Whether you talk about time-pressure intensity, difficulty level, limited prep resources, or the low PST passing rate, McKinsey Problem Solving Test is one of the deadliest tests ever built on Earth. Don’t even think about the Case Interview unless you can pass the PST.
… in this video and subsequent ones, we’ll tackle every aspect of a perfect study plan for this test …
To be honest with you, the Problem Solving Test is what gets me into the idea of founding this Management Consulting Prep platform. At the time, I was dying to get into McKinsey. Not only I wanted to be a management consultant, but I wanted to do it at McKinsey. Of course landing a job in ANY of those “Big 3” would be a dream already. But with all respect to Bain and BCG, McKinsey does have an edge.
But standing in middle of my super aspiration is the freaking Problem Solving Test. I was frustrated and at the same time very nervous. My key to success as a student in college had been to study hard. But with the PST, it didn’t work. You can’t study hard without a whole lot of materials.
Now looking back, I am just grateful. The PST forced me to be really strategic and to study really SMART. I developed for myself a rigorous study strategy that allows me to get into the teeth of the test principles and get a lot better without a lot of actual practice tests.
I shared my system on a simple personal blog, and it’s just been getting bigger and bigger. The feedback is positive and the audience is just growing like crazy every year.
The PST is a very interesting concept. Have you ever asked why it came to existence?
Well, consulting firms are just like any other businesses. They have to balance between effectiveness and efficiency. Sometimes, there’s not a middle ground to achieve both. Take recruitment, for example, we have the CV screening round as a very efficient way to evaluate candidates. Consulting firms can assign relatively low-ranking staffs on the task and they can sort a large volume of CVs in a short time. But CV screening is not 100% accurate. That’s why there’s the Case Interview. While it’s a lot more effective than CV screening, it costs a LOT more. It takes about 5 hours of high-ranking managers for each candidate.
Then McKinsey said: no we need to create something in between to balance the two aspects.
Here comes the Problem Solving Test! I think this is a great invention. The CV screener can pass in more “risky” candidates and the interviewer for sure will spend time with a much better group of candidates.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen BCG adapting to this trend, creating their own version of the PST: the BCG Potential Test. Later in this video, we will touch briefly on how the BCG Potential Test is like.
But now, let’s talk about how the McKinsey Problem Solving Test! What is it like?
It’s a multiple-choice test with 26 multiple-choice questions, divided into 3 cases, each usually starts with 1 page of reading then a few questions then a few more reading then a fewmore questions. There’s a time limit of 60 minutes, which you would need to use every second of it. Even the smartest people I know would barely finish the test in the last minute. Many, including myself, don’t even make it to the last question.
Another bad news, the test is quite numerically heavy and they don’t let you use the calculator. About half of it involves calculations of some sort.
This test is such an interesting topic, and of course, there have been quite a few myths about the test. Now let meburst them here!
No.1: The PST is a Case Interview on paper.
No, it is NOT! If you think of a set of management consulting skills as everything in this square, the Case interview can cover something like this and the PST covers something like this!
There are a few common qualifications both rounds examine but each specifies in its own ground. And they are meant to be that way!
The PST is much more heavy on the logic, the number, or in daily language: the nerdy part of a consultant while Case Interview is more on the actual person-to-person consulting work.
No.2: The PST is similar to the SAT Math.
This is a horrible comparison!These two are completely different tests. Even for the most seemingly related part: the quantitative part isnowhere near close. The SAT is strictly about math while the PST is much more about the logic and business problem solving. Even for a tiny portion of the SAT Math which has some “Word Problems”, they are fairly simple ones with context not even set in business.
Don’t spend any of your valuable time on the SAT. It’s like practice driving a car to prepare to fly an airplane. I am not saying driving a car doesn’t help with anything, but the value you get out of that practice is soooo small regarding your goal to fly an airplane.
No.3: You either have it or you don’t have it or in other words, the ability to pass the PST has to be something you were born with.
Of all, this is the most terrible myth. It probably started by some consultants out there who didn’t prepare for the test and still pass.Maybe they were trying to show off, or maybe they just don’t care about listeners. Every time you hear someone say that, immediately disregard it.
The PST CAN be learned!
How? Let’s get to that part right NOW!
A perfect study plan for the PST involves two equally important parts. In the scope of this one video, we can’t talk about every part in great detail, please refer to follow up videos. But anyway, the two parts are:
- No.1: The ability to answer the questions CORRECTLY
- No.2: The ability to answer questions QUICKLY
Many people don’t have the patience to separate their study in these different areas, turns out their study is all over the place with no point of focus. It’s so hard to do that way. It doesn’t save any time either.
Part #1, the key objective is to understand the test, the logic inside out, and we are able to solve every question as closed to 100% correctly as possible, of course without any time pressure.
To help you with this part. We analyze the test critically and divide it into different question types. This is the link to the playlist in which we talk about each question type in great detail: how they are constructed, what’s the logical foundation of them, how the “wrong” choices are usually made, etc.
Basically, there are 6 types of questions, accounting for 90% of the test.
The test gives us a number of data and information, or we simply call it: FACT. When a question just strictly asks about the Facts themselves, we call this “Reading-facts question”.
Let’s say: the Fact is: “there are 1,000 more visits to the MConsultingPrep website on Monday than that of Sunday“. A reading facts question may ask you:
“Which of the following best estimate how many visits per hour Monday has more than that of Sunday?”
