McKinsey Problem Solving Test Client Interpretation Question

1. What is it?

In every consulting project, communication with the clients’ top level (usually the Chairman or CEO) is always important. During my time with McKinsey, we usually hear an update every one or two weeks from our Project Director (usually a partner) on his meeting with the clients’ top level. Messages from those meetings are important on-going steers for the project. No surprise it makes up an entire question category in the Problem Solving Test.

Client Interpretation questions test your ability to read, understand, and interpret the messages the client is trying to convey in the case question or description. To some extent, this is very similar to GMAT verbal questions.

Question formats:

  • Which of the following best summarizes the CEO’s concerns?
  • Which of the following statements best describes the thoughts of the CEO regarding…?
  • Based on the opinion of the head of Department, which of the following statements is valid?
  • Which of the following statements best describes the CEO’s aims for the McKinsey research?

2. Tips and tricks

Normally the strategy of scanning through the answers first before going back to the case description works when you have a very long case description and don’t know where to look for the right information. Scanning through the answers helps you get a more focused read on the case description. However, the client’s assertion is typically found in a very short and specific part of the case description. So once you realize it’s a Client Interpretation question, go back to the case description and find that very specific part of the client’s assertion. Make sure you understand it very well. Then the rest of the work is just determining which of the four choices has the same meaning as the original assertion.

… by recognizing a few words or short phrases that make a choice incorrectly reflect the client’s assertion. Sometimes, you can do this very quick and effectively. If not, please see tips No.3.

Client’s expression as quoted in the case context are always a bit blur and confusing. That is very realistic of what you may encounter in the real consulting work. It also makes this question types challenging. But in almost every situation, there is always one “so-what”, stated explicitly or implicitly. The trick here is to catch that so-what, ignore the noise, and go straight for the answer choice. Most of the times, the wrong choices DO contain a part of the client’s assertion, but either not the whole idea or the main, the bottom-line, the most important one!

Using this method, you can fly and land straight to the correct choice, not having to care too much about how wrong choices are made of. But if you are curious, some of the most common wrong-choice types:

  • Choice that is simply wrong according to the client’s assertion (Tip No.2 above)
  • Choice that is in fact right, but is a minor point, NOT the bottom-line of the client’s assertion
  • Choice that seem to be right, but cannot be reasonably interpreted by common sense (not by scientifically supporting logic like in other question types)

3. Illustrating Example

For education purpose, let’s look at a simplified example as following. I intentionally make this one easier to help you clearly see the methodology. Once feeling comfortable, you can move on to the more challenging questions linked down below.

Case context
Mommy said she saw some dirty clothes on the dining table. She is also quite shocked to see Kevin’s toys in every room throughout the house. She even complains about how much time it takes her every night to clean up Kevin’s mess. “I will have to take a very straight conversation with Kevin tonight!”, said mom.

Questions and Answer choices:

Which of the following statements best describes the Mom’s concern?

A. Mom is not happy about too many of Kevin’s toys sitting on the dining table

B. Mom does not expect to see that many of Kevin’s toys in the house

C. Mom does not like to be responsible for anyone’s mess

D. Mom is too busy these days


E. Mom wants to talk to Kevin

F. Mom wants Kevin to be more tidy


In this example, we continuously get small data points, all leading to one bottom-line, not explicitly mentioned but can be reasonably interpreted:

Kevin is too messy and mom doesn’t like that!

Notice that, the bottom-line here is not explicitly stated but it IS the bottom-line. All 4 sentences in the case context are small pieces of data leading to that final “so-what”. Having this “so-what” in mind, you can just skim through the answer and quickly pick F without concerning about other choices.

In case you are curious about how other choices are “wrong-choice” …

Choices B and E are in fact right according to the case context, but not the bottom-line.

Choices A is simple wrong according to the case context (Tip #2)

Choices C and D are neither right or wrong according to the case context. There are not enough “evidences” to be reasonably interpreted using common sense.

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