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Typical Question Types in Written Tests

Since there are different types of written tests across consulting firms, it would make sense to prepare for various question types that appear in these tests.

In this chapter we will provide you with an overview of common question types across written tests such as the PST. First of all, unless you know exactly what type of test you will get, it is advisable to prepare for the different question types that could appear in these tests. Also, given that most firms are not too generous with the materials they distribute, this approach will help you find more practice material without having to pay for commercially available practice tests.

The following are some common question types and strategies on how we can approach these questions.

The general math questions

General math questions are used across most written tests. The key skill being tested is your ability to calculate quickly and accurately without a calculator.

In order to solve these types of questions:

  • Practice your general math skills to make sure you are able to calculate quickly and accurately. Also, make sure to compare your results with peers using PrepLounge's practice tool (see our case math section for additional practice material).
  • Make sure to double check your calculations – this might seem straight forward but during the test you might calculate the wrong percentage or make an arithmetic error. If a table is provided (as shown later), be sure to immediately mark the columns/rows that you need to avoid confusion.
  • Estimate the answer before doing the exact calculations since you can generally eliminate 2 or more answers with a quick estimation in your head.

Example question:

FlipFlopCo, a major manufacturer of trendy flip flops asked [name of the consultancy you are currently taking the test at] to look into its sales development across several countries over the last years.

The table below shows the sales development of the flip-flop business unit across FlipFlopCo’s major markets. Which of these markets showed the fastest sales development (in %-terms) from 2009-2012?

US$ M

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

US

233

274

333

393

455

CA

140

160

181

198

230

MX

44

47

56

73

80

EU

58

67

65

69

72

RoW

56

49

49

54

56

a)US

b)CA

c)MX

d)EU

e)RoW

The question wants you to calculate the relative increase from 2009 to 2012. We recommend to first highlight/mark the two columns labeled 2009 and 2012 to avoid mis-reading charts. Next, rather than doing exact calculations right away, we would first estimate to eliminate unlikely choices.

  • US:
    • Sales increased from 274 to 455
    • We round this to 300-500, an increase that we are able to mentally calculate (~ 66%)
    • To avoid making careless errors, we would write the result next to the 455 in the US line
    • We then repeat these steps for other countries/regions
  • CA: 150-200: ~33%
  • MX: 50-80: ~60%
  • EU: 70-70: ~0%
  • RoW: 50-60: ~20%

Now, we can eliminate all answers but US and MX. To avoid careless errors, we would cross out the eliminated answers on the table. Then, we can precisely calculate for US and MX to determine the correct answer.

GMAT style questions

GMAT math is used very frequently in written tests. The good thing is that there is ample preparation material for these types of questions.

In order to attack these types of questions:

  1. Get acquainted with the type of GMAT questions a particular consulting firm usually asks since GMAT math can range from numerical reasoning to geometry. For example, while Bain is seemingly focused on numerical reasoning, Oliver Wyman can focus more on geometry skills.
  2. Practice solving the GMAT type of questions. Here, the goal should be to get fairly acquainted with solving GMAT types of questions. Practice general math, which is more important than any other skills in written tests.

Chart reading questions

Chart reading is extremely important for both case interview and written tests. The prevalence of charts in interviews seems to be slightly higher at BCG compared to McKinsey and Bain.

Follow these steps for chart reading:

  • Read the title and understand the big picture of the chart/graph. Consultants call this ‘clearing the chart’. Example: ‘Ok, so this is a bar chart showing annual revenues from 2008 to 2013 in real numbers and the forecast for 2014 broken down by BU’.
  • Make sure that you are looking at the right axis, e.g., the axis might be in relative terms or occasionally log scale.
  • Mark the numbers that you need to avoid making careless errors.
    • For example, in a chart with several lines, mark/highlight the column/row that you want to work with.
    • If the chart contains numbers only on the axis, write down the numbers you want to work with to avoid having to look a second time.
  • Resist the temptation to quickly draw visual conclusions and rather read carefully before making inferences.

Brain teaser questions

Brain teaser questions resemble solving mind puzzles and are not related to business cases. Oliver Wyman is known for using these types of questions in its interviews.

In order to approach these types of questions:

  • Familiarize yourself with brain teasers in general since most of them usually follow common principles.
  • Practice solving these types of questions until you feel more confident.

PrepLounge provides several examples to prepare you for brainteaser types of questions.

Quiz

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