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How to take good notes during a Case Interview?

Case Interview Notes
New answer on Jan 23, 2021
13 Answers
4.8 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Jun 10, 2020

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Luca
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 11, 2020
BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached

Hello,

Your paper should look like this:

Case Interview Notes Structure Example You have the following parts:

  • Initial information: a recap of the case statement and information given at the beginning
  • Progressive takeaways and new information: summary of information provided during the case or results of our analysis
  • Objective: your client's target, clear and detailed
  • Resolution framework: proposed structure to crack the case
  • Case resolution: on-going analysis

On top of this, you should use a separate sheet for your calculation, to keep this sheet clean and clear.
Feel free to text me if you want to discuss this further in details.

Best,
Luca

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Francesco
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updated an answer on Jun 28, 2020
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ interviewoffers.com) | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

I would suggest to divide the first page in 4 parts as below:

  • top-left: who is the client
  • bottom left: initial information
  • top right: objectives
  • bottom right: structure

Landscape format in general works better. Sometimes you will have to go back and forth, as you may get information, objective 1, additional information, objective 2, etc.

The vertical line should be closer to the left border and the horizontal line should be closer to the top border, so that there is more space for the structure.

After the first page, you can structure as below:

  • 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

The vertical line can now be in the middle so that the left and right parts have the same distance.

Besides that, you can also improve your notes with the following:

  • Ask the interviewer to repeat in case you missed information. It is better to ask for missing information upfront rather than later
  • Do a recap after the prompt. This ensures you took notes correctly since the interviewer will correct you otherwise
  • Use abbreviations. Eg, for revenues use R, for costs use C, for increase use an arrow directed up, etc.
  • 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 that produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants
  • Keep a separate sheet for math if you tend to be disorganized in that part

Hope this helps,

Francesco

(edited)

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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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10
Vlad
Expert
replied on Jun 11, 2020
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I recommend the following approach- split the main sheet into 2 parts and then the left part into 2 quadrants:

  • Upper left - initial information given at the beginning of the interview and while asking clarifying questions
  • Lower left - Your objective. The objective should be measurable and should have a timeline
  • Right part - Your structure and the whole caseflow

Also, a good practice is to put the key numbers near the corresponding buckets.

! Have a separate sheet for math calculations!

It's also important:

  1. A good habit is to guide the interviewer through your structure by showing the structure on paper. So at least the structure should look clean and clear for the interviewer. Literally, move your pen to the different elements of your structure while presenting. And very often you need to do more than one structure while solving the case.
  2. You need to have clarity with numbers to be successful at calculations.
  3. While providing the final recommendation you need to find all the key numbers quickly, in order to use them in the arguments. Thus you need clarity

All in all - having clear and organized notes have many pros while unclear notes can easily lead to failure.

Best!

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Robert
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 11, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

There is already more than enough content-advice, and as you can see by now there is no single right or wrong method - don't overcomplice it and just choose a way with which you feel comfortable naturally!

Looking at your question more from a interview-prep process-related point of view, try to find "your" method as early as possible and stick to it. Switching between methods later is usually more a waste of time and confuses candidates finally more than it helps.

Hope this helps - if so, please be so kind and give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!

Robert

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Axel
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Content Creator
updated an answer on Jun 11, 2020
Bain Consultant | Interviewer for 3 years at Bain |Passionate about coaching |I will make you a case interview Rockstar

Hi Anonymous,

The most important thing is to develop a system that works for you and how you want to approach it.

Personally, I would do the following:

- Have one sheet for the basic information about the case and your structure (Basic case info and your objective/client's ask on one side and on the other side you write out your structure)

- Have separate sheets for calculations

- Only use one side of the paper for calculations and number them to more easily keep track of the information

- You can add key numbers / conclusions to your "basic information/structure sheet" as you move along

- Circle back to your basic information sheet when you need to refer to your structure or draw conclusions

-A

(edited)

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Anonymous replied on Jun 10, 2020

Hello,

Some very simple advice

  • Write only on the front (not the back: this avoids looking messy when looking for information
  • Number the pages
  • Frame, circle or color the intermediate conclusions

Best

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6
Anonymous replied on Jun 10, 2020

Hi there,

Simple tips:

  • No need to write everything
  • Write down the following:
    • Client name [AutomotiveCo]
    • Industry [Care leasing]
    • Geography [Central Europe]
    • Current situation [Profits down 10% in 2y]
    • Goal/objective: [Go back to original profitability of 15% in 1 year]

No need to use full words - use abbreviations and symbols (the notes are for you, not for the interviewer)

Keep your notepad clean: 1 area for the prompt - 1 area for structuring and solving the case -1 area as "scratch paper" to run calculations

Best of luck in the process

Khaled

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Antonello
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 12, 2020
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching

Hi, my most favorite tips are: using a separate sheet for calculations, write only on front side of every sheet, circle important numbers, and insights, draw a line to separate every part of interviewer-led cases, use issue trees for initial structure and initial formulas for market sizings.

Best,
Antonello

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

Some tips that have helped others I coach

1. Always use grid paper

2. Divide your sheet into sections - separate out calculations from notes

3. Underline important facts and answers

4. Highlight important answers so you can refer to them easily

5. Use your own shorthand when you can

Best,

Udayan

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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 10, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

Feel free to message me - I have a casing template that helps you nail interviews.

I can't reveal everything, but some teasers are:

1) A seperate sheet for each "portion" of the case...with clear locations + methods for title/subject, notes, calculations, takeaways, etc.

2) Figuring out a location for everything and where each information type should go

3) Seperate sheet for math calculations

There's much much more, but you get the gist!

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Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jun 11, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

To add on top what´s been said, keep in mind that now with the online method this is less important than before.

If you find a method that works for you, even if it´s not the tidiest thing, won´t be prio1 anymore, since interviewers won´t see it anymore.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Anonymous replied on Jan 23, 2021

Hi A!

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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Luca gave the best answer

Luca

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BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached
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