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McKinsey Problem Solving: Six steps to solve any problem and tell a persuasive story

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The McKinsey problem solving process is a series of mindset shifts and structured approaches to thinking about and solving challenging problems. It is a useful approach for anyone working in the knowledge and information economy and needs to communicate ideas to other people.

Over the past several years of creating StrategyU, advising an undergraduates consulting group and running workshops for clients, I have found over and over again that the principles taught on this site and in this guide are a powerful way to improve the type of work and communication you do in a business setting.

When I first set out to teach these skills to the undergraduate consulting group at my alma mater, I was still working at BCG. I was spending my day building compelling presentations, yet was at a loss for how to teach these principles to the students I would talk with at night.

Through many rounds of iteration, I was able to land on a structured process and way of framing some of these principles such that people could immediately apply them to their work.

While the “official” McKinsey problem solving process is seven steps, I have outline my own spin on things – from experience at McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. Here are six steps that will help you solve problems like a McKinsey Consultant:

Step #1: School is over, stop worrying about “what” to make and worry about the process, or the “how”

When I reflect back on my first role at McKinsey, I realize that my biggest challenge was unlearning everything I had learned over the previous 23 years. Throughout school you are asked to do specific things. For example, you are asked to write a 5 page paper on Benjamin Franklin — double spaced, 12 font and answering two or three specific questions.

In school, to be successful you follow these rules as close as you can. However, in consulting there are no rules on the “what.” Typically the problem you are asked to solve is ambiguous and complex — exactly why they hire you. In consulting, you are taught the rules around the “how” and have to then fill in the what.

The “how” can be taught and this entire site is founded on that belief. Here are some principles to get started:

Step #2: Thinking like a consultant requires a mindset shift

There are two pre-requisites to thinking like a consultant. Without these two traits you will struggle:

  • A healthy obsession looking for a “better way” to do things
  • Being open minded to shifting ideas and other approaches

In business school, I was sitting in one class when I noticed that all my classmates were doing the same thing — everyone was coming up with reasons why something should should not be done.

As I’ve spent more time working, I’ve realized this is a common phenomenon. The more you learn, the easier it becomes to come up with reasons to support the current state of affairs — likely driven by the status quo bias — an emotional state that favors not changing things. Even the best consultants will experience this emotion, but they are good at identifying it and pushing forward.

Key point : Creating an effective and persuasive consulting like presentation requires a comfort with uncertainty combined with a slightly delusional belief that you can figure anything out.

Step #3: Define the problem and make sure you are not solving a symptom

Before doing the work, time should be spent on defining the actual problem. Too often, people are solutions focused when they think about fixing something. Let’s say a company is struggling with profitability. Someone might define the problem as “we do not have enough growth.” This is jumping ahead to solutions — the goal may be to drive more growth, but this is not the actual issue. It is a symptom of a deeper problem.

Consider the following information:

  • Costs have remained relatively constant and are actually below industry average so revenue must be the issue
  • Revenue has been increasing, but at a slowing rate
  • This company sells widgets and have had no slowdown on the number of units it has sold over the last five years
  • However, the price per widget is actually below where it was five years ago
  • There have been new entrants in the market in the last three years that have been backed by Venture Capital money and are aggressively pricing their products below costs

In a real-life project there will definitely be much more information and a team may take a full week coming up with a problem statement . Given the information above, we may come up with the following problem statement:

Problem Statement : The company is struggling to increase profitability due to decreasing prices driven by new entrants in the market. The company does not have a clear strategy to respond to the price pressure from competitors and lacks an overall product strategy to compete in this market.

Step 4: Dive in, make hypotheses and try to figure out how to “solve” the problem

Now the fun starts!

There are generally two approaches to thinking about information in a structured way and going back and forth between the two modes is what the consulting process is founded on.

First is top-down . This is what you should start with, especially for a newer “consultant.” This involves taking the problem statement and structuring an approach. This means developing multiple hypotheses — key questions you can either prove or disprove.

Given our problem statement, you may develop the following three hypotheses:

  • Company X has room to improve its pricing strategy to increase profitability
  • Company X can explore new market opportunities unlocked by new entrants
  • Company X can explore new business models or operating models due to advances in technology

As you can see, these three statements identify different areas you can research and either prove or disprove. In a consulting team, you may have a “workstream leader” for each statement.

Once you establish the structure you you may shift to the second type of analysis: a bottom-up approach . This involves doing deep research around your problem statement, testing your hypotheses, running different analysis and continuing to ask more questions. As you do the analysis, you will begin to see different patterns that may unlock new questions, change your thinking or even confirm your existing hypotheses. You may need to tweak your hypotheses and structure as you learn new information.

A project vacillates many times between these two approaches. Here is a hypothetical timeline of a project:

Strategy consulting process

Step 5: Make a slides like a consultant

The next step is taking the structure and research and turning it into a slide. When people see slides from McKinsey and BCG, they see something that is compelling and unique, but don’t really understand all the work that goes into those slides. Both companies have a healthy obsession (maybe not to some people!) with how things look, how things are structured and how they are presented.

They also don’t understand how much work is spent on telling a compelling “story.” The biggest mistake people make in the business world is mistaking showing a lot of information versus telling a compelling story. This is an easy mistake to make — especially if you are the one that did hours of analysis. It may seem important, but when it comes down to making a slide and a presentation, you end up deleting more information rather than adding. You really need to remember the following:

Data matters, but stories change hearts and minds

Here are four quick ways to improve your presentations:

Tip #1 — Format, format, format

Both McKinsey and BCG had style templates that were obsessively followed. Some key rules I like to follow:

  • Make sure all text within your slide body is the same font size (harder than you would think)
  • Do not go outside of the margins into the white space on the side
  • All titles throughout the presentation should be 2 lines or less and stay the same font size
  • Each slide should typically only make one strong point

Tip #2 — Titles are the takeaway

The title of the slide should be the key insight or takeaway and the slide area should prove the point. The below slide is an oversimplification of this:

Example of a single slide

Even in consulting, I found that people struggled with simplifying a message to one key theme per slide. If something is going to be presented live, the simpler the better. In reality, you are often giving someone presentations that they will read in depth and more information may make sense.

To go deeper, check out these 20 presentation and powerpoint tips .

Tip #3 — Have “MECE” Ideas for max persuasion

“MECE” means mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive — meaning all points listed cover the entire range of ideas while also being unique and differentiated from each other.

An extreme example would be this:

  • Slide title: There are seven continents
  • Slide content: The seven continents are North America, South America, Europe, Africa Asia, Antarctica, Australia

The list of continents provides seven distinct points that when taken together are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive . The MECE principle is not perfect — it is more of an ideal to push your logic in the right direction. Use it to continually improve and refine your story.

Applying this to a profitability problem at the highest level would look like this:

Goal: Increase profitability

2nd level: We can increase revenue or decrease costs

3rd level: We can increase revenue by selling more or increasing prices

Each level is MECE. It is almost impossible to argue against any of this (unless you are willing to commit accounting fraud!).

Tip #4 — Leveraging the Pyramid Principle

The pyramid principle is an approach popularized by Barbara Minto and essential to the structured problem solving approach I learned at McKinsey. Learning this approach has changed the way I look at any presentation since.

Here is a rough outline of how you can think about the pyramid principle as a way to structure a presentation:

pyramid principle structure

As you build a presentation, you may have three sections for each hypothesis. As you think about the overall story, the three hypothesis (and the supporting evidence) will build on each other as a “story” to answer the defined problem. There are two ways to think about doing this — using inductive or deductive reasoning:

deductive versus inductive reasoning in powerpoint arguments

If we go back to our profitability example from above, you would say that increasing profitability was the core issue we developed. Lets assume that through research we found that our three hypotheses were true. Given this, you may start to build a high level presentation around the following three points:

example of hypotheses confirmed as part of consulting problem solving

These three ideas not only are distinct but they also build on each other. Combined, they tell a story of what the company should do and how they should react. Each of these three “points” may be a separate section in the presentation followed by several pages of detailed analysis. There may also be a shorter executive summary version of 5–10 pages that gives the high level story without as much data and analysis.

Step 6: The only way to improve is to get feedback and continue to practice

Ultimately, this process is not something you will master overnight. I’ve been consulting, either working for a firm or on my own for more than 10 years and am still looking for ways to make better presentations, become more persuasive and get feedback on individual slides.

The process never ends.

The best way to improve fast is to be working on a great team . Look for people around you that do this well and ask them for feedback. The more feedback, the more iterations and more presentations you make, the better you will become. Good luck!

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll get a kick out of all the free lessons I’ve shared that go a bit deeper. Check them out here .

Do you have a toolkit for business problem solving? I created Think Like a Strategy Consultant as an online course to make the tools of strategy consultants accessible to driven professionals, executives, and consultants. This course teaches you how to synthesize information into compelling insights, structure your information in ways that help you solve problems, and develop presentations that resonate at the C-Level. Click here to learn more or if you are interested in getting started now, enroll in the self-paced version ($497) or hands-on coaching version ($997). Both versions include lifetime access and all future updates.

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Resources >

Mckinsey approach to problem solving.

McKinsey and Company is recognized for its rigorous approach to problem solving. They train their consultants on their seven-step process that anyone can learn.

This resource guides you through that process, largely informed by the McKinsey Staff Paper 66. It also includes a PowerPoint Toolkit with slide templates of each step of the process that you can download and customize for your own use.

You can click any section to go directly there:

Overview of the McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving

Problem solving process.

  • Problem Definition & Problem Statement Worksheet

Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet

Hypothesis trees, issue trees, analyses and workplan, synthesize findings, craft recommendations, distinctiveness practices, harness the power of collaboration, sources and additional reading, download the umbrex toolkit on the mckinsey approach to problem solving.

Problem solving — finding the optimal solution to a given business opportunity or challenge — is the very heart of how consultants create client impact, and considered the most important skill for success at McKinsey.

The characteristic “McKinsey method” of problem solving is a structured, inductive approach that can be used to solve any problem. Using this standardized process saves us from reinventing the problem-solving wheel, and allows for greater focus on distinctiveness in the solution. Every new McKinsey associate must learn this method on his or her first day with the firm.

There are four fundamental disciplines of the McKinsey method:

1. Problem definition

A thorough understanding and crisp definition of the problem.

2. The problem-solving process

Structuring the problem, prioritizing the issues, planning analyses, conducting analyses, synthesizing findings, and developing recommendations.

3. Distinctiveness practices

Constructing alternative perspectives; identifying relationships; distilling the essence of an issue, analysis, or recommendation; and staying ahead of others in the problem-solving process.

4. Collaboratio n

Actively seeking out client, customer, and supplier perspectives, as well as internal and external expert insight and knowledge.

Once the problem has been defined, the problem-solving process proceeds with a series of steps:

  • Structure the problem
  • Prioritize the issues
  • Plan analyses
  • Conduct analyses
  • Synthesize findings
  • Develop recommendations

Not all problems require strict adherence to the process. Some steps may be truncated, such as when specific knowledge or analogies from other industries make it possible to construct hypotheses and associated workplans earlier than their formal place in the process. Nonetheless, it remains important to be capable of executing every step in the basic process.

When confronted with a new and complex problem, this process establishes a path to defining and disaggregating the problem in a way that will allow the team to move to a solution. The process also ensures nothing is missed and concentrates efforts on the highest-impact areas. Adhering to the process gives the client clear steps to follow, building confidence, credibility, and long-term capability.

Problem Definition & Problem Statement Worksheet

The most important step in your entire project is to first carefully define the problem. The problem definition will serve the guide all of the team’s work, so it is critical to ensure that all key stakeholders agree that it is the right problem to be solving.

Problem Statement Worksheet

This is a helpful tool to use to clearly define the problem. There are often dozens of issues that a team could focus on, and it is often not obvious how to define the problem. In any real-life situation, there are many possible problem statements. Your choice of problem statement will serve to constrain the range of possible solutions.

  • Use a question . The problem statement should be phrased as a question, such that the answer will be the solution. Make the question SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant, and time-bound. Example: “How can XYZ Bank close the $100 million profitability gap in two years?”
  • Context . What are the internal and external situations and complications facing the client, such as industry trends, relative position within the industry, capability gaps, financial flexibility, and so on?
  • Success criteria . Understand how the client and the team define success and failure. In addition to any quantitative measures identified in the basic question, identify other important quantitative or qualitative measures of success, including timing of impact, visibility of improvement, client capability building required, necessary mindset shifts, and so on.
  • Scope and constraints . Scope most commonly covers the markets or segments of interest, whereas constraints govern restrictions on the nature of solutions within those markets or segments.
  • Stakeholders . Explore who really makes the decisions — who decides, who can help, and who can block.
  • Key sources of insight . What best-practice expertise, knowledge, and engagement approaches already exist? What knowledge from the client, suppliers, and customers needs to be accessed? Be as specific as possible: who, what, when, how, and why.

The problem definition should not be vague, without clear measures of success. Rather, it should be a SMART definition:

  • Action-oriented

Example situation – A family on Friday evening

Scenario: A mother, a father, and their two teenage children have all arrived home on a Friday at 6 p.m. The family has not prepared dinner for Friday evening. The daughter has lacrosse practice on Saturday and an essay to write for English class due on Monday. The son has theatre rehearsal on both Saturday and Sunday and will need one parent to drive him to the high school both days, though he can get a ride home with a friend. The family dog, a poodle, must be taken to the groomer on Saturday morning. The mother will need to spend time this weekend working on assignments for her finance class she is taking as part of her Executive MBA. The father plans to go on a 100-mile bike ride, which he can do either Saturday or Sunday. The family has two cars, but one is at the body shop. They are trying to save money to pay for an addition to their house.

What is the problem definition?

A statement of facts does not focus the problem solving:

It is 6 p.m. The family has not made plans for dinner, and they are hungry.

A question guides the team towards a solution:

1. What should the family do for dinner on Friday night?

2. Should the family cook dinner or order delivery?

3. What should the family cook for dinner?

4. What should the family cook for dinner that will not require spending more than $40 on groceries?

5. To cook dinner, what do they need to pick up from the supermarket?

6. How can the family prepare dinner within the next hour using ingredients they already have in the house?

In completing the Problem Statement Worksheet, you are prompted to define the key stakeholders.

As you become involved in the problem-solving process, you should expand the question of key stakeholders to include what the team wants from them and what they want from the team, their values and motivations (helpful and unhelpful), and the communications mechanisms that will be most effective for each of them.

Using the Stakeholder Analysis Worksheet allows you to comprehensively identify:

  • Stakeholders
  • What you need from them
  • Where they are
  • What they need from you

The two most helpful techniques for rigorously structuring any problem are hypothesis trees and issue trees. Each of these techniques disaggregates the primary question into a cascade of issues or hypotheses that, when addressed, will together answer the primary question.

A hypothesis tree might break down the same question into two or more hypotheses. 

Example: Alpha Manufacturing, Inc.

Problem Statement: How can Alpha increase EBITDA by $13M (to $50M) by 2025?

The hypotheses might be:

  • Alpha can add $125M revenues by expanding to new customers, adding $8M of EBITDA
  • Alpha can reduce costs to improve EBITDA by $5M

These hypotheses will be further disaggregated into subsidiary hypotheses at the next level of the tree.

The aim at this stage is to structure the problem into discrete, mutually exclusive pieces that are small enough to yield to analysis and that, taken together, are collectively exhaustive.

Articulating the problem as hypotheses, rather than issues, is the preferred approach because it leads to a more focused analysis of the problem. Questions to ask include:

  • Is it testable – can you prove or disprove it?
  • It is open to debate? If it cannot be wrong, it is simply a statement of fact and unlikely to produce keen insight.
  • If you reversed your hypothesis – literally, hypothesized that the exact opposite were true – would you care about the difference it would make to your overall logic?
  • If you shared your hypothesis with the CEO, would it sound naive or obvious?
  • Does it point directly to an action or actions that the client might take?

Quickly developing a powerful hypothesis tree enables us to develop solutions more rapidly that will have real impact. This can sometimes seem premature to clients, who might find the “solution” reached too quickly and want to see the analysis behind it.

Take care to explain the approach (most important, that a hypothesis is not an answer) and its benefits (that a good hypothesis is the basis of a proven means of successful problem solving and avoids “boiling the ocean”).

Often, the team has insufficient knowledge to build a complete hypothesis tree at the start of an engagement. In these cases, it is best to begin by structuring the problem using an issue tree.

An issue tree is best set out as a series of open questions in sentence form. For example, “How can the client minimize its tax burden?” is more useful than “Tax.” Open questions – those that begin with what, how, or why– produce deeper insights than closed ones. In some cases, an issue tree can be sharpened by toggling between issue and hypothesis – working forward from an issue to identify the hypothesis, and back from the hypothesis to sharpen the relevant open question.

Once the problem has been structured, the next step is to prioritize the issues or hypotheses on which the team will focus its work. When prioritizing, it is common to use a two-by-two matrix – e.g., a matrix featuring “impact” and “ease of impact” as the two axes.

Applying some of these prioritization criteria will knock out portions of the issue tree altogether. Consider testing the issues against them all, albeit quickly, to help drive the prioritization process.

Once the criteria are defined, prioritizing should be straightforward: Simply map the issues to the framework and focus on those that score highest against the criteria.

As the team conducts analysis and learns more about the problem and the potential solution, make sure to revisit the prioritization matrix so as to remain focused on the highest-priority issues.

The issues might be:

  • How can Alpha increase revenue?
  • How can Alpha reduce cost?

Each of these issues is then further broken down into deeper insights to solutions.

If the prioritization has been carried out effectively, the team will have clarified the key issues or hypotheses that must be subjected to analysis. The aim of these analyses is to prove the hypotheses true or false, or to develop useful perspectives on each key issue. Now the task is to design an effective and efficient workplan for conducting the analyses.

Transforming the prioritized problem structure into a workplan involves two main tasks:

  • Define the blocks of work that need to be undertaken. Articulate as clearly as possible the desired end products and the analysis necessary to produce them, and estimate the resources and time required.
  • Sequence the work blocks in a way that matches the available resources to the need to deliver against key engagement milestones (e.g., important meetings, progress reviews), as well as to the overall pacing of the engagement (i.e., weekly or twice-weekly meetings, and so on).

A good workplan will detail the following for each issue or hypothesis: analyses, end products, sources, and timing and responsibility. Developing the workplan takes time; doing it well requires working through the definition of each element of the workplan in a rigorous and methodical fashion.

This is the most difficult element of the problem-solving process. After a period of being immersed in the details, it is crucial to step back and distinguish the important from the merely interesting. Distinctive problem solvers seek the essence of the story that will underpin a crisp recommendation for action.

Although synthesis appears, formally speaking, as the penultimate step in the process, it should happen throughout. Ideally, after you have made almost any analytical progress, you should attempt to articulate the “Day 1” or “Week 1” answer. Continue to synthesize as you go along. This will remind the team of the question you are trying to answer, assist prioritization, highlight the logical links of the emerging solution, and ensure that you have a story ready to articulate at all times during the study.

McKinsey’s primary tool for synthesizing is the pyramid principle. Essentially, this principle asserts that every synthesis should explain a single concept, per the “governing thought.” The supporting ideas in the synthesis form a thought hierarchy proceeding in a logical structure from the most detailed facts to the governing thought, ruthlessly excluding the interesting but irrelevant.

While this hierarchy can be laid out as a tree (like with issue and hypothesis trees), the best problem solvers capture it by creating dot-dash storylines — the Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments.

Pyramid Structure for Grouping Arguments

  • Focus on action. Articulate the thoughts at each level of the pyramid as declarative sentences, not as topics. For example, “expansion” is a topic; “We need to expand into the European market” is a declarative sentence.
  • Use storylines. PowerPoint is poor at highlighting logical connections, therefore is not a good tool for synthesis. A storyline will clarify elements that may be ambiguous in the PowerPoint presentation.
  • Keep the emerging storyline visible. Many teams find that posting the storyline or story- board on the team-room wall helps keep the thinking focused. It also helps in bringing the client along.
  • Use the situation-complication-resolution structure. The situation is the reason there is action to be taken. The com- plication is why the situation needs thinking through – typically an industry or client challenge. The resolution is the answer.
  • Down the pyramid: does each governing thought pose a single question that is answered completely by the group of boxes below it?
  • Across: is each level within the pyramid MECE?
  • Up: does each group of boxes, taken together, provide one answer – one “so what?” – that is essentially the governing thought above it?
  • Test the solution. What would it mean if your hypotheses all came true?

Three Horizons of Engagement Planning

It’s useful to match the workplan to three horizons:

  • What is expected at the end of the engagement
  • What is expected at key progress reviews
  • What is due at daily and/or weekly team meetings

The detail in the workplan will typically be greater for the near term (the next week) than for the long term (the study horizon), especially early in a new engagement when considerable ambiguity about the end state remains.

It is at this point that we address the client’s questions: “What do I do, and how do I do it?” This means not offering actionable recommendations, along with a plan and client commitment for implementation.

The essence of this step is to translate the overall solution into the actions required to deliver sustained impact. A pragmatic action plan should include:

  • Relevant initiatives, along with a clear sequence, timing, and mapping of activities required
  • Clear owners for each initiative
  • Key success factors and the challenges involved in delivering on the initiatives

Crucial questions to ask as you build recommendations for organizational change are:

  • Does each person who needs to change (from the CEO to the front line) understand what he or she needs to change and why, and is he or she committed to it?
  • Are key leaders and role models throughout the organization personally committed to behaving differently?
  • Has the client set in place the necessary formal mechanisms to reinforce the desired change?
  • Does the client have the skills and confidence to behave in the desired new way?

Great problem solvers identify unique disruptions and discontinuities, novel insights, and step-out opportunities that lead to truly distinctive impact. This is done by applying a number of practices throughout the problem-solving process to help develop these insights.

Expand: Construct multiple perspectives

Identifying alternative ways of looking at the problem expands the range of possibilities, opens you up to innovative ideas, and allows you to formulate more powerful hypotheses. Questions that help here include:

  • What changes if I think from the perspective of a customer, or a supplier, or a frontline employee, or a competitor?
  • How have other industries viewed and addressed this same problem?
  • What would it mean if the client sought to run the company like a low-cost airline or a cosmetics manufacturer?

Link: Identify relationships

Strong problem solvers discern connections and recognize patterns in two different ways:

  • They seek out the ways in which different problem elements – issues, hypotheses, analyses, work elements, findings, answers, and recommendations – relate to one another.
  • They use these relationships throughout the basic problem-solving process to identify efficient problem-solving approaches, novel solutions, and more powerful syntheses.

