Best approach to notetaking

Notes notetaking
New answer on Jan 21, 2021
5 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Aug 24, 2019

Hi,

What is the best approach I can use to take notes? I have been getting my numbers all messed up especially in cases where there's lots of sequential back and forth calculations. Any help is appreciated.

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Vlad
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 24, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I recommend the following approach- split the main sheet into 2 parts and then the left part into 2 quadrants:

  • Upper left - initial information given at the beginning of the interview and while asking clarifying questions
  • Lower left - Your objective. The objective should be measurable and should have a timeline
  • Right part - Your structure and the whole caseflow

Also, a good practice is to put the key numbers near the corresponding buckets.

! Have a separate sheet for math calculations!

It's also important:

  1. A good habit is to guide the interviewer through your structure by showing the structure on paper. So at least the structure should look clean and clear for the interviewer. Literally, move your pen to the different elements of your structure while presenting. And very often you need to do more than one structure while solving the case.
  2. You need to have clarity with numbers to be successful at calculations.
  3. While providing the final recommendation you need to find all the key numbers quickly, in order to use them in the arguments. Thus you need clarity

All in all - having clear and organized notes have many pros while unclear notes can easily lead to failure.

Best!

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Henning
Expert
replied on Jan 21, 2021
Bain | passed >15 MBB interviews as a candidate

Note taking is of course a critical piece of a strong case delivery, so it will pay off to practice this early on in your preparation.

Whatever system you chose (and practice), it needs to fulfill 3 main purposes:

  • Allow you to note down the critical data and information you hear during the case prompt and have the readily available whenever you need them
  • It needs to enable you to note down an initial framework and track the execution against it
  • It should provide room to store your key insights (1-2 numbers or 1 short bullet point per branch of your framework)

There are certainly many different styles of note taking that provide these three functions, so you should find our which one works for you and enables you to focus on the case execution, rather than the note taking. Keep in mind that you should practice this system early on in your journey, so you are comfortable with this method when you go into the interviews.

Find below a screenshot of the notetaking system that works for me personally. In this system, I first draw one vertical and one horizontal line. Then I use the column on the left side to take the initial notes during the case prompt and clarifying questions. Then I write down the key question of the case in the top row and develop the framework in the main area on the page.

During the case, I scribble less important stuff on separate pages (e.g. notes during the quant part). However, I will write down the key insights of each branch of the framework at the bottom of my main page. That way, when I get to the recommendation, I can simply read the notes from left to right to have the supporting arguments for the case recommendation.

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Anonymous updated the answer on Aug 15, 2020

Dear A,

Below some general recommendation on how to take notes:

Write down all the important information. You can use abbreviations

Client name

Industry

Geography

Current situation

Goal/objective:

And for your analysis put the name of the area you supposed to analyzed and it structure

Name of the first area analyzed

Structure for the first area

Name of the second area analyzed

Structure for the second area

Hope it helps,

Best,

André

(edited)

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Anonymous B replied on Aug 24, 2019

Hi!

Not sure I am best practice in any way for notetaking, but here are a few things that help me keep it organized:

1) Label important things as you go through - make sure to not fall into the trap of over-labeling and therefore creating even more clutter on your piece of paper though.

2) Keep a separate piece of paper for all the math / calculations. This is something I definitely learned the hard way.

3) Make sure the first page is really clear and includes the big picture ideas of the case.

Hope this helps!

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Spartak replied on Aug 24, 2019

Hello! My suggestion will be to structure your calculations in terms of tables, equations and graphs. This way you can demonstrate your reasoning and help yourself when you will need to return back to your calculations. For instance, when asked about the impact that price increase will have on the sales, you can have two columns: 1) AS IS with initial set of numbers 2) New data based on updated values.

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Vlad gave the best answer

Vlad

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