McKinsey Solve Game: 12 Tips to Ace this Test


McKinsey video game assessment tool developed with Imbellus


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

This game goes by different names, including 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 discuss recent updates to the McKinsey Solve Game and also provide tips from our coaches, who are former MBB recruiters, consultants, and interviewers. We’ll cover:

      • An overview of the McKinsey Solve Game
      • Detail on the new Redrock Study Scenario
      • The skills the game measures
      • 12 tips on beating the McKinsey Solve Game

Let’s get started!

What Does the McKinsey Solve Game Look Like?

McKinsey Digital Assessment
Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

Candidates have 60-70 minutes to play the game on a computer browser (not an iPad or phone). You can play the McKinsey Solve Game in one of 4 languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, or Japanese.

The assessment begins with this 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 Solve Game has 6 possible scenarios. Each candidate plays 2 of the 6, but 2 scenarios come up most frequently:

  1. Ecosystem Building Game. Create a stable ecosystem and populate it with plants and animals.
  2. Redrock Study. An ecological field study. There are 10 multiple-choice questions at the end of the game.

We’ll walk you through the 2 common scenarios first, then tell you about the other scenarios so you can be prepared just in case.

The 4 less common scenarios are:

  1. Plant Defense Game. Protect a native plant from an invasive species.
  2. Disaster Management Game. Identify a natural disaster based on environmental symptoms and protect the animal population.
  3. Disease Management Game. Identify a disease affecting an ecosystem based on symptoms affecting the animals and recommend a treatment plan.
  4. Migration Management Game. Direct a group of animals from one point to another while minimizing resources used along the way.

Working through each of these scenarios takes the candidate through the life-cycle of a consulting 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.

Common McKinsey Solve Game Scenarios

Ecosystem Building Game

 Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

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

Choose a location on the map based on its conditions (humidity, temperature, and soil acidity for terrestrial environments; temperature, depth, currents, and salinity for marine environments.)

    • Select 8 plant and animal species out of the 20+ provided to place in the ecosystem to form a viable food chain. Match the profiles of the species with the conditions in the location. Also, match the prey each species likes.
    • Optimize the chance of the ecosystem’s survival by balancing the food chain and ensuring the ecosystem doesn’t collapse. The calories required by each species (how many it needs to eat) and calories provided to predator species are given. For instance, you need to ensure your apex predator (such as a bear) doesn’t consume so many calories that it wipes out the smaller creatures from your ecosystem.
    • This scenario takes 35 minutes to complete.
    • Tips on how to approach the Ecosystem Building Game:
      • Play the game on one device with another device open to do some quick calculations.
      • Develop and follow a structured process, creating your food chain from the top down (starting with the apex predator) or the bottom up (starting from plants/fungi/coral).
      • Choose producers (plants/fungi/coral) with high calories provided and which are eaten by many animal species. Choose small animals/herbivores with low calories needed and high calories provided, when possible.
      • Narrow your choice of species down from 20 to 10-12, then run the math to ensure your ecosystem is in balance.
To win: Shift through large amounts of data quickly. Do basic calculations to make sure the ecosystem is in balance.

NEW McKinsey Solve Game Scenario: RedRock Study

Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

Task: Create an ecological field study investigating wolf packs on an island. The goal is to relocate the pack(s) so they will best balance with the species around them and survive. Study the wolf pack’s hunting behavior and balance it with other species, such as deer.

    • Research the wolf packs. You’ll be given an article with past data on the wolf packs. You’ll need to read through a lot of information and drag the most significant data points into a notebook, then use it as a basis for calculations.
    • Analyze the data. You’ll be asked to make 3 calculations based on your original research objective. Good news! You’ll get a virtual calculator as well as the option to go back to the article if you need more data.
    • Report your findings. Create a summary and graphics to help readers visualize what you found in your analysis.
    • Tips on how to approach the Redrock Study: 
      • Keep your research objective in mind. That’s your North Star in identify what data is most relevant and how to present your analysis.
      • Use the Pyramid Principle to structure your summary. Start with your main point and then list the key points underneath it.

Multiple-choice Questions

After the game, you’ll be asked 10 multiple-choice questions based on the data you received  and your calculations. Questions include the best graphic format to visualize specific types of information or the percentage change in wolf population under hypothetical scenarios. Plan your time accordingly.

To win: Again, you need to process a lot of data quickly. This is a key skill for consultants. Do basic calculations and present your findings in a clear, concise manner.

McKinsey Solve Game Instructions, Timing, & Preparation

Your performance in the game is assessed based on 2 criteria: your product score and your process score.

Product score: This is your success in each of the individual game scenarios. How well did you accomplish the game tasks?

Process score: This is an assessment of your process for achieving that score. Did you come up with a good strategy for addressing the scenario? Did you consistently follow your strategy (rather than making random guesses)? McKinsey assesses your strategy by reviewing your mouse movements, keystrokes, and decisions.

