Solve, the McKinsey Problem Solving Game: Ace this Assessment


McKinsey video game assessment tool developed with Imbellus

If you’re planning to interview with McKinsey, you will find yourself playing a video game as part of your recruiting process. Solve, Mckinsey’s “digital gamified assessment,” is designed to test your problem-solving skills in a fun & intuitive way.

This game goes by different names including Solve, the McKinsey problem solving game, and the McKinsey digital assessment. Whatever you call it, you need to know what this game is and how to prepare for it.

In this article, we’ve curated insights and tips from our coaches, who are former MBB recruiters, consultants, and interviewers. By the end of the article, you’ll be better prepared for the McKinsey Solve game as we:

      • Provide an overview of the McKinsey problem solving game,
      • Look at what skills and capabilities it measures,
      • Provide 9 tips on beating the problem solving game, and
      • Tell you what we know about the roll-out.

If this is your first visit to MCO – head to Case Interview Preparation for an intro to the management consulting interview process.

Let’s get started!

What Does the McKinsey Problem Solving Game Look Like?

The video game assessment begins with the following prompt:

“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 McKinsey problem solving game has 5 possible scenarios. Candidates will have 70 minutes to solve tasks in 2 of the scenarios. The scenarios are:

  • Scenario 1: Ecosystem Creation. Create a stable ecosystem and populate it with plants and animals.
  • Scenario 2: Organism Protection. Protect a native plant from an invasive species.
  • Scenario 3: Disaster Management. Identify a natural disaster based on environmental symptoms and protect the animal population.
  • Scenario 4: Disease Management. Identify a disease affecting an ecosystem based on symptoms affecting the animals and recommend a treatment plan.
  • Scenario 5: Migration Management. Direct a group of animals from one point to another utilizing the minimum resources.

Working through each of these scenarios takes the candidate through the life-cycle of a case, from understanding the problem to be solved, to collecting then analyzing data, to making a decision with limited time and imperfect information, and then recommending a solution.

Scenario 1: Ecosystem Creation

Task: Create a stable ecosystem. It could be marine-based or terrestrial.

    • Choose a location on the map based on its conditions (temperature, depth, currents, salinity, etc.)
    • Select plant and species to place in the ecosystem based on their requirements (the species’ diets, how many calories they require, how many calories they provide when eaten, etc.)
    • Optimize the chance of the ecosystem’s survival by balancing the food chain and ensuring the ecosystem doesn’t collapse.
    • 1 round. 35 minutes to complete it.
To win: Shift through large amounts of data quickly.

Scenario 2: Organism Protection

Task: Protect a native plant against an invader species for 6 turns by using predators and barriers. The difficulty increases with each turn.

    • Choose predators to attack the invader species based on the amount of damage they do and their range of attack.
    • Optimize the placement of predators based on their range.
    • Erect geographic barriers based on their ability to slow or divert the invader species. Use bottlenecks and choke points to slow the invasive species as much as possible.
    • The invader species will disappear when its health reaches zero.
    • Ensure the native species survives as long as possible.
    • 3 rounds that last a total of 35 minutes.
To win: New invasive species and tools are added to the game in later rounds. You’ll need to adapt quickly. Practice with tower defense video games to refine your strategies.

Scenario 3: Disaster Management

Task: Identify the natural disaster such as a tsunami or volcanic eruption which has hit the ecosystem. Help the animals survive the disaster.

    • Use environmental data (temperature, atmospheric pressure, rain, etc.) to identify the type of disaster that has occurred.
    • Find an alternative location for the animals where they are most likely to survive based on the characteristics of the species and the location.
    • Move the animals to the selected location.

To win: Quickly identify the disaster and react to it.

Scenario 4: Disease Management

Task: Identify a disease affecting the animals and recommend a course of treatment.

    • Identify the disease based on symptoms affecting the animals.
    • Select a treatment based on the characteristics of the disease, the animal population, and treatment options.
    • Optimize for the animals’ survival.

To win: Quickly identify the type of disease and react to it.

Scenario 5: Migration Management

Task: Migrate the group of animals from one point to another utilizing minimum resources and ensuring maximum animals survive.

    • From the start point, select the best route out of the various alternatives.
    • For each route, a fixed number of animals will die and the resources will be reduced by a fixed amount. 
    • At each touchpoint, continue to select the best route forward, taking into account additional animals and resources you can collect at points on the route.

To win: Keep a track of the resources and surviving animals as you navigate through various routes.

