For this section of the GMAT, you will need to understand data presented in a variety of ways: charts, text, tables, and graphs. There’s more, however. It will also be necessary to take information from more than one source and some questions have more than one part. You need to get all of the parts correct in order to receive credit for the question. Study these concepts and practice these skills to be ready for the GMAT Integrated Reasoning Test.
The format of this section of the GMAT requires several other considerations:
There may be several parts to a single question and you must answer all of them before going on to a new question. All parts of a question will be on the same screen.
You may not go back and change answers on completed questions.
Even though there may be several questions based on one data source, the answers to them do not generally affect each other. The answer options for one question will not help you answer another question.
Note: You will have access to an onscreen calculator for questions involving quantitative manipulation of data.
There are multiple ways to present numerical information in visual form, including charts and graphs. All of these formats are designed to present a large amount of information in a relatively small space. Finding the information you need, and thinking critically about how the data relate to each other, are skills this exam will test.
A table organizes information in a grid format. Typically, there will be one axis stating what is being measured and one axis stating the different categories for which each variable was measured. For instance, a table might present information on tourism, such as number of tourists and yearly revenue in dollars for a variety of different countries. Before reading the questions, your first steps are to read the headings on each side of the table, understand what the numbers represent, and look for any overall trends in the numbers.
A graph is a diagram that shows the relations between two variables in visual form. To read a graph, first look at the text used to label the x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axes to see what is being measured—for instance, number of days, microns, inches, etc. Each point on the graph corresponds to a spot on both the x and the y axes. Graphs may include dots representing individual data points, as well as lines representing the overall trends revealed by those data points. Once you understand what the graph is measuring, look for distinct patterns in the data. For instance, does one variable go up or down as the other decreases? Are the data points evenly distributed or do they form into distinct clusters? If additional data were added to the graph, where would you expect it to fall, considering the established patterns?
This question type presents information in multiple tabbed pages. Each tab may involve a chart, graph or text, but in any case answering the question will involve mentally integrating the different sources. For instance, tab 1 might provide text on the amount of certain foods Americans eat per year, and tab 2 might provide a graph of the calorie content of each food. To determine the amount of calories Americans get from each food type per year, you would have to pull information from each tab. To begin, look over all the tabs, make sure you understand what is being measured, and take notes on any patterns you see.
Questions that ask you to reason in multiple stages are a form of word problem. The first part of the question will present numerical information in verbal form—for instance, the number of cat owners and the number of dog owners in a certain town. Read the information carefully and make sure you do not assume any facts that are not explicitly stated (for instance, if you are told that there are 200 cat owners and 183 dog owners, you do not know for sure whether some people own both cats and dogs). You will be presented with questions and asked to identify possible answers——for instance, possible total number of pet owners. Thinking logically before you begin doing math is key to answering these questions.
While GMAT Integrated Reasoning problems might look like math questions, they do not test arithmetic ability, but the reasoning skills that allow you to determine which numbers to add, subtract or multiply in the first place.
The GMAT Integrated Reasoning test will ask you to solve question types you may not have encountered in other tests. They will test overall reasoning ability, but in order to avoid careless errors, it’s important to practice test-specific skills like remembering what you read in one tab while you are looking at another tab. Some data tables can be sorted with dropdown menus, so getting some experience using the sorting function will help you find information more quickly. It’s also helpful to practice making the kind of notes that you need to help you solve each question type.
You will not be allowed to bring a calculator to the test, but you will be able to access an on-screen calculator by clicking an icon. It’s a good idea to practice using the calculator and get used to the interface, since pressing the wrong button will result in a wrong result. You should also practice to get a sense of when you need the calculator, and when it’s quicker to estimate or perform basic math in your head.
When you are taking this test, your ability to do arithmetic is secondary. What is really being tested is your ability to think through what the question is really asking and how to find the answer. Think back to the example of cat owners versus dog owners. If you are asked to determine possible answers for the minimum number of pet owners, the first step is to realize that you are looking for a range of answers (since you have not been told how many people own multiple pets). The second step in reasoning is realizing that if 200 people own cats, this is the minimum possible number of pet owners (since all of the cat owners may own dogs as well). Thinking through concepts like these will help you determine what calculations you need to do.
Becoming adept at numerical reasoning involves being able to see large-scale trends existing across multiple data points. Graphs typically involve two different variables. As one variable rises, what happens to the other? Does it rise, go down, form a bell curve? Is the line formed by the data points perfectly straight, irregular, exponential? Practice looking at data with an eye for what they reveal about relationships among real-world entities.
A flowchart is a visual method of portraying algorithms, such as those used for computer programs. An algorithm takes input and uses a set of rules to produce an output. Each step in the flowchart represents one such rule: either an equation (such as A = C/B) or a question (such as “Is A a negative number?”). Different inputs will produce different outputs, but depending on the way a flowchart is set up, some may also result in an infinite loop in which you go around in a circle without getting an output. Practice reading flowcharts carefully and taking notes at each stage of the process.
You’ve probably encountered spreadsheets before. They are essentially large sortable tables that track multiple facts and variables. Each will be accompanied by a paragraph of text explaining and giving context for the numbers. To make sense of spreadsheets, first read the text carefully, then look over the two axes to see what information is being provided and what distinctions are being made (for instance, between mean and median, or public and private university tuition).
The email question format is unique to the GMAT, but you can think of it as a type of word problem. You will be presented with a series of tabs in which numerical information is presented in verbal form. The key is not to get caught up on any one tab, and to remember that there are multiple pieces of information that influence each possible answer. For instance, if you are trying to determine which of three businesses is most profitable, you may need to factor in number of customers, average customer spending, cost of rent, and more. Take notes as you work and look over each email to make sure you have not forgotten any key facts.
Even if your reasoning skills are strong, you will make mistakes if you do not understand the terms used in the questions. As you are doing practice questions, look up every math term whose meaning you are not completely sure of. Remember that if you cannot formulate a precise definition of words like mean, you may not fully understand them. Continue looking up unfamiliar words until you are comfortable with all the words you encounter on the practice tests.
You will find that subject content in the GMAT is not totally divided. There will be math references in sections other than the quantitative one. Be sure that your basic math skills are strong. This will happen if you prepare well for the Quantitative section of the GMAT.