If you’re considering taking the Executive Assessment to apply to executive MBA programs or another program that accepts the EA, you’re likely aware that, in addition to the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, the EA includes an Integrated Reasoning (IR) section.
So, you may be wondering what the Integrated Reasoning section of the EA tests, what types of questions appear in it, and how to study for Integrated Reasoning. In this article, I’ll cover some key aspects of preparing for the IR section of the EA. First, however, let’s discuss some basics of the EA Integrated Reasoning section.
- The Executive Assessment Integrated Reasoning Section
- Acknowledge and Apply What You Already Know
- How Integrated Reasoning Questions Differ from Other EA Questions
- The Four Types of Questions that Appear in the EA Integrated Reasoning Section
- Don’t Choose to Practice Only Certain Types of IR Questions
- When to Begin Preparing for the Integrated Reasoning Section of the EA
- Develop a Unique Test-Taking Strategy for the IR Section
- General Tips for Preparing for the Integrated Reasoning Section
The Executive Assessment Integrated Reasoning Section
Unlike the Verbal and Quant sections, which test conceptual skills, the Integrated Reasoning section of the Executive Assessment tests career-related skills such as those involved in analyzing graphs and charts, recognizing and evaluating relationships in data, solving multi-step problems, organizing data in meaningful ways, and synthesizing information from multiple sources.
In other words, business schools consider candidates’ performance on the EA Integrated Reasoning section a demonstration of how they will perform when faced with the types of complex, multi-layered problems that are handled daily in professional settings. Not surprisingly, it is also the case that data-conscious employers are increasingly interested in the IR scores of job candidates, a trend that can work in your favor if you have put significant energy into your IR preparation.
The Integrated Reasoning section of the EA tests these skills by presenting 12 questions in four categories: Graphics Interpretation, Table Analysis, Two-Part Analysis, and Multi-Source Reasoning. A test-taker has 30 minutes to answer the 12 questions, or 2.5 minutes per question, on average.
At the same time, the 12 questions are not presented all at once; they are presented in two modules of 6 questions each, and the test-taker’s performance on the questions in the first module determines the difficulty of the questions that appear in the second module. So, depending on how many questions a test-taker gets correct in the first module, the difficulty of the questions in the second module could be relatively high, relatively low, or somewhere in between.
The Integrated Reasoning section of the EA is scored similarly to how the Verbal and Quant sections are scored. Officially, IR scores are said to range from 0 to 20, but in practice, the lowest score you can get on the IR section is 2, and the highest is 18. Also, the IR score has the same weight in the EA total score as the scores on the Verbal and Quant sections have.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the Integrated Reasoning section, let’s take a look at some key aspects of how to prepare for Integrated Reasoning.
Acknowledge and Apply What You Already Know
As we will discuss in further detail, the structures of the questions that appear in the Integrated Reasoning section of the EA exam are rather different from those of the questions that appear in the Verbal and Quant sections. However, IR questions do involve verbal and quantitative concepts. As a result, many of the skills that you use in the Verbal and Quant sections can be applied to answering IR questions as well.
For instance, to answer IR questions, you will have to carefully read texts, as you do in Reading Comprehension, and analyze the validity of arguments, as you do in Critical Reasoning.
Also, to answer the more math oriented IR questions, you will have to use many of the same skills you use in answering IR quant questions. So, the good news is that, by preparing for the Verbal and Quant sections of the EA, you will be developing many of the skills you’ll need for hitting your IR score goal.
Also, you may have skills developed through work experience, for instance, skills in analyzing charts, that you can apply in answering IR questions. So, whatever your background, by the time you start preparing for the Integrated Reasoning section of the EA, you’ll already have many of the skills you need for answering IR questions.
Whatever your background, by the time you start preparing for the Integrated Reasoning section of the EA, you’ll already have many of the skills you need for answering IR questions.
At the same time, IR questions are different from other EA questions in key ways. Let’s discuss those differences now.
How Integrated Reasoning Questions Differ from Other EA Questions
What makes Integrated Reasoning EA questions different from other EA questions, and what can make the IR section challenging for some test-takers is that, rather than focus on one or two skills at a time, IR questions require you to use a combination of skills to answer them.
So, generally, Integrated Reasoning questions are not challenging because of the inherent complexity of the information or concepts involved. Rather, it is the required manipulation or synthesis of the information presented that can make some IR questions appear formidable.
Also, IR questions do not follow the basic multiple-choice format of quant and verbal questions. Therefore, it makes sense to start becoming acquainted with IR questions and strategies for answering them well in advance of taking the EA exam.
IR questions do not follow the basic multiple-choice format of quant and verbal questions.
So, let’s discuss the types of questions that appear on the Integrated Reasoning Section of the EA.