Instructions, Timing, & Preparation

 A tutorial is provided before each scenario. The time you spend on the tutorials is not timed, so spend as long as you need to ensure you understand your task and the data provided.

The tutorial provides suggestions for how long to spend on each task, but you have the flexibility to manage your own time. Tasks in the 1st scenario typically take longer than tasks in the 2nd scenario, so take that into account as you plan your time.

Imbellus has stated that they did not design the test to create a time constraint. Some people report having time left over at the end of the 70 minutes. Others feel pressed for time at the end.

No advanced preparation for the test is required. Neither business knowledge nor gaming experience is required. The game provides all the information candidates need

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What Does the McKinsey Problem Solving Game Measure?

The video game assessment tool tests 5 cognitive skills:
  1. Critical thinking: the ability to make thoughtful decisions based on data.
  2. Decision making: the ability to make the best possible decision with limited time and imperfect information.
  3. Metacognition: The ability to use strategies such as hypothesis-testing to problem solve effectively.
  4. Situational awareness: the ability to perceive what’s going on in a complex environment, what it means, and to make projections.
  5. Systems thinking: the ability to understand multi-factor cause-and-effect relationships.
McKinsey Digital Assessment
Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

Do All Candidates Take the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

The McKinsey problem solving game has been rolled out globally. Larger offices like London allow candidates to take the test from a computer at home.

Candidates from both undergraduate and graduate-level programs are being asked to take it, as are experienced-hire candidates.

Since one of the main benefits of the game is its ability to screen applicants in places where McKinsey doesn’t currently conduct interviews, applicants from non-core schools are almost certain to be asked to the McKinsey problem solving game.

9 Tips on Excelling at the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

  1. Understand the 5 cognitive skills being tested (listed above). They will help you focus on the right things during the assessment.
  2. Take time to understand the instructions. This is no simple game. The amount of data you’ll be given may feel overwhelming. But the 70 minutes time limit for the game doesn’t start until after you finish the tutorial so make sure you understand the data before you begin the game.
  3. Make sure you understand the objectives of each task. You need to have a plan for how to “win” at each task before you start it in order to make effective choices. For example, on the ecosystem game, you need to know the eating rules/calorie requirements.
  4. Prioritize and don’t get lost in the details. There is a lot of data provided in the assessment. Keep your focus on the big picture to ensure you don’t get lost in the details.
  5. Do the easy math. Pause early in each game to see if you can figure out the simple equations driving the relationships between variables (e.g., 1 of X resource = 3 of Y resource). Use these equations to guide your decision-making. But don’t spend too long on this. Instead. . .
  6. Test your ideas and take notes on outcomes. Some questions ask you to assess different strategies. Testing ideas and adapting will help you answer these questions and develop a fact base for making good decisions.
  7. Make decisions with limited or too much information. In some cases, you won’t have every piece of information you’d like or the time to make perfect decisions. Make the best decisions with the time and information you have. In other cases, you’ll be overwhelmed with data and need to sift quickly through to what is important. This reflects trade-offs consultants need to make on the job.
  8. Don’t replicate the solutions of other test-takers. The McKinsey problem solving game creates unique scenarios for each test taker so that no one can cheat the test.
  9. Keep track of your time. It is more important to complete all the tasks in the allotted 70 minutes than to do marginally better on the first tasks but not complete the last ones. The first task is meant to take longer than the others, but make sure you are aware of how much time you have remaining so you don’t run out.

How Should Candidates Prepare for the Digital Assessment?

McKinsey says that no additional preparation is required to take the assessment. There’s a tutorial at the beginning of each of the prompts that will tell you what you need to know.

With that said, having a general sense of what to expect will help candidates perform their best. Take a look at the resources provided below.

When you take the digital assessment, relax and let yourself absorb the game world, the information you’re provided, and the problem that you’re asked to solve. You are allowed to take notes during the assessment and the notes will not be used for evaluation purposes, so bring a pen and paper.

Links to Additional Resources

For a video introduction to the digital assessment tool, you can watch this video.

For more information about the test, read this article.

And if you really want to geek out, there’s this abstract.

Still have questions about the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

If you have further questions on the McKinsey Solve game, leave them in the comments below. We’ll have one of’s coaches provide more information.

Also, let us know if you’re asked to take the digital assessment. We’d love to know what you think of it! 

People who are interested in the McKinsey Solve game typically find the following other My Consulting Offer pages helpful:

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Help with the McKinsey Digital Assessment

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