McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Oliver Wyman, SPG, and AT Kearney – if you are planning to take their numerical/critical reasoning tests and/or written cases, this post will help you prepare.
- McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST): how to prepare
- BCG: potential test or GMAT-like test?
- BCG written case
- Bain written case
- Oliver Wyman online test
- Strategy Partners Group (SPG) test
- AT Kearney Test
- Bonus: Consulting Math
Let us start with McKinsey PST. Once you nail it down, prep for other tests follows easily.
McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST): how to prepare
McKinsey PST is arguably the hardest of all tests (except for Oliver Wyman – but there’s a catch). Rumors have it that only 30% of candidates after screening pass it. You’ve got 60 minutes to tackle 3 cases with 26 questions in total. Questions challenge your reading, critical reasoning, numerical reasoning, and problem-solving skills, as well as attention to detail. No calculator, no scratch paper. Only the test handout, a pencil and your genius.
1. Take one official PST practice test
You cannot appreciate the complexity of the test until you take one. Here you can find 3 official McKinsey practice tests. Take test A and see how many questions you can solve correctly in 60 mins.
- 19+ correct answers – great, you are on the right track. You won’t need much more practice to pass the test successfully
- 14-19 correct answers – good, but unstable. A few weeks’ practice will get you there
- 10-13 correct answers – ok-ish result. Budget 1-2 months for prep
- <10 correct answers – weak result. Do not schedule your test within the next 3 months and plan on some really solid prep
Now that you know your raw, unprepared level, you can get some knowledge about proper test solution techniques.
2. Learn basic PST theory
“Divide and conquer” should be the motto of all test takers. The key to mastering GMAT, GRE, SAT, Unified State Exams and the like is understanding the types of questions, learning to tackle each of them, and learning to manage your time. McKinsey PST is no exception.
The PST theory videos will introduce you to the 4 PST question types (premise, fact, conclusion, and everything else – pretty MECE, hah) and major solution techniques. Make sure you understand all of them – they are the basics of the test.
- Generic Approach & Timing
- Last 13%
- Rule of 72
- Contribution Margin
- Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
- Box Principle
- Euler Diagram
- Final Remarks
Enough with passive watching. Here comes the interesting part – applying theory to real tests.
3. Apply it to a few practice tests
The practice routine should be as follows:
- Take the timed test and solve as many questions as you can
- After the time’s up, continue solving at your own pace until you finish everything
- Check answers (but not solutions). Go back to questions you got wrong and try to figure out where your mistake was
- Have a look at suggested solutions
- Take a note of your score with and without time limit
What if this is not enough?
If you want to give the test your best shot, minimize the risk of failure, and need a more thorough approach to preparation, consider this practice course.
You will get
- 10 unique problem sets not solved elsewhere (in addition to tons of widely available materials)
- personal feedback from the instructor on your problem-solving approach in most tricky questions
- discussion of optimal solutions (quickest, most comprehensive) to all questions you have trouble with
- advanced analytics of personal progress vs those who passed the test
- efficient motivating system for hard consulting-style work
4. Track your progress
After you’ve solved the tests, check your stats by question type, and define your weak areas. Is it time? Or reading speed? Or complex logic of the premise questions? Or tricky exhibits and word problems?
Here’s an example of analytics we prepare for students of the course. You can come up with a similar table of your own
5. Repeat if needed
Take the remaining official practice tests. How is the result this time? If you scored below 17 on at least one of the tests, consider taking more time for prep. Go back to Step 1 and do another iteration:
- Get more test questions in your weak areas
- Re-do your previous tests
- Solve similar GMAT and GRE questions
- In addition, we have some more practice materials for our students
- If your result is too low (below 10 out of 26), you need way more fundamental prep. A comprehensive math or English language course should be a good start
I hope you did well in your McKinsey PST prep. Next in line – the test from the Boston Consulting Group.
BCG: potential test or GMAT-like test?
A few years ago BCG used to run their own BCG potential test. It was similar to PST in question types and complexity. For better or worse, it is gone now.
Instead, BCG now uses a simpler GMAT-like test:
- BCG test is more business-oriented than GMAT (question topics similar to PST + no sentence correction)
- 50 minutes for 53 questions in 10 sections
- Different number of points for different questions
- Negative points for wrong answers in some questions
- 50% of test takers pass it
Here’s a sample test. So how do you prepare for a BCG test?
1. Prepare for PST
Very simple. If you can handle PST, you are well-equipped to handle BCG test. True, you can fail PST but pass BCG, but the opposite is unlikely. A confident grasp of PST together with some practice of GMAT tests and wise time management will guarantee success.