Distill: Find the essence

Cutting through complexity to identify the heart of the problem and its solution is a critical skill.

  • Identify the critical problem elements. Are there some issues, approaches, or options that can be eliminated completely because they won’t make a significant difference to the solution?
  • Consider how complex the different elements are and how long it will take to complete them. Wherever possible, quickly advance simpler parts of the problem that can inform more complex or time-consuming elements.

Lead: Stay ahead/step back

Without getting ahead of the client, you cannot be distinctive. Paradoxically, to get ahead – and stay ahead – it is often necessary to step back from the problem to validate or revalidate the approach and the solution.

  • Spend time thinking one or more steps ahead of the client and team.
  • Constantly check and challenge the rigor of the underlying data and analysis.
  • Stress-test the whole emerging recommendation
  • Challenge the solution against a set of hurdles. Does it satisfy the criteria for success as set out on the Problem Statement Worksheet?

No matter how skilled, knowledgeable, or experienced you are, you will never create the most distinctive solution on your own. The best problem solvers know how to leverage the power of their team, clients, the Firm, and outside parties. Seeking the right expertise at the right time, and leveraging it in the right way, are ultimately how we bring distinctiveness to our work, how we maximize efficiency, and how we learn.

When solving a problem, it is important to ask, “Have I accessed all the sources of insight that are available?” Here are the sources you should consider:

  • Your core team
  • The client’s suppliers and customers
  • Internal experts and knowledge
  • External sources of knowledge
  • Communications specialists

The key here is to think open, not closed. Opening up to varied sources of data and perspectives furthers our mission to develop truly innovative and distinctive solutions for our clients.

  • McKinsey Staff Paper 66 — not published by McKinsey but possibly found through an internet search
  • The McKinsey Way , 1999, by Ethan M. Rasiel

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McKinsey Solve

  • Fundamentals
  • How it works
  • Skills tested
  • How to prepare
  • A guide to the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

MCC is here to help

McKinsey’s Solve assessment has been making candidates sweat ever since it was initially trialled at the firm’s London office back in 2017 - and things have gotten even more difficult since a new version launched in Spring 2023, adding the Redrock case study.

More recently, in Summer 2023, we have seen a new iteration of that Redrock case, as we continue to interview test takers to keep you updated. This replaces the case study about optimising wolf pack populations across Redrock Island with one about boosting the overall plant biodiversity on the same island.

Since its initial roll-out, the Solve assessment has definitely been the most idiosyncratic, but also the most advanced, of the screening tests used by the MBB firms.

It can be hard to understand how an ecology-themed video game can tell McKinsey whether you’ll make a good management consultant, let alone know how to prepare yourself to do well in that game. When you consider that McKinsey are potentially cutting 70%+ of the applicant pool based on this single test, you can hardly blame applicants for being worried.

Matters are definitely not helped by the dearth of reliable, up-to-date information about what could very well be - with a top-tier consulting job on the line - the most important test you will take over your entire career. This was already true with the version of Solve that had been around for a few years, let alone the new iterations.

What information is available online is then often contradictory. For a long time, there was huge disagreement as to whether it is actually possible to meaningfully prepare for the Solve assessment - before you’ve even considered how to go about that preparation. There is also a lot of confusion and inaccuracy around the new Redrock case - largely as it is such a recent addition, and individual test takers tend to misremember details.

Luckily, we at MCC have been interviewing test takers both before and after the Redrock case rollout and have been following up to see which strategies and approaches actually work to push individuals through to interview.

Here, we’ll explain that it is indeed possible to prepare effectively for both versions of Solve and give you some ideas for how you can get started. Understanding how the Solve assessment works, what it tests you for and how is critical for all but the most hurried preparations.

This article makes for a great introduction to the Solve assessment. However, if you are going to be facing this aptitude test yourself and want full information and advice for preparation, then you should ideally get our full PDF guide:

Master the Solve Assessment

What is the mckinsey solve assessment.

In simple terms, the McKinsey Solve assessment is a set of ecology-themed video games. In these games, you must do things like build food chains, protect endangered species, manage predator and prey populations, boost biodiversity and potentially diagnose diseases within animal populations or identify natural disasters.

Usually, you will be given around 70 minutes to complete two separate games, spending about the same amount of time on each.

Until recently, these games had uniformly been Ecosystem Building and Plant Defence. However, since Spring 2023, McKinsey has been rolling out a new version across certain geographies. This replaces the Plant Defence game with the new Redrock case study. Some other games have also been run as tests.

We’ll run through a little more on all these games below to give you an idea of what you’ll be up against for both versions and possible new iterations.

An important aspect that we'll cover in more detail here is that the Solve games don't only score you on your answers (your "product score"), but also on the method you use to arrive at them (your "process score") - considerably impacting optimal strategy.

In the past, candidates had to show up to a McKinsey office and take what was then the Digital Assessment or PSG on a company computer. However, candidates are now able to take the re-branded Solve assessment at home on their own computers.

Test takers are allowed to leverage any assistance they like (you aren’t spied on through your webcam as you would be with some other online tests), and it is common to have a calculator or even another computer there to make use of.

Certainly, we strongly advise every candidate to have at least a pen, paper and calculator on their desk when they take the Solve assessment.

Common Question: Is the Solve assessment the same thing as the PSG?

In short, yes - “Solve” is just the newer name for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game.

We want to clear up any potential confusion right at the beginning. You will hear this same screening test called a few different things in different places. The Solve moniker itself is a relatively recent re-branding by McKinsey. Previously, the same test was known as either the Problem Solving Game (usually abbreviated to PSG) or the Digital Assessment. You will also often see that same test referred to as the Imbellus test or game, after the firm that created the first version.

You will still see all these names used across various sites and forums - and even within some older articles and blog posts here on MyConsultingCoach. McKinsey has also been a little inconsistent on what they call their own assessment internally. Candidates can often become confused when trying to do their research, but you can rest assured that all these names refer to the same screening test - though, of course, folk might be referring to either the legacy or Redrock versions.

How and why does McKinsey use the Solve assessment?

It’s useful to understand where the Solve assessment fits into McKinsey’s overall selection process and why they have felt the need to include it.

Let’s dive right in…

How is the Solve Assessment used by McKinsey?

McKinsey's own account of how the Solve assessment is used in selection can be seen in the following video:

Whilst some offices initially stuck with the old PST, the legacy Solve assessment was soon rolled out globally and given universally to candidates for roles at pretty well every level of the hierarchy. Certainly, if you are a recent grad from a Bachelor’s, MBA, PhD or similar, or a standard experienced hired, you can expect to be asked to complete the Solve assessment.

Likewise, the new Redrock case study versions seem to be in the process of being rolled out globally - though at this point it seems you might be given either (especially as McKinsey has been having significant technical problems with this new online case study) and so should be ready for both.

At present, it seems that only those applying for very senior positions, or perhaps those with particularly strong referrals and/or connections, are allowed to skip the test. Even this will be office-dependent.

As noted above, one of the advantages of the Solve assessment is that it can be given to all of McKinsey’s hires. Thus, you can expect to be run into the same games whether you are applying as a generalist consultant or to a specialist consulting role - with McKinsey Digital , for example.

The takeaway here is that, if you are applying to McKinsey for any kind of consulting role, you should be fully prepared to sit the Solve Assessment!

Where does the Solve assessment fit into the recruitment process?

You can expect to receive an invitation to take the Solve assessment shortly after submitting your resume.

It seems that an initial screen of resumes is made, but that most individuals who apply are invited to take the Solve assessment.

Any initial screen is not used to make a significant cut of the candidate pool, but likely serves mostly to weed out fraudulent applications from fake individuals (such as those wishing to access the Solve assessment more than once so they can practice...) and perhaps to eliminate a few individuals who are clearly far from having the required academic or professional background, or have made a total mess of their resumes.

Your email invitation will generally give you either one or two weeks to complete the test, though our clients have seen some variation here - with one individual being given as little as three days.

Certainly, you should plan to be ready to sit the Solve assessment within one week of submitting your resume!

Once you have completed the test, McKinsey explain on their site that they look at both your test scores and resume (in more detail this time) to determine who will be invited to live case interviews. This will only be around 30% of the candidates who applied - possibly even fewer.

One thing to note here is that you shouldn’t expect a good resume to make up for bad test scores and vice versa. We have spoken to excellent candidates whose academic and professional achievements were not enough to make up for poor Solve performance. Similarly, we don’t know of anyone invited to interview who hadn’t put together an excellent resume.

Blunty, you need great Solve scores and a great resume to be advanced to interview.

Your first port of call to craft the best possible resume and land your invitation to interview is our excellent free consulting resume guide .

Why does this test exist?

Screenshot of an island from the McKinsey Solve assessment

As with Bain, BCG and other major management consulting firms, McKinsey receives far far more applications for each position than they can ever hope to interview. Compounding this issue is that case interviews are expensive and inconvenient for firms like McKinsey to conduct. Having a consultant spend a day interviewing just a few candidates means disrupting a whole engagement and potentially having to fly that consultant back to their home office from wherever their current project was located. This problem is even worse for second-round interviews given by partners.

Thus, McKinsey need to cut down their applicant pool as far as possible, so as to shrink the number of case interviews they need to give without losing the candidates they actually want to hire. Of course, they want to accomplish this as cheaply and conveniently as possible.

The Problem Solving Test (invariably shortened to PST) had been used by McKinsey for many years. However, it had a number of problems that were becoming more pronounced over time, and it was fundamentally in need of replacement. Some of these were deficiencies with the test itself, though many were more concerned with how the test fitted with the changing nature of the consulting industry.

The Solve assessment was originally developed and iterated by the specialist firm Imbellus ( now owned by gaming giant Roblox ) to replace the long-standing PST in this screening role and offers solutions to those problems with its predecessor.

We could easily write a whole article on what McKinsey aimed to gain from the change, but the following few points cover most of the main ideas:

  • New Challenges: Previously, candidates were largely coming out of MBAs or similar business-focussed backgrounds and the PST’s quickfire business questions were thus perfectly sufficient to select for non-technical generalist consulting roles. However, as consulting projects increasingly call for a greater diversity and depth of expertise, McKinsey cannot assume the most useful talent – especially for technical roles – is going to come with pre-existing business expertise. A non-business aptitude test was therefore required.
  • Fairness and the Modern Context: The covid pandemic necessitated at-home aptitude testing. However, even aside from this, online testing dramatically reduces the amount of travel required of candidates. This allows McKinsey to cast a wider net, providing more opportunities to those living away from hub cities, whilst also hugely reducing the carbon footprint associated with the McKinsey selection process.
  • Gaming the System: More pragmatically, the Solve assessment is a much harder test to “game” than was the PST, where highly effective prep resources were available and readily allowed a bad candidate with good preparation to do better than a good candidate. The fact that game parameters change for every individual test taker further cuts down the risk of candidates benefitting from shared information. The recent move towards the Redrock version then also helps McKinsey stay ahead of those developing prep resources for the legacy Solve assessment.
  • Cost Cutting: A major advantage of scrapping the old pen-and-paper PST is that the formidable task of thinning down McKinsey’s applicant pool can be largely automated. No test rooms and invigilation staff need to be organised and no human effort is required to devise, transport, catalogue and mark papers.

Impress your interviewer

Group of blue fish in a coral reef

There has been a bit of variation in the games included in the Solve assessment/PSG over the years and what specific form those games take. Imbellus and McKinsey had experimented with whole new configurations as well as making smaller, iterative tweaks over time. That being said, the new 2023 Redrock case studies (seemingly added by McKinsey themselves without Imbellus) are by far the largest change to Solve since that assessment's genesis back in 2017.

Given that innovation seems to continue (especially with the lengthy feedback forms some candidates are being asked to fill in after sitting the newest iteration), there is always the chance you might be the first to receive something new.

However, our surveys of, and interviews with, those taking the Solve assessment - both before and after recent changes - mean we can give you a good idea of what to expect if you are presented with either the legacy or one of the Redrock versions of Solve.

We provide much more detailed explanation of each of the games in our Solve Assessment PDF Guide - including guidance on optimal scenarios to maximise your performance. Here, though, we can give a quick overview of each scenario:

Ecosystem Building

Screenshot showing the species data from the ecosystem building game

In this scenario, you are asked to assemble a self-sustaining ecosystem in either an aquatic, alpine or jungle environment (though do not be surprised if environments are added, as this should be relatively easy to do without changing the underlying mechanics).

The game requires you to select a location for your ecosystem. Several different options are given, all with different prevailing conditions. You then have to select a number of different plant and animal species to populate a functioning food chain within that location.

In previous versions of the game, you would have had to fit as many different species as possible into a functioning food chain. However, newer iterations of the Solve assessment require a fixed number of eight or, more recently, seven species to be selected.

Species selection isn’t a free-for-all. You must ensure that all the species you select are compatible with one another - that the predator species you select are able to eat the prey you have selected for them etc. All the species must also be able to survive in the conditions prevailing at the location you have selected.

So far, this sounds pretty easy. However, the complexity arises from the strict rules around the manner and order in which the different species eat one another. We run through these in detail in our guide, with tips for getting your food chain right. However, the upshot is that you are going to have to spend some significant time checking your initial food chain - and then likely iterating it and replacing one or more species when it turns out that the food chain does not adhere to the eating rules.

Once you have decided on your food chain, you simply submit it and are moved on to the next game. In the past, test takers were apparently shown whether their solution was correct or not, but this is no longer the case.

Test takers generally report that this game is the easier of the two, whether it is paired with the Plant Defence game in the legacy Solve or the Redrock case study in the new version. Candidates will not usually struggle to assemble a functioning ecosystem and do not find themselves under enormous time pressure. Thus, we can assume that process scores will be the main differentiator between individuals for this component of the Solve assessment.

For ideas on how to optimise your process score for this game, you can see our PDF Solve guide .

Plant Defence

Screenshot showing the plant defence game in progress

As mentioned, this game has been replaced with the Redrock case study in the new newer version of the Solve assessment, rolled out from Spring 2023 and further iterated in Summer 2023. However, you might still be asked to sit the legacy version, with this game, when applying to certain offices - so you should be ready for it!

This scenario tasks you with protecting an endangered plant species from invasive species trying to destroy it.

The game set-up is much like a traditional board game, with play taking place over a square area of terrain divided into a grid of the order of 10x10 squares.

Your plant is located in a square near the middle of the grid and groups of invaders - shown as rats, foxes or similar - enter from the edges of the grid before making a beeline towards your plant.

Your job then is to eliminate the invaders before they get to your plant. You do this by placing defences along their path. These can be terrain features, such as mountains or forests, that either force the invaders to slow down their advance or change their path to move around an obstacle. To actually destroy the invaders though, you use animal defenders, like snakes or eagles, that are able to deplete the groups of invaders as they pass by their area of influence.

Complication here comes from a few features of the game. In particular:

  • You are restricted in terms of both the numbers of different kinds of defenders you can use and where you are allowed to place them. Thus, you might only have a couple of mountains to place and only be allowed to place these in squares adjacent to existing mountains.
  • The main complication is the fact that gameplay is not dynamic but rather proceeds in quite a restricted turnwise manner. By this, we mean that you cannot place or move around your defences continuously as the invaders advance inwards. Rather, turns alternate between you and invaders and you are expected to plan your use of defences in blocks of five turns at once, with only minimal allowance for you to make changes on the fly as the game develops.

The plant defence game is split into three mini-games. Each mini-game is further split into three blocks of five turns. On the final turn, the game does not stop, but continues to run, with the invaders in effect taking more and more turns whilst you are not able to place any more defences or change anything about your set-up.

More and more groups of invaders pour in, and your plant will eventually be destroyed. The test with this “endgame” is simply how many turns your defences can stand up to the surge of invaders before they are overwhelmed.

As opposed to the Ecosystem Building scenario, there are stark differences in immediate candidate performance - and thus product score - in this game. Some test takers’ defences will barely make it to the end of the standard 15 turns, whilst others will survive 50+ turns of endgame before they are overwhelmed.

In this context, as opposed to the Ecosystem Building game typically preceding it, it seems likely that product score will be the primary differentiator between candidates.

We have a full discussion of strategies to optimise your defence placement - and thus boost your product score - in our Solve guide .

Redrock Case Study

Pack of wolves running through snow, illustrating the wolf packs central to the Redrock case study

This is the replacement for the Plant Defence game in the newest iteration of Solve.

One important point to note is that, where the Solve assessment contains this case study, you have a strict, separate time limit of 35 minutes for each half of the assessment. You cannot finish one game early and use the extra time in the other, as you could in the legacy Solve assessment.

McKinsey has had significant issues with this case study, with test takers noting several major problems. In particular:

  • Glitches/crashes - Whilst the newest, Summer 2023 version seems to have done a lot to address this issue, many test takers have had the Redrock case crash on them. Usually, this is just momentary and the assessment returns to where it was in a second or two. If this happens to you, try to just keep calm and carry on. However, there are reports online of some candidates having the whole Solve assessment crash and being locked out as a result. If this happens, contact HR.
  • Poor interface - Even where there are no explicit glitches, users note that several aspects of the interface are difficult to use and/or finicky, and that they generally seem poorly designed compared to the older Ecosystem Building game preceding it. For example, test takers have noted that navigation is difficult or unclear and the drag and drop feature for data points is temperamental - all of this costing precious time.
  • Confusing language - Related to the above is that the English used is often rather convoluted and sometimes poorly phrased. This can be challenging even for native English speakers but is even worse for those sitting Solve in their second language. It can make the initial instructions difficult to understand - compounding the previous interface problem. It can also make questions difficult, requiring a few readings to comprehend.
  • Insufficient time - Clearly, McKinsey intended for Redrock to be time pressured. Whilst the newest, Summer 2023 iteration of the Redrock case seems slightly more forgiving in this regard, time is still so scarce that many candidates don't get through all the questions. This is plainly sub-optimal for McKinsey - as well as being stressful and disheartening for candidates. We would expect further changes to be made to address this issue in future.

McKinsey are clearly aware of these issues, as even those sitting the new version of Redrock have been asked to complete substantial feedback surveys. Do note, then, that this raises the likelihood of further changes to the Redrock case study in the near term - meaning you should always be ready to tackle something new.

For the time being, though, we can take you through the fundamentals of the current version of the Redrock case study. For more detail, see our freshly updated PDF Guide .

The Scenario

Whilst changes to the details are likely in future, the current Redrock case study is set on the Island of Redrock. This island is a nature reserve with populations of various species, including wolves, elk and several varieties of plant.

In the original Redrock case, it is explained that the island's wolves are split into four packs, associated with four geographical locales. These packs predate the elk and depend upon them for food, such that there is a dynamic relationship between the population numbers of both species. Your job is to ensure ecological balance by optimising the numbers of wolves in the four packs, such that both wolves and elk can sustainably coexist.

In the newer iteration of the case, first observed in Summer 2023, you are asked to assess which, if any, of three possible strategies can successfully boost the island's plant biodiversity by a certain specified percentage. Plants here are segmented into grasses, trees and shrubs.

The Questions

The Redrock case study's questions were initially split into three sections, but a fourth was added later. These sections break down as follows:

  • Investigation - Here, you have access to the full description of the case, with all the data on the various animal populations. Your task is to efficiently extract all the most salient data points and drag-and-drop them to your "Research Journal" workspace area. This is important, as you subsequently lose access to all the information you don't save at this stage.
  • Analysis - You must answer three numerical questions using information you saved in the Investigation section. This can include you dragging and dropping values to and from an in-game calculator.
  • Report - Formerly the final section, you must complete a pre-written report on the wolf populations or plant biodiversity levels, including calculating numerical values to fill in gaps and using an in-game interface to make a chart to illustrate your findings. You will leverage information saved in the Investigation section, as well as answers calculated in the Analysis section.
  • Case Questions - This section adds a further ten individual case questions. These are wolf-themed, so are thematically similar to the original Redrock case, but are slightly incongruous with the newer, plant-themed version of Redrock. In both instances, though, these questions are entirely separable from the main case preceding them, not relying on any information from the previous sections. The ten questions are highly quantitative and extremely time pressured. Few test takers finish them before being timed out.

This is a very brief summary - more detail is available in our PDF Guide .

Other Games - Disease and Disaster Identification

Screenshot of a wolf and beaver in a forest habitat from the Solve assessment

There have been accounts of some test takers being given a third game as part of their Solve assessment. At time of writing, these third games have always been clearly introduced as non-scored beta tests for Imbellus to try out potential new additions to the assessment. However, the fact that these have been tested means that there is presumably a good chance we’ll see them as scored additions in future.

Notably, these alternative scenarios are generally variations on a fairly consistent theme and tend to share a good deal of the character of the Ecosystem Building game. Usually, candidates will be given a whole slew of information on how an animal population has changed over time. They will then have to wade through that information to figure out either which kind of natural disaster or which disease has been damaging that population - the commonality with the Ecosystem Building game being in the challenge of dealing with large volumes of information and figuring out which small fraction of it is actually relevant.

Join thousands of other candidates cracking cases like pros

What does the solve assessment test for.

Chart from Imbellus showing how they test for different related cognitive traits

Whilst information on the Solve assessment can be hard to come by, Imbellus and McKinsey have at least been explicit on what traits the test was designed to look for. These are:

Diagram showing the five cognitive traits examined by the Solve Assessment

  • Critical Thinking : making judgements based on the objective analysis of information
  • Decision Making : choosing the best course of action, especially under time pressure or with incomplete information
  • Metacognition : deploying appropriate strategies to tackle problems efficiently
  • Situational Awareness : the ability to interpret and subsequently predict an environment
  • Systems Thinking : understanding the complex causal relationships between the elements of a system

Equally important to understanding the raw facts of the particular skillset being sought out, though, is understanding the very idiosyncratic ways in which the Solve assessment tests for these traits.

Let's dive deeper:

Process Scores

Perhaps the key difference between the Solve assessment and any other test you’ve taken before is Imbellus’s innovation around “process scores”.

To explain, when you work through each of the games, the software examines the solutions you generate to the various problems you are faced with. How well you do here is measured by your “product score”.

However, scoring does not end there. Rather, Solve's software also constantly monitors and assesses the method you used to arrive at that solution. The quality of the method you used is then captured in your “process score”.

To make things more concrete here, if you are playing the Ecosystem Building game, you will not only be judged on whether the ecosystem you put together is self-sustaining. You will also be judged on the way you have worked in figuring out that ecosystem - presumably, on how efficient and organised you were. The program tracks all your mouse clicks and other actions and will thus be able to capture things like how you navigate around the various groups of species, how you place the different options you select, whether you change your mind before you submit the solution and so on.

