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Free Guide to the McKinsey Problem Solving Game


Games based assessments are being used by a number of the top strategy consulting firms now. BCG has partnered with Pymetrics, Arctic Shores is working with Strategy& (via PwC) and McKinsey launched their problem solving game developed with Imbellus in 2019.

The game replaces the in-person, pen and paper test that McKinsey has used for many years up until now (the McKinsey PST). It has been used to test 15,000 McKinsey applicants in more than 30 countries since it went live and this is set to increase as every cohort passes through and McKinsey rolls it out to the rest of its firm network.

Overall games-based assessments are gaining popularity for the ability to filter down the candidate pool in an intuitive, unbiased way that tests both quantitative and logic reasoning skills. The McKinsey digital assessment is used for exactly that purpose.

Traits they are testing in the McKinsey digital assessment

The McKinsey digital assessment provides a way of testing candidates thinking ability and personality traits that are harder to revise for and therefore provide a way of testing that does not reward those that prepare more extensively. It also provides a safe environment to test how comfortable candidates are making decisions with imperfect information, a skill particularly important for strategy consultants.

McKinsey prides itself on being a firm with some of the leading thinkers in the world and has been described as the ‘CEO factory’ for its alumni list that includes Cheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Sundar Pichai (CEO of Alphabet and Google), James Gorman (CEO of Morgan Stanley) and many more. For this reason it is unsurprising that their games based assessment focuses on testing thinking over personality traits.

The five skills that McKinsey specifically look to test with their digital assessment are:

  • Critical thinking

  • Decision making

  • Meta cognition

  • Situational awareness

  • Systems thinking

Critical thinking is the conceptualising, analysing and synthesising of information based on observation, experience, reflection or reasoning. For strategy consultants, such as McKinsey this is an important skill as client problems are often unique and complex, to reach clear and concise recommendations or conclusions strategy consultants must practice strong critical thinking skills in order to reduce the noise down to the critical points only.

Decision making based on fragmented, imperfect information McKinsey advises some of the world’s largest companies. The discipline of strategy consulting brings structure and logic to some of the most important decisions CEOs will make in their tenure and so McKinsey expects all their consultants to be competent and comfortable making decisive decisions.

Meta cognition is the ability to assess your own thinking and learning. Throughout a client engagement a consultant’s knowledge and information base will increase and perhaps change the previous opinions put forward. The ability to critique and change thinking and logical reasoning based on the emergence of new information is important to reach the best possible outcome for the client.

Situational awareness has historically been tested using situational judgement tests and is the decision making of an individual in a social based scenario, such as the workplace. As consulting is a project based, client facing profession the ability to make sound, appropriate decisions is important to building and maintaining working relationships.

Systems thinking is the holistic approach to analysis that considers the whole system, it’s individual parts and how they interact with each other. Organisations and business models can all be conceptualised using systems thinking and it is also a strategy consultants preferred way to isolate issues and present recommendations as it makes it easy for clients to understand their thinking and where it fits in the wider picture.

Look and feel of the McKinsey digital assessment

Endangered species.png

The McKinsey digital assessment is played on a desktop rather than a smartphone as the Arctic Shores and Pymetrics games are. It looks and feels like a PC game similar to those that were popular 15 years ago such as SIMs and his highly intuitive for the user to navigate.


Structure of the McKinsey digital assessment

In the McKinsey digital assessment candidates have 60 minutes to complete 1-3 scenarios with 4-5 tasks in each scenario and every candidate will be tasked with completing a different combination of tasks making it hard to prepare or work together with a friend. This works out at approximately 5 minutes per task.

The four possible scenarios in the digital assessment that have been published by McKinsey include:

  1. Species protection

  2. Disaster aversion

  3. Disease management

  4. Ecosystem development


Scenario 1 in the digital assessment: Species protection

Objective: To protect an endangered species of plant or animal from an incoming invader

The route of an invader(s) is shown on a 10x10 grid. Using the combination of a limited number of options, block path or re-direct, the user must prevent the species in danger from being reached by the invader.

Scenario 2 in the digital assessment: Disaster aversion

Objective: To identify an incoming natural disaster and take necessary evasive action for a group of animals.

Symptoms of a natural disaster are presented to the candidate such as wind speed, precipitation and air temperature. Using this information the natural disaster must be identified. Each natural disaster has a different expected impact on the island where a group of animals are located.

Knowing this the candidate must choose where to relocate the group of animals to whilst ensuring they will be protected, sheltered, fed and watered sustainably in the new location.

Scenario 3 in the digital assessment: Disease management

Objective: Identify a mysterious disease spreading through a population and recommend an appropriate course of action to maximise the survival rate.

An animal population is showing symptoms of a disease. Based on the symptoms detected the candidate must conclude what disease has entered the population, the types of animals affected, the number of animals affected and the severity of the infection.

Once an assessment of the disease has been made, the next step is to recommend an appropriate course of action. Each action has different rates of efficacy depending on the severity of the disease and the animals infected so the candidate must choose the action that maximises survival.

Scenario 4 in the digital assessment: Ecosystem development

Objective: To build a self-sustaining natural habitat such as coral reef or jungle

A selection of different animals and plants require varying amounts of space and nutrients. The candidate must assess the benefits of each and select an optimal combination that will ensure a sustainable ecosystem.

The more prosperous the ecosystem is, the higher score the candidate is awarded.


Top tips for the McKinsey digital assessment

To help you take the McKinsey digital assessment there are 3 top tips to ensure you are prepared:

Take them in a quiet environment – The games take approximately 60 minutes but you have an hour to complete them. Ensuring you are taking the test in a quiet environment without distractions will ensure optimal performance in each of the games.

Complete them in the morning – It is proven that people’s cognitive ability is higher in the morning when they are most awake and alert. For tasks requiring focus and attention this is particularly important and so taking the games in the morning will increase performance.

Play video games – The games are similar to other strategy based games that require users to build an ‘empire’ or to defend a ‘kingdom’. These games will be different in their appearance but the concept of having to make trade offs between different strategic choices is exactly what the McKinsey games are recreating.


If you are preparing for upcoming consulting interviews and  interview questions then check out our online resources:


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