You’ll find out your results on the McKinsey Solve Game within 2 weeks of taking it. The results will be a simple pass/fail without more detail.

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 suggests 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 consider that as you plan your time.

Imbellus, the company McKinsey worked with to create the Solve game, says they didn’t 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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Less Common McKinsey Solve Game Scenarios

McKinsey likes to mix things up. They change the scenarios given to one candidate versus another and the parameters within scenarios so you can’t just get the right answer from your pal who aced the McKinsey Solve Game yesterday. 

Because of this, you need to understand how the game works and be prepared for something a bit different, just in case. So let’s walk through the 4 less common scenarios. They are:

  1. Plant Defense Game. Protect a native plant from an invasive species.
  2. Disaster Management Game. Identify a natural disaster based on environmental symptoms and protect the animal population.
  3. Disease Management Game. Identify a disease affecting an ecosystem based on symptoms affecting the animals and recommend a treatment plan.
  4. Migration Management Game. Direct a group of animals from one point to another while minimizing resources used along the way.

Working through each of these scenarios takes the candidate through the life-cycle of a consulting 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.

1. Plant Defense Game

Task: Protect a native plant against an invader species for 15 turns using predators and barriers. The difficulty increases with each turn.

    • This game is played on a square grid (10 x 10 or 12 x 12). A pack of predators (such as foxes or
      gerbils) will invade from the edge of the grid. Their route is indicated so you can plan your defense.
    • Your goal is to choose and deploy terrain barriers (such as mountains or rocks) and another predator species (such as owls and snakes) to slow and eliminate the invading species before it reaches the native plant. You should try to last 15 turns or more.
    • Choose predators to attack the invader species based on the amount of damage they do and their range of attack. Optimize the placement of 5 predators along the invaders’ path.
    • You have time to consider your strategy. When you’re ready, press “execute,” and the predators will move one square. You can revise your strategy, if you want to, before pressing execute again and giving the invaders their next move.
    • Tips for the Plant Defense Game:
      • Geographic barriers can slow invaders or divert them into “kill zones,” bottlenecks in the range of your predator species.
      • The defenses you place after each turn remain in place, so if you place your defenses poorly in turn 1, that will negatively affect you for the rest of that game.
      • The kill zones from multiple defenders can overlap. Set up strong overlapping defenses around the native plant.
      • Plan for the long-term, at least 15 turns, not just the invaders currently on the screen.
      • Terrain can multiply the damage of your defenders. Set up terrain barriers early and put defenders on top of them.
      • The invader species will disappear when its health reaches zero.
      • There are 3 rounds of this game. With each new round, there’s a new pack of predators. The grid resets between rounds, repositioning the native plant you need to save. Together, the rounds last 35 minutes.
      • You win by ensuring the native species survives as long as possible.
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.

2. 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 site.
    • Move the animals to the selected location.

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

3. 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.

4. 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 touch point, 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 track of the resources and surviving animals as you navigate various routes. Use quick math to guide your decisions.

What Does the McKinsey Solve 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.

12 Tips on Excelling at the McKinsey Solve Game

  1. Understand the 5 cognitive skills being tested (listed above). Solve is not a mindless game. Understanding these skills will help you focus on the right things during the assessment, such as having and following a strategy and keeping track of the big picture.
  2. Complete the technical check and select a starting window for taking the test as soon as possible. The technical check won’t start the game, and if you have a technical problem, you want to know about it and solve it before taking the test. Also, there’s a limit on the number of people who can play the McKinsey Solve Game simultaneously, and openings can fill up.
  3. Take time to understand the instructions. The Solve Game is not simple. The amount of data you’ll be given may feel overwhelming. But the 70-minute time limit for the game doesn’t start until after you finish the tutorial, so make sure you understand the instructions before you begin the game.
  4. Make sure you understand the objectives of each task. You need to plan for how to “win” at each task before you start it to make effective choices. For example, in the ecosystem game, you need to know the eating rules/calorie requirements. 
  5. Take good notes. Keep track of important information and use the data to make decisions.
  6. Prioritize and don’t get lost in the details. There is a lot of data provided in the assessment. Focus on the big picture to ensure you don’t get lost in the details.
  7. 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. . .
  8. Test your ideas and note 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Don’t replicate the solutions of other test-takers. The McKinsey Solve Game creates unique scenarios for each test taker so that no one can cheat the test.
  11. 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 know how much time you have remaining so you don’t run out.
  12. Don’t rush into actions that can’t be undone. People report feeling rushed and making hasty decisions they later regret. Take a moment to think before committing resources or finalizing a strategy.

How Should Candidates Prepare for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

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 assessment, relax and let yourself absorb the game world, the information provided, and the problem 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

You can watch McKinsey’s video for an introduction to the digital assessment.

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 Solve Game?

If you have further questions on the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, leave them in the comments below. We’ll have one of My Consulting Offer’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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