GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Multi-Source Reasoning

GMAT Integrated Reasoning: Multi-Source Reasoning

Multi-source reasoning questions in the integrated reasoning section are some of the most unique questions in the entire GMAT exam. The integrated reasoning section has 12 questions. Usually, three of these make one set of multi-source reasoning questions. In a set of multi-source reasoning questions, you will have two to three tabs of information for three consecutive slides of questions. For each slide, you’ll have one to three questions, and it’s a requirement for you to get each of these questions correct to earn credit for the slide.

Strategic Implications

There is a total of 30 minutes allocated to each integrated reasoning section. Multi-source reasoning questions are a lot like reading comprehension passage questions in that you have to spend some time upfront. In most cases, you’re given an average of three minutes per slide but a maximum of four minutes for any slide. This is achievable when you spend less time on the less time-intensive question types in the integrated reasoning section, such as graphic interpretation or table analysis, and spend that time on the more demanding multi-source reasoning questions.

What’s The Best Way to Answer Multi-Source Reasoning Questions?

Simply read and identify question task(s) and subject slides before addressing tabs for pertinent information. Multi-source reasoning questions are designed in such a way that they can be very time-consuming. It’s advisable that you don’t go reading through everything from the top-down, and instead try to figure out what information is necessary, where you should get that information in the tabs, and then work through those tabs in a targeted fashion.

The first thing you should do is peruse through the tabs quickly, taking limited notes to try to minimize how much you have to go back and forth between the tabs. This is the last type of question you want to skip proactively if you are behind pace in the IR section. Failing to understand the information in the tabs will easily result in you failing two or three questions. In this respect, multi-source reasoning questions are to some extent similar to integrated reasoning reading comprehension questions, where failure to understand the overall passage may lead to failing several questions.

They make up a whole 25% of the total score in the integrated reasoning section. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you not to sacrifice multi-source reasoning questions. Try as much as possible to avoid skipping multi-source reasoning questions, however, if you find yourself going over four minutes, then you have to make a fast, educated decision to move on, even though it may not be ideal.

Multi-Source Reasoning Sample tabs

Static tabbed content

Tab 1 of 3

Inventory considerations

Altered Designs, a boutique furniture company, is making decisions regarding its inventory for the next fiscal year. Within the company, five different stakeholders will have a say on how to source collections for the primary showroom and, in turn, the company’s warehouse. Each stakeholder will consider four variables in making each individual recommendation about which collection to purchase in the greatest quantity, with the CEO’s preference acting as a tiebreaker if no majority is reached among the five stakeholders.

Tab 2 of 3

Decision process

Each of the Chief Executives Officers (CEO), Chief Marketing Officer(CMO), Chief Financial Officer(CMO), Production Director, and Design Director have been asked to rate four variables on a scale from A to D, with A being the highest priority. The variables are as follows:

  • Cost 
  • Delivery time 
  • Demand
  • Durability

Tab 3 of 3

Inventory preferences

{|c|c|c|c|c|}\hline\textbf{Executive} & \textbf{Cost} & \textbf{Delivery time} & \textbf{Demand} & \textbf{Durability} \\ \hline \text{CEO} & \text{B} & \text{C} & \text{A} & \text{D} \\ \hline \text{CFO} & \text{A} & \text{D} & \text{B} & \text{C} \\ \hline \text{CMO} & \text{D} & \text{B} & \text{A} & \text{C} \\ \hline \text{Prod. manager} & \text{C} & \text{D} & \text{B} & \text{A} \\ \hline \text{Design manager} & \text{C} & \text{B} & \text{D} & \text{A} \\ \hline \end{array}}$$

Multi-Source Reasoning: How To Address the Information in Tabs

We will not do anything with the tabs at first. Instead, we are going to

  • Note the task and subject of the initial slides before engaging the tabs in any way. This is because we need to beware of needlessly reading all the tabs upfront without understanding how they are relevant to questions as well as understanding how the tabs are related to each other. 
  • Note the titles of tabs to understand broadly what information is contained within them. For instance, tab 1 is talking about inventory, and tab 2 is talking about the decision process. 
  • You should recognize that you will most likely be asked to synthesize information from different tabs to answer individual questions in subsequent question tabs. 
  • Take simplified notes by the tab. Read through the tabs quickly just to get an idea of the information they contain and take brief simplified notes.
  • Note if any tab(s) is/are likely to be more or less important based on the general information and information provided in each tab.

