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In today’s latest installment of our Know the Code series, we’re going to talk about the most efficient way to tackle Table problems in the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section of the GMAT. You can check out our previous IR Table problems tips here.
First, try out this IR Table problem from the free questions that come with the GMATPrep® software. A timing note: If you’re planning to guess on 3 questions in the IR section, then you can give yourself an average of 3 minutes and 20 seconds per problem. BUT… we’re looking to save time on most IR Table questions, so factor that in.
On the real test, you’ll be able to sort by the different columns in the table. That’s not possible in a blog article, so just do your best as is, but note that a question like this one can usually be done in much less time than 3 minutes and 20 seconds if you’re taking advantage of the ability to sort the data.
“The table displays data on Brazilian agricultural products in 2009.”
“For each of the following statements, select Yes if the statement can be shown to be true based on the information in the table. Otherwise select No.”
What did you think?
It was a real pain to do that without being able to sort the columns, wasn’t it? Use that knowledge to your advantage. On the real test, don’t even think about doing IR Table problems without Reflecting: How can I sort the table to make my job easier?
1-second Glance. It’s a table about some common kinds of food.
Read and Jot. What’s the table about? Brazil. The first column shows food products (commodities). The next two columns reflect production of these things by market share and Brazil’s world rank. And the final two columns reflect Brazil’s share of exports and its world rank (of exports).
Here’s an important step. IR Table problems have three parts, and you have to answer all three correctly in order to earn any points on this problem. So as you read the three statements, reflect on whether you think any might be too hard or might take too long. If two or all three look pretty hard, you might just want to guess now and move on.
Next, I would write down “Yes/No” or “Y/N.” Taking 5 seconds to do that helps me to focus on my task.
Let’s tackle the first statement.
“No individual country produces more than one-fourth of the world’s sugar.”
Reflect. My first thought is, “How can I tell anything about other countries? The table is only about Brazil.” So now I’m curious. Maybe there’s a trick here that’s going to let me figure something out!
Sugar. That’s the bottom row. Brazil produces 21% of the world’s sugar…and it’s ranked #1 in the world! What does that mean?
No other country has a higher share than Brazil. So if Brazil is at 21%, then every other country is below 21%. It’s actually true that no one country produces more than one-fourth—or 25%—of the world’s sugar.
Answer the first statement Yes. This statement can be shown to be true from the table.
Here’s the second statement.
“If Brazil produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of any commodity listed in the table, Brazil is not the world’s top exporter of that commodity.”
Hmm. The wording here is a little confusing. Okay, first, the statement is only talking about commodities for which Brazil produces less than 20%. Sort the table by column 2. Here’s what that looks like:
Okay, so we only care about the ones where Brazil produces less than 20%…that’s Pork, Cotton, Corn, Chickens, and Beef.
Now what’s the question again? Brazil is not the top exporter. Okay, so we need to see whether there’s a 1 in the final column—not Brazil’s production rank, but Brazil’s export rank.
Brazil is the #1 exporter of both Chickens and Beef, so this statement is not true. (And notice that the production rank vs. export rank distinction is a total trap! Brazil is not the #1 producer for any of these foods—so if you are checking that column, you’re going to say this statement is true and get this one wrong.)
Answer the second statement No. This statement can be shown to be false from the table.
Here’s the third statement:
“Of the commodities in the table for which Brazil ranks first in world exports, Brazil produces more than 20% of the world’s supply.”
Here we go again. What’s this thing saying? Okay, first, we only care about the ones where Brazil ranks first in world exports. Sort by the final column:
The first five rows are the important ones. Next, the statement says that Brazil produces more than 20% of the world’s supply. Check the share of production (column 2). Brazil produces only 15% of the supply of Chickens and 16% of the supply of Beef, so this one is not true.
(What’s the trap on this one? It’s the same as the last one: If you check only the commodities for which Brazil is the #1 by production—sugar, coffee, and orange juice—then you’re going to answer this question Yes. For those three specific commodities, Brazil actually does produce more than 20% of the world’s supply.)
Answer the third statement No. This statement can be shown to be false from the table.
What are your takeaways on this problem? Think in particular about the traps that they set. They set up the problem in a certain way to get people to be more likely to fall into those traps. How?
Columns 2 and 3 are a pair—and they’re really similar to columns 4 and 5, another pair. You have to keep straight what each pair is talking about, and you have to keep straight what each statement is asking you about. If you mix up the columns, you’re going to get this one wrong.
IR Table problems are usually an opportunity to save some time (though not always). Aim to answer these in closer to 2 minutes. It will be key to figure out how to sort the table in the way that will allow you to answer accurately and efficiently. If you don’t regularly work with tables and think about sorting data, start practicing!
Key Takeaways for Knowing the Code on IR Table Problems
(1) Tables will always have three statements, and you will always have to answer all three correctly in order to get points on that question. So don’t just start doing the first one first. Glance through all three, then decide whether you want to do this problem at all.
(2) Keep Reflecting! In this problem, the second and third statements can be made easier by figuring out how best to sort the data. Investing a little time to think about that will save you more time on the back end. Get through something like this in, say, 2 minutes, and that’s at least a minute that you can now spend somewhere else in the section.
(3) Turn any knowledge you gain into Know the Code flash cards:
* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC. 📝
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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.