Problem Solving
McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST) & BCG Potential Test
McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST) & BCG Potential Test
Duration (m)

The perfect plan to study for the McKinsey Problem Solving test (and other paper-based exams) is a 3-step approach!

The perfect plan to study for the McKinsey Problem Solving test (and...
1. Understand the Test
1. Understand the Test

In the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, 26 questions look like a lot but all of them can be perfectly classified into several types of question. Moreover, all questions in each type almost follow the same structure and require the same techniques to complete. We will show you those specific techniques needed for each type of question one-by-one.

Unlike McKinsey PST, BCG Potential Test only offers 4 questions in its public example case. 4 questions is too small a sample size to conclude anything on its question distribution. However, it is worth noticing that all 4 questions are in the Reading Facts category! So do expect to see that type of question a lot in your real BCG Potential Test.

In the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, 26 questions look like...
2. Practice the Test
2. Practice the Test



Now that you can comfortably understand and answer all McKinsey Problem Solving Testquestions, it’s time to bring the time factor in. 9 out of 10 candidates taking the test said that theactual PST is much harder because it is strictly timed. Now let’s bring your preparation to the next level: kill the PSTt in the real testing environment.

So how do you create the real testing environment?

  1. Time yourself! It is tempting to go over the allowed time when you practice at home. Push yourself!
  2. Use no calculator! Time to work out your calculation muscle!
  3. Print the McKinsey Practice test out and pencil it! It is very much different between doing the test on the screen vs. penciling it on paper. You don’t want to do it in the non-real way.
  4. Mentally 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 above three suggestions. To best prepare for that, you have to mentally take the practice as if it were real. Pressure yourself, take pride in it. Have the mindset that if you dont get 70-75% of this practice test correct, you are out! While this is not real (since you are only practicing), it helps you get mentally ready when the real one comes.



    Now that you can comfortably understand and answer...
3. Tighten the skills
3. Tighten the skills



Unlike GMAT or GRE where the supply of practice materials is always available, those of McKinsey PST is much more limited. You will go through all of the practice test very quickly.

What’s left are the skills tested on McKinsey Problem Solving Test! Three most important skills are:

(1) Quantitative proficiency, (2) Reading, and (3) Reasoning.

3.1.Quantitative Proficiency
If you notice in the question classification above, almost 40% of questions on the McKinsey PST require nothing but plain calculations on data/charts presented. No logic, no reasoning, no synthesizing … needed. It would be a huge plus for you to be able to go through these question fast, leaving the valuable time to think through the harder ones.


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 read fast while still catching important points will save you valuable time to spend on answering questions.

Practice reading

  1. 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.
  2. Refer to case studies you have from school and practice reading them. Most case studies will do you good as they generally have a similar type of reading to the Mckinsey PST (i.e: case introduction, company facts, data, etc.)

Lastly, consulting is the exercise of logic and reasoning. The PST does its job: test your sense of logic and reasoning.

If you have not carefully gone through my materials above (i.e: “Understand the Test”), I urge you to do so. There is a lot of in-depth content and practice on logic and reasoning.


    Unlike GMAT or GRE where the supply of...
The McKinsey Problem Solving Test
The Problem Solving Test is a very crucial part of the McKinsey recruiting process. It is where most of the applicant pool is eliminated. Yet there are so few resources to help you prepare for it.
The McKinsey Problem Solving Test

1. What is it?

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


2. Why they need it?

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

Very similar here! McKinsey believes the gap between CV Screening and in-person interviews is too big. The firm may miss many good candidates with bad resumes or may interview many bad candidates who lie on their resume.
At the end of the day, in-person interviews are expensive; the Problem Solving Test is much cheaper to conduct.


3. Future of the McKinsey PST?

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

Also, there is a trend of increasing the usage of paper-based tests by consulting firms. BCG has already been piloting a test called “Potential” in one office.


4. What is the PST format?

The test has 26 multiple choice questions, based on three business cases. Each question has 4 choices. You have exactly 60 minutes to finish the test. No calculator is allowed. You will be provided a watch, pencils, scratch paper, and the test. You will be taking the test either in a big group or alone.


5. What is so hard about this test?

  • You will not have enough time to properly think through each question. If you are going to reach every single word in the case background, do every calculation “asked”,there is simply not enough time. You will need to know how to work through stress and pressure, how to give out “high-probability” answers instead of “exactly-right” answers, 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 as long as I have the right method, I am fine. It’s ok to make a few mistakes here and there, to slow down the process if needed, and to ask for help when necessary. In theProblem Solving Test, the result is what matters. There will be no mercy granted. If you don’t get enough correct answers, you are out.


6. What is the passing score? (Cutoff score)

As with all other parts of the recruiting process, there will be no quota used. As long as you reach a pre-determined bar, you get in. Don’t be intimidated when you walk into a test room with a lot of people. You will just be competing with yourself. There have been many rumours on what the minimum passing score is. No one knows for sure. I personally think that the bar is somewhere between 60 – 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.

1. What is it? The Problem Solving Test is a paper-based...
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