McKinsey PST – What is it & How to prepare for it?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test (McKinsey PST) is a very crucial part of the McKinsey recruitment process. It is where most of the applicant pool is eliminated, and yet there are so few resources to help you prepare for it. Fortunately, you’ve found the ultimate place for practice materials with an unbelievable level of detail!

1. What is McKinsey PST?

The Problem Solving Test is a paper-based test required for all McKinsey applicants before in-person interviews.

2. Why do they need it?

Why did Apple create the iPad when people had already had the iPhone and the Macbook?

It’s very similar to what we have here! McKinsey believes that the gap between CV screening and in-person case interviews is too big. The firm may miss many good candidates with bad resumes, or may interview too many candidates who don’t live up to their resumes.

At the end of the day, in-person interviews are expensive, and the Problem Solving Test provides a cost-effective solution.

3. Future of the McKinsey PST?

McKinsey has invested heavily in developing the test, and they stand behind it. I don’t see McKinsey discontinuing the PST in the near future. There may be changes in some specific questions or cases, but the general skills tested, the format and the question types will stay.

Furthermore, there is an increasing trend of paper-based tests in the recruitment process by consulting firms. As far as I know, BCG has already been applying a test called “BCG Potential Test” in almost all of their offices since last year. In contrast to the McKinsey PST, which is in paper-based format, the BCG Potential Test will be done on a computer.

4. What is the PST format?

The test has 26 multiple choice questions set within the context of 3 business cases. A candidate has exactly 60 minutes to finish the test. He will be provided with a watch, pencils, scratch paper, and the test in paper-based format. No calculator is allowed. You will be taking the test either in a big group or on your own.

5. Why is this test so hard ?

  • You will not have enough time to properly think through each question. If you are going to read every single word in the case background and do every calculation “asked”, you will not be able to finish the test. You will need to know how to work through stress and pressure, how to give out “high-probability” answers instead of “exactly-right” ones, and how to painlessly skip questions.
  • You will be judged by a machine (or if by a person, that person will try to be like a machine). I myself feel much more comfortable in an in-person case interview, where I will be fine as long as I have the right tactics. The interviewers generally allow candidates to make a few mistakes here and there, to slow down the process if needed, and to ask for help when necessary. In the PST, the result is all that matters. There will be no mercy granted. If you don’t get enough correct answers, you are out.

6. What is the best way to prepare for this test?

We really think people over-estimate the importance of SAT and GMAT math in the PST. It is only because materials on the PST are so rare that people have to spend their time on SAT and GMAT math. Yes it does help but the Problem Solving Test is much more than that. Specifically, half of the test does not involve any number at all.

A good approach to the PST should provide an in-depth look at each question type and show how to best prepare for each. There are 6 most common types of questions in the PST: (1) Client Interpretation, (2) Reading Facts, (3) Root-cause Reason, (4) Fact-based Conclusion, (5) Formulae, and (6) Word Problem.

To find out the in-depth instruction on how to answer each type of question, visit this Master Guide to Question Types.

7. What is the passing score? (Cut-off score)

Many candidates have been wondering the passing score of PST over the years. Similar to all other parts of the recruitment process, there are NO quotas to meet. This means as long as you reach a predetermined bar, you get in! Don’t be intimidated when you walk into a test room with a lot of people. The truth is you are only competing against yourself! There have been many rumors on what the minimum passing score is. No one knows for sure. To the best of my knowledge, I believe that the minimum bar is about 70%.

So if your practice test shows a result of 12 or 14 / 26, you need to buckle up and do a heck of a lot more preparation. We dedicated a free PST case to help you best prepared for your test.


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