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How to take better, clearer notes during case interviews?

Case Interview McKinsey Notes notetaking organizingnotes Structure Taking Notes Written
Recent activity on Jan 21, 2021
13 Answers
31.1 k Views
Gauthier asked on Jun 25, 2017

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.

Thanks!

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Anonymous replied on Jun 26, 2017

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.

Best,

Carlos

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21
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 replied on Jun 11, 2020

Dear A,

During the case interview you will be given sheet for taking note. Designate each sheet to each specialized task.

  • The data sheet is where you note down neatly and ideally in a table format all information, data, provided by the interviewer throughout the case. If you have additional data as the result of analyses or calculations performed, put them into the data sheet too.

  • The presentation sheet is literally what you use when speaking to interviewers. For example, if you say: “… problem A can be broken down into B and C”, literally draw those on this sheet and point to each one as you speak.

  • Lastly, the scratch paper is there for anything else you need to write out in interviews’ brainstorm ideas, calculations, etc. The purpose of this sheet is to make the other two clear and neat. So you don’t have to worry too much about what you write here on this scratch paper.

Also, 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 area you supposed to analysed and it structure

  • Name of the first area analysed

  • Structure for the first area

  • Name of the second area analysed

  • Structure for the second area

Hope it helps,

Best,

André

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2
Guennael
Expert
replied on Oct 22, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

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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