The Four Types of Questions that Appear in the EA Integrated Reasoning Section
To prepare effectively for the EA Integrated Reasoning section, you must familiarize yourself with and practice answering the four types of Integrated Reasoning questions, so that you become ready to quickly and effectively bring to bear the skills required for answering each question. These four types of questions are as follows:
Graphics Interpretation questions present information in graph or chart form and ask you to analyze the information and select choices based on it. The charts can be complex bar charts, scatterplots, flowcharts, or other types of graphs. Key to correctly answering these questions is reading the graphs or charts carefully, since they tend to present information in ways such that it’s easy to make mistakes.
Table Analysis questions present data in the form of a table and ask a series of Yes/No or True/False questions about the data in the table. The columns of the table can be sorted in a variety of ways, and using the sorting function effectively is a key aspect of efficiently answering Table Analysis questions.
A Two-Part analysis question asks you to select two correct answers from a set of choices presented in a table. The two answers are related to each other in some way and are based on a mathematical problem or a scenario. Two-Part Analysis questions can be quant or verbal focused, and they can appear simple, but you may find that they are not!
Multi-Source Reasoning questions present information in multiple texts on a single subject and ask questions based on that information. Multi-Source Reasoning questions are similar to Reading Comprehension or Critical Reasoning questions.
As you can see, answering such multifaceted questions requires more than applying basic quant or verbal knowledge or strategies. Integrated Reasoning questions tend to present a lot of information at once, whether in the form of text, visual representations, or both. So, even though there are only 12 questions in this section, and you have 30 minutes to complete them all, you have to be well-prepared to answer them in order to complete the section on time and achieve a relatively high IR Score.
Integrated Reasoning questions tend to present a lot of information at once, whether in the form of text, visual representations, or both.
For instance, a Table Analysis question may contain a table with close to 200 sortable values, along with an explanatory paragraph of text, and ask you to determine the validity of three statements based on both a synthesis of the data presented and calculations.
So, you can see why at least some IR specific preparation is warranted. In fact, to build a level of familiarity with how IR questions are asked and how you can best go about solving them, you will need repeated practice with questions of varying difficulty for all four question types, not just for the types of questions you don’t “already know.”
This brings us to a key point about preparing for the Integrated Reasoning section of the EA.
Don’t Choose to Practice Only Certain Types of IR Questions
Many test-takers have made the mistake of thinking that, since they read tables and graphs regularly at work, they don’t need to practice Graphics Interpretation or Table Analysis IR questions when studying for Integrated Reasoning. Others think that they can get away with focusing on only the question type they are least familiar with, for instance, Two-Part Analysis. Such strategies are not effective for preparing for EA IR, and here’s why.
Much of what you’ll be doing in answering IR questions will involve filtering and sorting information provided. For instance, you may have to utilize the same set of data in multiple ways. So, it is essential that you develop skill in efficiently handling the information provided to find what is relevant to a particular question.
For one thing, unlike quant questions, in which all of the given information is typically relevant to answering a particular question, IR questions may present you with both relevant and irrelevant information, requiring you to distinguish between the two. Likewise, a diagram associated with multiple IR questions may present data that is central to answering one question but completely useless in solving the next.
So, at least when beginning your IR study, spend some time getting to know each question type. It may become obvious as you answer practice questions that you are already strong in some types. For instance, you may be better at Table Analysis and Graphics Interpretation than at Two-Part Analysis or Multi-Source Reasoning. On the other hand, if you are an avid reader who performs very well in EA verbal, it may be the case that Multi-Source Reasoning questions are second nature to you.
Whatever the case may be, you should make adjustments to your study strategy as you progress, in order to target the areas in which you need to develop your skills the most. At the same time, it is important not to assume you know your weakest and strongest areas before devoting sufficient practice to each type of question.
After all, it could be that you’re great at analyzing simple bar graphs or synthesizing data in tables with a few columns, but diagrams with numerous values make your head spin. How will you identify and address such a weakness if you assume from the beginning that you “know how to read charts” and therefore don’t need to prepare to answer questions of those types?
When you’re faced with a time-consuming task such as preparing for the EA, it’s tempting to cut corners or give yourself a false sense of confidence about your level of preparedness in one area or another, particularly if you’re trying to fit preparation into a busy schedule.
Don’t fall into this trap. Consider yourself a blank slate at the beginning of your preparation for the IR section; you may find that you’re already well prepared to handle much of the IR, but you also may find that you aren’t as prepared as you thought..
Yes, your experience in preparing for EA Quant and Verbal will likely give you a sense of what parts of IR you’ll have to spend the most time preparing for. However, your EA preparation strategy should be based on evidence of your skills, not assumptions about them, and that outlook goes for IR as much as for any other section of the EA. So, a good approach is to practice by answering numerous IR questions of each type in the beginning of your IR prep, and then fine-tune your preparation for IR as you go.