You can find more detail on these advanced aspects of the Solve assessment and the innovative work behind it in the presentation by Imbellus founder Rebecca Kantar in the first section of the following video:

Compared to other tests, this is far more like the level of assessment you face from an essay-based exam, where the full progression of your argument towards a conclusion is marked - or a maths exam, where you are scored on your working as well as the final answer (with, of course, the major advantage that there is no highly qualified person required to mark papers).

Clearly, the upshot of all this is that you will want to be very careful how you approach the Solve assessment. You should generally try to think before you act and to show yourself in a very rational, rigorous, ordered light.

We have some advice to help look after your process scores in our PDF Guide to the McKinsey Solve Assessment .

A Different Test for Every Candidate

Another remarkable and seriously innovative aspect of the Solve assessment is that no two candidates receive exactly the same test.

Imbellus automatically varies the parameters of their games to be different for each individual test taker, so that each will be given a meaningfully different game to everyone else’s.

Within a game, this might mean a different terrain setting, having a different number of species or different types of species to work with or more or fewer restrictions on which species will eat which others.

Consequently, even if your buddy takes the assessment for the same level role at the same office just the day before you do, whatever specific strategy they used in their games might very well not work for you.

This is an intentional feature designed to prevent test takers from sharing information with one another and thus advantaging some over others. At the extreme, this feature would also be a robust obstacle to any kind of serious cheating.

To manage to give every candidate a different test and still be able to generate a reliable ranking of those candidates across a fundamental skillset, without that test being very lengthy, is a considerable achievement from Imbellus. At high level, this would seem to be approximately equivalent to reliably extracting a faint signal from a very noisy background on the first attempt almost every time.

(Note that we are yet to confirm to what extent and how this also happens with the new Redrock case studies, but it seems to be set up to allow for easy changes to be made to the numerical values describing the case, so we assume there will be similar, widespread of variation.)

Preparation for the McKinsey Solve assessment

Understanding what the Solve assessment tests for immediately begs the question as to whether it is possible to usefully prepare and, if so, what that preparation should look like.

Is it Really Possible to Prepare for the McKinsey Solve Assessment?

Clown fish swimming in a coral reef

In short, yes you can - and you should!

As noted previously, there has been a lot of disagreement over whether it is really possible to prep for the Solve assessment in a way that actually makes a difference.

Especially for the legacy version, there has been a widespread idea that the Solve assessment functions as something like an IQ test, so that preparation beyond very basic familiarisation to ensure you don’t panic on test day will not do anything to reliably boost your scores (nobody is going to build up to scoring an IQ of 200 just by doing practice tests, for example).

This rationale says that the best you can do is familiarise yourself with what you are up against to calm your nerves and avoid misunderstanding instructions on test day. However, this school of thought says there will be minimal benefit from practice and/or skill building.

The utility of preparation has become a clearer with the addition of the Redrock case study to the new version of Solve. Its heavily quantitative nature, strong time pressure and structure closely resembling a traditional business case make for a clearer route to improvement.

However, as we explain in more detail in our PDF guide to the Solve assessment, the idea that any aspect of either version of Solve can't be prepared for has been based on some fundamental misunderstandings about what kind of cognitive traits are being tested. Briefly put, the five key skills the Solve assessment explicitly examines are what are known as higher-order thinking skills.

Crucially, these are abilities that can be meaningfully built over time.

McKinsey and Imbellus have generally advised that you shouldn’t prepare. However, this is not the same as saying that there is no benefit in doing so. McKinsey benefits from ensuring as even a playing field as possible. To have the Solve test rank candidates based purely on their pre-existing ability, they would ideally wish for a completely unprepared population.

How to prep

Two stingrays and a shark swimming in blue water, lit from above

We discuss how to prep for the Solve assessment in full detail in our PDF guide . Here, though, we can give you a few initial pointers to get you started. In particular, there are some great ways to simulate different games as well as build up the skills the Solve assessment tests for.

Playing video games is great prep for the legacy Solve assessment in particular, but remains highly relevant to the new Redrock version.

Contrary to what McKinsey and Imbellus have said - and pretty unfortunately for those of us with other hobbies - test takers have consistently said that they reckoned the Problem Solving Game, and now the Solve assessment, favours those with strong video gaming experience.

If you listened when your parents told you video games were a waste of time and really don’t have any experience, then putting in some hours on pretty much anything will be useful. However, the closer the games you play are to the Solve scenarios, the better. We give some great recommendations on specific games and what to look for more generally in our Solve guide - including one free-to-play game that our clients have found hugely useful as prep for the plant defence game!

PST-Style Questions

The inclusion of the Redrock case studies in the new version of Solve really represents a return to something like a modernised PST. Along with the similar new BCG Casey assessment, this seems to be the direction of travel for consulting recruitment in general.

Luckily, this means that you can leverage the wealth of existing PST-style resources to your advantage in preparation.

Our PST article - which links to some free PST questions and our full PST prep resources - is a great place to start. However, better than old-fashioned PDF question sets are the digital PST-style questions embedded in our Case Academy course . Conducted online with a strict timer running, these are a much closer approximation of the Solve assessment itself. These questions are indeed a subset of our Case Academy course, but are also available separately in our Course Exercises package .

Quick Mathematics With a Calculator and/or Excel

Again, specifically for the Redrock assessment, you will be expected to solve math problems very quickly. The conceptual level of mathematics required is not particularly high, but you need to know what you are doing and get through it fast using a calculator nand/or Excel, if you are already comfortable with that program.

Our article on consulting math is a great place to start to understand what is expected of you throughout the recruiting process, with our consulting math package (a subset of our Case Academy course) providing more in-depth lessons and practice material.

Learn to Solve Case Studies

With the Redrock case studies clearly being ecology-themed analogues to standard business case studies, it's pretty obvious that getting good at case studies will be useful.

However, the Solve assessment as a whole is developed and calibrated to be predictive of case interview performance, so you can expect that improving your case solving ability will indirectly bring up your performance across the board.

Of course, this overlaps with your prep for McKinsey's case interviews. For more on how to get started there, see the final section of this article.

Learning About Optimal Strategies for the Games

The first thing to do is to familiarise yourself with the common game scenarios from the Solve assessment and how you can best approach them to help boost your chances of success.

Now, one thing to understand is that, since the parameters for the games change for each test taker, there might not be a single definitive optimal strategy for every single possible iteration of a particular game. As such, you shouldn’t rely on just memorising one approach and hoping it matches up to what you get on test day.

Instead, it is far better to understand why a strategy is sensible in some circumstances and when it might be better to do something else instead if the version of the game you personally receive necessitates a different approach.

In this article, we have given you a useful overview of the games currently included in the Solve assessment. However, a full discussion with suggested strategies is provided in our comprehensive Solve guide .

With the limited space available here, this is only a very brief sketch of a subset of the ways you can prep.

As noted, what will help with all of these and more is reading the extensive prep guidance in our full PDF guide to the Solve assessment...

The MCC Solve Assessment Guide

Preparing for the Solve assessment doesn’t have to be a matter of stumbling around on your own. This article is a good introduction. From here, though our new, updated PDF guide to the McKinsey Solve assessment is your first stop to optimise your Solve preparation.

This guide is based on our own survey work and interviews with real test takers, as well as iterative follow-ups on how the advice in previous editions worked out in reality.

Does it make sense to invest in a guide?

Short answer: yes. If you just think about the financials, a job at McKinsey is worth millions in the long run. If you factor in experience, personal growth and exit opportunities, the investment is a no-brainer.

How our guide can help you ace the test

Don't expect some magic tricks to game the system (because you can't), but rather an in-depth analysis of key areas crucial to boost your scores. This helps you to:

As noted, the guide is based on interviews with real recent test takers and covers the current games in detail. Being familiar with the game rules, mechanics and potential strategies in advance will massively reduce the amount of new information you have to assimilate from scratch on test day, allowing you to focus on the actual problems at hand.

Despite the innovative environment, the Solve assessment tests candidates for the same skills evaluated in case interviews, albeit on a more abstract level. Our guide breaks these skills down and provides a clear route to develop them. You also benefit from the cumulative experience of our clients, as we have followed up to see which prep methods and game strategies were genuinely helpful.

A clear plan of how to prepare is instrumental for success. Our guide includes a detailed, flexible preparation strategy, leveraging a whole host of diverse prep activities to help you practice and build your skills as effectively as possible. Importantly, our guide helps you prioritise the most effective aspects of preparation to optimise for whatever timeframe you have to work in.

Overall, the MyConsultingCoach Solve guide is designed to be no-nonsense and straight to the point. It tells you what you need to know up front and - for those of you in a hurry - crucial sections are clearly marked to read first to help you prep ASAP.

For those of you starting early with more time to spare, there is also a fully detailed, more nuanced discussion of what the test is looking for and how you can design a more long-term prep to build up the skills you need - and how this can fit into your wider case interview prep.

Importantly, there is no fluff to bulk out the page count. The market is awash with guides at huge page counts, stuffed full of irrelevant material to boost overall document length. By contrast, we realise your time is better spent actually preparing than ploughing through a novel.

If this sounds right for you, you can purchase our PDF Solve guide here:

McKinsey Solve Assessment Guide

  • Full guide to both the legacy version of the Solve assessment and the newer Redrock Case Study versions
  • In-depth description of the different games and strategies to beat them
  • Preparation strategies for the short, medium and long-term prep
  • No fluff - straight to the point, with specific tips for those without much time
  • Straight to your inbox
  • 30 days money-back guarantee, no questions asked. Simply email us and we will refund the full amount.

The Next Step - Case Interviews

Male interviewer with laptop administering a case study to a female interviewee

So, you pour in the hours to generate an amazing resume and cover letter. You prepare diligently for the Solve assessment, going through our PDF guide and implementing all the suggestions. On test day, you sit down and ace Solve. The result is an invitation to a live McKinsey case interview.

Now the real work begins…

Arduous as application writing and Solve prep might have seemed, preparing for McKinsey case interviews will easily be an order of magnitude more difficult.

Remember that McKinsey tells candidates not to prepare for Solve - but McKinsey explicitly expects applicants to have rigorously prepared for case interviews .

The volume of specific business knowledge and case-solving principles, as well as the sheer complexity of the cases you will be given, mean that there is no way around knuckling down, learning what you need to know and practicing on repeat.

If you want to get through your interviews and actually land that McKinsey offer, you are going to need to take things seriously, put in the time and learn how to properly solve case studies.

Unfortunately, the framework-based approach taught by many older resources is unlikely to cut it for you. These tend to falter when applied to difficult, idiosyncratic cases - precisely the kind of case you can expect from McKinsey!

The method MCC teaches is based specifically on the way McKinsey train incoming consultants. We throw out generic frameworks altogether and show you how to solve cases like a real management consultant on a real engagement.

You can start reading about the MCC method for case cracking here . To step your learning up a notch, you can move on to our Case Academy course .

To put things into practice in some mock interviews with real McKinsey consultants, take a look at our coaching packages .

And, if all this (rightfully) seems pretty daunting and you’d like to have an experienced consultant guide you through your whole prep from start to finish, you can apply for our comprehensive mentoring programme here .

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McKinsey Problem Solving Game (Imbellus): a Complete Practice Guide to Pass the Digital Assessment

There is a lot of secrecy around the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, aka Imbellus.

This gamified assessment is used to filter out a large chunk of the many McKinsey applicants, and it’s supposedly crack-proof.

The internet is packed with blog posts, Reddit discussions, and forum threads about the McKinsey PSG, some even contradicting.

This information overload coupled with the huge importance of the test makes the whole preparation process nerve-wracking.

That’s why this practice guide strives to give you accurate and easy-to-digest information about your upcoming test.

It includes:

  • A complete overview of the mini-games
  • The best things to keep in mind while playing them
  • The most helpful practice options available right now
  • Useful tips and tactics to increase your chances of passing it

So, buckle up, and let’s get started.

Find out everything you need about the  McKinsey Problem Solving Game , aka Imbellus, and prepare using actual simulations!

Gal Jacobi

Gal , Expert on Game-Based Assessments at  JobTestPrep .

What is the McKinsey Problem Solving Game (PSG)?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game, also named McKinsey Imbellus, McKinsey Digital Assessment, and Solve, is a gamified test that replaces the previous assessment, PST, in the recruiting process. The PSG consists of two mini-games lasting for 70 minutes and evaluates candidates on five key cognitive abilities.

Only candidates who pass this stage are invited to the next hiring step, the case interviews.

What Skills Does the PSG Evaluate?

The PSG evaluates the consulting traits and qualifications of a candidate and then compares them to a real McKinsey consultant. If the applicant appears similar or better than the actual consultant, they'll pass the test.

Five main thinking skills are being assessed :

  • Critical Thinking : The ability to solve problems by breaking them down into smaller parts.
  • Decision-Making Process : The ability to take in large amounts of information and process it efficiently to make the best possible decision within time constraints.
  • Meta Cognition : The ability to monitor your cognitive processes and improve them.
  • Situational Awareness : The ability to keep track of several tasks or activities concurrently.
  • Systems Thinking : The ability to identify the root causes of problems and possible solutions.

Do All Candidates Get the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

As of 2024, almost all candidates for nearly all Mckinsey offices receive the Problem Solving Game. The PST, on the other hand, is no longer in use.

Get to Know the McKinsey PSG Format Inside Out

The Problem-Solving Game is sent to candidates once they pass the initial resume screening, making it the second hiring step.

McKinsey has created five mini-games, but you'll need to take only two of them. The most common ones are Ecosysystem Building and Redrock Study , and there are four other less common mini-games that only a fraction of the applicants receive (outlined below).

The time limit for the two common mini-games is 70 minutes , and for the others, it may range between 60 to 80 minutes. Each game will also have a tutorial, which is untimed.

Now, let's dive into each of the mini-games so you'll know what to expect on the test.

  • Ecosystem Building

The first mini-game you'll need to pass is Ecosystem Building. In this game, you'll be randomly placed in either a mountain ridge or a coral reef scenario.

McKinsey PSG Mountain Scenario Example

Your main objective in this mini-game is to build a sustainable ecosystem using exactly eight species from a collection of 39 species.

To achieve this goal successfully, you must strictly follow these guidelines:

  • Terrain specs : The chosen location in the ecosystem must provide suitable living conditions for all eight species.
  • Calories balance : Each species must be fed with enough calories from food to sustain itself.
  • Food chain continuity : Each species must not be eaten into extinction by its predators.

The gaming platform provides specific information to help you meet these guidelines (some are seen in the game's "guidebook"):

Terrain Specs

Each location in the ecosystem has seven to eight terrain specs. You can choose a location using a pinpoint.

Of these seven or eight specs, only four can be displayed at any given time, using a checklist table in the upper-right corner of the screen:

McKinsey Digital Assessment Terrain Specs Checklist Sample

Now, here's what's crucial about these living conditions:

Each species has specific terrain specs that have to be met. If they aren't met, the species won't survive, and you won't achieve the game's main objective.

Luckily, the species' living conditions usually come in ranges, allowing you to be more flexible with the species you choose for your ecosystem.

Additionally, each species has only two to four terrain specs , when Depth/Elevation and Temperature appear for all species:

McKinsey Imbellus Coral Reed Terrain Specs Example

Knowing that you only need to look at specific terrain specs on the checklist table helps eliminate species or locations that are not suitable for creating a sustainable ecosystem.

Food Chain Continuity

The 39 species are divided into producers and consumers.

Producers are plants and fungi (in the Mountain scenario) and corals and seaweeds (in the Coral Reef scenario). They don't have any calorie needs, so their "calories needed" spec is always zero.

Consumers are animals that eat either plants, other animals, or both. Some consumers are at the top of the food chain and therefore not eaten by any other species.

While creating the food chain, it's important to ensure that no species is eaten to extinction. This can be monitored using the " calorie needed " and the " calorie provided " specs that each species has (shown below).

Calories Balance

Each species has a calorie needed and a calorie provided, as you can see below:

McKinsey Imbellus Species Calories Example

A species lives if its "calories needed" are less than the sum of the calories provided by other species it eats (other consumers or providers).

Furthermore, the species' "calories provided" must be higher than the sum of the calories needed by other species that eat it.

The Main Challenges of the Ecosystem Building Mini-Game

Ecosystem creation is first of all a decision-making game.

You get all the information you need to deliver correct decisions so there's no uncertainty or inaccurate details.

The problem is that you have a vast amount of information to absorb, calculate, analyze, and prioritize . This includes the specs of 39 species, the terrain specs of each location, and eating rules.

Some of the information is irrelevant and is there to distract you or tempt you to make assumptions . In this mini-game, you must not make any assumptions and you don't need to have any environmental, ecological, or zoological knowledge.

So, your ability to make quick and accurate calculations and ignore irrelevant data will have a great impact on your performance.

The preparation course we recommend on this page includes a replica of McKinsey's Ecosystem Building game. It enables you to practice using a like-for-like game experience and learn about every single rule, move, and item in detail. Plus, you’ll master calculation methods and other tactics to ensure the food chain survives in your chosen location.

Redrock Study

The second mini-game you'll most likely encounter is Redrock Study. 

In the game's storyline, your task is to analyze the species inhabiting an island, which includes wolves and elks. The objective of your analysis is to formulate predictions and conduct various calculations , specifically focusing on percentages, by examining data on the evolution of the animal population.

The game has 4 sections:

  • Investigation   You will be presented with a written text that includes tables and graphs. Your task is to sort information and gather valuable data for the following test sections.
  • Analysis   You will be presented with 3 or 4 math problems ; each is separated into two parts. You will be given a calculator and a Research Journal to gather information relevant to the questions.
  • Report You will be presented with two types of questions - 
  • 5 written questions regarding your findings in the analysis section
  • 1 visual question in which you will need to choose a graph and use it to show what you found in the analysis.
  •  Cases You will be presented with 6 to 10 questions that are unrelated to the analysis you did so far. 

You will have 35 minutes to complete all four sections , with a short, non-timed break before each one. 

Alternative Mini-Games

As of 2024, the Ecosystem Building game is constant, but the second mini-game may vary in rare cases. This means that there's a slight chance you won't get the Plant Defense mini-game, but rather one of the three we show below.

Disaster Management

In the Disaster Management game, you have to identify what type of natural disaster has happened to an animal population in an ecosystem.

Then, based on the data and information given, you need to choose a different location that will ensure the survival of the ecosystem.

The Disaster Management mini-game has only one objective - the sustainability of the ecosystem, similar to the Ecosystem Building mini-game.

Disease Management

In the Disease Management mini-game, you have to identify patterns of a disease within an ecosystem and predict who will be infected next. You can then use the information given about each species to help you solve the problem.

Migration Management

Migration Management is a turn-based puzzle game. The candidate must direct the migration of 50 animals while helping them arrive at their destination with minimal casualties and with a pre-determined amount of resources.

  • Plant Defense

Plant Defense is a turn-based mini-game (similar to popular Tower Defense games). Your main objective is to defend a native plant that's located at the center of a 10x10, 10x14, or 12x12 grid from invader species, using defensive resources for as many turns as possible .

This mini-game consists of three maps, and each map is divided into two - the planning phase and the fast-forward phase. McKinsey recommends allocating 12 minutes per map, which makes it 36 minutes in total.

Planet Defence Example

The 36-minute time limit is not fixed though, as it depends on how long it took you to finish the first mini-game, Ecosystem Building.

Many candidates mention that the Plant Defense game is more challenging than the Ecosystem creation. So, keep that in mind while taking the first one and plan your time wisely .

Now, let's take a closer look at the different elements and resources of this mini-game:

Your base is the native plant that you have to defend from invaders at all costs. Once an invader reaches the base, you lose the game.

Note that eventually, everyone loses, and you can't hold your base forever. But the more turns you manage to survive, the better .

There are two types of invaders in the game - Groundhog and Fox. Their movements on the map are the same, and the only difference between them is the terrain type that holds them back (more on terrains below).

Once an invader appears on your map, it will choose the shortest path to reach your base plant. This path will be shown as a yellow arrow .

McKinsey Plant Defense Example

There are three types of terrains in the game:

  • Forest : Slows down the Groundhog for one turn
  • Rocky : Slows down the Fox for one turn
  • Cliff : Blocks both the Fox and the Groundhog from passing this square

Each terrain holds one grid on the map, and you cannot place terrain on a grid that already has another terrain or a defender on it (more on defenders below).

As opposed to terrains, defenders don't just slow down or block an invader, they eliminate it for good.

There are several defenders you can use in the game: Bobcat, Falcon, Wolf, Python, and Coyote.

Note that you won't see all of the defenders at once.

Each defender has two important specs you must take into account:

Range : Each defender can cover a pre-determined number of grids on the map. For example, a Python can cover only one grid, while a Falcon can cover as many as 13 grids.

Damage : Each defender can cause specific forms of damage to an invader's population. When an invader attacks, you'll be able to see its population number and the damage that your defender can cause him. A Wolf, for example, has a damaging impact of 60, while a Falcon has only 20.

The Main Challenges of the Plant Defense Mini-Game

In this mini-game, you have to make decisions based on limited information and face unexpected events (like new invaders from any direction). Also, you must achieve two simultaneous objectives - survive each of the turns separately and for as long as possible.

This is the complete opposite of the Ecosystem Building game, in which you have all the data in front of you, and you have just one objective.

Two things that can help you overcome these challenges are (1) preparing for the unexpected events that will happen during the game and (2) planning low-risk solutions based on your resources (terrains and defenders).

The prep course that we recommend on this page has the closest simulation possible to the actual Plant Defense game. It has the same gameplay, invaders, and resources, and it's based on the same algorithm that appears in the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. This will enable you to learn the most effective tactics to ensure your base plant survives as many turns as possible.

How to Beat the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

The proven way to beat the McKinsey PSG is by properly preparing beforehand.

There's no way around it. That’s because the mini-games include an immense amount of information, rules, and patterns you must master . And they require you to use tactics and strategies that are not obvious and take time to plan and execute.

All of that is under great time pressure and the high stakes of possibly failing it and losing an opportunity to work at McKinsey.

Now, there are a few practice options you can use to get a better understanding of the PSG and improve your chances of passing it, with the PSG Interactive Simulation being the most accurate one.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game Practice Options

PSG Interactive Simulation

The  PSG Secrets simulation is an interactive platform that includes accurate practice for every part of McKinsey’s PSG. It mirrors what the actual game scenarios look like, what each button does, how the logic of the games works, how it generates the data, and more.

