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How to take better, clearer notes during case interviews?

Gauthier asked on Jun 25, 2017 - 2 answers

My notes are awfully unclear and unreadable. How do you make sure to keep them neat and clear? Any sample is welcome.

What I currently do:
- Split the first page in 2, with a small column on the left to write key information & goals.
- Write down an issue tree on the first page, plus my hypothesis on the top.
- Use a separate "draft" page for calculations.

Things get messy after I have announced my structure, and I typically can't keep tidy, well-organized notes from that point onwards.


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replied on Jun 26, 2017
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This is definitely an underrated (but important) skill to develop when working on cases. Usually, the people I've worked with have adopted the same format you currently have with some minor tweaks:

- Position of paper is horizontal (adds more space for the issue tree going from left to right)

- Set space for a column to the left where you can jot down notes from the initial prompt / question asked

- Draw a line on the top of the page for you to write the objective / key question of the case. This is especially important because you will refer to this throughout the case.

- The remaining portion of this first page will be dedicated to the issue tree (with your hypothesis included above the issue tree)

- Lastly, and this is based on preference, write the page number on each paper you use (think of your notes as "draft slides" that you'll place in front of your current "slide" to use as reference)

From then on, although you won't have new objectives, you will definitely be given new information. So, it's usually good practice to structure the remaining pages with a narrow column to the left and space for calculations, new issue trees, etc. What's important, nonetheless, is making sure that you highlight key pieces of information that add substance to your hypothesis. More often than not, we tend to overlook or forget certain points that are given to us. So, by highlighting them or circling them, it becomes easier to connect the dots and, ultimately, develop / finish your case.

When it comes to calculations, definitely keep a separate page but you should practice having an organized sheet that you can cross-reference in case you need to go back through your assumptions and / or calculations.

Hopefully this helps! Keep in mind that everyone has a different structure and it usually takes multiple sessions to find a structure that works best for you. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any additional questions or would like to practice a case.



replied on Oct 22, 2018
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Needing multiple pages is not a big issue if you always know what is where - but I agree it is suboptimal when a candidate starts moving things paper around and gets lost due to too many pages.

Here is how I set up my page:

1. At the top of the page, I write the question

2. Right below, I draw out my framework

3. Below still, I do my calculations & write down my significant findings (which I put in a box to quickly find them at the end if needed)

4. On the side, I draw a line ~1 inch away from the edge; at the top of that long rectangle, I write out a couple of words for each interim conclusion I have (useful at BCG if the interviewer doesn't leave me any time to prepare a final recommendation

5. At the bottom of that rectangle, I'll write down crazy ideas I have in the middle of the case but that aren't relevant just at that moment. That will help me not forget, and perhaps use in the 'conclusion / next steps' if I haven't addressed by then

Some people write a lot, or write big. If so, a 2nd page can be useful for the question + recommendation; a 3rd page can also be used for all the math. I think that's probably the maximum number of page most people can properly use in a case; anymore and you will stress yourself out while trying to find what you are looking for.

Hope this helps; good luck!

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