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Chart Reading and Data Sensitivity

big data Charts reading McKinsey case interview
New answer on Feb 08, 2020
5 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Feb 02, 2020

Currently preparing for McKinsey interviews. I realized that I struggle and tend to panic when an exhibit in a case is given to me.

I can't seem to make good insights during these times, especially when it comes to interpreting charts and large data sets. I also find it difficult to connect exhibits together and tie them back to the main objective of the case. What resources should I use to improve on this?

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Content Creator
replied on Feb 03, 2020
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi Anonymous,

I would recommend the following three-step approach to properly read graphs:

1. Read the graph

  • Ask for one minute of time to understand the graph.
  • Summarize what the graph is about. Read in particular the graph title (often forgotten), the axes and the legend.

2. Analyze the graph

  • Repeat the main question you have to answer. Many people don’t spend time to clarify the specific question they have to answer; consequently, they answer the wrong question. Don’t be one of them and be sure to restate what is the main insight you have to derive
  • Provide an analysis related to the question. Once you have a clear understanding of the graph and repeated the objective, then, and only then, you can move to an analysis of how the graph can answer the question you have repeated.

3. Provide a conclusion for the graph.

  • Answer to the question asked. Again, very often people simply state what the graph is about, without providing any conclusion. A great candidate will provide a connection between the analysis done and the previous question formulated, with a clear summary of the whole analysis
  • Present the next steps to follow based on such conclusion. As a last step, a great candidate will present what can be done next to help further the client on the particular question raised.

In terms of material you can use the following to practice:

  • Graphs in Casebooks
  • Graphs in PST and Potential Test
  • GMAT Integrated Reasoning section

Hope this helps,


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Content Creator
replied on Feb 03, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


I had a very similar struggle myself with this topic in particular, since I had not done much related during my studies, so it was quite new to me.

The thing that helped me most to improve was the Integrated Reasoning part of the GMAT exam. There are free exams in the internet that you can use for practice (the one of LBS MBA page, Verits prep, as well as some free trials for courses such as the one of The Economist (

Hope it helps!



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replied on Feb 02, 2020
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


Here is how to approach charts:

  1. Ask the interviewer for a minute to analyze the chart / table

  2. In your mind formulate the question you have to answer

  3. Look at the chart and define the type (pie chart, line chart, etc). Read the chart title. Read the legend

  4. Analyze the chart / table. Look for: Trends, comparisons, % shares, etc. Look for unusual things (consultants love to integrate these traps in charts) - correlations, outliers, etc

  5. Ask clarifying questions if required

  6. Provide your conclusion. You should not just describe the chart but also derive the conclusions. There should be at least one major conclusion plus any additional conclusions you can make. You can also provide your hypothesis on what can be the root causes / consequences

  7. Based on the interviewer's feedback, prioritize the most important information and define the next steps.

Here are some tips on how you can master that skill:

  1. Read "Say it with Charts" book by Gene Zelazny

  2. Check the chapters on cases with charts in the following case books "Consulting Bible" and "Vault guide for consulting"

  3. Refresh the basic statistics (Most of GMAT prep handbooks have a good summary)

  4. Practice GMAT Integrated Reasoning part (GMAT Official guide or Manhattan prep)

  5. Practice on real MBB presentations. Look at the chart, derive the conclusions, and compare it to the ones on the slide. Best sources to find presentations - various reports and articles on MBB websites, Slideshare


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Content Creator
replied on Feb 08, 2020
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching

There is also a Cosentino book only dedicated to graph interpretation that can be helpful.


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Content Creator
replied on Feb 05, 2020
BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached


The only way to improve that skill is to practice a lot. Follow the suggestions written in this post to structure your process and try to measure the time every time that you read a graph, to work in real consitions of time pressure.

If you want material to practice you could use the SHL tests or GMAT material. Feel free to contact me if you want some links to practice.


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Francesco gave the best answer


Content Creator
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching
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