It has a full simulation option (two mini-games, 70 minutes), which includes:

  • A full video course in 24 videos and 2h30m of content on Ecosystem, Redrock, and Plant Defense
  • 2 excel solvers for the Ecosystem Game
  • 10 Redrock test drills specifically for the case section
  • 152 page-pdf guide 
  • 60-day money-back guarantee.
Tips to Improve Your Performance on the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

Here are several specific tips to help improve your overall performance on the test as well as tips to avoid any disturbances that could hurt your score:

#1 Sharpen Your Mental Math Abilities

The ability to make fast and accurate calculations can help a lot in this Problem-Solving Game. That’s because one wrong calculation might ruin your carefully built Ecosystem or cause an invader to reach your Native Plant.

There are several free apps and sites, like the renowned Khan Academy , that can help you improve your math skills quickly.

#2 Learn Fast Reading Skills

Mckinsey’s PSG requires you to absorb and analyze a tremendous amount of information under strict time constraints.

Fast reading skills come in handy in this test and can help reduce the amount of time needed to understand the numerous guidelines of the mini-games.

There are certain apps and browser extensions that allow you to practice this important skill , even on the go.

#3 Focus Only on What Matters

Don't get nervous when you first see the immense amount of data on the mini-games. That’s because a lot of the data is irrelevant, and you’ll be only using some particular parameters .

For example, in the Ecosystem game, you’ll only have to use specific species and terrain specs for your calculations, while ignoring others that are there only for distraction.

In the complete   PSG Simulation Practice , you’ll see how to remove as much as 70% of the irrelevant data and remain just with the information that matters.

#4 Ignore Outside Information

While taking the assessment, especially the Ecosystem game, try to ignore any outside knowledge and information.

For example, if you’ve learned biology or zoology and you see that your food-eating rules don’t seem logical but the numbers are correct, always go with the numbers .

If you start to rely on previous knowledge, you might get confused and mess up your progress in the game.

#5 Learn to Solve Problems Like a Consultant

The PSG measures your consulting traits and compares them to a model McKinsey consultant.

That’s why learning to think and solve problems like a real consultant can help you pass this assessment.

Two main problem-solving skills you should practice are decision-making in fully controlled situations and with limited information.

Both of these skills can be trained using complex strategy games (examples are mentioned above) as well as  practicing with the   full PSG interactive simulation .

#6 Cut Down on Calculation Time Using Microsoft Excel

Mental math is an effective way to make calculations in the mini-games.

But as you’re only human, it’s not error-free. That’s why using a calculation tool, such as Excel formulas, can be a great way to make super fast and accurate calculations.

You can use it to gather all the relevant data, arrange it with columns and formulas (even in advance!), and turn the whole process into a no-brainer.

That said, you’ll need to use another monitor (preferably with a different browser) or another laptop since the assessment’s platform will take over your entire screen.

#7 Prep Your Hardware and Internet Connection

The last thing you want during the assessment is a “blue screen of death.”

Blue Screen of Death Example

It may happen if your hardware is not strong enough, since the McKinsey PSG is pretty demanding in its system requirements.

Any computer that is more than five years old or without an HD screen will likely encounter lags and performance drops.

Also, you must have a fast and stable internet connection. If you get disconnected in the middle of the test, you might need to start all over again or even reschedule for another testing date.

The PSG scores are divided into two types -

  • Product score - the final outcome of your performance
  • Process score - the efficiency (time and number of clicks) of your performance 

If you get the   PSG Practice Simulation , you’ll have a mock grading system that monitors your results and behavioral patterns.

This will allow you to track your progress while you practice for the test and see which areas demand improvement.

Why Did McKinsey Develop the Problem-Solving Game?

McKinsey created the Problem-Solving Game as an unbiased way to identify candidates from around the globe with strong cognitive abilities. The former assessment, Problem Solving Test (PST), was less challenging for candidates who were familiar with standardized tests, such as SAT and GMAT, or used the numerous mock tests found online.

The PSG, on the other hand, is supposedly crack-proof. That's because it takes into account the approach you use to solve the problems and not just the final solution. This seemingly removes any lucky guessing and shortcut techniques that were common on the McKinsey PST.

While on the PST you had just your final score, on the PSG your score is comprised of dozens of scoring criteria apart from your final result , including mouse movement, keystrokes, and clicks.

McKinsey can analyze these factors for every recorded candidate, which allows them to compare candidates more fairly.

What Does Imbellus Mean?

Imbellus is a company that creates immersive simulation-based assessments to assess cognitive processes. To develop a new testing format for the McKinsey recruitment process, they've teamed up with McKinsey consultants and UCLA Cresst psychologists.

In 2020,  Imbellus was purchased by Roblox , an online gaming platform, to help sharpen its recruitment practices.

This was an in-depth prep guide for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. It gave you an overview of the different mini-games, explained their main challenges, and offered some useful solving tips.

Additionally, you saw the best ways to prepare for the assessment, when the PSG Practice Simulation being the most realistic and accurate one.

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PROBLEM STATEMENT

Learn everything you need to know to develop a Problem Statement by an Ex-McKinsey consultant . Includes best practices , examples, and a free problem statement template at the bottom.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”

– Charles Kettering, Early 1900s American Inventor

I remember my first day on my first project at McKinsey, the partner got the team in a room for us to spend a few hours “defining the problem statement.” At first, I thought to myself, “man, what a dumb idea…this client is paying us millions of dollars, and we don’t even know what we are trying to solve?” But, as we started to debate the context of the client, the issues they faced, and the reasons why they brought us on, I started to appreciate defining the problem statement and the ability for the right problem statement to frame and focus problem solving .

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a clear description of the problem you are trying to solve and is typically most effectively stated as a question. Problem statements are subtly critical in effective problem solving. They have an uncanny ability in focusing the efforts of brainstorming , teamwork, and projects .

To understand this better, let’s go through some examples of how you can position a brainstorming session on various topics.

problem statements

Beyond brainstorming, problem statements should be used at the beginning of any project to frame and focus on the problem. A good problem statement defines the “who” the problem involves, and defines the scope of the problem. Since problem statements guide much of the problem solving of a project, it is important not to be too narrow or broad with the problem statement.

How do you create an effective problem statement?

As stated before, every McKinsey project starts with the development of a problem statement. Once we landed on a strong problem statement, then we had to align the client with the problem statement. The easiest way for a project and team to get off track is if the team and the client are trying to solve different problems. A good problem statement aligns the expectations of the client with the team’s activities and output.

Here are the best practices when creating an effective problem statement:

Use the 5 Ws and one H

One of the most useful tools when developing a problem statement is the 5 Ws and one H, which is simply utilizing who, what, why, where, when, and how questions to frame the problem statement. Simply thinking through these questions as they relate to the problem can help you create a strong problem statement.

Ask the most crucial question, “What are we trying to solve?”

We’ve all been in those brainstorming sessions, meetings or on those projects, where you’re just scratching your head, as the conversation or directions are more like an Olympic ping-pong match going from one topic to the next. The most effective question that I’ve used in over a thousand meetings and conversations is simply “what are we trying to solve?” It cuts through the clutter, confusion, and misalignment, and quickly centers the focus and energy of everyone.

Frame the problem statement as a goal

Some of the best problem statements are simply goals formatted as questions. If you need to increase sales by 10%, a good problem statement is, “Within the next 12 months, what are the most effective options for the team to increase sales by 10%?”

Force the prioritization 

Often, the most effective problem statements force the prioritization of issues and opportunities. Using phrases such as “the most important for the customer” or “the best way” will force prioritization.

DOWNLOAD THE PROBLEM STATEMENT POWERPOINT WORKSHEET

To get you going on defining a strong problem statement, download the free and editable Problem Statement PowerPoint Worksheet.

Correctly defining a problem statement at the beginning of a project or initiative will dramatically improve the success of the project or initiative. Problem statements help guide problem solving, analysis , hypotheses , and solutions.

Developing a problem statement is an iterative brainstorming process. Get the major stakeholders in a room for a few hours and start the process by having everyone write down what they think the problem is on index cards. Collect the index cards and post them on a whiteboard. You can either discuss each one or have the group pick the top 3 and then discuss them. You can use the Problem Statement Worksheet to further define the problem by answering the 5 Ws and 1 H. The key is to find the right problem statement all stakeholders feel strongly about, in that, if the problem statement were solved, the problem would be solved.

NEXT SECTION: HYPOTHESES

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McKinsey Case Interview Guide 2024 (by former Interviewers)

the image is the cover for the mckinsey case interview or problem solving interview article

Last Updated on March 27, 2024

The McKinsey case interview, also called the Problem-Solving Interview by the firm, is a crucial and defining element of the consulting recruitment process for one of the world’s most prestigious management consulting firms. This unique type of interview assesses a candidate’s analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills, as well as their ability to think critically under pressure.

With a reputation for being challenging and rigorous, the McKinsey case interview is often seen as a significant hurdle for aspiring consultants to overcome. Forbes ranked McKinsey’s interview process as the most difficult across all firms globally and the case plays a crucial role in that evaluation, besides the Personal Experience Interview .

Recognizing the importance of thorough preparation, this article aims to become the go-to resource for candidates worldwide who are seeking to excel in the McKinsey case interview and want to kickstart their McKinsey careers. By providing comprehensive insights, practical tips, and concrete examples, our goal is to equip you with the knowledge and confidence required to stand out in the competitive world of management consulting.

As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we have specialized in helping our candidates to effectively tackle this part of the McKinsey assessment. We found that the information on the McKinsey application process and specifically the case interviews is often wrong, outdated, or assumed to be the same as for every other consulting firm, and written by ‘experts’, who have never conducted an interview at McKinsey or even seen a McKinsey office from the inside.

As a consequence, the advice given can be detrimental to your recruiting success with the firm.

In this article, we want to shed some light on this mysterious, often-talked-about, even more often misunderstood interview. For those overcoming McKinsey case interview challenges, our article serves as a comprehensive guide, infused with McKinsey interview tips and tailored strategies that resonate with interviewers.

McKinsey’s Interview Process

Overview of the recruitment process.

Discover advanced techniques for McKinsey case studies and understand the McKinsey interview process, setting a solid foundation for your case interview preparation. The McKinsey recruitment process typically consists of the following stages:

  • Application submission: Candidates submit their resume , cover letter , and academic transcripts online.
  • Online assessments: Selected candidates may be invited to complete an online assessment, the McKinsey Solve Game (previously known as the Imbellus test, or Problem Solving Game/PSG)
  • First-round interviews: Successful candidates progress to first-round interviews, which typically involve two separate interviews, each consisting of a Personal Experience Interview (PEI) and a case interview.
  • Final-round interviews: Candidates who excel in the first round are invited to final-round interviews, which usually consist of two to three separate interviews with more senior McKinsey consultants or partners, again featuring a PEI and a case interview in each session.
  • Offer decision: Following the final round, the interviewers of the firm decide on whether to extend an offer to the candidate.

the image is a table that dissects the mckinsey assessment process that follows the resume screening. it looks at the solve game and the interview rounds

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI)

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI) is a critical component of McKinsey’s interview process. During the PEI, the interviewer will ask the candidate to share a specific example from their past experiences that demonstrates one of McKinsey’s core values, such as leadership, personal impact, or the ability to deal with change. Candidates should prepare concise and compelling stories that highlight their achievements, challenges faced, and the lessons learned. The PEI aims to assess the candidate’s interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and overall fit with McKinsey’s culture.

To read more on this part of the interview, follow these links:

McKinsey Personal Experience Interview

McKinsey PEI: Courageous Change

McKinsey PEI: Inclusive Leadership

McKinsey PEI: Personal Impact

The Case Interview (Problem-Solving Interview)

The case interview is the centerpiece of McKinsey’s interview process. In this interview, the candidate is presented with a real-life or hypothetical business problem, which they must analyze and solve. The interviewer will assess the candidate’s ability to structure the problem, analyze data, generate insights, and communicate recommendations effectively.

During the case interview, candidates should exhibit strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills, as well as the ability to think critically under pressure. Preparing for the case interview involves practicing a variety of cases, developing essential skills, and understanding the McKinsey case interview framework (more on that below).

How to prepare for McKinsey case interviews encompasses more than just understanding consulting case frameworks; it involves a deep dive into McKinsey case interview examples and solutions.

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Understanding the McKinsey Case Interview

What is a case interview.

A case interview is a unique type of job interview that tests a candidate’s ability to analyze, solve, and communicate complex business problems. During a case interview, the interviewer presents a real-life or hypothetical business scenario, and the candidate is expected to analyze the situation, identify the key issues, and propose a strategic solution. The case interview format allows the interviewer to evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving, analytical, and interpersonal skills, which are essential for a successful career in management consulting.

Why does McKinsey use case interviews?

McKinsey & Company uses case interviews as a key component of its recruitment process for several reasons. First, the case interview format closely simulates the work environment and tasks that consultants face daily, providing the firm with a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s potential performance. Second, case interviews allow McKinsey to evaluate a candidate’s ability to think critically, structure complex problems, and communicate effectively under pressure – skills that are crucial for consultants who must deliver high-quality solutions to clients. Lastly, case interviews serve as a consistent and objective measure of a candidate’s capabilities, enabling the firm to compare candidates from diverse backgrounds fairly and accurately.

Regarding the last point, McKinsey invests significantly into creating an objective recruitment procedure with the cases. Interviewers are selected from the top performers of the firm, go through rigorous interviewer training, and shadow other interviewers in live interviews before being allowed to conduct interviews themselves.

Cases are created in a thorough training seminar based on stringent criteria that standardize difficulty levels across the globe. Also, the interviewer-led format allows for a more objective evaluation compared to the candidate-led format employed by most other firms. More on that next.

What is different in McKinsey’s interview format?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Interview is a typical case interview as it is employed by most consulting firms to test the analytical capabilities and communication skills of applicants. However, it comes with a twist. The interview simulates a client situation, where you are tasked to solve a specific business problem that they are facing.

You will have to answer a succession of several questions rather than driving the case yourself as would be the case in other consulting firms. Within the interview, which is a dialogue between you and the interviewer, you need to structure problems, propose concrete ideas, gather information, spot insights in data and charts, solve quantitative problems, and communicate professionally and calmly.

The case is the hardest part for most candidates since it involves several different skills that need to be demonstrated consistently across all questions and multiple cases in succession. Depending on the office, applicants need to go through four to six case interviews before receiving an offer. They need to convince the interviewers in all cases to start their McKinsey careers.

Types of cases you may encounter

During a McKinsey case interview, candidates may encounter a variety of case types that cover different industries, functions, and challenges. The following is just a selection of potential case problems that you would need to solve.

  • Market entry: Evaluating the attractiveness of entering a new market or launching a new product or service.
  • Growth strategy: Identifying opportunities for a company to grow its revenue, market share, or profitability.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: Assessing the feasibility and potential value of merging with or acquiring another company.
  • Cost reduction: Identifying areas for cost savings and efficiency improvements in a company’s operations or supply chain.
  • Pricing strategy: Determining the optimal pricing structure for a product or service to maximize revenue or profit.
  • Organizational restructuring: Evaluating changes to a company’s organizational structure or management processes to improve performance.
  • Operational improvements: Figure out and improve operational issues.

While the specifics of each case may differ, the core skills required to tackle these cases – such as structuring, data analysis, and problem-solving – remain consistent across all case types.

On top of that, McKinsey cases have become much more creative over the last couple of years, hence, using memorized and established frameworks will never serve you well . Rather it is important to approach every McKinsey case from a first-principles approach. While you might expect a case in a market entry context, it is almost guaranteed that you will have to create a non-standard case framework.

Consider as a case context an EV manufacturer that wants to enter the Chinese market.

What most candidates expect the framework question to look like: What factors would you look at when deciding whether to enter the Chinese EV market?

How an actual McKinsey framework question could look like: What key product characteristics would you consider and analyze when looking at the Chinese EV market?

No standardized framework would help you in this situation.

For instance, consider another real McKinsey case example.

You are working with an operator of a specific type of machines. They break down at different rates at different locations. What factors can you think of why that would happen? Example of a McKinsey Case Interview Structure Questions

There is not a single memorized framework bucket that would work here.

Let us look at an example answer for this prompt.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Less than 1% of candidates make it through the recruiting filters of McKinsey. You want to provide insights that the interviewer has not heard before and not be just like the other 99% that fail to impress.

Learning how to deconstruct problems is the key to success, not memorizing outdated approaches and frameworks of yesteryear.

What is the Format of the McKinsey Case?

A typical McKinsey case follows the PEI in a one-hour interview session. It lasts for 25 to 30 minutes in an interviewer-led format , meaning that the interviewer takes the lead and guides you through the case. Your role as the interviewee is to answer the questions asked by the interviewer before they move on to the next question. While it is the interviewer’s responsibility to provide hints and move you through the different questions, you should take the lead with each question.

Depending on your performance and speed, you will be asked three to six questions . Question types are:

  • Structuring / Initial Case Framework
  • Data and Chart Analysis
  • Structuring / Brainstorming

Recommendations are usually not part of the evaluation, though they might come up now and then.

Only receiving three questions is a positive sign since the interviewer was happy with your answers to each question. Going above three questions usually happens when the interviewer wants to dig deeper into a specific question type to see if the quality of a previous answer to a similar question was just an outlier or can be confirmed with a second question.

Most candidates need more than three questions to convince the interviewer, so don’t be scared when your case gets a little bit longer and consists of more than three questions.

Some offices also offer a McKinsey phone case interview as a first screening device, which follows the same structure as an in-person interview.

Is the McKinsey Case Interview Different From a BCG or Bain Interview?

While there are many similarities between McKinsey interviews and interviews with other firms, McKinsey interviews are interviewer-led, while other firms employ a candidate-led format .

McKinsey, BCG, and Bain cases have certain things in common:

  • The elements of the cases are the same. You will have to structure problems, interpret exhibits, and work through some calculations, come up with recommendations or implications, etc.
  • The skills that are assessed are the same. You need to exhibit strong problem-solving skills, creativity, ability to work under pressure, top-down communication, etc.

However, there is one key difference:

  • In interviewer-led cases, you take ownership of every question and go into greater detail here, while the interviewer guides you from question to question. In the interviewee-led case, you drive the whole case and have to move along, get the correct information to work with by asking the right questions, and analyze the problem to then deduct a recommendation

In a McKinsey case, the interviewer will guide you through a series of connected questions that you need to answer, synthesize, and develop recommendations from. There are clear directions and a flow of questions, which you need to answer with a hypothesis-driven mindset . These are arguably easier to prepare for and to go through since the flow and types of questions will always be the same.

For McKinsey case interview examples, check the available interviewer-led cases  here .

In a candidate-led BCG case interview or Bain case interview, due to the nature of your role as an investigator, it is much easier to get lost, walk down the wrong branch of the issue tree, and waste a ton of time. While the interviewers will try to influence you to move in the right direction (pay attention to their hints), it is still up to you what elements of the problem you would like to analyze. Each answer should lead to a new question (hypothesis-driven) on your quest to find the root cause of the problem to come up with a recommendation on how to overcome it.

Nonetheless, it is not necessarily easier to convince a McKinsey interviewer, since your answers need to stand out in terms of breadth, depth, and insightfulness. You have more time to develop and discuss each answer but expectations about the quality of your answers are also heightened significantly.

For instance, in an interviewer-led case, candidates are afforded more time to elaborate on their frameworks. This demands not only a comprehensive framework but also one that delves deeper, aiming for three levels of insightful analysis. This depth showcases the candidate’s ability to think critically and provide nuanced insights. The discussion of this framework typically spans 5 to 8 minutes.

Conversely, in candidate-led cases, the strategy shifts. Here, the emphasis is on swiftly identifying and articulating the most critical areas for examination. Candidates must quickly prioritize these areas and then delve into a detailed analysis of the selected issues. This requires a concise yet targeted approach, with the initial framework discussion taking about 2 to 3 minutes. This format tests the candidate’s ability to quickly discern key areas and efficiently manage their analysis under tighter time constraints.

Questions of a McKinsey Case Interview

In the McKinsey interview you will have to answer  three different questions types  – broadly speaking:

  • Structuring (includes creating frameworks and brainstorming questions)
  • Exhibit Interpretation

Structuring

Structuring includes both the framework creation at the beginning of a case as well as answering brainstorming questions (usually at a later stage of the case).

A case interview structure is used to break the problem you are trying to solve for the client down into smaller problems or components. It is the roadmap you establish at the beginning of the interview that will guide your problem-solving approach throughout the case. A strong initial structure should cover all elements of the situation AND allow you to understand where the problem is coming from. Read more about case interview structure and frameworks here .

A common question would be:

What factors would you look at to understand the problem better? McKinsey framework question

Brainstorming has you come up with specific ideas around a certain topic (in a structured manner). Read more about brainstorming here .

What ideas can you think of that could decrease customer check-out time? McKinsey brainstorming question

Data interpretation

For chart or data interpretation , you are tasked to find the key insights of 1-2 PowerPoint slides and relate them to the case question and the client situation at hand. Read more about exhibit interpretation here .

Case math questions have you analyze a problem mathematically before qualitatively investigating the particular reason for the numerical result or deriving specific recommendations from the outcome. Read more on how to ace case math here .

How to Think About McKinsey Case Questions

Now for  structure and exhibit interpretation , there is no right or wrong answer in a McKinsey interview. Some answers are better than others because they are

  • hypothesis-driven
  • follow strong communication (MECE, top-down, signposted)

That being said, there is no 100% that you can reach or a one-and-only solution/ answer. Your answers must display the characteristics specified above and are supported well with arguments.

Though numerous strategies exist for tackling a problem, it’s crucial to understand that while there aren’t strictly right or wrong answers, not all approaches are equally effective. The misconception often lies in the belief that there’s a singular correct method, especially when constructing a framework.

In reality, you could employ over ten different strategies to analyze a case or break down a problem, potentially leading to the same analytical results. This versatility and ability to think through various lenses are precisely what McKinsey interviews aim to evaluate.

However, it’s also important to recognize that there are countless ways to miss the mark. This typically happens when your framework is either too narrow or excessively broad, lacks depth, or fails to offer meaningful insights.

As for  math questions , usually, some answers are correct (not always 100% the same since some candidates simplify or round differently – which is ok), and others are wrong, either due to the

  • calculation approach
  • calculation itself

Now, for the interviewer, the overall picture counts. Mistakes in one area need to be balanced by a strong performance in other areas. McKinsey wants to see spikes in performance in certain areas and a good enough performance in other areas.

The most common example we see almost every day: You can be strong in structure and exhibit, yet make a small mistake in the math section – overall as you might consider 80% – and still pass on to the next round.

Be aware that in 99% of cases, there is no recommendation question in the end. The case just ends with the last case question. This is something many candidates are surprised by when they get out of their McKinsey interviews.