This accounts for 38% of the PST and almost 100% of the BCG Potential test. So, BCG test takers, you know where to focus your study on!
Refer to the hyperlink here for greater details.
When a question goes a step beyond this, asking you about what reasons, if TRUE, may explain that facts, we have “Root-cause reason questions“. This is a somewhat similar to hypothesis in case interview. The difference is that, in case interview, we use hypothesis to save time and to pinpoint our approach in a more efficient way. In the PST, “Root-cause reasons” only tests your logic. You don’t need to worry about whether a possible root-cause is possibly true or not. You just need to identify if that possible root-cause does explain the given fact or not.
Given the fact provided above, a root-cause reason question may ask you:
“Which of the following statement, if TRUE, would NOT correctly explain the assertion above?”
On the answer choices, we may have:
A) MConsultingPrep public new contents every Monday
B) Most students don’t have the habit of studying on Sunday
Notice that even though statement A is not correct in real life, this still counts as a possible root-cause for the given fact. Remember that on the question, there’s the phrase: “if TRUE” clearly stated.
This question type accounts for about 13% of the test.
Now on the other side, when a question goes a step in the other direction, asking you to identify what conclusions you can logically make based on the provided facts, we have the “Fact-based Conclusion questions”.
Given the running context, a fact-based conclusion question may ask you:
“Which of the following statement can be correctly CONCLUDED based on the given fact?”
On the answer choices, we may have:
A) MConsultingPrep live-chat support staffs have to standby on Monday.
B)The website server faces more pressure on Monday
Notice that even though statement A is true in real life, this is NOT a correct choice here. Remember that we are talking about statements logically concluded FROM THE GIVEN FACT.
This accounts for about 14% of the test.
Step beside those logical views, when a question needs you to set up equations to solve, we call it “Word Problem questions”. Sometimes, they don’t need you to solve for absolute answers, but rather answers in variable format, like this, <show sample variable format> we have the “Formulae questions”.These two accounts for about 20% of the test.
Lastly, almost every case in the PST starts with an introduction case context page. At the end of that context is often a statement from the CEO, manager, or Chairman. Then the first question often asks you about that assertion. We call this “Client Interpretation”. Almost every case has one question of this type.
If I were you, tackling the first part of the perfect PST study plan, I would study each question type one by one in great details, understand it inside out. You will find that when the test is broken into this level of detail, solving them 100% correctly without time pressure is very very feasible.
When you can do that, gradually move to the second part of the study plan. I say the word “gradually” because there may not be an exact turning point where you completely finish the first part and completely focus on the second part.Some of the skills on the second part you may want to start early and some of the stuff on the first part you would want to come back for reviewing purposes. But generally, make sure you know how to get it RIGHT before get it FAST!
Part #2 of the perfect study plan: how to increase your SPEED!
There are 3 + 1 sub-parts of this:
2.1: Increase your reading speed!
This sounds difficult but it’s not. There are so many programs out there on how to read faster. We have tried many and probably the best one is a program created by Princeton. This method only takes a couple of hours of intense practice and the result is tremendous. Candidates we tested using this method all at ease improve their reading speed by double. Some even higher. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is. Refer to our website to download the free PDF on PST speed training faster reading. We will soon make a video demonstrate this method in an even more powerful way. When that video is done, the link will be here!
2.2: Increase your calculation speed!
There’s no doubt that a big chunk of the test involves math. The quicker you do this, the more time you can spend on the non-quantitative part.
This is a muscle that just needs practicing. The more you pound in, the better you get. It’s much more simple than the qualitative part where you need to understand the logic first. The challenge is that it’s hard to take the math out from the PST and practice it alone. We usually have to do it together with other skills in our already limited practice materials.
Understand this need, we have developed quite a few free practice Math drills on our website. At the heart, math is as it is, but we present it in a number of different formats: plain calculation, short context, long context, and chart context, to best replicate the real environment you will encounter in the real PST and also in the Case Interview.
2.3: Embrace test taking hacks!
It doesn’t hurt to know a few tips here and there. But this can get pretty confusing. At the time I was preparing for the test, I got so many different tips, many of them even conflict with each other. To be honest, even now I don’t know which is better.
Should we read the question first then go back to the context, or should we read the context first? If we decided to do something in between, to what extent?
Well, these are all very personal preferences. So in the process of giving you Problem Solving tips, I provide you also an index on how strongly you should follow my advice. Some items I really really want you to apply while there are others I am just giving you my preference for reference purposes.
Please refer to our website to the most up-to-date list of tips & tricks. As the format and the environment of the test can change slightly from years to years, content in this area needs updating regularly.
2.4: Putting it altogether into practice cases.
Lastly, a very important factor of this 2nd part is to put it all together in a complete case and to take them like real testing environment. This is like the final act, gluing all the things you learn throughout the study plan together. For this, what you need is a bunch of problem solving practice tests as close to the actual test as possible.
If you follow my study plan from the beginning, unlike others, you haven’t had to use any of the official practice tests from McKinsey themselves. Now is the time to use them. Plus, to add a little positivity, we provide you one practice case. You can download PST for free from our website as well.
So there you have it: A very brief layout of the perfect study plan. I hope this adds a lot of values to your study and you can take these insights, apply them, and design your own specific study plan that suits your background and timeframe. If you need help with that, transforming this into a specific day-to-day plan, please also refer to our website.
Best of luck with this brutal test!
At Management Consulting Prep, we believe, everybody can pass the PST. Are you a believer?