GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Time Management

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in GMAT Study Guide

syd-5aerlntueyg1b1urwbro layoutMost test takers could answer any GMAT question correctly if the time were not limited. It is this time limit that makes the test hard by putting extra pressure and forcing you to seek shortcuts and the most efficient solving methods. When it comes to the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT, good timing is especially important.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning problems do not really test any distinctively new skills, but they test your time management skills at a whole new level. You get 30 minutes to answer all 12 IR problems—about 2.5 minutes per problem. This is more than you have for Verbal or Math problems, BUT most Integrated Reasoning problems have two or three parts, and you often have to analyze a significant amount of information to answer those questions.

I took the GMAT a few weeks ago, and there is one thing I can tell you for sure: TIMING IS AN ISSUE. The good thing is that there are four steps or advices that can help you deal with Integrated Reasoning questions more effectively.

#1. Use shortcuts

Many Integrated Reasoning questions provide an opportunity to approximate or estimate and figure out the correct answer without performing any calculations. Learn calculation shortcuts for percentages, fractions, and the like. You have the onscreen calculator, and it can be useful, but most questions can be solved more quickly without it. If you do come across a question that requires complex calculations, note that the onscreen calculator is not limited to adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing; it has special buttons to calculate percentages, fractions, and roots; learn to use those.

#2. Be question stem driven

This advice is particularly relevant to Graphics Interpretation, Table Analysis, and Multi-Source Reasoning questions. Graphs, charts, tables, and sources in those questions can present tremendous amounts of data, and even more information can be inferred from all those data. A single chart may permit you to determine rates and directions of change, and relationships among them; central tendencies (median, mean, mode) and ranges; percentage and absolute value increases and decreases; and many more conclusions. You don't need all that information to answer the questions that follow those charts and tables, so do not waste time in detailed analysis of data you may not need. Examine the graphs and tables, skim the sources for an overall idea of the information given, but do not be distracted by details. Read the question...determine what information you need to answer it...locate that information as efficiently as possible...answer the question.

#3. Learn to give up

Not the kind of advice you expect from a GMAT prep company? Well, when it comes to Integrated Reasoning, this might be the most valuable advice we give you. Even if you manage your time wisely, 2.5 minutes is barely enough for any IR problem. If you get stuck with one problem for 3-4 minutes, you jeopardize your success on the rest of the section. If you see a problem you can't immediately solve or a problem that is likely to take 3 or 4 minutes of your allotted time, don't ponder it. Guess and move on. After I answered around half the Integrated Reasoning problems, I had 13 minutes remaining and six problems ahead of me. When I saw a Two-Part Analysis problem that asked two relatively independent geometry questions, I knew I could answer it AND I knew that would take another 3 or 4 minutes of my time, so I guessed. I probably did not get credit for that problem as guessing on IR is a very low-chance strategy, but I had 13 minutes left for the remaining 5 problems and could answer them thoughtfully. Had I gotten stuck in that TPA problem, I would have somewhere around 9 minutes with 5 problems remaining. Trust me, that is not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in, especially on the Integrated Reasoning section.

The only exception to the "give up" rule is Multi-Source Reasoning problems. If you see a Multi-Source Reasoning problem that presents a tremendous amount of information, even if skimming that info will significantly cut into your remaining time, don't skip it. Such problems are usually followed by about three questions based on the same set of sources, and the time you invest in skimming those sources pays off in the next several questions. If you skip the first one, you will see others based on the same sources, and you simply can't skip three or four questions.

#4. Learn the theory

Make sure you learn all theory that is tested on the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT. On the Integrated Reasoning section, you only have time to think of what you need to solve, and where to find relevant information—you DO NOT have time to think how to solve. Practice and polish your math and reasoning skills so that when it comes to finding a percentage or average, to calculating profits or losses, or to perform other similar calculations, you do not have to think how to do this, but do this almost automatically.

Generally, most Integrated Reasoning questions are not hard, so if you learn to approach them correctly, you should do just fine.

Good luck!

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