What Integrated Reasoning Really Tests on the GMAT

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This tip for improving your GMAT score was provided by David Newland at Veritas Prep.

The entire GMAT requires focus, but integrated reasoning in particular is not about mathematical equations or English grammar; it is about your ability to focus on the question in front of you in order to find the proper information. It is also about the ability to focus on relevant information and ignore irrelevant information.

In other words, integrated reasoning is really testing whether you can focus and concentrate or whether you will become confused and frustrated.

Creating a more relevant test
The authors of the GMAT would readily admit that subjects such as geometry and sentence correction are really on the test in order to have appropriate subject matter so the exam can test what it really wants to test: your reasoning abilities. After all, the sections are called “Verbal Reasoning” and “Quantitative Reasoning,” not “Grammar” and “Math.” Quantitative ability is important, but what business schools really want to know is how well you can reason.

In fact, because of such subjects as permutations and sentence correction, for years people have complained that much of what the GMAT tests has no relevance to their business careers. They have even tempted fate by asking for a more relevant test. Those people should have been careful as to what they wished for. Now GMAC has figured out a way to take the sort of tasks you might perform on a daily basis in a business environment and use them as the basis for the “Integrated Reasoning” (IR) section.

A post to the official GMAT blog, said this: “Simply put, the IR section tests you on the skills you use every day to analyze information. You use IR skills, for example, when you conduct an Internet search to find an affordable apartment within walking distance of a subway station; or plan an itinerary for a two-week trip to Barcelona, Madrid, and Casablanca; or schedule your course load for the coming two semesters—or do all three tasks at once.”

What does IR measure?
So what can IR test? On IR, there are no formulas to remember and no grammar to correct. The tasks themselves are quite ordinary. (For example, you are required to use multiple sources to answer questions; you must find information from a table; or you have to correctly interpret a graph). You are even allowed to use a calculator throughout this section. So what are they testing?

When the “Quantitative Reasoning” and “Verbal Reasoning” sections were created, “reasoning” was thought to be the crucial ability necessary for success in an MBA program. It is still at the top of the list. (After all, it’s called “Integrated Reasoning.”)

Now there is a further ability business schools wish to know that you have: the ability to focus on the relevant information and exclude the irrelevant. This is the ability to sift through way too much information and find the small portion that directly answers the question. The IR section is the GMAT’s way of testing this ability. It is like reading comprehension (find the relevant detail in the passage)—but on a much broader scale, with charts, graphs, and tables.

The Value of Learning to Focus
You might ask, “Why do they need this new section?” Oliver Ashby, senior manager of recruitment and admissions at London Business School, is quoted in the GMAC blog as saying, “Integrated Reasoning very closely matches the skill sets that we require for people to succeed in a modern business school classroom. It is a very good benchmark to test the kind of less tangible skills that have been quite difficult to test for [in] the past …”

The official GMAC blog also says: “It [Integrated Reasoning] measures an emerging set of skills that faculty have indicated are pre-requisites to hit the ground running on Day 1 of an MBA or other graduate management program.”

What could this set of skills be? What are these “less tangible skills” being tested? Didn’t GMAC describe IR as being the equivalent of planning a trip to Madrid? Clearly the “skills” referred to are simply the ability to sift through information to find the relevant stuff. In other words the “skills” tested concern your ability to focus—an ability business schools find truly valuable.

Now that you know what the IR section is testing, come back next week for Part 2 of this article, in which we will tell you how to cultivate your focus on the IR section.

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