Next up in our series on IR tips and insights is Brian Galvin of Veritas Prep. Brian has been with Veritas Prep since 2006, and as Director of Academic Programs, he is devoted to developing new and better ways to help students master the GMAT. He has earned a 99th percentile score on the GMAT and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education from the University of Michigan.
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Accepted: What does the new integrated reasoning (IR) section test?
Brian from Veritas Prep: The Integrated Reasoning section stands pretty true to its name: it tests reasoning – your ability to think critically, notice flaws and fallacies in arguments, process information efficiently, etc. – and does so by integrating some skills from the Quantitative Reasoning section and some from the Verbal Reasoning section. Students should come prepared with their Critical Reasoning skills – identifying premises and conclusions, noticing subtle changes in language, reading arguments skeptically, etc. – and be prepared to use what we call “Relative Math” – using ratios, fractions, number properties and estimates to process large (and tedious) numbers so as not to get bogged down in detail.
The only new skill on the Integrated Reasoning section is that of reading graphs. IR is designed to be a more “authentic assessment,” to borrow an educational philosophy term, in that it will test students in ways much more practical to what they will see in business school. But remember – it’s still the GMAT. If a graphic prompt is used to make an argument, the same types of fallacies and flaws apply as those in Critical Reasoning: be sure that the language of the premises matches that in the conclusion; beware of conclusions that seem very likely true, but are not necessarily true; don’t let prior knowledge or opinion sway you from what the data specifically says.
Accepted: What are your top three study tips for IR?
Brian from Veritas Prep: First, treat Integrated Reasoning like Critical Reasoning. Your job, regardless of whether the prompt is a graph, chart, table, or series of emails, is to read critically, identify conclusions, and notice precision in wording. Over the past few years, Critical Reasoning questions have evolved to include more statistics-based questions, in large part because of the way that statistics bait our minds into falling for unsupported conclusions (Mark Twain once said that there are three types of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”) Many Integrated Reasoning questions are designed to do the same, using graphic and tabular displays of data to take your mind somewhere it logically should not go. Beware of the tendency to accept conclusions on visual evidence that doesn’t directly support that logic.
Second, be question-stem driven. Another challenge in Integrated Reasoning comes from the piles of data that can be included in graphs, tables, and “multi-source” prompts. Your job is not to become an expert on the entire pool of information, but rather to use it to answer the few questions presented to you. With Table Analysis, you must read the questions and sort the data table to match. With Graphics Interpretation, you need to understand the conclusion you are asked to draw and return to the graph to analyze it. With Multi-Source reasoning, you’ll need to page through the tabs to find the information you need. In any event, your job is to make the array of information convenient to your quest of answering the question. Do not be baited into trying to process the information outside of the context of the questions.
Third, use “Relative Math” to solve problems. By supplying authentic data, these questions make for math that can get quite involved (quick, what’s 22,271 divided by 2,985?). Even the on-screen calculator function can be a trap – it does not recognize order-of-operations nor does it provide you with an Excel-style transcript of the information you typed in, so typos or logical mistakes can be unforgiving. Your advantage, though, comes in the fact that this section is still not about your ability to “crunch numbers,” but rather to make efficient, effective decisions. In the problem above, just recognizing that 22,271/2,985 is going to be bigger than 7 (which would be 21,000/3,000) is likely enough to answer the question. Don’t do the math until you have to – and by paying attention to relative data you will find that you often don’t have to.
Accepted: How have your test prep materials and courses changed to prepare students for the IR section?
Brian from Veritas Prep: Beginning in March, we offered our classes the option of covering the IR section in class with our then-draft lesson. At that point, most students were planning to take the test before June, so most classes declined but students still had access to our IR handout and recorded video lesson. Since then, for any class that would finish after May 15, students cover our new IR lesson in class (taking up 2/3 of the Analytical Writing Assessment lesson, which has been cut in half since only o ne essay remains), and our practice tests now involve an IR section, as well.
Perhaps more interestingly, we found in creating the IR lesson that it’s quite transferable to other sections of the exam. IR fits really nicely with the rest of the course, helping to engage students deeper with mental math; highlight visually some of the subtle fallacies they fall for in Critical Reasoning; sharpening their question-stem-focused philosophy for Reading Comprehension and other questions, etc. We sought to create an effective Integrated Reasoning lesson, and we feel confident that we did; what pleasantly surprised us in the end, however, was that Integrated Reasoning made our overall course incrementally stronger, so we’re very excited about that. And that’s not just commentary on our lesson – students should know that Integrated Reasoning is right at the core of what the GMAT likes to test overall, so students’ IR study time will have a carryover effect to the rest of the exam if they’re paying attention to common themes and concepts.
Accepted: For 2013 applicants, do you think schools will make heavy use of the IR score and treat it as reliable and predictive as the other GMAT sections? Or do you believe they will rely more on the tried and true elements of the GMAT and less on IR this year?
Brian from Veritas Prep: That’s a great question and really well-worded. “Reliable” and “Predictive” are two hallmarks of GMAT scoring, and those things can only be determined and sharpened over time. GMAC itself has even offered that it will adjust the percentile scoring monthly through the end of 2012 – GMAC knows that the next couple years are the proving ground for IR as they zone in on what the scores mean, and track how those scores correlate to success in business school. GMAC has always been very transparent and conscientious about its reliability and predictability, and it’s not trying to sneak a new question type past anyone. IR is going to be a process – it’s a glimpse into the future of standardized testing but even the designers of the question types themselves would likely say that Integrated Reasoning 2012/2013 is more of a tool-in-development for schools than it is a reliable predictor of student success.
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