A Critical Reasoning of GMAT IR News

With recent statements from some of the world’s top business schools suggesting that Integrated Reasoning won’t be an integral factor in MBA admissions for at least the next admissions cycle and quite possibly for a couple more, a consensus has started to develop along the lines of “phew, don’t worry about IR…at all.”  This week, the MBA space has included articles with titles such as “Schools to Ignore Integrated Reasoning” and “Stanford Confirms that IR Doesn’t Matter (This Year).”  But since we do know that Critical Reasoning, a third of the verbal section, does matter, let’s hold this issue up to the Critical Reasoning precision-in-language standard to see which conclusions we can legitimately draw.

Stanford’s now-infamous blog post includes these quotes:

  • Rest assured that IR is new to us, too, and it’s going to take us (and our peer schools) some time before we know how to interpret it as it relates to the Stanford MBA Program.
  • For this application year, we will see your IR score if you have taken the new GMAT, but will focus on the verbal, quantitative, AWA, and total scores. Once we have had the chance to review IR scores in this first year, we will determine how to evaluate them in our process for next year.

So it’s certainly safe to conclude that you shouldn’t put too much stress or emphasis on Integrated Reasoning if you’re applying to Stanford this fall for 2013 admission.  But be careful when drawing further conclusions.  While the discussion boards may seem to suggest that “IR doesn’t matter, so you can blow it off,” recognize a few Critical Reasoning flaws in that particular argument:

Generalization – this post is attributable directly to Stanford GSB, and a few other quotes have emerged with similar language from admissions officers at Harvard, Wharton, and INSEAD.  But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all other top schools will feel the same way.  On a Critical Reasoning question, the conclusion “Integrated Reasoning does not matter for the 2013 business school intake” isn’t fully supported, as there are plenty of top business schools and the current evidence doesn’t apply to all of them.  In more colloquial GMAT speak, we know “some,” but a lot of the conclusions being drawn these days suggest “all.”  Be careful with generalization.

Precision in Language – the Stanford quote falls short of saying “we will not consider IR this year.”  It mentions that the GSB will “focus on” the other sections, that it will take time to know how to evaluate it, etc.  In fact, the quote even mentions that “we will see your IR score….” So if you’re drawing the conclusion that “even if I click randomly through the IR section, it will not affect my application to Stanford,” that’s not an absolute certainty (at least logically speaking).  When assessing Inference CR questions (those that ask you to draw a conclusion), it can often be helpful to try to create a hypothetical situation in which the facts in the stimulus are all true, but the conclusion in the answer choice is not.  If you wanted to hold the conclusion that “I can completely blow off IR and it won’t affect my application” up to that hypothetical test, think about this: what if you were a qualified candidate, but one of 1,500 “qualified” candidates for around 500 spots at a particular school.  And your application has a 1 – the minimum – score on the IR section.  Is it at least possible, given the statements we know to be true, that an admissions staffer could see the suggestion that you intentionally tanked a full section of the test as a negative for your application?  That they wouldn’t necessarily be using the score itself in admissions, but rather what that score says about you?  In a Critical Reasoning context, you could use that hypothetical to invalidate an answer choice.

Let’s examine one more example of Precision in Language:  Say that you’ve used the recent “news” to draw the conclusion that “I personally don’t need to worry about IR.”  Which hypothetical situations might void that conclusion?  Say that, for example, you were waitlisted and ultimately rejected at your top two schools and then decided that you’d rather reapply for 2014 admission than go to your safety school. If you blew off the IR section, but had an overall score that you liked, you might end up having to take the GMAT again just to get that IR score.