Mastering the McKinsey Case Interview Framework

In the sequence of questions that you receive, you need to demonstrate that you can

  • identify the ask;
  • structure the problem to investigate it;
  • analyze data related to it;
  • generate insight and recommendations;
  • communicate effectively.

Problem identification

The first step in tackling a McKinsey case interview is to identify the core problem or question that needs to be addressed. Carefully listen to the case prompt and take notes, ensuring that you understand the client’s objectives, the scope of the problem, and any constraints. Clarify any uncertainties with the interviewer before moving forward.

Structuring the problem

Once you have identified the problem, develop a structured approach to address it. Break down the problem into smaller, more manageable components using logical frameworks. Tailor the chosen framework to the specific case, incorporating any unique factors or considerations. Present your structure to the interviewer, explaining your rationale and seeking their input or approval.

Data analysis and interpretation

As you proceed with your structured approach, you may be provided with additional data or information by the interviewer. Analyze the data, using quantitative techniques, such as calculating growth rates, market shares, or breakeven points, to draw meaningful insights. Be prepared to make assumptions or estimates if necessary but ensure they are reasonable and well-justified.

Generating insights and recommendations

Based on your data analysis, develop actionable insights and recommendations that address the client’s objectives. Consider the potential impact, feasibility, and risks associated with each recommendation. Think creatively and strategically, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative factors into your decision-making process.

Synthesis and communication

Finally, synthesize your findings and recommendations into a clear and concise conclusion. Use the “top-down” communication style, starting with your main recommendation, followed by the supporting evidence and insights. Demonstrate strong communication skills by articulating your thought process and recommendations persuasively and confidently. Be prepared to answer any follow-up questions from the interviewer and engage in a discussion to defend or refine your conclusions.

  • Pyramid principle communication
  • How to communicate in a case interview

In this format, McKinsey assesses in a case interview six skills that you need to demonstrate consistently in every case interview.

Skills Assessed by McKinsey

  • Problem-solving: Are you able to derive a MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) framework, breaking a problem down into smaller problems, and accurately covering all aspects of the problem?
  • Analytical rigor and logical thinking: Can you link the structure to creative thinking? Are you using a hypothesis-driven approach to your problem solving, i.e. have a clear picture of where you think the solution of the case is buried most likely? Do you qualify your thinking, follow your structure, tackle (likely) high-impact issues first, lead the interviewer, and ask the right questions?
  • Mental math and basic calculus : Are you able to structure quantitative problems and comfortably perform calculations? Can you derive the correct approach to calculate the desired outcome variable? Can you plug in the numbers and perform the calculations, relying on basic pen-and-paper math, shortcuts, and mental math?
  • Creativity: Do you think about a problem holistically, offering broad, deep, and insightful perspectives? Are you able to come up with different angles to the problem (breadth) and draft rich descriptions that qualify why these areas are important to investigate (depth)?
  • Communication: Are you able to communicate like a consultant? Are you following a top-down communication approach similar to the Pyramid Principle taught by Minto? Do all of your statements add value and do you guide the interviewer through your thinking?
  • Maturity and presence: Are you leading the conversation or are merely getting dragged along by the interviewer? Are you confident and mature? Are you comfortable with silence while taking time to structure your thinking?
  • Business sense and intuition : Are you able to quickly understand the business and the situation of the client? Can you swiftly interpret data, charts, exhibits, and statements made by the interview? Are you asking the right questions? Are you able to make sense of new information quickly and interpret it properly in the context of the case?

Now, these skills are assessed in a very specific interviewing format, which is not natural for most applicants and needs significant practice to become second nature.

the image shows a case interview evaluation sheet

You can download this scoring sheet for your case practice here .

Key Strategies to Excel in a McKinsey Case Interview

Using the mece principle.

MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) is a problem-solving principle that helps ensure your analysis is both comprehensive and well-organized. Apply the MECE principle when structuring your approach to a case by breaking down the problem into distinct, non-overlapping components while ensuring that all relevant aspects are covered. This method allows you to maintain a clear and logical structure throughout the case and reduces the likelihood of overlooking critical factors.

Applying the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle , suggests that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In the context of a case interview, this means focusing on the most critical issues or factors that will have the most significant impact on the client’s objectives. By prioritizing your analysis and recommendations, you can work more efficiently and effectively, demonstrating your ability to identify and address the most pressing concerns for the client.

Hypothesis-driven approach

Using a hypothesis-driven approach means forming an initial hypothesis or educated guess about the potential solution to the problem and then testing it using data and analysis. By starting with a hypothesis, you can guide your problem-solving process more efficiently, focusing your efforts on collecting evidence that supports or refutes your hypothesis. Throughout the case, be prepared to revise or refine your hypothesis as new information emerges.

Incorporating creativity and business intuition

While frameworks and structured approaches are essential, it’s also crucial to demonstrate creativity and business intuition during a McKinsey case interview. This means thinking beyond the standard frameworks and considering innovative solutions or unique factors that may be relevant to the specific case. Use your knowledge of industry trends, best practices, and real-world business challenges to inform your analysis and recommendations. By combining structured thinking with creative problem-solving, you can showcase your ability to deliver well-rounded, impactful solutions for clients.

Preparing for the McKinsey Case Interview

Most candidates prepare using generic frameworks. Alternatively, they are looking for a McKinsey case book PDF or a case study interview questions and answers PDF with the hope that the cases will be the same across interviewers and interviews.

Do not learn case-specific frameworks by heart , expecting them to work for every case you encounter. There is no specific McKinsey case study framework or McKinsey case study book. It is much more important to learn the right approach that will help you tackle all types of cases. This is even more relevant for McKinsey interviews.

What you need to do is to study each question type and the associated skills in a case interview and learn how to approach it, regardless of the client situation, the context of the case, the industry, or the function. Your goal should be to learn how to build issue trees, interpret charts, and perform math no matter the context, industry, or function of the case, and follow our McKinsey case interview tips.

Similarly to the case types and frameworks, many candidates ask if there is a specific McKinsey implementation case interview, McKinsey operation case interview, or McKinsey digital case interview. In fact, the cases are usually a mix of cases in a domain-relevant context as well as cases set in a completely different context to the role you are applying for.

Be aware that frameworks were applicable in the 2000 years, the era of Victor Cheng and Case in Point. McKinsey has long caught up on this and the cases you will get during the interviews are tailored in a way to test your creativity and ability to generate insights on the spot, not remember specific frameworks.

In fact, it will hurt you when you try to use a framework on a case that calls for a completely different approach. Also, it gives a false sense of security that will translate to stress once you figure out how your approach won’t work during the real interview – We have seen this way too often…

Rather, focus on the following:

Developing the right mindset

Success in the McKinsey case interview starts with cultivating the right mindset. Being mentally prepared involves:

  • Embracing a growth mindset: Recognize that your skills can improve with consistent practice and effort. Stay open to feedback from coaches and peers and learn from your mistakes.
  • Building resilience: Understand that case interviews are challenging, and you may face setbacks during your preparation. Stay persistent and maintain a positive attitude. Use a proper case interview preparation plan .
  • Adopting a client-first perspective: Approach each case as if you were a consultant working on a real client engagement, focusing on delivering value and actionable insights.

Learning the essential skills

To excel in the McKinsey case interview, it’s crucial to develop the following skills:

  • Problem structuring: Break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components using frameworks and logical structures.
  • Qualitative and quantitative analysis: Interpret and analyze data to draw meaningful insights and make informed decisions.
  • Hypothesis-driven thinking: Develop and test hypotheses to guide your problem-solving approach efficiently.
  • Communication: Clearly articulate your thought process, insights, and recommendations concisely and persuasively.

Our courses and drills are designed to provide you with the precise knowledge you need. Drawing on our experience as former McKinsey interviewers, we understand what matters most and how to ensure you can leverage that to your advantage.

More on that next.

Studying relevant materials and resources

Leverage various resources to enhance your understanding of case interviews and management consulting:

  • Books: The most effective and exhaustive case interview preparation book is The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview (shameless plug). It goes much deeper than the usual suspects which are outdated and provide faulty advice on case interviews.
  • Websites and blogs : Websites like StrategyCase.com offer the latest case interview tips, practice cases, and industry insights. You can check out more free articles covering consulting applications and interviews here .
  • Online courses: Enroll in case interview preparation courses to gain structured guidance and access to a wealth of practice materials. We have created several high-quality courses for all elements of the McKinsey interview (see below)

We are the highest ranked and most successful case coaches on the web and have helped 100s of candidates break into McKinsey. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we have specialized in getting our candidates into the firm. We can help you by

  • tailoring your resume and cover letter to meet McKinsey’s standards
  • showing you how to pass the McKinsey Imbellus Solve Game
  • showing you how to ace McKinsey interviews and the PEI with our video academy
  • coaching you in our 1-on-1 sessions to become an excellent case solver and impress with your fit answers (90% success rate after 5 sessions)
  • preparing your math to be bulletproof for every McKinsey case interview
  • helping you structure creative and complex McKinsey cases
  • teaching you how to interpret McKinsey charts and exhibits
  • providing you with cheat sheets and overviews for 27 industries .

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program.

the image is the cover of a case interview industry overview

Practicing with case partners

Regular practice with case partners is essential for honing your case interview skills:

  • Find practice partners: Connect with fellow candidates through online forums, social media groups, or local consulting clubs.
  • Set a practice schedule: Aim to practice at least a few cases per week, gradually increasing the difficulty and variety of cases.
  • Seek feedback: After each practice case, discuss your performance with your partner, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Alternate roles: Take turns playing the role of the interviewer and the interviewee to develop a deeper understanding of the case interview process.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Common mistakes.

  • Insufficient structure: Failing to break down the problem into manageable components can lead to a disorganized analysis and an inability to identify key issues.
  • Overlooking the big picture: Becoming too focused on the details and losing sight of the overall objective or client’s needs can hinder the development of effective recommendations.
  • Ignoring qualitative factors: Relying solely on quantitative data without considering qualitative aspects may result in an incomplete understanding of the problem.
  • Ineffective communication: Struggling to articulate your thought process, insights, or recommendations clearly and persuasively can undermine the value of your analysis.
  • Failing to adapt: Sticking to a preconceived framework or hypothesis despite conflicting evidence may indicate a lack of flexibility and critical thinking.

Tips to prevent these mistakes

  • Practice structuring: Develop your ability to structure problems effectively by practicing with a wide range of cases and familiarizing yourself with common frameworks.
  • Stay focused on the objective: Periodically remind yourself of the client’s goals and priorities, ensuring that your analysis remains aligned with their needs.
  • Balance quantitative and qualitative factors: Recognize the importance of both quantitative data and qualitative insights in forming a well-rounded understanding of the problem.
  • Hone your communication skills: Practice speaking clearly, concisely, and persuasively, ensuring that your message is easily understood and well-received.
  • Embrace adaptability: Be open to revising your approach, framework, or hypothesis in response to new information or feedback, demonstrating your ability to think critically and flexibly.

McKinsey Interview Course

Unlock the Secrets to Acing McKinsey Interviews with Our Comprehensive Training Program

Are you eager to dive deep into mastering the McKinsey interviews? Look no further than our extensive 40-part Ready-for-McKinsey Interview Academy . This exceptional video program features simulated McKinsey-specific case studies and in-depth coverage of all Personal Experience Interview (PEI) dimensions and stories. Our Interview Academy is the ultimate resource to prepare you for success in your McKinsey case interviews.

We take pride in our results: an impressive 9 out of 10 candidates who complete our one-on-one Ready-for-McKinsey Interview Coaching program receive an offer. This track record has earned us consistent recognition as the best McKinsey and MBB coaches on several platforms.

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Frequently Asked Questions McKinsey Case Interview

How can candidates best manage their time during the case interview to ensure they cover all necessary aspects of the case without running out of time? Candidates can manage their time effectively by quickly understanding the case prompt, structuring their approach clearly, prioritizing key analyses, staying focused on the most critical issues, and keeping an eye on the time to ensure they cover all necessary aspects without running out of time​ ​. However, keep in mind that it is also the McKinsey interviewer’s responsibility to go through all necessary elements of the case within the allotted time. If you are too slow (problematic) or too exhaustive yet add value to the question (not problematic), they might move the case forward on their own.

What are the most common reasons candidates fail in McKinsey case interviews, and how can these pitfalls be avoided? Common reasons for failure include lack of structure in problem-solving, missing key insights by not delving deep enough into the data, poor communication of thought process, and inability to adapt to new information. These pitfalls can be avoided by practicing structured problem-solving, actively engaging with the data, clearly articulating thought processes, and being flexible to pivot as needed​ ​.

Can you provide examples of unexpected or unconventional case types that have appeared in McKinsey interviews in recent years? Recent McKinsey interviews have featured cases beyond traditional business scenarios, such as identifying the right stakeholders to talk to in a situation or identifying reasons why an app has a low customer retention rate.

How does McKinsey adjust its case interview process for candidates with non-business backgrounds, such as those from engineering or humanities? McKinsey’s case interview process for candidates with non-business backgrounds is the same as for candidates with a business background. All cases focus on problem-solving skills and potential rather than specific business knowledge. Candidates are evaluated on their ability to structure problems, analyze data, and think critically, with the understanding that business-specific knowledge can be learned​ ​. This article not only outlines tips for passing McKinsey consulting interviews but also addresses preparing for McKinsey interviews without a business background, ensuring a holistic approach to your consulting journey.

What specific aspects of a candidate’s performance are McKinsey interviewers most focused on during the case interview? McKinsey interviewers focus on problem-solving skills, the ability to structure and analyze complex issues, creativity in developing solutions, clear and concise communication, and the potential for leadership and impact​ ​. They are looking for candidates with a well-rounded profile that have performance spikes in some areas and a robust performance in others (without clear weaknesses).

How does the difficulty level of McKinsey’s case interviews compare to real consulting projects at McKinsey? The difficulty level of McKinsey’s case interviews is designed to be comparable to the challenges faced in real consulting projects. They simulate the complex, ambiguous problems consultants tackle, testing candidates’ ability to navigate similar challenges effectively​ ​. The main difference is that they are simplified to the extent that it is feasible to go through them in 25 minutes.

Are there any particular industries or business functions that McKinsey is focusing on in its current case interviews due to market trends or strategic priorities of the firm? While McKinsey’s case interviews cover a wide range of industries and functions, there may be a focus on emerging areas of strategic importance such as digital transformation, sustainability, healthcare innovation, and analytics, reflecting broader market trends and the firm’s current priorities​ ​.

How has the transition to more virtual interviews affected the case interview process and candidates’ performance from McKinsey’s perspective? The transition to more virtual interviews has required adjustments in how cases are presented and how candidates engage with the material. While the core evaluation criteria remain unchanged, McKinsey has adapted to ensure a fair assessment, paying close attention to communication and problem-solving skills in a virtual format​ ​.

What advice do former candidates who successfully passed the McKinsey case interview have for future applicants? Former candidates advise practicing as much as possible, understanding the case interview format, focusing on structured problem-solving, developing clear and concise communication skills, being prepared to think on one’s feet, and demonstrating leadership potential and personal impact​ ​.

How can candidates incorporate feedback from practice sessions into improving their performance for the actual McKinsey case interview? Candidates can improve their performance by actively seeking feedback from practice sessions, identifying areas for improvement, working on specific skills such as structuring or analysis, practicing under realistic conditions (e.g., timed), and continuously refining their approach based on feedback​ ​.

In summary, acing the McKinsey case interview requires a deep understanding of the interview process, mastery of essential skills, and the ability to apply effective problem-solving strategies. In this article, we highlighted the key strategies for McKinsey problem-solving interviews, ensuring your preparation aligns with the best practices for McKinsey interview preparation. By embracing the MECE principle, applying the 80/20 rule, adopting a hypothesis-driven approach, and incorporating creativity and business intuition, you will be well-equipped to tackle any case interview challenge.

Remember to invest time in preparing for both the Personal Experience Interview and the case interview itself, using the wealth of resources and practice materials available. Focus on developing a structured approach, honing your analytical and communication skills, and staying adaptable throughout the interview process.

As you embark on your McKinsey case interview journey, stay confident and persistent in your efforts. By applying the tips and strategies shared in this article, you will be one step closer to achieving your consulting career aspirations. We wish you the best of luck in your journey toward success at McKinsey.

We Want to Hear from You!

Your journey to mastering the McKinsey case interview is unique, and you might have lingering questions or insights you’d like to share. Whether you’re curious about specific parts of the McKinsey interview process, seeking further clarification on case interview preparation strategies, or have your own tips for navigating the challenges of consulting interviews, we’re here to engage and assist.

Drop your questions, experiences, or advice in the comments below.

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mckinsey problem solving examples

Florian spent 5 years with McKinsey as a senior consultant. He is an experienced consulting interviewer and problem-solving coach, having interviewed 100s of candidates in real and mock interviews. He started StrategyCase.com to make top-tier consulting firms more accessible for top talent, using tailored and up-to-date know-how about their recruiting. He ranks as the most successful consulting case and fit interview coach, generating more than 500 offers with MBB, tier-2 firms, Big 4 consulting divisions, in-house consultancies, and boutique firms through direct coaching of his clients over the last 3.5 years. His books “The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview” and “Consulting Career Secrets” are available via Amazon.

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McKinsey Problem Solving Test: Strategies & Practice Questions

Table of contents.

As a consultant, you need to have strong logical thinking, data interpretation, analytical reasoning, and mental math skills.

So it’s not surprising that McKinsey tests for these skills during their recruitment process.

In fact, they are tested in the very first step of the recruitment process: the McKinsey Problem Solving Test.

What is the McKinsey PST?

The McKinsey Problem-Solving Test (PST) is a data interpretation and analytical reasoning test that candidates take before being offered a first-round case interview .

McKinsey use the test to weed out applications. It is considered to be one of the most difficult recruitment tests because it tests a broad range of skills in a tight time constraint.

The McKinsey PST is formulated to assess whether you have the critical skills to function effectively as an analyst/consultant. It’s not about testing your memory or business knowledge but is directed towards your mathematical acumen and logic skills.

Broadly speaking, the McKinsey PST tests the candidate’s ability to:

  • Accurately identify key data within graphs, tables, and text documents
  • Interpret that data and make quick calculations
  • Select the most appropriate answer based on those calculations

Does every candidate take the McKinsey PST?

Almost everyone does, especially if they’re applying for a role directly out of undergrad (i.e. Business Analyst) or post-MBA (i.e. Associate).

There are some exceptions, such as experienced hires. But it’s safe to assume that you’ll likely be required to take the PST. If you’re unsure, reach out to your McKinsey HR contact.

What’s the pass rate?

Nobody is certain about the exact cut-off score for the McKinsey PST.

However, successful recruits have estimated that the pass rate is about 70%. This implies that for the 26-question test, you need to nail at least 19 of them to be successful.

On average, about 30-35% of candidates achieve a pass rate. And there is no need to worry about outperforming other candidates. The scores are not graded on a curve, so as long as you perform above the pass threshold, you should be called for an interview.

mckinsey problem solving examples

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What is the format of the test?

The McKinsey PST is based on 3 different business case studies and is an hour long. There are a total of 26 multiple choice questions divided over the 3 cases; each case represents a different organization facing a specific business challenge, such as a profitability problem or a new market entry decision.

Electronic tools, such as calculators and smartphones are not allowed. All calculations are to be undertaken mentally or on a blank space on the test sheets. Use of scratch paper is also prohibited.

Types of questions in the McKinsey PST

McKinsey PST questions can be divided into three categories: math word problems, data interpretation questions, and reading comprehension probes.

Math word problems (with examples)

These are questions that represent a mathematical problem in the form of text.

You need to identify and analyze the information provided and manipulate it mathematically to find the correct answer. While you don’t need to be a rocket scientist who smashes out complicated calculations, you still have to hone your mental math capacities to reach the right answer in the minimum time possible.

An example math word problem from McKinsey’s Practice Test A :

If Marcadia had driven higher purchasing from the new customers in Exhibit 3 so that the one year value of customers is in Quantiles 1 thru 4 were each to increase to the next highest quintile, how much greater would Marcadia’s total one year customer value have been? $250,000 $650,000 $2.5 million $6.5 million

Data interpretation questions (with examples)

These questions consist of graphs, tables, exhibits, and text that provides information about example business cases. You have to decipher and analyze the data provided to pick out the correct answers.

The best way to address these is by eliminating the entirely wrong answers and then working through the partially correct and definitively correct ones. These can be tricky and require a sound foundation in critical thinking and analytical skills.

An example data interpretation problem from McKinsey’s Practice Test B :

Based on the data presented in Table 1 and Exhibit 1, which of the following statements is true? The rate of increase in shripe price from May to October is the same as the rate of decrease in profit margin in these three months Freddie’s  made 5% less profit in August than it did in May Freddie’s a greater profit in August than it did in May Restaurant prices for shrimp dishes were 10% higher in October than in May

Reading comprehension questions (with examples)

The third type of question is reading comprehension problems that test your ability to draw the correct conclusion from a text extract. These questions do not require any mathematical calculations.

An example reading comprehension problem from McKinsey’s Practice Test C :

Which of the following questions best summarizes the CEO’s concerns? Does stamp cancellation take up too much unnecessary time in the processing of manual mail? Would the gain in productivity from stopping stamp cancellation in manual mail be worth more than the lost revenue from fraudulent re-use of stamps? Would the amount of time saved from stopping manual stamp cancellation result in a significant decrease in the time spent processing manual mail? Does it make sense to stop the cancllation of stamps on manual mail given that the majority of mail now goes through machines?

Sample tests and practice questions

You can find sample tests on the McKinsey website:

  • McKinsey PST Practice Test A
  • McKinsey PST Practice Test B
  • McKinsey PST Practice Test C

How to prepare for the McKinsey PST?

Here’s our recommended approach for taking the PST:

  • Review the official McKinsey PST sample tests and fa miliarize yourself with the question formats and common mistakes.
  • Polish up your test-taking skills (e.g. mental math skills, reading speed, and data selection).
  • Practice a few questions and time yourself, to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Revisit step 2 to address your weaknesses.
  • Practice at least one mock test replicating the test conditions.
  • Evaluate and revisit your performance and your errors.
  • Take the mock test again and keep repeating until you are confident about getting a score that is equal to or above 90%.

Tips for passing

  • Do not leave any questions blank. There is no negative marking for wrong answers
  • Use your time smartly. For each answer, you have on average about 2 minutes. If the question is taking longer than that, skip it and come back later.
  • Practice, practice, and practice more. The computations on the PST are not very complex; just basic arithmetic operations. But there are a lot of them and you are required to perform all of them at lightning speed without much time to double-check.
  • Brush up your estimation skills. Even if you don’t have the time to calculate precise values, you can still use approximation methods to differentiate the right choice from the wrong ones.
  • For each PST multiple-choice question, you can easily eliminate choices that are very far away from the right answers and focus on the remaining two or three options.

