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How To Prepare For The McKinsey Problem Solving Assessment? – Practice Questions & Preparation Tips

Last Updated on September 3, 2022

The idea of completing the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (McKinsey PST) can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what to expect from this test. The PST test was created by some of the most intelligent people from one of the most competitive consulting firms.

But if you learn more about this test and practice beforehand, you will have a better chance of making it through the PST test. Passing the PST is essential because it will be the only obstacle left before getting to the McKinsey job interview.

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About the McKinsey PST Test

McKinsey & Company use the McKinsey PST test to choose candidates before the interview process begins. This test is typically handed out after the company has screened your resume.

There are six types of questions in the PST test that will assess a candidate on three different essential problem-solving skills in the PST test. The PST test is a multiple-choice test. These problem-solving skills will include logical reasoning, interpreting data and mental calculations.

Officially, McKinsey & Company has never mentioned a passing score or an acceptance rate for the PST test. But there is a rough estimate of 30 to 35% for an acceptance rate, and the pass mark of being approximately 70%. This percentage means that one in three candidates will pass the McKinsey PST test.

Now, the McKinsey PST is in the process of being replaced by a new Problem-Solving Game. But this process hasn’t been completed internationally. This new Problem-Solving Game still uses some of the fundamental principles from the old PST test.

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What Skills Are Assessed in the PST Test

The different types of questions in the PST test aim to assess a subset of skills that are handy in consulting. You should keep in mind that PST example questions and practice tests will only get you so far without developing the skills needed.

For example, if you’re trying to learn math, the sums won’t make any sense if you don’t know how to add them together.

But what are the skills that are going to be assessed in the test?

Identifying Root Causes

Consults need to be able to find the real cause of a problem. It won’t be good enough only to fix the problem at a superficial level. You will need to keep digging until you find the real cause of the problem you’re dealing with.

Like a doctor treating a patient who complains of a chronic headache, you will need to look for the real cause of the problem. A good doctor will want to treat the sickness, not just the symptoms.

The doctor will work and find the real cause might be stress or bad eyesight. In this case, the doctor might recommend a few ways to create a more relaxed lifestyle or visit an optician to improve their patient’s eyesight.

Draw Fact-Based Conclusions

Consultants will need to know how to interpret data and the information that’s presented to them. Their interpretation will be the basis of their recommendations and diagnoses.

These recommendations mustn’t be based on your opinions or your gut instincts. Remember, it’s just the facts, man to draw a valid conclusion.

Prioritisation

The PST test will also assess your ability to prioritise essential information and calculations. Being able to prioritise information will help you answer all the questions in the PST test. Being able to deal with uncertainty will help you find a good compromise between speed and accuracy.

You will also need to know how to choose vital pieces of information from large bodies of text. You will also need to deal with any vague pieces of text. Once you’ve established the facts of what’s happening in the text, consultants will be able to find the “so-what” factor of the information.

Numerical Agility

There will be questions in the McKinsey PST test where you will be expected to make some calculations. In the test, you won’t be allowed to use a calculator. So you will need to be able to do math calculations in your head, especially making quick estimates.

Reading Charts

In the McKinsey PST test, you will need to go through your case interview thoroughly. You will need to be able to do this quickly and accurately to find the information you need from the graphs and tables.

The information from these graphics will help you find the root causes of problems, find fact-based solutions or the mental calculations you’ll need to complete.

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Deal With Formulae

In the McKinsey PST test, you won’t be expected complete complex math equations. At most, the math in the PST test will be at the high school level. The formulae are typically simple, and you won’t have to wrestle with any complicated algebra.

However, it won’t be clear how you should handle these problems. In most cases, you will need to create equations by focusing on one or two primary relationships. The PST test will often disguise this information in large amounts of typically useless pieces of information.

The biggest challenge will be figuring out what is the relevant information. Once you’ve figured this out, working with formulae should be relatively simple. But the limited time and not being allowed to use a calculator might present an extra challenge to candidates.

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Different Types of Questions in the PST Test

In the paper-based PST test, candidates will have one hour to answer 26 questions without a calculator. The questions are all multiple choice based on three different business cases. Recruiters will provide candidates with a few pencils, a watch, and scratch paper.

Because the business world is changing, the recruitment process for candidates has become even more complicated. This change means that there needs to be another way to information in the McKinsey PST test.

Reading Facts

In the McKinsey OST test, the questions in the reading facts section will assess your ability to extract and expand on information presented in tables and graphs. The reading facts questions are the most common types of questions in the PST test and can make up approximately 35% of your test.

The usual format of these questions will include the following: 

  • What is the current ranking of options one to five?
  • Which of the following values is the best estimate of…?
  • Based on the data, which one of the following statements is valid?

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Root-Cause Reasons

These questions in the McKinsey PST test will assess your ability to find the cause of an underlying business problem. These questions can range from asking about facts on a business which need to be further explained.

In this section, the PST test will present you with a list of a few accepted explanations related to the facts about the business. But only one of these explanations is logically sound in the context of the question. You will need to find the correct answer.

The typical format for these questions could include the following:

  • Which one of the following explanations does NOT help with explaining why…?
  • If this explanation is true, which of the following statements explains why the CEO wants to go ahead to…?