2. Solve a few GMAT tests
Read here and here detailed accounts of how to prepare for GMAT depending on your background. For BCG, you do not need a comprehensive GMAT prep (thought it won’t do bad). Just get acquainted with basic solution techniques and do a few tests. In most cases that’s enough. People who got 640-650 on GMAT were able to pass BCG test successfully.
3. Tactics: time management and prioritization
What you need to know before the real BCG test:
- Math is easy, just do not screw it up
- Priority is king
– First, solve 2-point questions where you can lose points for wrong answers
– Second, solve 2-point zero-penalty questions
– Third, solve 1-point questions with few answer options (chances of a successful educated guess are higher)
– Fourth, solve everything else
- Last 10 questions are easiest
- Do not look for traps. Questions are way easier than in PST. Do not assume otherwise
This steps should make sure you succeed in your BCG test. What about BCG’s written case?
BCG written case
In some BCG offices, If you pass your test successfully, you are required to take a written case. Unlike Bain written case which is more about math than cases, BCG case is similar to a live case interview.
- You get ~2 hours to prepare a solution to a business problem based on several pages of hand-outs
- Prepare several slides with your solution
- Present your solution to the interviewer(s)
Surprisingly, ~70% of candidates fail this task. Most common reason – poor structuring and presentation skills. For example, candidates fail to notice subtle hints, start arguing with the interviewer, or fall into submissive mode after the first challenge from the interviewer.
How do you prepare for a BCG written case? The way you would for usual case interviews. I’ve covered this topic extensively in this post. Here I will only repeat the essentials.
1. Get the theory right
Theory must-reads (or must-listens):
- Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng
- Look Over My Shoulder by Victor Cheng
- Watch a sample case interview
- MECE and structuring video
2. Get the right practice
- As Warren Buffett once noted, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.” It makes sense to value the quality of practice over its quantity.
- Find a management consultant or a strong peer candidate to help you get started or join a case structuring course.
- Looking for management consultants willing to help is not as difficult as you might think. LinkedIn and a bit of persistence will do.
3. Keep on practicing
- Once you learn to notice and correct mistakes in your own and other people’s performance, you can strive for permanence.
- Generally 30-50 cases solved with strong partners should be enough.
- 100+ in most cases is an overkill as the learning curve drastically flattens
And now time for Bain’s written case which is much easier.
Bain written case
Bain written case is similar to BCG in that you have to prepare slides based on a business situation. This is where similarities end
- Bain slides are half-filled in already
- Recommendations you have to give are trivial
- You do not have to present anything
- The key is not to screw up the math part (e.g. multiplying 3-digit numbers on paper)
Once you are comfortable with McKinsey PST and BCG test, you do not need to do extra preparation. Alternatively, you can practice quick multiplication from a middle-school math book or by using this app.
The next to deal with it Oliver Wyman test
Oliver Wyman online test
OW test runs online, and you have 30 minutes to complete 20 multiple-choice math questions. Questions are tough and time-consuming. You will have to deal with combinatorics, probability theoty, trigonometry, and geometry, besides general algebra. Unless you have a math or science background, you will be in trouble. Learning these things from scratch will take a lot of time.
Unless you are good at googling, of course. The OW test has not been updated for ages. Some generous guys have taken pictures of most questions and put them online. Find these pictures, solve the questions with a quant friend, and you are ready to answer ~70% of the test.
The news are not all good, however. Even if you pass the test, you will get similar math challenges in interviews. For example, a final-round interviewer might ask, how many zeros the number (5^x)! has at the end. So you’d better brush up your math anyways and learn to tackle brainteasers.
Now a much easier test – one by SPG.
Strategy Partners Group (SPG) test
SPG, or Strategy Partners Group, is a Russian consulting boutique. It runs a GMAT-like test in Russian.
- The level of difficulty is a bit higher than the actual GMAT, but lower than PST.
- Passing score is 25/30
- If you get 24, you might try to negotiate a pass nevertheless
Preparation is similar to BCG.
Last but not least – AT Kearney test
AT Kearney test
AT Kearney runs a classic GMAT-like test with emphasis on math. Be prepared for geometry and hard math problems from GMAT, but nothing fancier.
- Get a good GMAT score (700+) and you will be good to go
Missing anything? Ah, yes!
Bonus: Consulting Math
This is our free YouTube videocourse in Consulting Math. Learn how to do quick & precise mental math, estimate complex expressions, deal with word problems, tables, and exhibits. The course is in Russian only, unfortunately. But we’ll create an English version if need be.