McKinsey Solve Game: 13 Tips to Ace this Test

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McKinsey video game assessment tool developed with Imbellus

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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 Redrock Study Scenario
      • The skills the game measures
      • 13 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 2 primary tests. McKinsey previously had a larger library of tests, but the firm now focuses on these:

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

Working through each of these tests takes you 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.

We’ll walk you through each of these tests.

Pro tip! McKinsey continues to evolve the tests in the Solve game. So if the instructions in McKinsey Solve look different, go by those guidelines. These overviews and tips should help you prepare even if the game is updated again.

During the McKinsey Solve Game, you should be flexible, just like a consultant!

Common McKinsey Solve Game Scenarios

Ecosystem Building Game

Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

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

You start by choosing a location on the map and then you must select 8 plant and animal species that will best survive in that environment.

    • Food chain sustainability: Can all 8 plants and animals find enough food to meet their calorie requirements? You’ll want to be sure that every plant or animal has a food source and understand how many calories each species produces.
    • Terrain compatibility: Can the species survive in the environment? An obvious example is that coral can’t survive on land. There are likely a set of plants and animals that are more compatible with the terrain than others. You will need to analyze the species based on the conditions they need to survive (humidity, temperature, and soil acidity for terrestrial environments; temperature, depth, currents, and salinity for marine environments.)

These concepts are pretty straightforward. However, in McKinsey Solve, there will be complex math constraints that will drive you to the optimal answer. You will need to develop a structured framework to organize the list of plant and animal species according to those dimensions.

Here’s how the game works:

 
    • Take a tutorial to learn how to review and organize information. There is no time limit on the tutorial, so be sure you experiment with all the tools and features so you don’t have to waste time in the simulation figuring it out. Take down a few ideas that will help you structure your thinking before you start the simulation.
    • 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 the 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.
      • Take time at the beginning to 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). If you are able to build tables and do calculations for each species in Excel rather than doing the math by hand, this could save you time.
      • Be hypothesis-driven: 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.
      • Once you’ve selected 8 species, use your Excel table to confirm that each species is a good fit in that location, that there is enough food for each species based on the eating rules provided, and that every species has a food source present in the 8 chosen species.

 To win: Identify relevant and irrelevant data quickly. Set up a table and do basic calculations in Excel to make sure the ecosystem is in balance.

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.

You will have 35 minutes to complete the Red Rock Scenario, which is broken down into two sections: 

  • A Study, that mimics a case interview
  • Cases, a series of ten short exercises that leverage the same Red Rock data set but are usually not related to the Study 

 

There are no specific time constraints within the Red Rock scenario, but it’s recommended to prioritize time on the Study rather than on the Cases. Aim for 20 minutes on the study, 10 minutes on the cases and reserve 5 minutes in case you make a mistake somewhere. 

You read that right! That’s one minute per mini-case. When you take the McKinsey Solve test, you will want to be energized and focused. 

You will be given an untimed tutorial for the Red Rock scenario. Take advantage of this time to learn how the tools work. You will not have time to explore the digital tools during the test. 

First up is the Study which includes three sections:

Investigate and structure the case

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.

Review collected observations and relevant data points. The main things you want to do in this phase are 1) get a clear understanding of the objectives of the case and 2) gather the relevant data you need in a digital journal within the game. There will be a lot of relevant data, but you won’t need all of it to solve the Study. 

Recommended time: 5 minutes. You will not have time to read all the data you receive. So get clear on the objectives and quickly add the information you need to your digital journal. 

Pro Tip 1: As you collect data or information in the digital journal, add meaningful labels to it so it’s easy for you to find the data later in the game. You may want to organize your data so that related points are near each other in the digital journal. 

Pro Tip 2: Only bring over key relevant data into your journal. Your score will be negatively impacted if you just drag everything over. Keep track of random notes offlines on a scratch piece of paper. 

Analyze the Data

You’ll be asked to answer 3 quantitative questions based on your original research objective. Each of these calculations will have sub-questions and you will need to fill in data gaps to get the answer.

The math itself should be fairly straightforward, simple arithmetic, percentages, and fractions. But the context may be complex since there are layers to the math. Be sure to read the questions carefully.

Good news! You’ll get a virtual calculator as well as the option to go back to the article if you need more data.

Be sure to use the digital calculator and not your own calculator or Excel to do these calculations. You’ll need to drag your answers into the digital journal in order to complete the report in the next phase. Additionally, McKinsey Solve tracks your movements and you will get a benefit from recording the math in the calculator.

Recommended time: 10 minutes.

Report

Create a written summery and graphics to help readers visualize what you found in your analysis. 

The written element of the report is not a freehand writing exercise. You will be given prompts and asked to fill in data and some qualitative terms like”faster” or “slower.”

In the graphical phase of the report section, you’ll be asked to select the best format for the graph and input numbers. As a reminder, here are some general guidelines of which types of charts are the best in various situations:

  • Pie chart: for comparing parts to a whole
  • Line chart: for demonstrating change over time
  • Bar chart: for comparing independent variable
Recommended time: 5 minutes.
 