Fact-Based Conclusions

In this section, the McKinsey PST will test your ability to find logical conclusions from a collection of information and facts in this section. These questions can vary greatly in this test. They can range from being similar to the reading facts questions to you needing to make some complex inferences from a vague text.

These tests will typically be formatted like the following: 

  • Based on the information in the table… Which of the following statements is valid?
  • Which of the following statement can you use to draw a conclusion?

Word Problems

In this section of the PST, you will be expected to find solutions for business problems from the information you find from different sources. The biggest challenge for this section is that the information you need will spread across exhibits and different texts.

The word problems found in the GMAT will be closest to the word problems found in the PST test. The typical format of these questions will be the following:

  • If the employees’ salaries are increased by 25%, how much will productivity need to increase for the business to break even?
  • Suppose the economy keeps growing by 4% each year for the next decade; which of the following equations best approximates the decrease in the debt/GDP ratio?

Some examples of these questions might include: 

  • Suppose a machine will cost $3m. How many years will it take for the company to break even from its investment?
  • If a worker is paid ten hours per month, which one of the following formulae accurately calculates the average number of utensils handled per worker per month?

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Client Interpretation

In this section of the PST test, the questions will evaluate your ability to understand the project requirements and the analyses needed to address any concerns from the clients.

When consulting on a project, you will need to communicate on a daily basis with the stakeholders from the client company. Essentially, the client’s interpretation section of the PST test is about understanding the following:

  • Which analysis decisions will be the best to take to meet the client’s needs?
  • What has the client implied about the given strategy?
  • What does the client say, and how will it impact the scope of the project?

The typical format for these questions will be the following:

  • Which one of the following statements best describes the thoughts of the CEO regarding the project?
  • Which one of the following statements best summarises the concerns of the CEO?
  • Which one of the following statements best describes the CEO’s goals for the McKinsey study?
  • With the goals of the CEO in mind, which would least useful question for your team to answer?
  • Which one of the following analyses would be the least useful when addressing the CEO’s concerns?
  • Keeping the opinion of the Department Head in mind, which of the following statements is most valid?

Formulae

The formulae questions for the McKinsey PST test will show a quantitative word problem as a formula. This section will assess your understanding of abstraction and test your skills in extracting information and breaking down problems.

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Preparation Tips

To prepare for the McKinsey PST test, you can do a few things before and even during the test.

Manage Your Time

The McKinsey PST test is time-limited, and you will only have an hour to complete the test. An hour can be a lot quicker than you think, so you will need to find a good way to manage your time during the test.

A good way to manage your time during the test will be to set a limited amount of time you’re going to spend on each test and stick to it. You will need to practice ensuring that you don’t go over the amount of time you’ve set for yourself.

First, Quickly Read Through the Answers

The McKinsey PST will provide complicated graphs and charts that could easily take the whole hour to understand. To ensure that you get an idea about the important information that you will need, you should first skim the answers provided and then check graphs and charts.

You Should Take Questions Literally

It’s important to remember that the questions in the McKinsey PST test aren’t trying to use vaguely worded phrases to trick you with hidden meanings. You will need some critical reasoning skills to answer these questions correctly. However, you should take these questions literally.

Practice Your Math Skills

Even though Math might not be your forte, the good news is that you won’t be expected complete complicated equations. The other bit of good news is that you can always practice to improve your mental math skills and get ready for the McKinsey PST.

In the real test, you will be tested on division, multiplication, subtraction, and addition. But the biggest challenge will be solving these equations both quickly and accurately.

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Estimate Your Answers

When you’re busy working through the math questions in the real test, you need to take a look at the answer choices you’ve been given and use estimations that will lead to the correct answer.

Correctly Answer the Questions in All Scenarios

When you’re busy with the data interpretation questions, you will need to select an answer that is completely supported by the information provided. In some situations, the multiple-choice answers might seem in line with the information provided but not completely. If you come across this answer, it’s recommended that you don’t use this answer.

Only Focus On Relevant Information

Because you will only have an hour to complete the test, you shouldn’t thoroughly read each word in the test. Certain parts of the McKinsey PST test, such as some graphs and parts of the text, won’t be useful for answering your questions.

When you’re skimming the information, you should make notes about, circle and underline the parts that you will need to answer the questions. You should read each line quickly to see where you need to focus your attention.

Analyse Data Systematically

Some candidates have that the most challenging part of the McKinsey PST will be analysing the charts and graphs presented and data interpretation. We suggest that you use a process that works for you to analyse the data.

You can start by figuring out what the table or graph represents by reading the titles and labels. Then you can understand the data in the areas that seem to differentiate or might seem important.

Be Sure to Answer Every Question

In the McKinsey PST test, there are either correct answers or incorrect. There are also no penalties for giving the wrong answers on the test.

We recommend that you rule out the incorrect answers and estimate your answers if you’re not completely sure about the answer to a question. If you’re running low on time, you should randomly choose answers instead of leaving the answers blank.

Stay Calm and Breathe

When you’re taking the test, you should control your breathing and stay calm. You’ve already spent down everything you can before the test by practising mental your math skills and data interpretation skills. During the test, you need to just focus on doing your best.

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Final Thoughts

Hopefully, after reading this article, you should be more prepared for taking the McKinsey PST test. By completing the PST test, whether you pass or fail, you will learn a lot from the process, and you should be proud to complete the test. Besides, not many candidates will make it to this stage in the selection process.

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