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Do you have any tips on how to organize your notes when a case is being read to you?

Recent activity on Jan 23, 2018
6 Answers
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Talayeh asked on Jan 07, 2018
Preparing for McKinsey interviews and looking for solid case partners in similar situation to train with.

Until the question has been read, it is difficult to foresee what information is important, hence the tendency of wanting to write down everything. I would appreciate it if anyone would want to share how they take notes during a case.

Many thanks in advace!


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replied on Jan 08, 2018

Hi Talayeh,

The way I do it is I leave two sections at the top, one for the objective on top, and one for the givens. This is usually prior to practice, or even any discussion.

On top, I make sure to include 3 major parts : the objective, time frame and any numerical targets. This way I'm forced to relate all my analysis/questions to the objective. It also helps me word my recommendation in a concise manner.

For the givens section, I make 4-5 bullet points for numbers and variables, and leave 2/3 lines for the descriptive info (strategic concerns, "why" statements .. etc.).

I found this to be helpful to filter out the relevant info only, and keep a good eye on the objective itself. Also, it becomes easier to read, and analyze later on if I'm reviewing my performance.

Hope this helps !

replied on Jan 07, 2018
got the job I wanted. Good luck to everyone!

Hi Talayeh,

I found a mind-map like approach to be the most useful one. Linear-notetaking is usually not helpful during the case, therefore you have to allow for some creativity, which I find is best accomplished using a mind-map approach.

Hope it helps.


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replied on Jan 23, 2018
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Hi Talayeh,

quoting a previous post I wrote, this is how I would suggest to take notes:

  1. Use abbreviations. Eg, for revenues use R, for costs use C, for increase use an arrow directed up, etc.
  2. Write down essential information only. You do not have time to write everything, thus you should exercise in writing down only the necessary information. If you have a client which produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants
  3. Keep different section in the paper for different pieces of information. My recommendation would be to divide the paper in 4 areas as reported below; when talking notes, you can then put the information in the appropriate box. Sometimes you would have to do back and forth, as you may get information, objective 1, additional information, objective 2, etc.
  • top-left: who is the client
  • bottom left: initial information (here you can write the information read from the interviewer, remembering tips 1 and 2)
  • top right: objectives
  • bottom right: structure

After the first page, you could still divide the page in four parts. Left and right could now be at the same distance. Top areas should be smaller to leave more space for the structures:

  • top-left: name of the first area analysed
  • bottom left: structure for the first area
  • top right: name of the second area analysed
  • bottom right: structure for the second area

Hope this helps,


Dan replied on Jan 09, 2018
Dedicated to practicing and improving the performance of both myself and my partners. Prefer candidate-led style.

Everyone so far has given great advice, so I won't repeat their comments. In addition to what everyone has said, I'll add a piece of advice from Victor Cheng that I've found helpful: keep two pages of notes. One page is a "roadmap" page and the other is a scratch page (or pages) for notes. Here's the type of information on each page:

Roadmap page: This contains the objective, your hypothesis/structure/issue tree, and any key insights or conclusions that you uncover during the case. You can also cross out items on your issue tree if they prove to be dead ends.

Scratch page(s): This is for everything else. It will only be readable by you, but that is ok - you can transfer any important conclusions to the "roadmap" page. This is also where you do calculations.

While it does take some practice, the advantage to this two-page approach is that it becomes much easier to communicate with the interviewer. If you've done a good job of removing branches of analysis and transferring key conclusions to the "roadmap" page, it also simplifies your synthesis because it's all there in front of you.

Eli replied on Jan 08, 2018
Currently Preparing for McKinsey and Bain interviews in late March

I am usually writing the names of the company, products, market and additional information which looks like you would need to use in the future solving the case. No matter which approach you choose eventually, you should always train and do it systematically. Also, I would recommend to always write down the entire question that you are asked in every part of the case, and get back to the question before answering.

Anonymous updated the answer on Jan 07, 2018

At the end, everyone should find an approach that he/she is feeling comfortable with. I experienced that it makes no sense too over-engineer the structure of the first page. However, to me three central points are important:

1. Client (Name, HQ (e.g. US))

2. Situation (try to use appreciations e.g. R for revenue or C for cost)

3. Objective (make sure u literally write down the objective of the case; always make sure that you really understand what the objective is e.g. client wants to break-down within 3 years)

Thus, I always structure my paper accordingly. But also consider that in a real interview you never have time to really prepare an advanced up-front structure of the paper itself.


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