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.
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?
- $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:
How to prepare for the McKinsey PST?
Here’s our recommended approach for taking the PST:
- Review the official McKinsey PST sample tests and familiarize 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: