McKinsey Problem Solving Game – Guide 2022

Games-based assessments are being used by a number of the top strategy consulting firms now. BCG has partnered with Pymetrics and launched a Chatbot Online Case, Arctic Shores is working with Strategy& (via PwC), and McKinsey launched their problem-solving game developed with Imbellus in 2019.​

The game (officially called Solve, but also referred to as the problem-solving game/PSG, the Imbellus game, or the digital assessment) replaces the in-person, pen-and-paper te­st that McKinsey has used for many years up until recently (the McKinsey PST). The game proved very effective in assessing candidates more holistically while reducing bias against those unfamiliar with standardized testing and helping scale recruitment during the era of pandemic-driven lockdowns. As of May 2020, it has been used to test 15,000 McKinsey applicants in more than 30 countries. These numbers have undoubtedly grown exponentially since then as more cohorts take the test and McKinsey rolls it out to the rest of its firm network.​

Overall games-based assessments are gaining popularity for the ability to filter down the candidate pool in an intuitive, unbiased way that tests both quantitative and logical reasoning skills. The McKinsey digital assessment is used for exactly that purpose.

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What to Expect in This Article

Traits They Are Testing in the McKinsey Digital Assessment​

The McKinsey digital assessment provides a way of testing candidates thinking ability and personality traits that are harder to revise for and therefore offers a way of testing that does not reward those that prepare more extensively. It also provides a safe environment to test how comfortable candidates are making decisions with imperfect information, a skill particularly important for strategy consultants.​

McKinsey prides itself on being a firm with some of the leading thinkers in the world and has been described as the ‘CEO factory’ for its alumni list that includes Cheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Sundar Pichai (CEO of Alphabet and Google), James Gorman (CEO of Morgan Stanley), and many more. For this reason, it is unsurprising that their games-based assessment focuses on testing thinking over personality traits.​

The five skills that McKinsey specifically looks to test with their digital assessment are:​

Critical thinking is the conceptualizing, analyzing, and synthesizing of information based on observation, experience, reflection, or reasoning. For strategy consultants such as McKinsey, this is an important skill as client problems are often unique and complex. To reach clear and concise recommendations or conclusions, strategy consultants must practice strong critical thinking skills to reduce the noise down to the critical points only.​

Decision-making based on fragmented, imperfect information is critical as McKinsey advises some of the world’s largest companies. The discipline of strategy consulting brings structure and logic to some of the most important decisions CEOs will make in their tenure and so McKinsey expects all their consultants to be competent and comfortable making decisive decisions.​

Metacognition is the ability to assess your own thinking and learning. Throughout a client engagement, a consultant’s knowledge and information base will increase and perhaps change the previous opinions put forward. The ability to critique and change thinking and logical reasoning based on the emergence of new information is important to reach the best possible outcome for the client.​

Situational awareness has historically been tested using situational judgment tests and is the decision-making of an individual in a social-based scenario, such as the workplace. As consulting is a project-based, client-facing profession, the ability to make sound, appropriate decisions is important to building and maintaining working relationships.​

Systems thinking is the holistic approach to analysis that considers the whole system, its individual parts, and how they interact with each other. Organizations and business models can all be conceptualized using systems thinking and it is also a strategy consultant's preferred way to isolate issues and present recommendations as it makes it easy for clients to understand their thinking and where it fits in the wider picture.

It is important to note that candidates are continuously assessed on these traits throughout the game and not just based on the outcomes at the end. Even something as minor as a keystroke, a click, or a movement of the mouse will be tracked and assessed. The traits will then be benchmarked against a benchmark to see if the candidates will be a good fit for the firm.

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The McKinsey digital assessment is played on a desktop rather than a smartphone like other types of games. It looks and feels like a PC game similar to those that were popular 15 years ago such as SIMs and is highly intuitive for the user to navigate.

Structure of the McKinsey Digital Assessment

In the McKinsey digital assessment, candidates have 71 minutes to complete two game scenarios (tutorial time is excluded), selected from a pool of five known ones. There is no time limit or hard stop between the two games; accordingly, candidates should avoid using up all their time in the first one.

The five possible scenarios in the digital assessment that have been published by McKinsey include:​

Objective: To build a self-sustaining natural ecosystem in a coral reef or a mountain range.

The candidate is provided with a selection of different animals and plants, each requiring and providing varying amounts of nutrients, as well as needing different living conditions. The candidate must assess the benefits of each and select an optimal combination of species and location that will ensure a sustainable ecosystem.​

The candidate needs to build a sustainable chain of 8 species in order to successfully pass this game.

Objective: To protect an endangered species of plant from incoming invaders​.

