The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section of the GMAT Exam tests your ability to interpret data to solve complex problems. Business schools want to see that you’re able to use data to make sound business decisions—and the GMAT IR section is a measure of that.
The GMAT Integrated Reasoning section consists of four question types—multi-source reasoning, table analysis, graphics interpretation, and two-part analysis—for a total of 12 questions, which you have 30 minutes to complete.
IR scores range from 1-8, in single-digit intervals. But your IR score is reported separately and does not impact your GMAT score of 200-800.
Business school candidates tend to score an average of 4/8 on the GMAT IR section, according to estimates by GMAT prep company GMAT Pill, with most candidates scoring between 2 and 6.
So why does getting a strong GMAT IR score matter? And how do business schools factor the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section into MBA admissions?
Zeke Lee, founder of GMAT Pill, shares his key takeaways regarding GMAT IR:
1. The GMAT IR score can tell a lot about an applicant
MBA admission offices at the top business schools are always flooded with qualified applicants who have high GMAT scores. Which ones stand out? Students who received a high IR score will definitely set themselves apart.
Typically, in the case of top business schools, students with high GMAT Quant scores flood the admissions box. The sheer number of students in the Q48+ range can curve the scoring so that the difference between two quant questions can potentially drop scores beneath the 90th percentile.
Fortunately enough, the admissions officer might actually prefer the Q48 student over the Q50 student if they knew the Q48 student has a stellar IR score while the Q50 student does not.
Let’s take this scenario for example: The final admission seat is down between two possible candidates:
Candidate X: Q48 / IR 8
Candidate Y: Q50 / IR 5
Given this information, Candidate X might appear to be the stronger, more well-rounded candidate.
2. Understanding what IR score to aim for is key
Can the IR score influence an admission decision? Although the IR score may not always tell which applicant should be accepted, it DOES provide an idea of who to reject.
Be consistent with your scores! Don't have a 650 (or higher) GMAT score and an insufficient IR score alongside it. You will stand out, but not in a good way.
All MBA programs would like to see a high IR score, not just the upper tier programs. The total percentage of test takers who receive a score of 1, 2 or 3 is quite high.
The possibility of scoring a 1, 2 or 3 is 6%, 10%, and 14%, respectively [based on 2013 data]. That means that the total possibility of an applicant scoring a 1, 2 or 3 is 30%.
Usually, the admissions office will only look for applicants who received a GMAT score of 650 and above. Among those applicants, few perform poorly on the IR section.
3. Scholarships can be based on IR Scores
Scholarships are based upon a school’s desire to invest in a student. They want to find strong, hardworking individuals who can process information and think on their feet.
The IR section is actually designed to assess these types of abilities. A solid performance in all sections of the GMAT—Quant, Verbal, AWA, and IR—will help you stand out for scholarship.
4. Budding consultants should pay attention to IR scores
IR Scores can also predict a future career path. MBAs that go into consulting, operations, and finance tend to have higher IR scores than the MBAs who go into human resources, marketing, or general management.
Like all recruiters, consulting firms covet graduates with high GMAT scores and GPAs. However, high IR scores are desirable as well.
In the middle of a conference call with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), owner and administrator of the GMAT, it was announced that top consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain have taken interest in knowing an applicant’s IR scores.
Why? Well, the IR test was designed to assess the skills that consultants use on the job.
Consultants, management consultants for example, need to understand what the overall goal is, and its blueprint. After crunching a series of numbers, a basic pattern must be found and steps need to be planned in order to obtain the objective.
So, naturally, recruiting efforts in consulting firms may involve asking applicants for their IR score.
It’s also likely that top consulting firms will see IR scores in the same light as GPAs and GMAT scores. Applicants may even be asked for BOTH their GMAT and their IR scores on their resumes.
Future management consultants, set on their goal, should absolutely put the work in now and study for the IR section.
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5. Asian candidates should aim for higher IR scores
After crunching a year’s worth of data, GMAC shared statistics that proved how different countries experience discrepancy between average GMAT scores and their corresponding IR scores.
Test takers from Australia and America experience the least discrepancy between their 800 GMAT score and their IR scores. Asian test takers, however, seem to face the largest discrepancy, with strong GMAT scores alongside inadequate IR scores.
What can we draw from this? If Asian applicants, the majority of whom are Chinese and Indian, are commonly receiving stellar GMAT scores but inadequate IR scores, then the Asians who score exceptionally well on BOTH the overall GMAT and the IR section will shine from the competition.
MBA programs want individuals who stand out from their peers, and those who have obtained strong verbal/quant score AND a high IR score have done just that. While this is true for all applicants, it is even more pronounced for Asian test takers.
By the same token, Chinese and Indian applicants who scored high on IR will more likely have an edge over the competition than will applicants from other countries.
Asian applicants who received a GMAT score of 650 or higher, should therefore put in the extra time to do well on the IR section. Although scoring an 8 would be fantastic, it is not required. A strong score of 6 or 7 do the trick.
This is a guest post by Zeke Lee, the founder of the GMAT Pill, an online course helping busy working professionals ace the GMAT in as little time as possible. This article was originally published in July 2013 and updated in February 2021.