Samples Tab notes

Tab 1:  Background information 

             5 stakeholders, 4 variables 

             CEO, tiebreaker

Tab 2:  Variables rated A to D

              Not terribly informative This tab contains pretty straightforward information, informative but redundant. We may not have to come back here very much, but knowing this will save us valuable time.

Tab 3:  Inventory processes are Likely the most important

Instead of taking a lot of notes here, which will be time-consuming, we can just come back to the tab when we need to

Sample Broad Question

Select Yes if the following statement is supported by information in each of the tabs, otherwise, select No.

$$\small{\begin{array}{|l|l|l|} \hline\textbf{Yes} & \textbf{No} & \textbf{Statement} \\ \hline & ✓ & \text{The CEO’s preference takes precedence in the inventory decision.} \\ \hline & ✓ & \text{The design director considers demand to be the least important.} \\ \hline & ✓ & \text{Decisions in the showroom dictate warehouse inventory.} \\ \hline \end{array}}$$

Read the question carefully. Let the notes guide you. “Information in each ” is probably the most important set of words in the statement. We can now go back and read Tab 2, if there is no information here that supports the statement above, we will automatically select ‘No’. Statement 1 is not supported by information in tab 2, statement 2 is not supported by tab 2, and neither is statement 3. So we will select No for each of the statements.

Samples Specific Question

Select Yes if the following statement is definitively certain from the information in tabs 1 and 3. Otherwise, select No.

$$\small{\begin{array}{|l|l|l|}\hline \textbf{Yes} & \textbf{No} & \textbf{Statement} \\ \hline
✓ & & {\text{Demand is currently the highest priority in selecting}\\ \text{next season’s inventory at Altered Designs.}} \\ \hline & ✓ & {\text{If the CEO changes her top inventory priority the}\\ \text{ overall top inventory priority would change to durability.}}\\ \hline & ✓ & {\text{The production and design directors are}\\ \text{most aligned in their inventory priorities among the five stakeholders.}}\\ \hline \end{array}}$$

We can pull up tab 3 so that we can avoid stabbing back and forth unless we have to. It shows all the stakeholder preferences. We remember from tab 2 that preferences range from A to D, with A being the most preferred. We also remember from tab 1 that the CEO is a tiebreaker.

Statement 1: Demand is currently the highest priority in selecting next season’s inventory at    Altered Designs.

Demand currently has 2 As listed for it. One from the CEO, and another from the CMO. But durability also has 2 As, one from the production director and another from the design director. From our notes, we remember that the CEO holds the tiebreaker. This is, therefore, a Yes.

Statement 2: If the CEO changes her top inventory priority, the overall top inventory priority would change to durability.

It is important to be careful here. It looks like that will be the case because if you take the A from demand and move it to durability or delivery time, durability becomes the top priority. However, we have to remember that the CEO is the tiebreaker, if her A moves to Cost, then we will have the exact same choices. Cost 2As from CEO and CFO, 2Cs and a D. This statement is not definitively certain because inventory priority does not necessarily change to durability, it could change to cost.

Statement 3: The production and design directors are most aligned in their inventory priorities among the five stakeholders.

The production director, and the design director both have their As and Cs aligned for cost and durability, and the B and D just switch. It may look like they are the most aligned, but the production director and the CFO also have their Bs and Ds aligned for delivery time and demand but switch A and C.  The production director is just as aligned with the design director as he is with the CFO. So No, the statement is not definitively certain.

Multi-Source Reasoning Process

Step 1 – Carefully Identify the question subject and task

Read each question as you go to identify the subject and task. Do not needlessly evaluate things. For example, when the question requires the statement to be supported by each tab, to determine a No, all you have to do is find that it is not supported by one tab rather than read through all three tabs.

Step 2 –  Read what you need to address the subject and task

Do Not assume an upfront full read. Take notes for tabs as you go to avoid tabbing back and forth.

Step 3 – Identification

Cross-check your choices against information in relevant tabs. 

Step 4 – Repeat this for subsequent questions

There almost always will be three consecutive questions, and diligently work through each slide and task. Don’t rush through them to maintain pace, instead, seek other questions to skip if you need to.

Multi-Source reasoning questions may seem a bit challenging, but if you evaluate them carefully and systematically, it is very easy to score those points. Practice some more multi-source reasoning questions following these steps to improve your skills. Remember to use real GMAT questions in your practice to get ready for the main exam. You can find these resources on our website, Best of luck as you prepare for your GMAT exam. 

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