The routes of invaders are shown on a grid which increases in size during the game. Using the combination of a limited number of defenders (i.e., predators that hunt the invaders) and terrain (which slows down or blocks the path of the invaders), the user must prevent the plant in danger from being reached by the invader for as long as possible.​

Objective: To identify an incoming natural disaster and take necessary evasive action for a group of animals.​

Symptoms of a natural disaster are presented to the candidate such as wind speed, precipitation, and air temperature. Using this information, the candidate has to identify a natural disaster. Each type of disaster has a different expected impact on the island, where a group of animals lives.​

Knowing this, the candidate must choose where to relocate the group of animals whilst ensuring they will be protected, sheltered, fed, and watered sustainably in the new location.

Objective: To identify a mysterious disease spreading through a population and the animals that could be affected by it.​

An animal population is showing symptoms of a disease. Based on the symptoms detected, the candidate must conclude which animals will be affected next and the rules that will lead to the infection.

There are usually two maps in this game, with the second one being substantially more complex since the number of variables for each animal will increase.

Objective: To migrate a group of animals on a path from point A to point B while maximizing the number of animals surviving.

The candidate starts each map with a set of allocated resources (e.g., apples, water, nuts) and is presented with many branching paths to help their animal group reach the final destination. At each step, a certain number of resources will be consumed; the candidate will also be able to collect additional resources and animals at each step. If the candidate has insufficient resourcesfor a specific step, a few animals will be lost.

With this in mind, the candidate must identify the resources needed for survival, plan the path to collect those resources and minimize movements to ultimately reach the final destination with as many animals as possible.
 

Objective: To select relevant information out of text, graphs, and tables provided and answer 3 numerical questions

This is the new entry between the McKinsey games as it was first launched in 2022.

The candidate will see information related to a few animal species, including text paragraphs, graphs, and numbers, and will have to select relevant parts to use for his/her research. The information can be dragged and dropped into a separate part of the screen and collected in a research journal.

After the research phase, the candidate will have to use the information collected to answer three quantitative questions related to the animal species.

Top Tips For the McKinsey Digital Assessment

Here are some key tips to ensure you ace the McKinsey digital assessment:​

1. Take the assessment in a quiet environment – The games take approximately 71 minutes. Ensuring you are taking the test in a quiet environment without distractions will increase the chances of optimal performance in each game.​

2. Complete the assessment in the morning - For most people, the cognitive ability is higher in the morning when they are most awake and alert. For tasks requiring focus and attention this is particularly important, thus taking the games in the morning will likely increase your performance.​

3. Play strategy video games – The games are similar to other strategy-based games that require users to build an ‘empire’ or to defend a ‘kingdom’. These games will be different in their appearance but the concept of having to make trade-offs between different strategic choices is exactly what the McKinsey games are recreating.

4. Complete the first scenario faster – The first scenario is almost always Ecosystem Management, which is a game that can be prepared for by leveraging existing resources. McKinsey recommends 35 minutes for this scenario, but it can be completed in far less time assuming one uses specific tools and methodologies (as detailed in the Imbellus Solve Game Secrets guide or the Imbellus Solve Combo). You should attempt to complete this game as fast as possible to leave more time for the less predictable second scenario.

5. Be deliberate in your actions – Given that the assessment tracks telemetry data to define your profile, it is critical that you do not behave erratically, such as by randomly moving your cursor all over the place or by repeatedly switching between tabs for no reason. The behaviors highlighted are quite common when candidates are lost in their thoughts; hence, it is recommended that you plan out your approach on a separate computer or via pen-and-paper, and only return to the game once laid out a game plan. 

Make sure to check out the Consulting Q&A threads about the McKinsey Problem Solving Game to receive insights from former management consultants as well as candidates who have passed the Imbellus test!

By now you have learned a lot about how to master the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. With all the information from the article and further preparation material, you will be perfectly prepared to ace the Imbellus test and make it to the first round of the McKinsey interview!

As soon as you receive the invitation to the interview, don't forget to read through the articles on the McKinsey Problem Solving Interview as well as those on how to master the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI). Those will give you guidance for your further case interview preparation and will help you land the job you want at McKinsey!

5. About the Author

Francesco

#1 Expert for Coaching Sessions (4.000+) | 1.400+ 5-star Reviews with 100% Recommendation Rate | Ex BCG | 9+ Years of Coaching

  • Professional Experience: BCG
  • Languages: English, Italian, Spanish
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Francesco is an interview coach, former BCG consultant, and tech entrepreneur. He is the #1 coach on PrepLounge.com for meetings done, where he completed more than 3.000 expert sessions. As a coach for consulting interviews, Francesco helped hundreds of candidates to land offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. Since 2016, he organizes consulting boot camps in some of the leading universities in Europe. As a consultant, Francesco joined BCG in the Milan office, where he worked on projects in the energy, industrial goods, and consumer goods sectors. After BCG, he worked in venture capital in Germany as an angel fund associate. As an entrepreneur, Francesco founded two companies in Europe and Asia in the entertainment and EdTech sectors. He is currently leading a Singapore-based company and supporting startups as a strategic advisor.

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