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Note taking

Bain BCG MBB McKinsey
New answer on Jan 09, 2021
8 Answers
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Anonymous C asked on Jan 03, 2021

I'm struggeling with the right way to take notes during a case. What is the best system to make sure I'm taking notes that are easy to use during the case and help me not lose oversight over what I'm doing?

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Francesco
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replied on Jan 03, 2021
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ InterviewOffers.com) | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

I would suggest to divide the first page into 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

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Henning
Expert
replied on Jan 03, 2021
Bain | passed >15 MBB interviews as a candidate

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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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jan 03, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

In regards to your casing template

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

In regards to quickly taking notes in general

1) Decide physical vs virtual - are you a faster typer or writer?

2) If virtual, pick the best tool - try outlook draft emails (so you can store/organize with your email), try notepad, try a tablet so you can write on it, etc....find the one that works for you

3) Only write down what is important - you should know this! You don't need to capture everything. Just like in a case, figuring out what information is not needed is just as valuable as figuring out what information is needed.

4) And then, what you do write down, write it in shorthand!

I.e. If I say "Your client is Bills Bottles. They earn $800M in profits each year by manufacturing bottles to soda companies in the US and Europe. Over the past two years they've seen profits falling and have brought you in to investigate"

You should write:

  • Bills Bottles
  • Manufacture
  • Client = soda comp
  • 800M P
  • P [down arrow] 2 yrs
  • US + Europe
  • Obj: Fix P
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Denis
Expert
replied on Jan 03, 2021
Ex-Bain 5 yrs | Goldman Sachs Investment Banker NYC | MBA Chicago Booth | Passed > 13 MBB > 20 IB interviews

Hi all,

Henning proposed a nice approach! I have been using and preaching a slightly different one, serving the same purposes.

Each point below refers to one sheet of paper.

(1) Goal of the case, initial framework:
After the case prompt and your "minute off" to come up with a suggested approach (initial framework), I have been using this one pager as sort of a go-to / agenda of the entire case. You should only use for structural reasons (i.e. what step is next in the case) and also write down key results of each branch or part of the framework.

(2) + more as needed: New sections / branches of the initial framework:
Use one piece of paper for when you make a deep dive into a specific part of your initial framework, with all notes / final numbers etc on it. E.g. initial framework may have talked about you doing a quantitaive analysis first (e.g. margin calculation), followed by a qualitative analysis (e.g. root cause identification focusing on competitors, customers, company, products). This could be followed by brainstorming implementation activities (e.g. clustered by feasibility/impact, time to implement/impact etc). Take a new piece of paper for each new branch / section of the initial framework.

(3) Final recommendation:
Always take a fresh piece of paper, put it in landscape mode and use it as a real slide. Write a nice headline / tagline on it reflecting the recommendation of the case. The body of the slide should then have crisp bullets backing up your recommendation with facts collected throughout the interview (read the tip below on how to do that quickly). Please make the last bullet "If we had more time / Next steps".

Tip: I always suggest candidates bring their own basic text markers / highlighters colors (e.g. yellow and green). Whenever you jot down a result / number / note you d like to use for the final recommendation slide, highlight it with the text market. That way, even if your calcualations and notes tend to get messy, you will quickly identify key points you came up with or encountered throughout the interview to use for your final recommendation or interim summaries.

Best,
Denis

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Antonello
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jan 04, 2021
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

Hi,

Two important tips:

- Use the left hand side of the paper to take notes (consider 5 cm from the left and draw a line).

- Use separate sheet for computation. It will leave your sheet clean and structured.

- Try to look at the paper like a slide on PPT.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Antonello

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Gaurav
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jan 05, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hi there,

the general advice is to practice a lot in note taking and find a specific technique that works best for you. In addition to what has been suggested here, you might wanna look up these preplounge answers:

https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/how-to-take-better-clearer-notes-during-case-interviews-673

https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/note-taking-techniques-1620

https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/taking-notes-in-case-interview-2654

https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/note-taking-7215

Hope it helps and good luck!

Cheers,

GB

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Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Jan 04, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

This is highly personal.

however, one universal piece of advise if bullet points. This for sure helps, always

Best regards,

Clara

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Anonymous replied on Jan 09, 2021

Hi,

I would suggest to split your notes into different sheet:

  • First sheet - divide into two part left hand side the case basic information, right hand side the insights / answers you get from the analysis
  • Second sheet - case framework, math formulas
  • Third sheet - your scratch paper

You can always add more pages if required for each sheet.

Best,
Iman

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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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