Monday, October 12, 2009

McKinsey Problem Solving Test

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test is an absolute mystery to me and probably to most of you. It is a 60 question multiple choice test that supposedly determines what kind of a consultant you will be. I'm sure it tests all sorts of reasoning skills, etc, etc and is probably not a bad measure of intelligence, but one test, one day determines how you will perform the rest of your career?--I am not so sure.

Further, this test is only given to advanced degree candidates and not MBAs. Having both a PhD and an MBA, I can say with confidence that PhDs analytical and reasoning skills are far superior to those of a typical why are ADPs the only ones taking this test?--the mystery continues.

I ended up having to take the test 1-week after I was notified about it. Since I had gotten the initial rejection email, I hadn't prepared for the test, case interviews, or anything to do with consulting interviews at all. On the actual test day, there was an ice storm. I made my way to the hotel in Cambridge, barely found it in the ice, and sat down to take my test. There were about 50 people in the room...I think 50 took the test in the morning and 50 took the test in the afternoon.

The test itself wasn't extremely difficult. It was a mix of math and strategy. The most difficult part of taking the test was managing the time....although I will never know my score (they don't share that with you).

After the test we had "break-out" sessions where consultants presented a number of cases to group of interviewees. They went around in a circle and asked us questions about the case and we'd give answers. While, I didn't think I said anything unreasonable, you could definitely tell who had been practicing cases and who hadn't...I felt it was obvious that I hadn't.

At the end of these sessions we were thanked for coming and told that we would hear back in the next day or 2 as to if we were moving on to the next round.

A day later, I got an email that said I would not be moving on to the next round :(

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in McKinsey & Company and for taking the time to participate in our Interview Workshop & Initial Assessment (IWIA). Unfortunately, we will not be inviting you to continue with the interview process. This decision was a difficult one, and was made having looked at all the facts available from your performance at the IWIA and your background and experience. It reflects our best assessment of who, among a group of highly qualified individuals, has the best chance for a successful and personally rewarding career with us. We will not be able to provide individual feedback on this decision.

On behalf of McKinsey, thank you again for taking the time to meet with us.


APD Recruiter
McKinsey & Company


  1. i have the test with them on Tuesday...this has well and truly scared me :(

  2. could you tell whether the questiions in the test were harder than in "sample test" om mckinsey internet page?

  3. I passed the test but failed in the first interview round, it is possible I made an easier test for undergraduates since I was applying as a Business Analyst. I'm a Mechatronics Engineer and anyone with basic math skills can solve this test. I do recommend trying the guide they send you before. Apparently for me the group sessions weren't grades... as far as I know.

  4. Have heard that the questions are much harder in the actual exam than the practice test. I am going for my initial test on Monday - crossing my fingers that the first round goes well ofcourse knowing there is still a whole lot after that. Hoping for the best because I REALLLY want to work at McKinsey.

  5. I did my PST today. The questions were not hard, just long and the test is designed in a way that no one can finish all the questions on time, so they know you will hurry through the last few questions. Sometime I had to make an educated guess, or just an intuition based response, some calculation were mere approximation or reject obviously wrong answers and then select one answer of the two remaining (there is almost two remaining). I have a feeling this test is not about your analytical skills only or your quantitative skills. I believe it is designed to evaluate your personality traits and judgement under pressure. Recall the company who designed it is a psychometric testing company. That is why you never know your score.

  6. The test is only 26 questions, finished the last question in the last minute. The guy above is right that you have to make educated guesses, but there's also some exact calculation involved. Here's a guide with a lot of practice material for the McKinsey PST:

    Hope it helps!

    Good luck!

  7. I’m taking my PST within the next 2 weeks in UK. I will admit, I was nervous at the prospect of writing the PST.

    I just googled around and found there are actually several very good Practice PSTs that are available online. They are claimed to created by a few ex-McKinsey consultants:

    …I more at ease now and hope it will go well. Thanks to everyone for the posts, much appreciated. Hope it helps in your PST preparation:)

  8. MConsultingPrep now has the free One-day-One-Consulting-Questions program on Facebook with everyday questions similar to those on PST and Case Interview. Definitely check it out!

  9. I applied for a Knowledge Center/Research role (non-consulting) and I am scheduled to take this test. I thought it was only for consultants. Oh well, hope I do well.