And some advice from candidates who have taken the PST:

mckinsey problem solving examples

Break into the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. Launch Your Consulting Career Today!

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Welcome to Mckinseysolve.com, the premier platform dedicated to providing detailed and up-to-date information on the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. Our mission is to support aspiring consultants in their journey to excel in the game and secure their dream careers in the consulting industry. With a team of experienced professionals, we curate valuable resources, including test breakdowns, recruitment updates, free practice materials, and a thriving consulting community. Join us as we empower you with the knowledge and tools you need to conquer the McKinsey Problem Solving Game and pave your way to success in the world of consulting.

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Avoid These Common Mistakes in the McKinsey Problem-Solving Game (PSG)

Avoid These Common Mistakes in the McKinsey Problem-Solving Game (PSG) Facebook Reddit Twitter LinkedIn WhatsApp Table of Contents Brief overview

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Mastering the McKinsey Ecosystem Building Game: Expert Tips for Success

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Understanding the McKinsey Problem Solving Game (PSG) Scoring (Latest update 2023)

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McKinsey Problem Solving Game: Full Practice Guide 2023

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Unveiling the McKinsey Solve Game: Red Rock Study (latest update 2023)

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mckinsey problem solving examples

Mastering the McKinsey Problem Solving Game in 2024

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game is a gamified test to screen candidates.

Your college’s reputation and GPA or GMAT score are not enough anymore.

Now, you must pass the McKinsey Problem Solving Game to get interviews .

And like everything else at McKinsey: it’s very selective.

Thus, in this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What the McKinsey Problem Solving Game is
  • Which skills are assessed during the test
  • What are your chances to pass
  • What technical information you must know (duration, constraints, etc.)
  • How to tackle the game’s various scenarios
  • How to prepare for the McKinsey PSG
  • And lots more.

Update July 2023 : you’ll also find an in-depth analysis of the newest Redrock scenario in this guide.

If you want to practice the McKinsey Solve beforehand to ensure no surprises on test day, check out PSG Secrets’  McKinsey Solve simulation . These exercises simulate the actual exercises you’ll work through on test day.

Let’s dive in right now!

Table of Contents

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game in a nutshell

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Understanding the mckinsey problem solving game.

Imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene forest populated by many kinds of wildlife. As you take in the flora and fauna, you learn about an urgent matter demanding your attention: the animals quickly succumb to an unknown illness. It’s up to you to figure out what to do – and then act quickly to protect what you can.

Are you familiar with this paragraph?

This is the description of one of the McKinsey Problem Solving Game scenarios .

It’s a gamified test to assess candidates’ problem solving skills

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game, also known as the McKinsey Digital Assessment, is designed to evaluate your cognitive ability and problem-solving skills in a fun and engaging way .

But, unlike traditional testing methods, this innovative digital assessment uses the Imbellus software to assess the quality of solutions generated through mini-games, such as the Ecosystem Building Game and the Redrock Study.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game

But how does it work, and how can you prepare for this unique recruitment process?

Let’s dive deeper into the game’s purpose and key components.

The Purpose of the Game is to screen candidates

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game is used to screen candidates and is part of the recruiting process.

McKinsey PSG - recruitment process

Interviewing candidates is expensive.

Thus, the McKinsey Problem Solving Game evaluates if candidates possess the characteristics to become successful consultants before interviewing those candidates .

To do so, the game assesses five key cognitive abilities:

  • Critical thinking,
  • Data decision making,
  • Meta-cognition,
  • Situational awareness,
  • Systems thinking.

McKinsey PSG - skills assessed

And McKinsey will use the test taker’s score for these five criteria to predict the candidate’s likelihood of thriving at McKinsey .

This innovative approach to candidate evaluation goes beyond traditional testing methods.

It utilizes real-time data such as mouse movement, keystrokes, and clicks to assess a candidate’s thinking process.

In other words:

The game’s scoring system considers both the quality of the solutions generated and the efficiency and organization of the approach .

Note: The Solve assessment was developed and iterated by Imbellus ( now owned by gaming giant Roblox ) to replace the McKinsey PST

Note: McKinsey Solve, McKinsey Imbellus, McKinsey Game, Imbellus Test, McKinsey Digital Assessment, and McKinsey Problem Solving Game are all synonyms.

Related article : check this article to learn about the McKinsey recruitment process .

Test takers are asked to play 2 out of 6 mini-games

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game is divided into several mini-games, each designed to assess different aspects of your problem-solving skills.

The game features scenarios, time restrictions, and a scoring system, making it similar to a video game.

The different PSG scenarios

As mentioned in the above picture, since March 2023, the two scenarios you’ll most likely encounter are the Ecosystem Game and Redrock Study.

In the Ecosystem Building Mini Game ?

The sustainability of the constructed ecosystem and the efficiency and organization of the approach taken are evaluated.

Secondly, the Redrock Study is an updated version of the original PST assessment, focusing on chart reading, percentage calculations, and data interpretation .

To succeed in this mini-game, candidates must be able to analyze data and make informed decisions based on the available information.

The 2 parts of the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

There is no right or wrong answer

Like case interviews, there is no right or wrong answer.

Like other top consulting firms, McKinsey is more keen to evaluate candidates’ thinking process.

In other words, your decision making process is as important as your answer .

Finally, check this video – from McKinsey’s website – explaining what to expect in the Problem Solving Game.

To see what these games actually look and feel like, you can practice these games through PSG Secrets’  McKinsey Solve simulation .

Tackling the Ecosystem Building Scenario

The Ecosystem Building scenario is a core McKinsey Problem Solving Game component, requiring candidates to construct a balanced marine or terrestrial ecosystem.

As stated at the beginning of the game, the goal is threefold:

  • Select 8 species (from a list of 39 species) that must survive as an ecosystem
  • Choose a location for the ecosystem
  • Submit your ecosystem

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - main goals

To build this sustainable ecosystem, you must do the following:

  • Terrain specifications: the location of the ecosystem must meet the living conditions for the 8 species you’ll select
  • Calories balance: Each species must be fed with enough calories from food to sustain itself.
  • Food chain management: each species must not be eaten into extinction by its predators.

The next three sections will examine the challenges and strategies for success in the Ecosystem Building scenario .

Terrain Specifications

Understanding terrain specifications is crucial for success in the Ecosystem Building scenario, as it directly impacts species selection.

The terrain specifications refer to the environmental conditions of a given location, including temperature, humidity, and air pressure.

These specifications directly influence the species that can thrive in that location .

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game features Mountain, Reef, and Desert terrains, and each species has required terrain specifications, typically expressed as ranges (e.g., Temperature: 20-30 C).

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - terrain specification and living conditions

To construct a sustainable ecosystem, candidates must carefully consider the terrain specifications and select species that can thrive in the designated location.

Each species has specific terrain specs that have to be met.

If they aren’t met, the species won’t survive, and you won’t achieve the game’s objective .

Food Chain Management

Creating a balanced food chain is another critical aspect of the Ecosystem Building scenario.

In the game, the food chain consists of two types of species: producers and consumers.

Consumers can be classified as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores, and each species has a few natural predators (Eaten By) and prey (Food Sources).

To ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem, it is vital to monitor the “calorie needed” and “calorie provided” specs of each species, ensuring that no species is eaten to extinction .

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - jaguar

Calories balance

To make the ecosystem sustainable, your food chain must respect 3 rules.

To begin with, the species with the highest “calories provided” eats first. And it eats its “food source” with the highest calories provided.

Secondly, when a “food source” is eaten, its “calories provided” decrease permanently by an amount equal to the eating species’ “calories needed.”

Next, the species with the highest current “calories provided” eats.

To win the game, all the species must have their “calories needed” fully provided and “calories provided” above zero .

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - eating rules

An example of a working food chain:

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - food chain working

And an example of a food chain not working:

McKinsey PSG - Ecosystem building - food chain not working

Source: PSGSecrets.com

A sample game

Now that you know the Ecosystem Management game, you can watch the following video.

In this video?

A candidate filmed his screen while taking the McKinsey Solve Game:

Mastering the Redrock Study

The RedRock Study is the latest McKinsey Problem Solving Game addition to test your decision making process.

The game’s plot is that you are sent to an island to analyze the species.

To solve this mini-game, you must go through 3 phases: investigation, analysis, and report .

Each of these phases, mimicking a consulting project, will be detailed in the next sections.

Also, after the 3 phases, you’ll have to answer 10 case questions.

Besides, like the first game (Ecosystem Management), you have 35 minutes to complete the RedRock study.

The investigation phase

In this first phase, you must read a text.

And then collect the information you might need later.

The main challenge is identifying the relevant data.

Because most of the information shown is irrelevant.

Thus, be careful not to waste too much time.

And once you’ve collected all the information, you can move to the analysis phase.

The analysis phase

Here, you’ll be asked to answer three numerical questions.

And don’t worry: a virtual calculator is embedded in the game.

But, you need to use the information gathered in phase 1 to answer these questions correctly.

And very important: write down your answers because you’ll need them in the next phase.

The report phase

Finally, you’ll have to write a summary of your analysis and present your data in charts.

The report phase has two main components:

A written part where you’ll be asked to answer 5 questions based on your analysis,

And a visual part where you’ll be asked to choose a type of graph to show the results of your analysis.

You’ll move to the case questions after completing the report phase.

The case questions

In this final phase, you must answer up to 10 case questions.

And these case questions are similar to those in the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST).

McKinsey PST sample question

Thus, I recommend practicing with the old McKinsey PST practice tests (see below).

Because the goal will be to sharpen your numerical and chart interpretation skills.

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Acing the Plant Defense Mini Game

Preliminary note: since March 2023, McKinsey has no longer used the Plant Defense Game.

However, I encourage you to study the following tactics if McKinsey uses this game again .

What is the Plant Defense Game?

The Plant Defense scenario is another McKinsey Problem Solving Game core component.

In this scenario, candidates must defend a base (a square on the map), represented by a native plant, from various invading species, such as rats, foxes, and other predators.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game - Plant Defense Scenario

In the Plant Defense scenario, candidates must strategically place defenders and manage resources effectively to protect the base from invading species .

Defenders, such as terrain features like mountains or forests, or animal defenders like snakes or eagles, have a specified range of coverage and inflict damage on invaders that enter it.

Terrain features can also obstruct or slow down various types of invaders.

How to Win the Plant Defense Game?

You must protect the particular land as long as possible.

To do so, you must predict when and how the invaders will attack to protect the land.

Now, here are my expert tips to win the Plant Defense game.

Step 1: Understand barriers and defenders

First, select the resources you’ll use to protect the plant.

And those resources can be defenders (snakes, eagles, coyotes, etc.) or natural barriers (forests, rocks, cliffs, etc.).

Plus, each animal and barrier has specific characteristics.

Animals can kill the invaders (or damage them), while barriers can slow them down.

And each defender is effective on a certain number of squares around them.

For instance:

Eagles cover more squares but inflict less damage.

Snakes cover only one square but inflict more damage.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game - Plant Defense Scenario - step 1

Step 2: Define a strategy to place resources

At the beginning of the game, you must place five barriers or defenders on the map.

Expert tip : place defenders with large areas of influence close to the plant to defend.

And use barriers to create bottlenecks to make defenders even more effective.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game - Plant Defense Scenario - step 2

Step 3: Understand and analyze the invaders

The invaders appear at the edge of the map.

And their numbers increase during the game.

Check the invaders’ characteristics to identify the best barriers or defenders to use.

McKinsey Problem Solving Game - Plant Defense Scenario - step 3

Step 4: Adjust the strategy

Your defense strategy can be adjusted after each invader’s move.

Remember: try to create circular defenses around the plant.

Note: all of the above screenshots are from our partner PSGSecrets.com .

Now, let’s discuss the other mini games that McKinsey used. 

McKinsey Problem Solving Game - Plant Defense Scenario - step 4

Alternative Mini-Games and Their Challenges

All the candidates who recently passed the game (as of July 2023) had to deal with the Ecosystem building game and Redrock scenarios.

However, consulting is an ever-changing industry.

And so does the McKinsey Problem Solving Game!

Hence, maybe you’ll have one of the following scenarios.

Or a new one that has never been given so far.

Bottom line: be prepared for anything.

Ok, let’s discuss the alternative mini-games previous candidates had.

Disaster Management Game

The natural Disaster Management mini-game involves identifying the type of natural disaster in an ecosystem and relocating the animals from this ecosystem to maximize their survival.

Disease Management

The Disease Management mini-game requires candidates to accurately identify the disease that has infiltrated the ecosystem and implement the necessary measures to contain it.

To succeed in this mini-game, candidates must discern the disease pattern within the ecosystem and anticipate who will be exposed next.

Finally, candidates must select a treatment based on the characteristics of the disease, the animal population, and the treatment options.

Migration Management

The Migration Management mini-game involves identifying the migration patterns of the animals in the ecosystem and implementing necessary steps to ensure their safety.

This requires a deep understanding of the factors that influence animal migration.

Preparing for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

Mckinsey solve simulation platforms.

Several simulation platforms help candidates practice the mini-games like the original McKinsey Game.

By utilizing these simulation platforms, candidates can familiarize themselves with the game’s mechanics, challenges, and time constraints.

I recommend using the simulations at PSGSecrets.com .

Francesco Rieppi, a former BCG consultant, has designed this platform and offers an incredible money-back guarantee if you don’t pass the Game.

PSG secrets

Note for full transparency : this is an affiliate link. Hence, I’ll get a commission if you purchase Francesco’s product (but without additional costs for you).

Developing Critical Thinking for Success

This is the most important skill to develop to secure a McKinsey offer. 

McKinsey - Importance of Critical Thinking to get an offer

Source: McKinsey and Imbellus teams .

So, what does “critical thinking” mean?

According to Wikipedia :

Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment by applying rational, skeptical, and unbiased analyses and evaluations.

Thus, candidates must be able to quickly assimilate and analyze large quantities of data, identify patterns and trends, and make well-informed decisions based on available information.

How can you develop your critical thinking?

In the next sections, we will discuss strategies to improve your critical thinking and how these strategies can be applied to tackle the game’s various scenarios .

Practice analyzing data with McKinsey PST questions

First, practice with the good old McKinsey PST questions

McKinsey Problem Solving Test

The McKinsey PST practice tests look like this.

First, you have a text to give you some context.

McKinsey PST - example 1

Secondly, you can also find exhibits to provide more information.

McKinsey PST - example 2

And finally, you have a list of questions.

McKinsey PST - example 3

And to answer those questions, you must use the information and data provided at the beginning.

Practice analyzing data with GMAT questions

Besides the McKinsey PST, you can also use GMAT questions to develop your skills.

But not any GMAT question.

The Quantitative Reasoning and Integrated Reasoning questions are great drills to prepare for the screening tests and case interviews used by top consulting firms like McKinsey.

Quantitative Reasoning

There are two questions in the Quantitative Reasoning Section: Problem-Solving: Measures your ability to use logic and analytical reasoning to solve quantitative problems.

Data Sufficiency: Measures your ability to analyze a quantitative problem, recognize the relevant data, and determine when enough data exists to solve the problem.

Both types of questions require some knowledge of arithmetic, elementary algebra, and commonly known concepts of geometry.

Rest assured that the difficulty of the questions stems from the logic and analytical skills required, not the underlying math skills.

Sample Problem-Solving Question

If u > t, r > q, s > t, and t > r, which of the following must be true?

u > s s > q u > r (A) I only

(B) II only

(C) III only

(D) I and II

(E) II and III

Answer: (E)

Sample Data Sufficiency Question

If a real estate agent received a commission of 6 percent of the selling price of a certain house, what was the house’s selling price?

(1) The selling price minus the real estate agent’s commission was $84,600.

(2) The selling price was 250 percent of the original purchase price of $36,000.

(A) Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.

(B) Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.

(C) BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.

(D) EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.

(E) Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.

Answer: (D)

Integrated Reasoning

There are four types of questions in the Integrated Reasoning Section:

Multi-Source Reasoning: Measures your ability to examine data from multiple sources text passages, tables, graphics, or some combination of the three—and to analyze each source of data to answer multiple questions carefully.

Table Analysis: Measures your ability to sort and analyze a data table, like a spreadsheet, to determine what information is relevant or meets certain conditions.

Graphics Interpretation: Measures your ability to interpret the information presented in a graph or other graphical image (scatter plot, x/y graph, bar chart, pie chart, or statistical curve distribution) to discern relationships and make inferences.

and Two-Part Analysis: Measures your ability to solve complex problems. They could be quantitative, verbal, or some combination of both. The format is intentionally versatile to cover a wide range of content. Your ability to evaluate trade-offs, solve simultaneous equations, and discern relationships between two entities is measured.

The questions involve quantitative and verbal reasoning, separately or in combination.

Sample GMAT Integrated Reasoning question:

Sample GMAT Integrated Reasoning Question

Source: https://studyabroad.shiksha.com/gmat-sample-questions-integrated-reasoning-section-articlepage-1659

And here is the best part:

You can easily find online many GMAT simulation platforms with free trial periods.

Hence, you’ll be able to practice with time constraints.

And better feel the pressure of the clock ticking in a test 😅

Mental calculations

Most questions on the Redrock involve math, particularly percentages.

Therefore, it is wise to practice calculations involving percentages before the game.

What’s 80% of 8,200?

How much sales (today: $82m) should increase to reach $140m?

Like the GMAT, these questions are not too difficult.

But the limited time (and the pressure) makes it challenging.

Hypothesis Formation

Forming hypotheses based on available information is another essential McKinsey Problem Solving Game skill.

Hypothesis formation is the process of devising a predictive statement or tentative explanation about a phenomenon or problem based on limited evidence or prior knowledge.

To form hypotheses effectively, it is necessary to consider the context of the problem, analyze the available data, and evaluate the potential implications of the hypothesis .

Additionally, it is important to consider the potential for bias in the data and contemplate alternative hypotheses.

As new data is presented during the game, candidates must be able to adjust their hypotheses accordingly.

This may include revising the hypothesis, discarding it, or forming a new hypothesis.

Being flexible and adaptable in the face of new information is crucial for success in the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, as it allows candidates to respond effectively to changing circumstances and make the best decisions based on the most up-to-date information.

Gaming for Success

Some applicants said the McKinsey Digital Assessment could be overwhelming if you aren’t accustomed to playing computer games.

The learning curve for the PSG is shortened for players who play frequently, particularly those who enjoy strategy games.

They are quicker to figure out what to do next and when to do it because they are usually more familiar with game environments.

However, some video game genres will be more helpful in preparing for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game.

The gameplay in the following video games is somewhat reminiscent of that in the McKinsey PSG :

  • Zoo Tycoon – similar to Ecosystem creation
  • Planet Zoo – similar to Ecosystem creation
  • Kingdom Rush – similar to Plant Defense
  • Roller Coaster Tycoon – similar to Ecosystem creation
  • Planet Coaster – similar to Ecosystem creation
  • Plants VS Zombies – similar to Plant Defense

As you can see, there is a lot of mini games you can use to practice.

Besides, if you know any, you can play a traditional board game, especially strategy games.

Zoo Tycoon

Frequently asked questions (and final tips)

How hard is it to pass the mckinsey problem solving game.

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game can be challenging due to its difficult passing rate.

Estimates suggest that only 20-30% of test candidates are successful.

Does everyone get invited to the McKinsey problem solving game?

As of 2023, all the candidates who passed the resume screening were asked to take the Problem Solving Game.

And the game is used by all McKinsey divisions (Digital and Operations) in their hiring processes.

Will I receive a score for my performance after the McKinsey Online Assessment?

Usually, you don’t receive a score but a confirmation of whether you passed the game.

What is the purpose of the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game tests a candidate’s ability to think critically and solve complex problems.

And this game is an important part of the McKinsey recruitment process.

It happens before PEI and case interviews.

So McKinsey can identify the best possible candidates for their consulting roles.

What are the differences between the McKinsey PSG and McKinsey PST?

The McKinsey PST (Problem Solving Test) was a traditional standardized admission test.

These traditional assessments focus on content mastery, processing speed, and memory. These factors ignore the increasing need to develop and measure capabilities required by the 21st-century workforce. These tests ignore the cognitive process that users engage in during that task.

Source: Imbellus and McKinsey teams

Thus, unlike the PST, the game doesn’t require business knowledge.

Besides, the McKinsey Problem Solving Game score is based on the final results and the steps to reach the results.

Imbellus assessments focus on evaluating how people think instead of what they know. Through the scenarios in our simulation-based environments, we observe details of users’ cognitive processes, not just their end choices.

How long is the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

The total time is between 60 and 75 minutes.

And time management is a critical success factor to pass this test.

What is the usual response time from HR?

Normally candidates receive an answer within two weeks after they’ve completed the test.

Will I have to take the test from home?

Yes. McKinsey will send you a link to take the test.

Also, they will provide you with another link to check if the technical characteristics of your laptop are enough to play the McKinsey Problem Solving Game.

Can I pause the game once it has started?

No. You must go through all the mini games at one time once you have started.

Any last advice?

Before you start the Game, make sure you are in a silent room (mute your phone) and check your internet connection.

The best way to practice is to simulate the actual games themselves. PSG Secrets offers a realistic simulation of the McKinsey Solve  that you can play through.

Besides, prepare pens, papers, and the templates provided in the psgsecrets platform.

I hope you enjoyed this guide about the McKinsey digital assessment.

And that you feel more confident of winning the McKinsey Problem Solving Game.

The best way to practice this is by playing through a realistic simulation of the McKinsey Solve .

Now, I’d like to hear from you:

Which scenario is the most challenging, in your opinion?

Will you play more video games to prepare for this test?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now.

Related articles :

How to answer the question “Why consulting” and “Why McKinsey? Why BCG? Why Bain & Company?” .

Also: read this article to write a compelling and personalized cover letter.

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McKinsey Solve Game: Newest Updates & Guide (2024)

Check out the only, fully-playable McKinsey Solve Test (Problem-Solving Game) Simulation in the entire market, with the new 2024 Redrock Study Task.

With that out of the way, let's continue to learn about the test, shall we?

What is McKinsey Solve (or Problem-Solving Game)?

Mckinsey solve is a gamified, pre-interview screening test .

McKinsey Solve (formerly called Problem-Solving Game, Digital Assessment, or colloquially the "Imbellus Game") is  a gamified test designed by Imbellus for the McKinsey & Company. 

In the McKinsey recruitment process, the Solve Game sits between the resume screening and the case interviews , serving the same purpose as the paper-based tests – ruling out the “unfit” candidates to save time and resources during the expensive case interview phase.

