughts about What This Change Means for Applicants

GMAC is reacting to competition from the GRE in a positive way. ETS, the entity behind the GRE, allows test-takers to see their score and cancel. It also gives you 60 days to reinstate a score, but only charges $30 for the reinstatement. GMAC is offering this new feature to slow or arrest GRE’s increasing role in the MBA application process. It will be interesting to see if GMAC ultimately reduces the price of cancellation to match or at least be more competitive with ETS. I completely agree with Ashok Sarathy’s advice that you should have a clear number in your head and know that you will accept any score at or above that number and cancel any score below that number.

Let’s call that Score-It-or-Bust-Number the “Cancel Score.” Realize that the Cancel Score is going to have components. There is an overall score and the quant, verbal, and IR scores. You should have Cancel Scores for each segment as well as the overall score. You should also decide ahead of time if you bomb one section and do well on other sections, if you will cancel or not.

How can you decide? Let’s explore that question, focusing for now on the overall score.

To date GMAT test-takers fall into two broad categories:

1. Those taking the test to see what they get. Once they receive their score, they select programs to apply to based on their goals and their qualifications.

2. Those aiming for a particular score because they want to be competitive at specific MBA programs.

To determine your Cancel Score if you are in group #1, use your practice exam scores. They should give you a reasonable idea of your capabilities on test day. But be realistic. Don’t use your best practice exam score as the Cancel Score. Cut yourself a little slack.

Here’s an example of how to set a Cancel Score for the overall score if you are in the first group: If most of your practice test scores are in the high 600’s and you hit 720 once, don’t expect a 720 on test day (but it sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?). Maybe make 680 or 690 your Cancel Score.

In setting that number also consider how willing you are to prepare again for the GMAT and how you would change or improve your prep. If you feel you could make major improvement to your studying and you don’t find the possibility of taking the GMAT again overwhelming, then you can aim higher. Maybe go for a 690 or 700 as your Cancel Score.

If the idea of preparing again is devastating and you don’t see what you could do better, then lower your cancel number. If nothing in your preparation will change, you have little reason to expect an improvement – and little reason to retake. If this scenario describes you, then your cancel score might be a 660 or 670.

Group #2, in particular, is going to love this new GMAT feature. If you are a card-carrying member of Group 2, how will you determine your Cancel Score?

Let’s say that you know you want to apply to programs with an average GMAT of 680-710. You obviously want as high a GMAT as possible, but considering the other elements in your profile, you will be satisfied with a balanced 690. You believe that 690 is a competitive GMAT score for you, and if you drop below it, you will be hurting your chances at the target programs with higher average GMATs. While GMAT prep is not your favorite way to spend your “free” time, it’s not the worst thing in the world either. A retake would not be soul shattering. You can set your overall Cancel Number at 690.

However if your willingness to retake is barely positive and the likelihood of improvement based on your practice exams is low, then set that Cancel Score lower – perhaps a 680, 670, or even lower depending on how ready you are to consider schools with lower average GMAT scores.

One thing that isn’t changing: Almost all MBA programs take the highest GMAT score. So if you don’t cancel and then decide to retake, you can still do so.

Obviously I just touched the surface in pointing out factors to consider. If you have individual questions about your situation, please post in a comment below. If you prefer private guidance, please consider an MBA Admissions Consultation.

MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips

Linda Abraham By , president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Review of The Economist’s GMAT Tutor

Looking for GMAT advice? Check out our GMAT 101 Pages!The Economist’s GMAT Tutor is a highly navigable GMAT test prep option for test-takers who are looking for a balanced combination of self-study and interaction. The program enables you to read up on loads of GMAT topics, rank your strengths and weaknesses, and take practice tests (those are self-study elements), as well as schedule tutoring sessions, ask questions to tutors, and submit your essays for markup (the interactive elements). Of course, the extent to which you receive these features (particularly the interactive ones) will depend on your level of membership, which depends on how much you pay.

Highlights of GMAT Tutors features:

• Personalization. GMAT Tutor measures your strengths and weaknesses and develops a program tailor-made for you. According to the site, “GMAT Tutor uses a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system that studies you in order to determine the optimal subject to teach you and the optimal difficulty level at any given moment. Our system is designed to take you to your maximum possible performance and to do so more quickly and pleasantly than any other prep program currently in existence.”

• Available support. For technical issues, you can email GMAT Tutor’s support team. But for academic queries, you can use the program’s integrated Ask-a-Tutor system. You just click on the Ask-a-Tutor icon and submit your question.

• Essay grading. You can submit an essay draft to the program and receive an essay grade and feedback within three business days.

That’s really just a brief sampling. I urge you to check out the other fantastic features GMAT Tutor has to offer. I really found it to be a user-friendly program – very clear and very organized!

Got GMAT Questions? Visit GMAT 101 for advice.


Analyze 4 GMAT Score Case Studies in Thursday’s Webinar

Click here to register for the GMAT webinar! [Thurs May 22, 2014 @10 am PT]

You’re running out of time to reserve your spot for tomorrow’s free webinar, That GMAT Score: Implications for Your MBA Application.

Linda Abraham is going to analyze 4 different applicant case studies focusing on their GMAT scores and the question of retaking or not.

So register for That GMAT Score: Implications for Your MBA Application and mark your calendars now!

Save My Spot!

See you on Thursday! (Webinar begins @ 10 am PT / 1 pm ET)