TTP PRO TIP:
It’s best to practice numerous Integrated Reasoning questions of each type in the beginning of your IR prep, and then fine-tune your approach to preparing for IR as you go.
Now let’s discuss when in your EA prep you should begin preparing for the IR section.
When to Begin Preparing for the Integrated Reasoning Section of the EA
As we just discussed, you will likely have to do some Integrated Reasoning-focused preparation in the course of preparing for the Executive Assessment. However, it does not make sense to jump into Integrated Reasoning preparation before you have a solid foundation in EA Quant and Verbal. After all, since answering IR questions requires applying many of the concepts and skills that you’ll learn and develop during your quant and verbal study, your IR preparation will not be productive until you have those fundamentals in place.
At the same time, you don’t have to completely master every quant and verbal topic before you so much as look at an IR question. In fact, you will do yourself a disservice if you put off IR practice until the very end of your EA preparation.
So, a good rule of thumb is that you should begin to incorporate IR preparation into your study routine once you are about two-thirds of the way through your EA preparation. By following this rule of thumb, you’ll start your IR preparation with most of the quant and verbal skills you’ll need for answering IR questions, but you won’t be starting IR prep so late in the game that your IR preparation will be dragging on long after your quant and verbal preparation are complete.
TTP PRO TIP:
A good rule of thumb is that you should begin to incorporate IR preparation into your study routine once you are about two-thirds of the way through your preparation timeline.
Let’s now discuss developing a unique test-taking strategy for the IR section.
Develop a Unique Test-Taking Strategy for the IR Section
Since, as we’ve already noted, you’ll have 2.5 minutes on average to answer each IR question on the EA, timing in the IR section is a bit different from timing in the Quant and Verbal sections. Also, the structures of IR questions tend to be more complex than those of other EA questions. So, you should develop an overall strategy for handling the IR section that fits those characteristics and also takes into account your strengths and weaknesses.
One thing to consider when developing your test-taking strategy for IR is that Graphics Interpretation questions generally require less time than other IR questions, even for test-takers who don’t regularly work with graphs and charts. Thus, you will likely do best by allocating less than 1.5 minutes to each of these more straightforward questions, saving the bulk of your time for the more complex questions.
Another aspect of IR to keep in mind is that most IR questions have multiple parts, and no partial credit is given — you must answer all parts of a question correctly in order to get credit for that question. So, it often makes sense to make an educated guess and move on if, for example, you are having trouble with the first parts of a multi-part question. After all, the probability that you will correctly answer all parts of a question is low if you are already struggling with or guessing on the first parts of the question, so why spend precious minutes working on that final part?
Additionally, if you know your strengths and weaknesses in IR, as you will (given adequate preparation), you should be able to tell fairly quickly whether you’ll be able to answer a particular question within a reasonable amount of time. In cases in which it becomes clear that you’re unlikely to do so, you can quickly guess and move on to questions that better fit your skill set.
Of course, the idea is not that you should give up on a question at the first sign of difficulty. The point is that, if time is going by and you find yourself getting no closer to a correct answer, particularly if the question you’re facing is of a type known to give you trouble, it may be to your advantage to ditch the question, banking time that you can spend on questions that you’re more likely to answer correctly.
The good news is that you can miss or leave unanswered a few IR questions and still achieve your target score even if it is 12 or higher.
You can miss or leave unanswered a few IR questions and still achieve your target score even if it is 12 or higher.
Let’s wrap up by discussing some general IR preparation tips.
General Tips for Preparing for the Integrated Reasoning Section
Although, as we’ve discussed, Integrated Reasoning questions can be challenging because they require using a combination of skills, it’s important not to let IR become a source of stress and anxiety. Rather, you can think of IR questions as puzzles, and think of your IR preparation as a process of learning the most efficient ways to solve the puzzles. To do so, you can work on one type of IR question at a time, answering enough practice questions of that type to become familiar with them and how best to go about answering them.
Also, if you feel that you need to strengthen your graphics interpretation skills, you can do so by reading articles featuring graphs and charts in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or the Economist. Also, you can use a new online feature of the New York Times called “What’s Going On in This Graph?” that is designed to teach people how to interpret graphs.
Lastly, by taking EA practice tests, you can learn to handle the overall experience of the EA including the IR section. When you take EA practice tests, replicate test-day conditions as much as possible, completing all sections in order and refraining from pausing the test or taking breaks.
By preparing effectively, you can harness your quant and verbal skills, along with skills you may have developed at work, to earn a solid Integrated Reasoning score that will contribute to your achieving your EA score goal. For more on how to prepare for the Executive Assessment, you could read this complete guide to the Executive Assessment.