Solve has entered trial since 2017 (back then it was known as the Digital Assessment) and has been rolling out extensively in 2020. Since then, Solve had replaced the paper-based Problem Solving Test in every McKinsey office.

The test is mandatory for candidates applying in all practices: General, Operations & Implementation, Research & Analytics, Digital, etc.

Note: As this is a gamified test, in this article, the two terms “game” and “test” will be used interchangeably when referring to the McKinsey Solve.

McKinsey Solve Simulation (All-in-One)

The one and only existing platform to practice three mini-games of McKinsey Solve in a simulated setting

Thumbnail of McKinsey Solve Simulation (All-in-One)

The new gamified test is supposedly crack-proof

Now, why did McKinsey change the test format from a paper-based test to a game? Keith McNulty, McKinsey’s Global Director of People Analytics and Measurement, put it this way:

“Recruiting only knows if candidates got the right answer, not how they approached the question. Plus, there’s a large amount of strategy, preparation, and luck involved in multiple-choice tests, and if you use them in the selection process, it reinforces the status quo—at a time when you are looking to widen the scope of candidates you’re hiring.”

So essentially, McKinsey is trying to create a test/game that is impossible to game (ironic, isn’t it?).

But in fact it can be broken down into bite-size pieces

With field reports from hundreds of real test takers, we have gathered enough insights to break down the McKinsey Solve into bite-size pieces, which are fairly consistent across candidates. Using those insights, we can derive working overall approaches to the game.

In this article, we will cover:

Technical details of the test : time limit, number of tasks and mini-games, assessment criteria

Break-down of each mini-game : description, underlying logic, and recommended strategy

Test-taking tips to maximize your chances

Similar games for practicing the McKinsey Solve Game

It is important to keep in mind that since neither Imbellus nor McKinsey publicizes the exact details of the criteria/mechanisms used in-game, the insights in this article – reported by our correspondents – may not reflect 100% of the in-game elements.

What is the McKinsey Solve like?

The McKinsey Solve Test or Digital Assessment has a time limit of 60-80 minutes . The candidate is asked to solve 2 out of 6 possible mini-games. Both the final results and the process are assessed , and if the candidate is found to possess similar skills and tendencies to a McKinsey consultant, they are offered an interview.

For a more detailed guide on the technical details of the game, please check out the McKinsey PSG Simulation (All-in-one) package.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Figure 1: Overview of McKinsey Solve / McKinsey PSG

Time limit is 71 minutes

As of April 2021, the reported time limit for the McKinsey Solve is exactly 70 or 71 minutes , with 35 minutes recommended for the first game (Ecosystem Building), and 35 minutes for the second game ( Redrock Study ), or 36 minutes (Plant Defense). Time spent on tutorials is not counted towards the limit.

Ever since the start of the game, there have been variations in time limit reports, however, these tend to stay between 60-80 minutes. This variation depends on the length of each mini-game.

Pre-2023, i.e. with Plant Defense mini-game : Actual time allocation depends entirely on the candidate’s decision – however since the first game is much more predictable, we recommend playing this quickly to allow more time for the second game. With a proper approach, the first game should take only 15-20 minutes, with time for a double-check taken into account.

Summer 2023 onward, i.e. with Redrock Study mini-game : The Ecosystem Building mini-game is now allocated a fixed 35-minutes, and the Redrock Study another 35. That means even if you finish the first game early, there is no additional time for the second game.

Candidates should also make the most out of the tutorial time – try to guess the objective of the mini-game, and think of an overall approach before beginning a mini-game. You can also use that time to make necessary preparations, such as pen and paper, or maybe a light snack to keep yourself energized.

Each candidate has to solve 2 out of 6 mini-games 

As of June 2023, 6 mini-games are confirmed for the McKinsey Solve Test: Ecosystem Building, Redrock Study, Plant Defense, Disaster Management, Disease Management, Migration Management . The 2 main mini-games that nearly all candidates will encounter are the Ecosystem Building Game and the Redrock Study Task. 

Our reports indicate that 100% of the McKinsey Solve Test will have Ecosystem Building in the first game slot. For the second game slot, right now, 80-90% of the candidates will have the Redrock Study Task , while 10-20% will have the Plant Defense game (before this, the ratio for the second game was reversed). This means McKinsey is gradually phasing out Plant Defense in favor of the Redrock Study Task .

The first one, Ecosystem Building, is similar to city building games - except with animals instead of buildings - where you have to build an ecosystem with a number of species.

In the Redrock Study Task, your mission is to solve ONE large study using on-screen tools then move on to answering 10 smaller cases with a similar topic.

Watch this video to gain more insight into the interface, functions, and contents of the Redrock Study Task (2024 latest version)! 

The other 3 games - Disaster Management, Disease Management, Migration Management - are alternatives that McKinsey previously used for beta testing. They no-longer appear in the McKinsey Solve test in 2023.

Disaster Management involves identifying the natural disaster occurring in an ecosystem and moving the whole system to another location to minimize damage. This mini-game appeared occasionally from 2020 to 2021.

Disease Management is about identifying an infectious disease, figuring out its rules of infection, and predicting its spread within an ecosystem. This mini-game appeared occasionally from 2020 to 2021.

Migration Management is about directing a group of animals from one point to another such that it loses the least amount of resources and animals. This mini-game appeared occasionally from 2021 to 2022.

If you are looking for a tool simulating exactly the McKinsey Solve to familiarize with the test, our McKinsey Solve Simulation can help you. Using the code “ SOLVEMCPYT ”, you can get a 10% off for any first purchase of this product. Check it now!

The next part will be about how candidates are assessed – if that’s not in your interest, you can skip straight to the mini-game and strategy guide using this link.

Every keystroke and mouse movement will be assessed

Each candidate will be assessed using both product scores (i.e. the final results) and process scores (i.e. how they get those results).

Product scores are determined by your level of success in achieving the objectives of the mini-games.

In the first mini-game, while there is no 100% right answer, some solutions will be better than others. You will be given this information through a report screen. For the second mini-game, the final results are definitive fact-based and data-based answers. There will be right and wrong answers, but McKinsey will not inform you how many correct answers/actions you get.

Mini-game 1: How many species survive? 

Mini-game 2: Did you pick the right data points? Are your calculations and reports correct? Did you choose a suitable graph to display the data?

Process scores, on the other hand, are dictated using data on your patterns during the whole problem-solving process – every keystroke, every click, and every mouse movement will be assessed.

The process and product scores are combined to form a profile of problem-solving skills and capabilities. And while there is no official statement from McKinsey about which candidates they select, it is likely that the more you resemble a high-performing consultant at McKinsey, the higher your chances will be.

Candidates are assessed on five core dimensions

Your problem-solving profile is drawn using the five following dimensions:

Critical thinking : the ability to form a rational judgment from a set of facts

Decision-making : the ability to select the best course of action among options

Meta-cognition : the ability to use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier (e.g., testing hypothesis, taking notes)

Situational awareness : the ability to determine the relationships between different factors and to project the outcomes of a mini-game

Systems thinking : the ability to understand cause & effect relationships involving several factors and feedback loops (e.g., anticipating several orders of consequences)

The good news is that all the skills assessed are generally not evaluated by themselves, which means training one skill will probably also drive up your assessment scores in others . This is absolutely crucial because you won’t have to go into every nitty-gritty task just to squeeze out some extra score.

Furthermore, while all capabilities must be presented for success, some metrics are considered to be more impactful than others. From this Imbellus research paper , we could deduce that Critical thinking, Situational awareness, and Systems thinking are the fundamental skills that all successful candidates need to possess.

Meanwhile,  Decision-Making and Meta-Cognition skills mastery are the advanced skills that will transform candidates from good to great ones.

Median Construct Percentile through McKinsey Recruiting Pipeline

Figure 2: Median Construct Percentile through McKinsey Recruiting Pipeline (Source: Imbellus)

The test measures telemetry data to calculate the five dimensions

While it is hard to pinpoint exactly the telemetry data gathered since Imbellus does not fully disclose this information, one way of framing this is by each stage of the problem-solving process itself.

Based on our findings from real candidates, we believe the telemetry could be assorted into the following sets, each directly influencing the key activities during the stages from identifying the problem to delivering the next-step recommendation.

Problem Identification: your systematic thinking pattern

Methodological vs. abstract

Big-picture thinking vs. detail-oriented

Example telemetry: prioritization and focus tendency, clicking and decision pattern

Quantitative analysis & data synthesis: the ability to translate data into insights

Drawing relationship between data

Filter out correlated or irrelevant information

Example telemetry: data focus pattern, time spent on quantitative task

Hypothesis-crafting: bringing insights into actionable hypothesis

Putting emphasis on a certain approach / methodology from insights

Example telemetry: duration of the transition from analysis to decision-making, disrupted status quo period

Decision-making: coherence in actions and thinking

Random selection or well-thought out decisions based on analysis

Decisiveness in carrying out actions with the chosen tactics

Reaction under growing time pressure – panic clicking vs. calm and focus

Example telemetry: factors connecting each selection, time spent deciding between options

Next-step recommendation: learning and reflection

Ability to adjust existing strategy and preference for tried-and-true method in presence of new data set or shifting conditions

Progressive learning and reflection with failures and successes

Example telemetry: number of clicks, scrolling speed, time spent on certain data blocks

Breaking down the test –  Redrock Study Task

Mini-game overview & description.

The Redrock Study Task began appearing as early as July 2023. Then in March 2023, it received an update which divided the Task into 2 Parts which we will see below.

The first part of the mini-game, also the most important one, consists of ONE large study with a main objective and a set of supporting data . This part is divided into 3 main phases: INVESTIGATION, ANALYSIS, AND REPORT.

Phase 1 - INVESTIGATION : Your task is to skim through the case description, identify the objective and necessary data points, then collect them into an on-screen Research Journal.

Phase 2 - ANALYSIS : Using a provided calculator, you process the data points to answer 3 quantitative questions. These answers will be used to fill in the report in phase 3. Your calculation history will be recorded.

Phase 3 - REPORT : With the results calculated from phase 2, your main job is to complete the textual and graphical report (you have to choose which type of graph to use).

In the second part, you have to answer 10 cases with a similar topic to part one (i.g. If your part 1 case is about clothing sales, the mini cases will also be about clothing sales). Though, our user reports show that the topic is purely cosmetic and does not affect the final assessments.

As of July 2023, we have only received reports of  Single-select Multiple choice questions (that is, choose an answer out of A, B, or C) and Numerical-answer questions . There have been no signs of open-ended questions.

As for the time limit, the whole task is given a total of 35 minutes for both parts . While there are no official time constraints, we recommend spending 25 minutes on the first part , and 10 minutes on the second part to optimize your outcome.

We suggest you to watch this video in advance for better visualizing how the Redrock Study Task works.

Breaking down the study in Part 1

In the first part of the Redrock Study Task (we’ll refer to this as the study or case ), the study’s flow is designed to test candidates’ logical and reasoning skills. If you don’t follow the logic carefully, the algorithm may be unable to recognize your thinking process, and view you negatively. Here, we have broken the study down into 4 aspects.

Game aspect 1: understanding the study

This refers to the first phase of the Redrock Task, which is INVESTIGATION. To truly grasp what you need to do, you must first clearly identify the case's objectives . Then, your next task is to understand all the data points presented within the case, to identify which ones can be used to answer the objective.

In general, all information presented on the screen is needed towards understanding and solving the case. But some are less important than others. Background information and test instructions are usually text-based data that you can’t select or move around. They only serve to give you an overview of the case, like the case’s theme, and don’t need to be collected. 

By contrast, important data points are highlighted and presented in boxes on the screen. You can click and drag these boxes around to work inside the case. Among these movable data points , there are 3 types of crucial information that you need to find:

Case objectives : These are text based data, informing you about the goal that you must solve in the case. It usually sits at the top of the case, right after the instruction . 

Calculation instructions : These are data points telling you which math formula you must use and which numbers to choose. They are often long texts/sentences that describe the relationships (higher/lower/etc.) between subjects in the case .

Numbers : These make up the largest portion of the data points in the case. They usually appear in charts/diagrams (bar chart, pie chart,...), tables, or sometimes in-between texts. You have to collect these numbers into the journal to calculate in the next phase. Only a small percentage of these numbers (10-15%) are actually important to the case.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Figure 3: Data points in the study

In general, the rule of thumb is that once you have collected the case’s objectives, you must identify which math formula to use. Only then can you gather suitable numbers that the calculation requires. Also, only a handful of data points are necessary to solve the case, so pick wisely.

Game aspect 2: collecting data points

You can drag any movable data point in any phase of the Redrock test into the Journal to “collect” it. In the Research Journal, each collected “data point” will show up as a card, with its own label and description. Data in the Journal can be used to feed into the Calculator, or into “answer inputs” , (blank spaces under the questions).

Some data comes with appropriate labels for its contents, but some do not . All data labels can be manually changed – we recommend doing so if the default label does not adequately describe the contents. Appropriate labeling will speed up your analysis later, since it allows you to quickly identify the relevant data.

Once collected, each data point can also be highlighted by using the “I” button (presumably for “important”) on the left of its label. Toggling on this button will cover the whole data point in an orange tint. We recommend highlighting information that is needed during the ANALYSIS (or calculation) phase.

Inside the Research Journal, you can move these data points up and to organize them from top to bottom . It’s possible that McKinsey will look at how you organize the data. We’ll give some insights on that later. The specific sorting method is still receiving changes, so we’ll update it as we go.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Figure 4: The research journal, which is always present on the left of your screen

Game aspect 3: processing the data points for insights

During the second phase of the game, you will be provided with 3 quantitative questions that directly relate to the game’s objective. Each one has 2-3 sub-questions with an answer input gap requiring an answer from the calculator. To answer these questions, you have to feed the collected numerical data points into an on-screen calculator, then drag the results into the appropriate gap.

The calculator has a simple interface, similar to a phone’s digital calculator , with basic operators like *,+,-,/. It’s safe to assume that the math involved are usually simple calculations (similar to most candidates' reports). Though they lack the ‘%’ button for percentage calculation.

We recommend that you perform all calculations on the provided calculator, as all your operations are recorded in a history log. So, we assume that how you work towards the answers will also weigh on the final results.

A recommended workflow is to drag the data points from your research journal into the calculator’s input screen to perform the operation. Then you’ll need to drag the result and drop them into the blank space in the question. You should avoid typing the number on your keyboard as it may lead to unfortunate typos.

Here are a few confirmed question types and calculations during phase 2 of part 1:

Basic operations (add/subtract/multiply/divide): Basic operations don’t often sit alone. They usually have to be involved in complex questions.

Simple percentages and ratios: They require you to calculate simple ratio, percentages and fractions. For example: “What is the percentage of population growth between 2021-2022?” (Provided data: Population number in 2021, Population number in 2022)

Compound percentage questions: They require you to calculate multiple ratios and percentages in a row. For example: “What is the population number at the end of 2023?” (Provided data: Population number at the start of 2022, Population growth rate for 2022, Projected increase in population growth rate for 2023 compared to growth rate for 2022)

One important thing to note, as reported, the results that you get from these questions are almost always needed in the REPORT phase. There’ll be a review screen s o ALWAYS collect your answers into the journal.

Game aspect 4: completing the case report

The Report phase is the last part of the Redrock Study Task. It consists of two parts: Summary and Data Visualization.

Summary involves filling in the blanks of a text-format report, using numbers already given and produced in the previous phases, and expressions such as “higher”, “lower”, “equal to”, etc. The blanks in this phase will likely be somewhat like the answer inputs in the Analysis phase.

Data Visualization involves choosing the correct type of chart and filling in the numbers to produce a meaningful chart for the report. For this step, a difference between the Redrock Study and the old McKinsey PST is the lack of compound chart type. This drastically reduces the difficulty, as you only have to work with simple chart types like bar or pie charts.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Figure 5: Screenshots of questions for the report phase

Mastering the Redrock Study

From what we can see, the Redrock Study Task is more similar to its Problem-Solving Test predecessor than a game . That makes the tips to this task a bit different from the previously-popular Plant Defense game. There’s no instant formula that can guarantee the best chance of survival (maybe this is why Plant Defense got canceled), rather, you must act and think like a McKinsey consultant.

Watch more: Redrock walkthrough video

Tip 1: Show a top-down and structured approach while collecting data

A good McKinsey consultant always takes a top-down approach when analyzing a problem, and recruiter often favor candidates with this trait. During the Study, McKinsey can assess this trait when you collect and arrange data.

Always collect the objectives first . They are the central problems of the case, and represent the highest level of your issue tree. You must always collect them into the Research Journal. If they are too long, you can always note down a summary on a piece of scratch paper.

mckinsey problem solving examples

Figure 6: Study's objectives

The next step is to identify the math formula . This type of data governs which calculation formula you need to use, and in turns, which numbers to collect next. We’ll call this the relational data . The objectives will determine the relational data points you need.

Finally, collect the necessary numbers . These are the ones needed for calculating and filling in the final reports . Collect only the ones you need by analyzing the objectives and relational data. Don’t collect all data points erratically , as this showcases that you have no structured thinking.

Tip 2: Label and organize data

As stated before, once collected into the journal, each data point will have a label and description . Some data points already have good labels, some do not.

It’s possible that  McKinsey can recognize good labels , so we suggest always changing the label and description of a data point when necessary. Good label can seem good to an algorithm, and it can also help you analyze them more conveniently. We have a few suggestions as to what constitute a good label:

What is the timeframe? (“Is this data for 2020, or 2021?”)

Which subjects are concerned? (i.e., the things represented by rows and columns in a spreadsheet, or axes on a chart).

Is there anything else I need to keep in mind? (i.e., the footnotes or any auxiliary information that accompanies a chart/table) 

As for arranging data, try to keep it consistent and top-down . “Overview” data points should be placed above the “granular” ones.

For example, keep the objectives at the top of your research journal, and below them are relational data points. Numerical data points from the same table should be placed together, and beneath the relational data that refers to them. McKinsey MIGHT take this as a sign that you are a structured person, if not, it will help you solve the case easier.

Tip 3: Avoid going back and showing indecisiveness

The game allows you to go back and forth freely between each phase to collect more data points. While this is great for when you make a mistake or need to double check, we don’t recommend doing so.

This behavior signals that the candidate does not understand each section fully and is uncertain about the task. And in phase 1, McKinsey’s instruction clearly states that you should collect all and only relevant data before moving on. It’s possible that moving back and forth can be viewed negatively by the algorithm .

Tip 4: Choose the correct chart-type (bar/line/pie)

We have written an entire guide on how to chart like a McKinsey consultant, so be sure to check it out before attempting this task. But in short, you need to choose the correct type of chart that best describes a certain type of data , in the McKinsey way.

Part 2 cases tear down

Since this part of the test has only been introduced recently, we are still in the process of interviewing and synthesizing insights. More information will be updated later as things develop.

TEST FLOW, FORMAT AND DIFFICILTY

There are 10 cases in Part 2 , each has a question with directions, text information and data exhibits. Each case also has an onscreen tool to assist you. You must solve the cases sequentially, that means you can’t skip forward and must answer one case before the next.

All 10 cases will follow the same theme/topic with the Part 1 study. But from candidate reports, it’s safe to assume that the theme does not play any part in the answer, and each case is self-contained (which means you don’t need numbers of another case to get the answer).

The word count to the 10 cases can vary between 100 and 400 words . They only require a fundamental level of quantitative or reasoning skill to solve and don’t require advanced mathematical skills. But most of our candidates struggle to solve them within 10 minutes, so be careful. 

QUESTION TYPES

The questions types that we have seen from candidate reports generally mirror those in part 1. We categorize them into five main types : Word Problems, Formulae, Verbal Reasoning, Critical Reasoning, and Visualization. We also deduced the rate at which these questions appear part 2.

Word problems (50%) are math exercises that require candidates to read the text and exhibit data to solve

Formulae (20-30%) are a similar question type to word problems, but the candidate only needs to identify the formula used for calculation.

Verbal Reasoning (7-8%) and Critical Reasoning (7-8%) are single-select multiple choice questions requiring candidates to choose a “true” or “false” statement among 3-5 options.

Visualization (10%) requires the user to choose the correct type of chart to illustrate the given data.

Part 2 has a near identical format to a traditional Problem-Solving Test (except for the on-screen tool like a calculator similar to Part 1’s). Thus, to save time, we only recommend getting familiar with the interface and mastering fundamental knowledge for a McKinsey consultant (like the issue tree , MECE, etc.) which we covered many times before.

Watch more: McKinsey PSG Explained

Breaking down the test –  Ecosystem Building

In the Ecosystem Building mini-game, you have to create an ecosystem with 8 species from a list of 39. There are three key objectives:

(1) The ecosystem must form a continuous food chain

(2) T here must be a calorie surplus for every pair of predator and prey (that is, the prey’s production is higher than the predator’s consumption)

(3) The ecosystem must match the terrain specifications of the chosen location

Here’s a detailed description of data and metrics in the mini-game, and how they relate to the objectives.

Figure 7: "the Moutain" and "the Reef"

Objective 1: Terrain Match

There are two scenarios on which you must build the ecosystem: “the Mountain” and “the Reef”. 

Each location in the Mountain world has the 8 following specifications: Elevation, Temperature, Wind Speed, Humidity, Cloud Height, Soil pH, Precipitation, Air Pressure.

Each location in the Reef has the 7 following specifications: Depth, Water Current, Water Clarity, Temperature, Salt Content, Dissolved Oxygen, Wind Speed.

Terrain specifications have very little correlation.

Each species also has a few required terrain specifications – if these terrain requirements are not met, the species will die out . These requirements are often not exact numbers, but ranges (e.g: Temperature: 20-30 C). 

All 39 species are organized into 3 equal groups using their terrain specs – I call them “layers”. Species of the same layers have exactly the same terrain specs.

Objective 2: Food Chain Continuity

Each species has a few natural predators (Eaten By), and prey (Food Sources) – see below for exceptions.

The species are divided into producers (which are plants and corals, which consume no calories), and consumers. Consumers can be herbivores (plant-eating animal), carnivores (animal-eating animal), or omnivores (eats both plants and animals).

Producers always have the Food Sources as “sunlight” or other natural elements, i.e. they do not have prey. Some consumers are “apex animals”, meaning they do not have natural predators (can be recognized by empty the “Eaten By” specs). These have strategic implications in building the food chain. 

 Objective 3: Energy Balance

Each species has a “calorie needed” and a “calorie provided” figure . A species lives if its calorie needed is less than the sum calorie provided of the species it eats (so it has enough energy to survive) and its calories provided is higher than the sum calorie provided of the species that eat it (so it’s not eaten to extinction).