  10. Doing the PST next week.
    Failed most of the practice tests, should I even bother going for the PST...
    Seems like the PST and I are both on different wavelengths.

    Things I think are LEAST helpful, turn out to be helpful. And things that I think are SUPPORTIVE to the argument turns out it isn't.

    What the hell.

  11. Hi,

    I took the McKinsey PST a while back and as luck would have it became ill the morning before the test.

    I still soldiered on and took the test, as this was the last available time slot to take the test in.

    I did practice the sample tests that McKinsey provided as well as any other material I could get my hands on. As for the test itself, I failed. Whether this was due to illness, unpreparedness or simply not being smart enough, I don't know.

    In mine there were two cases, one was about a company selling luxury boats and would like to enter the leasing market (similar to the automotive industry). Here some comparisons with the automotive market were had to be made, and there were questions about financing the leasing part of the company, either through the company itself, or through a third party financial service provider.

    The other was about a company placing students at teaching positions in high schools for a finders fee. In this case the company considered expanding geographically, and some analysis had to be made on prospective revenue, number of students required to fill the positions etc.

    Here are some lessons that I learned for those who are taking the test.

    The math is pretty easy, just make sure you answer what is being asked. The provided multiple choice answers include those that you would get if you made common errors or answered the wrong question.

    For the strategy questions make sure you interpreter the question and the information correctly. You won't have enough time to read a passage multiple times to understand it.

    Lastly time is always an issue, I only finished 24 of the 26 questions.

    1. Hi Everyone,

      I sat the PST earlier this week and I had the same cases as anonymous, the luxury boat maker looking to lease, the school- placing teachers and a retailer wondering about how to increase sales. I must admit I have ZERO and I do mean ZERO clue as to how I performed on this test. My practice test scores ranged all over the place from 50% correct to 80% correct to an abysmal 30% correct. So yes, after a while I was rightly dazed and confused at what this test was actually measuring. My test was administered at their offices after two 1-1 case interviews - so yes at the end of a long day. I was alone in my test room and here is the break down. I hope this helps ANYONE else out there in a quandry who is about to sit this exam.

      The test is not "math" difficult. BUT it is VERY VERY word and logic difficult. The answers can be typically whittled down to the best 3 or best 2- but from this point on is where the test becomes VERY VERY difficult. It is in this best of 2 situations where the psychometrics of the test take over. You don't have a calculator- you are making estimates and rounding generously to approximate a method of calculation and actual calculation and here is where the devil is in the details. If you misinterpret one single piece of data incorrectly you are done. If you try to go back and find it to make sure you have the right data, you are up against a very fast ticking clock and you still have the actual calculations left to do- I would estimate that roughly 25% of the time you finish your calculation you realize your answer does not match either of your "best 2" available. Now, I have now idea how I performed but I can say this confidently, at this point calculation finished- not seeing your answer as an available best of 2 choice is where most panic and start all over again or chuck it - guess and go timidly on to the next question. DONT DO THIS. This test imho is all about time management and making a best attempt with much data and limited facts.

      I will go one step further and state I don't think this test is even a test at all! McKinsey is far far too intelligent a shop to actually think that 1 test can determine success or failure of such a small pool of extremely sharp and bright candidates. No, instead what I believe this test is about is seeing how said candidates get through the test. Are you able to FINISH it, did you mark your test pages not just the answer key, did you do work in the margins provided, can they "see" you tracking data and attempting to reason it out. They take this in concert with your 1-1s and make a go forward or stop decision on your candidacy. This is all my opinion but I have done the math on this problem and my math very much favors my conclusion. I invite you to do it also. Here is what I did. Find 4-5 of your very brightest buddies- really sharp ones. Give them 8 or 6 questions from ANY of the practice tests floating around. Take their results and compare them. I did this. And guess what? All 5 of my very sharp, Ivy league educated, Masters in Maths, Engineering and Economics scored less than 50%!!! What does that indicate to you? Recall my earlier statements about my personal scores ranging all over the map. What this really brought home to me was that there is NO WAY McKinsey is using this test as a "filter". It would be a monumental failure of a filter if it is measuring analytical ability or logical reasoning. And I stand by this statement on the ground of my canvassing some truly top talent with the actual practice exam questions.

      In summary, the PST is imho a test to see how well you dear candidate handle data/time pressure/quant drills and AMBIGUITY- nothing else.