How to write my case notes in a more structured/organised manner?

Notes notetaking organizingnotes
New answer on Jan 21, 2021
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Anonymous A asked on Dec 29, 2018

Hello.

I recently got feedback saying that my case notes are unorganised, so I'm looking for advice on how to be more organised and structured with my notes + workings when moving through a case?

The interviewer said my verbal explanations of what I was doing were fine, precise + logical. But when he reviewed my notes after the interview, he couldn't follow and cross-check everything we did.

My thoughts were that maybe I should be labelling my workings more? i.e. making sure to add headers and labels on workings, drawing boxes around my notes where appropriate, putting in references (stars, asterixes, numbers etc.) back to the initial framework?

I've realised that when I'm in a case I often have a good 'mental' sense of where I'm going, so I can verbally describe what I'm doing, but I don't do a great job of documenting (writing) my work, so my note paper ends up looking a tad messy.

Any tips to resolve this would be much appreciated!

P.S. I got through to the next round, so bad notes weren't a deal breaker, but I definitely want to improve for the next interview.

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Francesco
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replied on Dec 31, 2018
#1 Expert for Coaching Sessions (3.600+) | 1.300+ Reviews with 100% Recommendation Rate | Ex BCG | 8+ Years of Coaching

Hi Anonymous,

in order to write better notes, my recommendations would be to divide the paper in 4 areas as reported below for the first page; 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
  • 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

Besides that you should also

  • 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 which produces steel which has four plants, with a revenue problem, your notes could be something as Steel producer, R (arrow down), 4 plants

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Stephane replied on Jan 02, 2019
Former VC Principal, looking to practice as many cases as possible.

My personal approach is super simple:

  • Underline anything that needs to be clarified
  • Circle anything that I synthesized i.e. the result of a series of calculations, or some conceptual understanding
  • Square anything that needs to be included in the recommendation

As I go through the case I'll also tick items in my framework to make sure I don't miss anything.

Ive found anything more complicated than that fails me.

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Mathias
Expert
replied on Dec 30, 2018
McKinsey consultant and former German Diplomat - current MBA at the London Business School

I generally suggest candidates to use three pieces of paper:

On the first page, you write the case information on the left and the key question on top while the interviewer is giving you the case prompt. Then you add your structure in the middle.

The second page is your scrap page on which you scribble down stuff you might want to remember in the remainder of the case. You can also use this page for math - although it is a scrap page, try to not write too untidy as you might want to show the interviewer parts of your maths.

The last page is for brainstorming exercises within the case - try to structure your thoughts by listing distinct buckets when you generate ideas.

I hope this helped - it's always a bit difficult to explain without being able to show you the pieces of paper :)

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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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Clara
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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 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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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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