Two caveats apply here: a species often don't eat all of its prey and is not eaten by all of its predators. There are certain rules for priorities (see the “Feeding Overlap” issue) and more often than not, predators and prey will interact on a one-to-one basis.

In old versions of the game, each species will be placed on a group basis, with the number of individuals in each group ranging from 20 to 60. In these versions, calorie specs are “per individual”, so you have to perform the math to get the true consumption and production figures of the whole species.

New versions discarded this “per individual” feature, presenting the calorie specs for the whole species as one, but there is no guarantee the old feature won’t be re-introduced.

As of game-flow, the candidate is free to switch between choosing location and species during the mini-game . There is also a time bar on the top of the screen.

Old reports indicate that once you’ve submitted your proposed ecosystem, you would receive a scorecard in the end, showing how it actually plays out. Key measurements might include calories produced and consumed, and the number of species alive.

However, recent reports have indicated that results aren't displayed at the end. In either case, it is safe to assume that the underlying principles remain the same.

Cracking the mini-game

The biggest challenges in the Ecosystem Building mini-game are task prioritization and data processing – most test-takers report that they are overwhelmed by the amount of data given, and do not know how to approach the problem. However, the second problem can be mitigated by reading the rules very carefully, because McKinsey provides specific and detailed instructions in the tutorials.

To overcome both challenges at the same time, first, we need to know the “eating rules” (i.e. how species take turns to eat) and then we can develop a 3-step approach to meet those challenges.

Description of Ecosystem Building game interface

Figure 8: Description of Ecosystem Building game interface

EATING RULES AND FEEDING OVERLAP

In the McKinsey PSG Ecosystem mini-game, species take turns to eat and get eaten, in accordance to very specific and comprehensive rules:

1. The species with the highest Calories Provided in the food chain eats first.

2. It eats the species with the highest Calories Provided among its prey (if the eating species is a producer, you can assume it automatically bypass this step, as well as steps 3-5).

3. The eating species then “consumes” from the eaten species an amount of Calories Provided that is equal to its Calories Needed, which is at the same time substracted an amount equal to the Calories Provided taken from the eaten species.

4. If there are two “top prey” species with the same Calories Provided, the eating species will eat from each of them an amount equal to 1/2 of its Calories Needed.

5. If the Calories Needed hasn’t been reduced to 0 (i.e.: satisfied), even if the eating species has consumed all the Calories Provided of the first prey the eating species will move on to the next prey with the second-highest Calories Provided, and repeat the above steps; the prey that has been exhausted its Calories Provided will be removed permanently from the food chain and considered extinct.

6. After the first species have finished eating, the cycle repeats for the species with the second-highest Calories Provided, then the third-highest, etc. until every species has already eaten. Note: in every step where species are sorted using Calories Provided, it always uses the most recent figure (i.e. the one after consumption by a predator).

7. At the end of this process, all species should have new Calories Provided and Calories Needed, both smaller than the original figures. A species survive when its end-game Calorie Needed is equal to 0, and Calorie Provided is higher than 0.

Let’s take a look at an example – try applying the rules above before reading the explanation, and see if you get it right:

Example of McKinsey Solve - Ecosystem Building's food chain

Figure 9: Example of a food chain in Ecosystem Building minigame

Now, here’s how this food chain is resolved:

The three producers automatically have their Calories Needed satisfied and does not need to eat anything.

The first species to eat is an animal – the Mouse. It eats equally from Grass and Mushroom, which have equal Calories Provided, an amount of 2,000 each. The Mouse’s Calories Needed reduces to 0, while the Calories Provided for Grass and Mushroom reduce to 3,000 each (Grass and Mushroom survive).

The second species to eat is the Squirrel. It should have eaten Grass, but Grass’s new Calories Provided is only 3,000, so the Squirrel picks Nuts instead. Squirrel’s Calories Needed becomes 0, while Nuts’ Calories Needed becomes 500 (Nuts survive).

The third species to eat is the Snake. It eats the Mouse, reducing its own Calories Needed to 0 while taking 2,000 from the 3,000 of the Mouse’s Calories Provided. (Mouse survives).

The fourth species to eat is the Fox. It eats the Squirrel, reducing its own Calories Needed to 0 while taking 2,000 from the 2,500 of the Squirrel’s Calories Provided. (Squirrel survives).

The last species to eat is the Tiger. It eats the Snake first, taking away all of the Snake’s 1,500 Calories Provided, then proceeds to take 500 from the Fox’s 1,200, so that its Calories Needed can be reduced to 0 (Snake becomes extinct, Fox survives).

The Tiger is not eaten by any other animal (Tiger survives).

Solution of a food chain in Ecosystem Building minigame

Figure 10: Solution of a food chain in Ecosystem Building minigame

With these rules in mind, let us go through a 3-step process to building a food chain:

Step 1: Select the location:

Use a spreadsheet or scratch paper to list the terrain specs and calories provided of the producers of the mini-game.

Skim through the data to see which terrain specs remain the same across all species, and which ones change. Only changing terrain specs are relevant (there should be 2 of them), the rest are merely “noise” intended to cause information overload.

Calculate the sum calories provided for the producers of each layer. The layer with the highest calories provided is likely to be the easiest to build the chain.

Step 2: Build the food chain:

Look through the data to list the consumers with compatible terrain requirements in your spreadsheet.

Pick the apex predator with the lowest calorie needed as the starting point of the food chain.

Build the food chain top-down like an issue tree, by listing the food sources of the top predators. Continue drilling down until you reach the “base” level of corals and plants. Ideally the food chain should contain 3-4 levels, and 8 species.

Alternatively, you can build the food chain in a bottom-up manner, by looking at the “Eaten By” specs of each species, until you reach the top predators. Our reports indicate that in real test conditions, this approach can be just as fast as the top-down one.

During the whole process, try to prioritize species with high calories provided, and low calories needed. This should maximize the chance of calorie surplus in the food chain, and leave room for new additions should the first chain not meet the required 8 species.

If you finish the chain short of the required 8 species, work bottom-up to find gaps (i.e unused surplus calories), and plug in those gaps with predators or plant-eating animals.

The whole process should be done on a spreadsheet/scratch paper to facilitate calculations.

Step 3: Triple-check and adjust:

Go back to the beginning of the process and check if every species of your food chain is compatible with the chosen location.

Make sure the food chain is continuous – that is, the food sources listed fit with the description of each species.

Check if each species in the food chain is supplied with enough calories and not eaten into extinction using the given eating rules.

Adjust the food chain if any of the three checks are not met.

Breaking down the test – Plant-Defense

*June 2023 Update: Though McKinsey is gradually phasing out this test, we are still receiving sporadic reports of it being used for candidates (about 10-20% in total). So for the sake of information sharing, this section will still remain on our article, and will be updated as changes happen.

The second mini-game of the McKinsey Solve Game – Plant-Defense – is a turn-based tower-defense game . The candidate is charged with defending a plant at the center of a grid-based map from invading pests, using obstacles and predators, for as long as possible, until the defenses are overwhelmed and the plant is destroyed.

Screenshot of Plant Defense minigame

Figure 11: Screenshot of Plant Defense minigame

Here’s a detailed description of the gameplay:

The visual map is divided by a square grid (size from 10×10 to 12×12), with natural obstacles (called Terrain, or Terrain Transformations) are scattered across the map.

The game has a recommended time allocation of 12 minutes per stage – which makes 36 minutes in total.

The game is divided into three maps, each with 2 phases – “planning phase” and “fast-forward phase”.

The “planning phase” is divided into 3 waves of 5 turns each. Every 3-5 turns, a new stack of Invader appears at the border of the map and starts travelling towards the center base – you have lay out defensive plans to tackle them. The phase lasts until you eliminated all the Invaders / you survive at the end of the 15th turn / your plant is destroyed.

The “fast-forward phase” comes after the 15th turn of the planning phase. All the remaining Invaders from the planning phase will continue attacking. Your defensive scheme remains unchanged, and unchangeable. Invaders will continuously spawn and attack until the base is destroyed.

After you’ve finished the game, the number of turns your plant survived will be used as the basis for the product scores.

Game aspect 1: Resources

At the beginning of each wave, you are allowed to choose and place 5 resources – divided into Defenders (such as Coyote, Snake, Falcon etc. which kill the Invaders) and Terrains (comprised of Cliff, Forest, and Rocky, which slow down or block the invaders). Each will be assigned to one turn of the current wave.

After each turn, the Defender/Terrain of that turn will be activated and locked – meaning you cannot change or remove its placement. The rest can be altered to adapt with the circumstances. The only exception is the Cliff, which activates right after its placement. 

Each Defender has a range/territory – once an invader steps into that range/territory, the Defender will damage them, reducing their population. The range vary between each Defender type – but in general the more powerful they are, the smaller their range is.

Each Terrain is effective towards different types of Invaders and in different ways, with some blocking the Invaders while others slowing them down.

Each Terrain and Defender will occupy one square. You cannot place Defender on top of an existing Defender, and if a Terrain is placed on top of an existing Terrain, it will replace the existing Terrain.

Defenders and Terrains form mutually compatible pairs which can exist on one same square. 

 Game aspect 2: Invaders

Invaders will appear from the map borders every 3-5 turns, in stacks of 100-200 population each, and move one step closer to your plant by each turn. The population of the stacks increase gradually.

Each Invader stack is accompanied by a path indicator – a long yellow arrow showing the direction it will take. The invader will always take this path unless blocked by Cliff.

Each Invader is countered by certain types of Terrain/Defender.

Description of Plant Defense minigame's interface

Figure 12: Description of Plant Defense minigame's interface

As the Plant Defense mini-game of the McKinsey Solve Game is essentially a tower-defense game, the basic tactics of that game genre can be applied – namely inside-out building and kill-zones. However, as the mini-game locks you from changing placement after a number of turns, contingency planning is also necessary.

I will elaborate each of those tactics:

INSIDE-OUT, MULTI-LAYERED DEFENSE

In this tactic, you build multiple layers of defenders outwards from the base, assisted by terrain.

Place your resources close to the plant first. As the inner rings of the map are smaller in circumference, and paths usually converge as you advance towards the center, this helps you maximize the coverage of each resource around the plant early on.

In the example below, the “inside-out” approach only takes 8 resources to protect the plant from all directions, while the “outside in” approach takes 24. With this approach, place your most powerful resources closest to the plant, and expand with the less powerful, but longer-range ones.

Visualization of Inside-out, multi-layered defense tactic

Figure 13: Visualization of the Inside-out, multi-layered defense tactic

BIG-PICTURE MINDSET

This isn’t so much of a “tactic”, but a reminder – after 15 turns, you won’t be able to change or place more resources, so try to identify the pattern of the invaders, and quickly adapt your strategy accordingly. It will take a few initial turns to experiment which works best for each type of invader.

Use your resources prudently, create an all-round protection for the plant – lopsided defenses (i.e heavy in one direction, but weak in others) won’t last long – and lasting long is the objective of this mini-game.

Alternative mini-games

In June 2023, we have received reports that these alternative mini-games have disappeared completely . When McKinsey decided that these games can’t accurately assess a candidate’s skills , they removed these tests. But in the future, as the McKinsey Solve evolves, there’s a chance they will re-adopt these games or develop new ones based on them. Thus, this section of the article exists only to provide a record, you can skip right to the next part.

Alternative 1: Disaster Management

In the Disaster Management mini-game of the Solve Game, the candidate is required to identify the type of natural disaster that has happened to an ecosystem, using limited given information and relocate that ecosystem to ensure/maximize its survivability.

With the two main objectives in mind, here’s how to deal with them:

Identify the disaster: this is a problem-diagnosis situation – the most effective approach would be to draw an issue tree with each in-game disaster as a branch, skim through data in a bottom-up manner to form a hypothesis, then test that hypothesis by mining all possible data in game (such as wind speed, temperature, etc.)

Relocate the ecosystem: this is a more complicated version of the location-selection step in the Ecosystem-Building mini-game, with the caveat that you will first have to rule out the locations with specs similar to the ongoing disaster. The rest can be done using a spreadsheet listing the terrain requirements of the species.

Like the Ecosystem Building mini-game, you will solve this mini-game only once, unlike the Plant Defense and the next Disease Management mini-games with multiple maps.

Alternative 2: Disease Management

In the Disease Management mini-game of the Solve Game, the candidate is required to identify the infection patterns of a disease within an ecosystem and predict the next individual to be infected.

The game gives you 3-5 factors for the species (increasing as the game progresses), including name, age, weight, and 3 snapshots of the disease spread (Time 1, Time 2, Time 3) to help you solve the problem.

There is one main objective here only: identify the rules of infection (the second is pretty much straightforward after you know the rules) – this is another problem-diagnosis situation. The issue tree for this mini-game should have specific factors as branches. Skim through the 3 snapshots to test each branch – once you’re sure which factor underlies and how it correlates with infection, simply choose the predicted individual.

Screenshot of Disease Management minigame with description

Figure 14: Screenshot of Disease Management minigame

Alternative 3: Migration Management

The Migration Management mini-game is a turn-based puzzle game. The candidate is required to direct the migration of 50 animals. This group carries a certain amount of resources (such as water, food, etc.), often 4-5 resources, each with an amount of 10-30. Every turn, 5 animals die and 5 of each resource is consumed.

It takes 3-5 turns from start to finish for each stage Migration mini-game, and the candidates must place 15 stages in 37 minutes. The candidate must choose among different routes to drive the animals. In each stage, there are points where candidates can collect 3 additional animals or resources (1-3 for each type), and choose to multiply some of the collected resources (1x, 3x and 6x); the game tells the candidate in advance which resources/animals they will get at each point, but not the amount.

The objective is to help the animals arrive at the destination with minimal animal losses, and with specific amounts of resources.

With all of these limited insights in mind, here’s what I recommend for the strategy:

Nearly every necessary detail is given in advance, so use a scratch paper to draw a table, with the columns being the resources/animals, and the rows being the routes. Quickly calculate the possible ending amount for each resources, assuming you get 2 at every collection point (good mental math will come in handy).

Choose the route with the highest number of animals, and “just enough” resources to meet requirements.

Watch this video below for a detailed, visualized explanation of all frequently encountered McKinsey Solve games:

Test-taking tips for the McKinsey Solve 

Besides the usual test-taking tips of “eat, sleep and rest properly before the test”, “tell your friends and family to avoid disturbing”, etc. there are five tips specifically applicable to the McKinsey Solve Game I’ve compiled and derived from the reports of test takers:

Tip 1: Don’t think too much about criteria and telemetry measurements

You can’t know for sure which of your actions they are measuring, so don’t try so much to appear “good” before the software that it hurts your performance. One of our interviewers reported that he refrained from double-checking the species information in the Ecosystem Building mini-game for fear of appearing unsure and unplanned.

My advice is to train for yourself a methodical, analytic approach to every problem, so when you do come in for the test, you will naturally appear as such to the software. Once you’ve achieved that, you can forget about the measurements, and focus completely on problem-solving.

Tip 2: Don’t be erratic with in-game actions

While you don’t want to spend half your brain-power trying to “look good” to the software, do avoid erratic behaviors such as randomly selecting between the info panels, or swinging the mouse cursor around when brainstorming (yes, people do that – my Project Manager does the same thing when we do monthly planning for the website).

This kind of behavior might lead the software into thinking that you have unstable or unreliable qualities (again, we can never know for sure, but it’s best to try). One tip to minimize such “bad judgment” is to take your brainstorming outside of the game window, by using a paper, or a spreadsheet. 

Tip 3: Always strive for a better solution (Ecosystem Building)

Some of the interviewed test-takers seem to be under a wrong impression that “the end results do not matter as much as the process” – however, for the McKinsey Solve, you need good end results too. This is especially true in the Ecosystem Building, where a “right” answer with no species dying can be easily found with the right strategy.

Consulting culture is highly result-oriented, and this game/test has product scores to reflect that. Having a methodical and analytical approach is not enough – it’s no use being as such if you cannot produce good results (or, “exceptional” results, according to MBB work standards).

Tip 4: Showcase fundamental skills for a McKinsey consultant (Redrock Study)

McKinsey is always looking for candidates with the exact skill set for a model consultant: structured, logical, and professional. The McKinsey Solve Test is designed to do just that: to look for the right set of skills (with a lot of tracking and algorithms).

Through all parts of the Redrock Study Task , you must exhibit that you are a model McKinsey prospect. Here are a few things that they will value during the Redrock Study:

Strong mental math skills: A consultant MUST quickly pitch insights and calculations to clients and CEOs (elevator pitch). You’ll have to quickly choose a logical math formula and deliver results (not necessarily accurate). That’s why in all stages of the test involving math and a calculator, always do your calculations step-by-step on screen (if there’s an on-screen tool) . 

Structured, top-down thinking: A candidate has to demonstrate that they are  a hypothesis-driven, structured problem solver . In other parts of the interview process (like the case interview), it is shown through a MECE, top-down issue tree. In the Redrock Study Task, you can show off this skill via organizing data points in the Research Journal, which we discussed above.

Choosing the right charts: A McKinsey consultant will chart like a McKinsey consultant . Each type of data must go with a corresponding type of chart. We have included a guide on consulting charts in our product shop. So check it out 

We have also linked to relevant preparation resources below, to help you master these skills more easily. So be sure to check them out.

Tip 5: Prepare your hardware and Internet properly before the test

While the McKinsey Solve Test does not require powerful hardware, the system requirements are indeed more demanding than the usual recruitment games or tests. A decent computer is highly-advised – the smoother the experience, the more you can focus on problem-solving.

On the other hand, a fast Internet connection is a must – in fact, the faster, the better. You don’t want to be disconnected in the middle of the test – so tell other users on your network to avoid using at the same time as the test, and go somewhere with a fast and stable connection if it’s not available at your home.

How to practice for the McKinsey Solve Test

Hypothesis-driven problem-solving approach.

See this article: Issue Tree, MECE

You may have noticed a lot of the solutions for the mini-game involve an “issue tree” – the centerpiece of the hypothesis-driven problem-solving approach that real consultants use in real projects.

This problem-solving approach is a must for every candidate wishing to apply for consulting – so learn and try to master it by applying it into everyday problems and cases you read on business publications. Practicing case interviews also helps with the McKinsey Solve as well.

You can see the above articles for the important concepts of consulting problem-solving.

Mental math and fast reading skills

See this article: Consulting Math, Fast Reading

The McKinsey Solve Test – especially the 3 ecosystem-related mini-games – require good numerical and verbal aptitude to quickly absorb and analyze the huge amounts of data. Additionally, such skills are also vital to case interviews and real consulting work.

That means a crucial part of practice must include math and reading practice – see the above articles for more details on how to calculate and read 300% faster.

Practice with video games

*June 2023 update: As many games in the previous PSG have been eliminated, playing video games as part of practice has become less effective. But, we still recommend playing similar games to the Ecosystem Building (mainly) and Plant Defense mini-games.

Test-takers who regularly play video games, especially strategy games, report a significant advantage from their gaming experience. This is likely due to three main factors:

The McKinsey Solve Test’s games are in fact similar in logic and gameplay to a few popular video game genres. The more similar a game is to the McKinsey Solve, the better it is for practice.

Video games with data processing and system management also improve the necessary skills to pass the Solve.

Playing video games helps candidates understand how the interface as well as the objective system of a game works – improving their “game sense”.

I am not a fan of video games – in fact, after leaving McKinsey I founded an entertainment startup with the mission to fight the increasing popularity of video games. Yet now I have to tell you to spend a few hours each week playing them to get into McKinsey.

The question is, which games to play? Here’s a list of the games and game genres my team have found to possess many similarities with the McKinsey Solve Test:

City-building games

SimCity series

Caesar series (Zeus and Poseidon, Caesar III, Emperor ROTK)

Anno series (Anno 1404, Anno 2070, etc.)

Cities Skylines

These are very similar in logic to the Ecosystem Building mini-game – you need to balance the production and consumption of buildings and communities, which usually have specific requirements for their locations.

The difference between these and the PSG is that most games are real-time and continuous, meaning you have the opportunity to watch your city develop and correct the mistakes – in the Solve you need to nail it from the start! With that said, the amount of data you need to process in these games will make the McKinsey Solve a walk in the park; the learning curve is not too high either, making these games good practice grounds.

Screenshot from Cities Skylines

Figure 15: Screenshot from Cities Skylines

 Tower defense games

Kingdom Rush series

Plants vs Zombies series

Tower-defense games such as Kingdom Rush are near-perfect practices for the Plant Defense mini-game of the McKinsey PSG. Our basic “kill-zone” tactic in fact comes from these games.

Again, there is a caveat when practicing with games – both Plants vs Zombies and Kingdom Rush allow you to correct your mistakes by having the invaders attack the base multiple times before you lose. Both games also feature fixed and predictable paths of invasion. In the PSG, the path of the invaders changes with your actions, and if they reach your base, you’ll lose immediately.

Screenshot from Kingdom Rush

Figure 16: Screenshot from Kingdom Rush

Grand strategy and 4X games

Civilization series

Europa Universalis series

Crusader Kings series 

Grand strategy and 4X games combine the logic of system-building and tower-defense games (with Civilization being the best example), making them good practice for both games of the Test . They also require players to manage the largest amount of data among popular game genres (sometimes multiple windows with dozens of stats each).

However, they are also the game with the steepest learning curves – so if you are not one for video games, and/or you don’t have much time before the Test, these games are not for you. They are also less similar to the PSG on the surface, compared to the two genres above.

Screenshot from Civilization VI

Figure 17: Screenshot from Civilization VI

New release: Redrock Expansion (early access), an update of McKinsey PSG simulation

In 2023, we released a new product – Redrock Expansion to feature a new game of McKinsey. The Redrock Simulation can be purchased standalone or in Mckinsey Solve Simulation (All-in-one package) . Use the code “SOLVEMCPYT” and get a 10% discount for this tool if it is your first purchase. Practice now!

As the official game is still in Beta, we are constantly updating the product. The simulation is now providing a 90% accurate reconstruction of the Part 1 case. Part 2 will come later in a future update.

Scoring in the McKinsey PSG/Digital Assessment

The scoring mechanism in the McKinsey Digital Assessment

Related product

Thumbnail of McKinsey Solve Simulation (All-in-One)

If you rank above the 75th percentile (i.e. top 25% of candidates), and has a good resume, you are likely to pass the McKinsey Solve Game / PSG.

You can increase your McKinsey Solve scores through: time management, data-scanning, noise-filtering, note-taking, and having a good computer and Internet.

Experienced hires are preferred for expert and implementation roles, while opportunities for freshers are available for positions requiring less expertise"

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