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How can I improve my graph interpretation skills?

BCG Bain McKinsey Case Interview MBB
New answer on Jun 04, 2020
10 Answers
2.6 k Views
Anonymous A asked on May 29, 2020

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Anonymous replied on May 29, 2020


Graph literacy is one of the key analytical skills, tested during your case interview. To be more specific, it relates to your ability to obtain meaning from information presented graphically.

Which abilities should you develop?

  1. The ability to read the data, that is, to find specific information in the graph
  2. The ability to find relationships between the data points
  3. The ability to look beyond the data and make predictions and inferences

What types of graphs you could encounter?

  • Line Graphs
  • Bar Graphs
  • Trellis Bar Graphs
  • Stacked Bar Graphs
  • Stacked Area Charts
  • Pie Charts
  • Multi-level Pie Charts
  • Mekko Charts
  • Population Pyramids
  • Spider Charts
  • Control Charts
  • Scatter Plots
  • Function Plots

What insights should you be able to generate based on the graph?

  • Present: what you can see on the graph + limitations of the graph (what your can not see)
  • Past: what could have cause the trend that on the graph?
  • Future: how can this trend develop in future?

Where you can find graphs to interpret:

  1. McKinsey, BCG, Bain insights and research portals
  2. Public company reports
  3. Tests (e.g. The Graphic Literacy Assessment)

Good luck!


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Content Creator
replied on May 31, 2020
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

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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Anonymous replied on May 30, 2020

Hi there,

To improve your graph skills, 3 things you can do below:

1) First, to have a good understanding of the different type of charts. Understand which chart is typically used for which purpose. E.g. stacked bar chart for component, column or bar chart for time series or frequency, dots for correlation, etc. To begin with, you can read the book "Say it with charts". PM me if you need more info.

2) Second, practice reading by looking into MBB articles they publish on their websites. Look for the charts. Cover up the title or the take-away, read the graph and try to see what is the key message you get out from the graph, then compare with the key message the authors are putting forward. See where is the gap, and where you miss some key insights.

3) Plus, you can further practice by drawing your own charts. Use some data set from your work or school, think about if you were to put those data into charts how would you do it, what is the key message you want to get across. Then present your charts to someone else, and see if the message is coming out clearly, or if there a better way to present your charts.

Hope it helps,


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Content Creator
replied on May 30, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


I struggled with the same thing.

I would strongly recomment you practice it with 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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Content Creator
replied on May 29, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Best Rote Practice

Rocket Blocks:

Best Practice Strategy

1) Read the Economist (especially the daily graph and Financial Time frequently

2) Ask case partners to focus particularly on your chart-reading skills (i.e. by providing you with cases with many charts) - Bain and Deloitte cases tend to be chart heavy

Graph Interpretation Tips

1) Read the title - and understand it

2) Read the legends - and understand them

3) Remind yourself of the objective / hypothesis in the case, to see where this might fit

4) Find the differences - where does the line graph plummet or spike? Which column is a lot smaller or bigger than the others? Where does change occur? The differences are what matter

5) Talk outloud while interpreting - first, it helps you think and process your thoughts, second, it lets the interviewer provide guidance and course correct if needed.

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replied on May 29, 2020
McKinsey EM, 8 years recruiting interviews, 4 years professional coaching, 1000+ candidates helped

I coach to go through 3 steps when interpreting any visual representation of data, and do all 3 out loud with the interviewer:

1. Describe what you're seeing: just facts, no interpretation

2. Describe WHY it's happening: identify drivers, what might be causing the data to be how it is, link diff parts of the case together

3. Describe what the client should do about it: this is the important"so what"

Best of luck!

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replied on May 29, 2020
3+ years McKinsey consulting experience|Strategy @ Coursera |Oxford MBA


Here are a few quick ideas

- Read the Economist or the Financial Times (or follow-them on social media!) they have quite complex and cool graphs that they also explain verbally

- Practice for the integrated reasoning section of the GMAT - it is exactly about interpreting graphs.

I hope it helps!

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Content Creator
replied on Jun 02, 2020
Top rated Case & PEI coach/Multiple real offers/McKinsey EM in New York /12 years recruiting experience

The best and only way to do this is to continuously practice reading and analyzing graphs as they would show up in a case. I have many practice questions with charts, feel free to reach out if you want some help with this



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Anonymous replied on Jun 04, 2020


To give you an idea of ​​something that can really be actionnable, I advise you to look at MBB Linkedin publications . There are often classic graphs within posted presentations. By analyzing these graphs and especially by looking at the title of the slides you will see for each graph what type of message is expected to be conveyed.

Hope it helps.


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Anonymous replied on May 31, 2020

Dear A,

I agree with other experts, who have very broad and informative answers. From my side I can add that the best way is simply practice, practice, practice.

Good luck,


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