This is the latest in a series of “How To Analyze” articles that began with the general “How To Analyze A Practice Problem” article (click on the link to read the original article). This week, we’re going to analyze a specific IR question from the Table prompt category. The GMATPrep® problem we’re using this week is one that we’ve already discussed how to solve in a previous article; click here to read that article and try the problem first.
After trying the problem, checking the answer, and reading and understanding the solution (which you can do via the original article, linked above), I try to answer these questions:
1. Did I know WHAT they were trying to test?
- Was I able to CATEGORIZE this question by topic and subtopic? By process / technique? If I had to look something up in my books, would I know exactly where to go?
→ The question is an IR Table prompt. The question prompt is pretty distinctive (“select Would help explain if it would, if true, help to explain some of the information in the table. Otherwise select Would not help explain.”). This problem is a mix of math and verbal, then, and I have to understand the numbers in order to infer some qualitative things about the data.
- Did I COMPREHEND the symbols, text, questions, statements, and answer choices? Can I comprehend it all now, when I have lots of time to think about it? What do I need to do to make sure that I do comprehend everything here? How am I going to remember whatever I’ve just learned for future?
→ (*Note: I’m going to pretend that I got this one wrong!) I messed up a bit when reading the question. I reversed what they were asking me to do: I tried to use the data to see whether we could infer the statement, using the CR standard that an inference must be true. That’s not actually what they asked me to do. Instead, they told me that I should accept the statements as true (the question stem says “if true”). This is more like a strengthen / weaken CR question; my mistake was that I originally treated it more like an inference / draw a conclusion CR question.
→ I need to look for that “if true” language in the question stem. When I see that, I’ll know I’m supposed to accept the statements as true and then do something else with them (in this case, check to see whether the data then lends support to each true statement).
- Did I understand the actual CONTENT (facts, knowledge) being tested?
→ They were testing me on certain math concepts, such as proportion, and certain definitions, such as per capita. I handled those things fine – in fact, once I realized my error in reading the question stem, I re-did the question and didn’t have any problems.
2. How well did I HANDLE what they were trying to test?
- Did I choose the best APPROACH? Or is there a better way to do the problem? (There’s almost always a better way!) What is that better way? How am I going to remember this better approach the next time I see a similar problem?
→ Now that I realize what the question is really asking, I would read the first statement:
“The proportion of the population of Brazil that lives within close proximity to at least one museum is larger than that of Russia.”
→ Then I’d look to see whether the given data about Brazil and Russia does lend support to the idea that this statement is true. (See original article for full analysis.) I’d repeat that for the remaining statements.
- Did I have the SKILLS to follow through? Or did I fall short on anything?
→ Actually, yes, I was fine on what I needed to do once I correctly interpreted the question.
- Did I make any careless mistakes? If so, WHY did I make each mistake? What habits could I make or break to minimize the chances of repeating that careless mistake in future?
→ I think I could probably call my misinterpretation of the question a careless mistake. I just wasn’t reading carefully. Why? (This is a CRUCIAL question – don’t skip this step!) I tried to figure out the table first and spent too much time, so when I looked at the question stem, I felt rushed and didn’t really take the time to understand what they were asking. Next time, I should read the question stem first and really concentrate on understanding it before I try to start solving.
- Am I comfortable with OTHER STRATEGIES that would have worked, at least partially? How should I have made an educated guess?
→ I found the third statement the trickiest, I think because the data did not actually support the statement. I worried that maybe I was overlooking something – that there was data somewhere to support the statement but I just wasn’t looking in the right place. But I’ll probably always feel that way when the answer really is “would NOT help explain,” so I should be prepared for that feeling of uncertainty in general. It’s similar to when I’m testing numbers on data sufficiency and I keep getting the same answer – have I found the actual solution, or have I just not tried the right set of numbers yet?
- Do I understand every TRAP & TRICK that the writer built into the question, including wrong answers?
→ See above – I found the third statement the trickiest.
3. How well did I or could I RECOGNIZE what was going on?
- Did I make a CONNECTION to previous experience? If so, what problem(s) did this remind me of and what, precisely, was similar? Or did I have to do it all from scratch? If so, see the next bullet.
- Can I make any CONNECTIONS now, while I’m analyzing the problem? What have I done in the past that is similar to this one? How are they similar? How could that recognition have helped me to do this problem more efficiently or effectively? (This may involve looking up some past problem and making comparisons between the two!)
→ I knew this was a table problem – that’s obvious – but I hadn’t seen wording quite like the wording in this question stem before. Now that I’ve seen this, though, I’m going to be prepared for next time (see below).
- HOW will I recognize similar problems in the future? What can I do now to maximize the chances that I will remember and be able to use lessons learned from this problem the next time I see a new problem that tests something similar?
→ The key thing here, I think, was the “if true” language – they told me to accept the statements as true! I could almost think of this as a kind of data sufficiency question, and the three answers here are like the two data sufficiency statements. I accept them as true and then I try to figure something else out using those statements. I like that idea – I think that “similar to DS” idea, along with keeping an eye out for “if true” language, will help me to recognize similar questions in future.
And that’s it! Note that, of course, the details above are specific to each individual person – such a write-up would be different for every single one of you, depending upon your particular strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes. Hopefully, though, this gives you a better idea of the way to analyze an IR problem. This framework also gives you a valuable way to discuss problems with fellow online students or in study groups – this is the kind of discussion that really helps to maximize scores.
* GMATPrep® question courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.