The 3 Keys to Success on Integrated Reasoning


gmat-integrated-reasoningYour performance on Integrated Reasoning (IR) can affect the parts of the test you really care about: Quant and Verbal. Follow the below 3 Keys to Success and you’ll be sitting pretty on test day.

Key #1: Minimize Brain Power Expended

Too many students have made this mistake already: they don’t study (or barely study) for Integrated Reasoning, then kill their mental stamina during this section. When Quant and Verbal roll around, they’re mentally exhausted and what was already a hard test becomes impossible.

Your Integrated Reasoning score does not directly impact your Quant and Verbal scores, but you’ll always have to do the IR section before you get to Quant and Verbal. In order to avoid an adverse outcome, you want to make sure that you can get a “good enough” score on Integrated Reasoning without doing too much.

What’s a good-enough score? As of March 2014, the general consensus is to aim for a 4 or higher on Integrated Reasoning; if you’re planning to apply to a top-10 school, aim for a 5 or higher. (The top score on IR is an 8.)

NOTE to future readers! The advice in the previous paragraph will likely change over time, so if you are reading this a year or two from now, check our blog for more recent advice.

Do not put your Integrated Reasoning study off until the last minute. At least 6 weeks before the test, start to learn about the four types of Integrated Reasoning problems: Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR), Table Analysis, Graphical Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.


(1) the strategies needed to answer each question type

(2) the one or two question types you like the least

I’ll recommend one of our own products to help you with this: our IR Interact lessons. You’ll learn everything you need to know via a very engaging series of interactive videos, and best of all, it’s completely free (as I’m writing this right now—no promises for future!).

Key #2: Know When to Guess

Next, do you generally like Quant or Verbal better? How do you feel about fractions, percents, and statistics, the math topics most commonly tested on Integrated Reasoning? Do you like those topics more or less than you like Critical Reasoning problems? Do you like pulling data from tables and manipulating it to conclude something? Interpreting graphical information? Or do you prefer synthesizing material from two or three primarily text-based sources?

Decide what topics you like least and combine that information with the one or two question types you like least. For instance, let’s say that you dislike fraction and percent topics the most. You also hate graphs and you aren’t too thrilled about tables either.

During the test, if a fraction or percent-based graph prompt pops up, guess immediately and move on. Ditto for a tables question. If, on the other hand, you get a table prompt that asks statistics-based questions (and you’re fine with statistics), then go ahead and do that one. If you see a really terrible fractions or percents Two-Part problem, you might skip that one, too, even if you don’t normally mind Two-Part problems.

If you’re aiming for a 4 or higher, you can skip 3 or 4 questions in the section. If you’re aiming for a 5 or higher, then you can skip 2 or 3 questions in the section. Also, you can still get some others wrong! Those “skip” numbers already account for the fact that you won’t answer correctly all of the ones that you do try. (Note: “skip” means “guess immediately and move on”—you can’t actually skip a question.)

Best of all, this strategy will allow you to spend more time on the questions you do answer. If you address all 12 IR prompts, you’ll have just 2.5 minutes each. If, on the other hand, you skip 2 questions, you’ll have 3 minutes each to spend on the rest of the questions; skip 4 questions and you’ll be able to spend nearly 4 minutes each on the remaining questions!

Key #3: Practice Just Enough

First of all, do the Integrated Reasoning section (and the Essay section) on any practice CATs you take. Even with the best of preparation, these sections will take some amount of brain power and you need to make sure that you’ve got the necessary mental stamina to take a full-length test. You also need to practice your timing and skipping strategies under real conditions. When you’re done, make sure to review whether you made the best decisions about which ones to skip; if not, how would you decide differently (and better!) next time?

Second, do enough practice with the four prompt types that you are familiar with the general strategies for tackling each one. Practice your guessing strategies as well, from deciding which questions to skip to deciding what to pick on those questions. (You do have to guess in order to get to the next question. The IR section does not penalize you for wrong answers.)

The best practice problems are the real ones. If you have The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th Edition (OG13), then you have a special code that provides online access to a 50-question set. Note that your access expires a certain amount of time after activation, so don’t activate the problem set until you’re ready to start studying Integrated Reasoning. The official GMATPrep software gives you 15 free Integrated Reasoning problems, as well as 12 more in the first free practice test. (As of now, the second free practice test contains the same 12 IR problems as the first test.)

Final Words on Integrated Reasoning

1. Practice just enough to know what you’re doing with IR.

2. Know what you like and what you don’t like, so that you know how to decide when to guess and move on.

3. Your goal is to prepare enough to get a 4+ (or 5+) score while using the minimum necessary brain energy. Don’t blow off your prep for this section and risk destroying your Quant and Verbal performance on test day! ?

Can’t get enough of Stacey’s GMAT mastery? Attend the first session of one of her upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.

stacey-koprinceStacey 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.

  1. gmatgirl July 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Hey Stacey,

    I really liked the article and I believe it can help one to maximize their score based on their strengths without getting too bogged down before the real deal. But I’m confused on key #2 – “When to guess”. If some of the questions in IR are experimental and you skip the 3-4 non-experimental ones and get some more non-experimental questions wrong, but get the experimental ones right. There would be a significant drop in score with that. How does one get around with 3-4 skips for a score 4?

    Also do you know the minimum number of questions to get right to get a score 4?