Tips on how to approach the Redrock Study:
  • Keep your research objective in mind. That’s your North Star to identify what data is most relevant and how to present your analysis.
  • Get comfortable with all the tools during the tutorial.
  • Be sure you’re ready to move on from the Investigation phase and that you have all the data you need.
  • Leave yourself enough time for the Cases.

McKinsey Solve Cases

After the game, you’ll be asked 10 questions based on the data you received and your calculations. The format will be similar–you’ll be provided information and graphs and you can use the digital journal to pull out relevant information. Each question will either be multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank with a numerical answer.

There are 4 types of questions:

  • Visualization: choose the best graphical format for a set of data
  • Word and math problems: read text and solve a quick math problem
  • Formula selection: read text and select the appropriate formula to use to answer the questions
  • Verbal reasoning: multiple-choice questions to assess if a statement is true or false

Analyze the Data

You’ll be asked to answer 3 quantitative questions based on your original research objective. Each of these calculations will have sub-questions and you will need to fill in data gaps to get the answer.

The math itself should be fairly straightforward, simple arithmetic, percentages, and fractions. But the context may be complex since there are layers to the math. Be sure to read the questions carefully.

Good news! You’ll get a virtual calculator as well as the option to go back to the article if you need more data.

Be sure to use the digital calculator and not your own calculator or Excel to do these calculations. You’ll need to drag your answers into the digital journal in order to complete the report in the next phase. Additionally, McKinsey Solve tracks your movements and you will get a benefit from recording the math in the calculator.

Recommended time: 10 minutes.

Report

Create a written summery and graphics to help readers visualize what you found in your analysis. 

The written element of the report is not a freehand and writing exercise. You will be given prompts and asked to fill in data and some qualitative terms like”faster” or “slower.”

In the graphical phase of the report section, you’ll be asked to select the best format for the graph and input numbers. As a reminder, here are some general guidelines of which types of charts are the best in various situations:

  • Pie chart: for comparing parts to a whole
  • Line chart: for demonstrating change over time
  • Bar chart: for comparing independent variable
Recommended time: 5 minutes.
 
Tips on how to approach the Redrock Study:
  • Keep your research objective in mind. That’s your North Star to identify what data is most relevant and how to present your analysis.
  • Get comfortable with all the tools during the tutorial.
  • Be sure you’re ready to move on from the Investigation phase and that you have all the data you need.
  • Leave yourself enough time for the Cases.

McKinsey Solve Cases

After the game, you’ll be asked 10 questions based on the data you received and your calculations. The format will be similar–you’ll be provided information and graphs and you can use the digital journal to pull out relevant information. Each question will either be multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank with a numerical answer.

There are 4 types of questions:

  • Visualization: choose the best graphical format for a set of data
  • Word and math problems: read text and solve a quick math problem
  • Formula selection: read text and select the appropriate formula to use to answer the questions
  • Verbal reasoning: multiple-choice questions to assess if a statement is true or false

Some examples of Red Rock case questions include choose the best graphic format to visualize specific types of information, or calculate the percentage change in wolf population under hypothetical scenarios. 

The quantitative questions in the cases may also include basic statistics, weighted averages, and basic probabilities. Be sure to refresh yourself on those concepts before you sign in to Solve. During the cases, if you need a calculator, you will be provided one and you should use it. 

You will need to answer the case questions in order and cannot move  back and forth. 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 McKinsey Solve 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. Be sure to conduct all key analysis in the digital calculator in the simulation so you get “process credit” for your math! Avoid unnecessary movements and guessing within the system. 

For example, while you can move back and forth during the Red Rock study, it will negatively impact your process score for the test. You should try to get all the information you need during the Investigation phase. If you need information to answer a question or complete a report, you should go back for it. Just understand the impact of moving back and forth on your score. 

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 McKinsey 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.

McKinsey indicates that no advanced preparation for the test is required. Neither business knowledge nor gaming experience is required. The game provides all the information you need.

Based on how complex the games and tools are, it’s a good idea to do some prep. Whether that’s playing more games or practicing structure and math to make sure you hit the ground running. 

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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.

McKinsey notes that the firm will not make hiring decisions based solely on the results from the Solve test. So if you ace or bomb the simulation, know that it’s just one aspect of your candidacy.

McKinsey Solve scores will only be relevant until the case interview phase of the recruitment process. Once you have been invited to interview, they will no longer be relevant.

13 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. Maximize the tutorial period by attempting to anticipate the mini-game’s objectives and crafting a general approach before starting the game itself.
  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. Use scrap paper or, ideally, an extra computer for notes and to help with computations.
  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. Use pen and paper or another device. Limit the key strokes, clicks, and typing on your test device to boost your process score.
  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.
  13. Get comfortable with digital strategy games. If you aren’t a gamer, you may want to spend a little time getting acquainted with some games before you take the McKinsey Solve test. All games have logic and once you identify how to win, you can choose the best actions. This may feel foreign at first, but with some reps beforehand, you whould be able to start the game with confidence.

Relax and let yourself absorb the game world, the information provided, and the problem you’re asked to solve.

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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