How to Prepare for the Integrated Reasoning Section

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If you’re planning on taking the GMAT soon after June 5, 2012, you may be concerned about preparing for the newly introduced Integrated Reasoning section.  Although some guidance has been provided about the kinds of question types you’re likely to see, there isn’t nearly enough practice material out there to make most people feel comfortable facing the IR section.  Add to that the fact that dealing with large data sets can be intimidating and you have quite the task.  How do you prepare for a section you know little about that concerns a subject that you’re not comfortable with?

That dilemma brings to mind a quote by baseball player Charley Lau.  When asked how he tried to catch the famously unpredictable knuckleball pitch Lau responded, “There are two theories on catching the knuckleball… unfortunately, neither of the theories work” [sic].  But, preparing for the IR section doesn’t have to feel as hopeless as catching a knuckleball.  Here are a few hints for starting the process of getting ready for the IR section.

First, start with what you know.  If you need to get comfortable with data sets, you don’t have to jump right into spreadsheets on mortality rates for drosophilia melanogaster with specific genetic mutations… unless of course you’re into that sort of thing.  One of my passions is sports, so I might start with the readily available stats page for my beloved San Francisco Giants.  While the context is familiar, the goal now is to look at those numbers from a GMAT perspective and to start to think about what kinds of conclusions you can draw from the data.

Next, start hypothesizing.  In my example, I might guess that Tim Lincecum’s Earned Run Average was lower at home than on the road.  I can then move through the numbers to see if that hypothesis is correct or not.  By asking questions about things you’re curious to know, and finding the answers in a set of data, you’re building a comfort level that will serve you well on test day.

After you’ve done that, try moving on to less familiar sets of data.  The US Census offers a huge amount of information that is just begging to be sorted through.  Start working through that information and pose questions to yourself to answer.  For instance, in what decade did the population ofNevadaincrease the most, or which ethnic group inCaliforniasaw the greatest percentage increase in population between 2000 and 2010.  By posing these questions and seeking out the answers, you will gain a comfort level that will serve you well on the IR section.

Even if you’re not a number cruncher by nature, these simple steps will help prepare you for the new and unforeseen Integrated Reasoning section of The Next Generation GMAT.