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July 2013

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Integrated Reasoning: Knowing the Score

Since the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section of the GMAT exam launched in June 2012, approximately 240,000 people have taken the test, adding even more data to research previously released by GMAC. Studies on business students, alumni, employers, and faculty affirm the value of IR skills in business school and on the job.

Analysis so far on subgroups by gender, age groups, citizenship, and native language are similar to differences in GMAT Total score, Ashok Sarathy, vice president, GMAT program, told admissions professionals at the GMAC Annual Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. And yet the IR scores among test takers with similar GMAT Total scores vary enough to indicate that the IR section measures a related but distinct skill from the quantitative and verbal sections, he said.

In addition to analysis of current GMAT test takers, GMAC administered the IR section to current students at nine business schools this spring. These concurrent validity studies found that IR had a higher correlation with first-year academic performance than either the verbal or the quantitative GMAT scores and was on par with the GMAT Total Score. (In keeping with GMAC’s strategy to release IR without disrupting current admissions practices, IR does not contribute to the Total score, making Total scores comparable across versions.) The IR score adds incremental validity to the GMAT Total score at the schools studied, Sarathy said.

Yet there were some differences in what the concurrent validity studies uncovered at the different participating schools, and admissions directors at three schools discussed what they found and the value they see in using IR scores as part of an admissions process.

Vanderbilt Owen School of Management

Vanderbilt is known as a quant school, and students have high quantitative scores coming in, said Tami Fassinger, chief recruiting officer at the Owen Graduate School of Management. The top of the class will have students with very strong math skills, but that extra data point on data integration skills is very helpful in filling out the bottom of the class, where some promising students don’t have a strong math background, she said. “At the margins, this gives me new information.”  

The concurrent validity study findings will help the admissions staff determine which students might be worth the school investing extra time in to bring up those math skills, she said.

GMAC data showing how often alumni use IR skills by industry and job function is also valuable as a career management tool to help students know how realistic their career aspirations are, she said. According to the 2013 Alumni Perspectives Survey, those in the consulting industry were the most likely, at 81 percent, to say they use IR skills all or most to the time, and among test takers who’ve taken IR so far, those intending to be consultants have the highest average IR score, 4.59. So consulting may not be a realistic goal for those with low IR scores.

Emory Goizueta Business School

A little over half of Emory’s applicants are international, and the international applicants are typically very strong candidates, said Julie Barefoot, associate dean of MBA admissions at the Goizueta School, and it is hard to distinguish them from one another.    

“What we’re looking for in our program are work experience, academic performance, and teamwork/collaboration skills,” and the GMAT quantitative score is very important, she said. “An international student applicant’s IR score gives us another data point to consider as we seek to distinguish among many strong applicants.” 

In considering their domestic applicant pool, Barefoot worried that the section wouldn’t be fair to liberal arts majors. “I was skeptical about IR,” she said. “I thought it would show skewed results – that the people who did well on IR would be the people I thought would do well on IR.”  

Those worries were unfounded. Among applicants to the Evening MBA program who had presented IR scores in this admission cycle, Barefoot found that those with humanities backgrounds have the ability to do as well or better on IR than engineering or business majors.  

Although IR scores were not a key element in the admissions decisions this past year, it has been another insight into a candidate and has been helpful “in the messy middle,” where high IR scores have helped candidates who did not present as strong quantitative scores. IR demonstrated that this applicant was comfortable analyzing data and drawing conclusions. 

- Julie Barefoot, associate dean of MBA admissions, Goizueta School

Indiana University Kelley School of Business

At the Kelley School of Business, the concurrent validity study showed the IR score had higher correlation to academic performance than the GMAT Total score or the undergraduate GPA. "IR can be a great differentiator when you’re trying to fill those last one or two slots. Everyone has a weakness or two. So it can make a difference," said Jim Holmen, director of admissions and financial aid at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.

Many international applicants have very strong technical skills and want to go to business school to make the transition to consulting, and the IR score is an important factor for them, he said. “It really provides some good information.”

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