McKinsey Problem Solving Test Preparation
– Master Guide to Question Types –
The perfect study plan for the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (and other paper-based exams) is a 3-step approach!
Step 1: Understand the test
One may have access to a lot of high-level problem solving test materials that exactly mirrors McKinsey’s official test, but practicing for the PST is not as simple as doing the test over and over. Without breaking the test down to each unique question type and learning specific techniques at the granular level, it would be extremely difficult to truly master the McKinsey PST.
Step 2: Practice the test
Once you can comfortably solve most PST questions without a time limit, push yourself harder with time pressure and a real-life testing environment.
Step 3: Tighten the skills
Seal the deal with a comprehensive set of skills honed exclusively for the test.
(Besides, make sure you are packed with these test-taker tips before coming to the test hall.)
1. Understand the test
We have spent years going through the McKinsey official practice exams over and over again, and gained from it a level of understanding that could only be rivaled by the test writers themselves. The good news is that although 26 questions look like a lot, all of them can be perfectly classified into several types of questions. Moreover, almost all of the questions in each type follow the same structure and require the same techniques to complete.
We will walk you through the specific techniques for each one of the question types in great details. The goal is that, at the end of this, you will feel perfectly comfortable solving any McKinsey Problem Solving Test question.
Now let me show you the ultimate McKinsey Problem Solving Test Guide, featuring all question types and how frequently they appear in the test. Click on each question type for descriptions, examples, techniques, and practice questions!
McKinsey PST Question Types:
- Client Interpretation – 8%
Which of the following best summarizes the CEO’s concerns? …
- Reading Facts – 38%
Which of the following values is the best estimate of ABC’s revenue in Year 4?
- Root-cause Reason – 13%
Which of the following reasons, if TRUE, would best explain the increasing trend in X, Y, and Z?
- Fact-based Conclusion – 14%
Which of the following is TRUE based on the data presented in Exhibit 2?
- Formulae – 5%
Which of the following formulae calculates the dollar value of goods produced by ABC?
- Word Problems– 12%
Assuming a machine lasts for five years, the center is opened 5 days per week all year round, what minimum volume of maintenance supply …?
- Others – 10%
How about the BCG Potential Test?
Unlike the McKinsey PST, the BCG Potential Test only offers 4 questions in its public sample case. 4 questions are too small a sample size to conclude anything on question distribution. However, it is worth noticing that all 4 questions are in the Reading Facts category! So do expect to see that question type a lot in your real BCG Potential Test.
In terms of difficulty, my take based on those 4 practice questions is that it’s the same as its brother, the McKinsey PST.
You can download a free sample of BCG Potential Test developed by MConsultingPrep.
2. Practice the test
Now that you can comfortably understand and answer all McKinsey Problem Solving Test questions, it’s time to bring in the time factor. 9 out of 10 candidates who have taken the test said that the official test is much harder because it is strictly timed. That is why it’s necessary to bring your preparation to the next level and try to beat the Problem Solving Test in a real testing environment.
So how do you create a real testing environment?
- Time yourself! It is tempting to go over the allotted time when you practice at home. Push yourself!
- No calculator! Time to work those calculation muscles!
- Print the McKinsey practice test out and pencil it! There are a lot of differences between doing the test on the screen vs. penciling it on paper. You want to recreate the real testing environment as closely as possible.
- Take it seriously! I have known candidates who told me that they still found the real McKinsey Problem Solving Test much more stressful despite applying all of the three suggestions above. To best prepare for that, you have to mentally treat the practice as if it were real. Pressure yourself, and take pride in what you accomplish. Have the mindset “if I don’t get 70 – 75% of this test correct, I’m out!” While this is only practicing, it helps prepare you mentally for when the real test comes.
Here is a list of some practice resources available online
- Free TOYO Practice case (from MConsultingPrep)
- Official McKinsey PST Practice Test A – 2013 Version
- Official McKinsey PST Practice Test B – 2006 Version
- BCG Potential Test (from BCG)
- Monitor Group’s PST-like case
3. Tighten the skills
Unlike GMAT or GRE where practices are always available, the McKinsey PST is much more limited in terms of study materials. You will go through all of the practice tests above very quickly.
What’s left is to develop the skills required for the test. Three of the most important skills are (1) Quantitative proficiency, (2) Reading, and (3) Reasoning.
3.1 Quantitative Proficiency
You might have noticed that in the question guide above, almost 40% of the questions on the McKinsey PST require nothing but plain calculations with presented data/charts. No logic, no reasoning, no synthesizing, etc. needed. It would be a huge plus if you are able to go through these questions quickly, leaving valuable time to think through the more complex ones.
We have a full detailed article on Consulting Math with valuable practice resources. Make sure you spend a significant amount of time going through them.
In addition to the heavy load of calculations, you will also deal with a big chunk of reading in your McKinsey Problem Solving Test. The ability to speed read the questions while still catching important points will save you valuable time to work on the answers.
Here are some tips to increase your reading speed:
- Get annual reports of companies from a wide variety of industries, including those you are not familiar with. Try to read through the materials as fast as possible while catching important points.
- Refer to case studies you have from school and practice reading them. Most case studies will do you good as they generally have similar structure and components as the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (i.e. case introduction, company facts, data, etc.)
- Check out our guide to fast reading. We tailored this guide based on a study by Princeton University to hopefully help you double your reading speed after a few hours of intensive practice. You can improve even more by practicing the techniques in this guide frequently.
Lastly, consulting is the exercise of logic and reasoning. It is meant to put your logic and reasoning skills to the test.
If you have not carefully gone through our materials above (i.e. “Understand the Test”), I urge you to do so. There are a lot of in-depth content to help you practice logic and reasoning.
4. Try our Free Practice Case now!