One of the many obstacles to overcome on the path of pursuing your consultant career at McKinsey is the written PST. Of course, practicing for your case interview should always be the focus of your case prep, as even the best PST results cannot compensate a bad case interview performance. However, because of the extreme time pressure you face during the PST, a good level of preparation and exercise is necessary here, as well. Sadly, many candidates make the mistake of completely neglecting the PST preparation and thus, fail in landing their dream McKinsey job offer. There is only so much practice you can do and so it’s more about developing a strategy to ensure you don’t lose against time. This can be frustrating and hard work, but it will be worth it to get you that McKinsey job offer. Follow our 10 Tips and ace your McKinsey PST!
The PST, i.e., Problem Solving Test, is a written test that McKinsey uses within their selection process in order to assess a candidate’s deductive, inductive and quantitative reasoning skills and his or her ability to solve business problems logically. Causing only negligible costs for the company, it facilitates the screening of a larger pool of applicants and helps to weed out applicants that don’t put in the effort to prepare for the test.
The McKinsey PST usually takes 60 minutes and consists of 26 multiple-choice-questions in total. These questions are posed on 3 different business cases, and can be divided into Math and logic questions (e.g., “Based on the given data, which statement is a valid conclusion?”). For more detailed information on the test structure and question types, you can get our McKinsey PST Preparation Guide with 13 pages of useful tips by Ex-McKinsey consultants.
Though written tests like McKinsey’s PST generally do not supersede bad case interview results, the candidate still needs to pass the test to advance to the next interview round. This means that there is a certain minimum score that you have to achieve (e.g., 18 correct answers out of 26). Most commonly this is a score of at least 70%. However, this bar is not universal and may vary between offices and in different periods of time according to the demand for a particular role.
When exactly you will get the feedback and test results after the PST, depends on the office and their workload and priorities. It could be right after having completed the test, the very next day or within up to two weeks. Once you have completed the test, be patient and don’t worry too much about the results. If you studied well, there is no reason that you should have failed.
McKinsey PST Tips
- Tip 1: Check if the PST is part of your selection process
- Tip 2: Know how to analyze the data
- Tip 3: Carefully select your practice material
- Tip 4: Practice the PSTs under real conditions
- Tip 5: Improve your math speed
- Tip 6: Learn how to speed-read
- Tip 7: Answer every single question
- Tip 8: Be ruthless and don’t waste too much time on a question
- Tip 9: Utilize the PST booklet paper to your advantage
- Tip 10: Dress properly
McKinsey generally uses the PST for all entry-level candidates applying for a Business Analyst position. However, if you’re coming from a top MBA school and were recruited on campus, you probably will be excluded from the PST. Exceptions may also apply to experienced hire candidates to Associate positions, although this depends on the geography and your background (whether you have previous consulting experience or not).
There are no general rules as this can vary from candidate to candidate, so the only way for you to be sure is to confirm directly with the HR contact of your target location. There is no harm at all in sending him/her an email asking if the PST is included in your interview process.
Graphs and charts are commonly part of PSTs, so it is important that you practice the quick interpretation of data. It will save you minutes during the test if you are able to quickly read charts and grasp their key message. It helps to go through McKinsey presentations and get a feeling of the types of charts they often use. When presented with an exhibit, you should follow a 3-step process:
- Figure out what the table or chart represents! This could be as simple as reading the headline as well as the label of each column and row.
- Read and understand the data! You may have to do some math here - in your head or on paper.
- Most importantly, grasp what the insight is! Why were you given this exhibit? Don’t get swayed by data that implies some information that cannot be inferred without making assumptions!
By the way, even though the aim of the PST is not to test business knowledge, it’s good if you are familiar with the basic business terms.
By now, there is a vast variety of PST practice material that you can find online. However, the quality of available practice tests varies extremely. A lot of online platforms offer good practice material but their difficulty levels are actually lower than those of real McKinsey PSTs. While practicing these tests can be a good start, it will not guarantee you a successful pass of the actual test.
Thus, in order to not waste time on low-quality material, it is crucial that you find the best sources for your preparation. First of all, try to fully understand the core concepts of the PST. Our McKinsey PST Preparation Guide will help you to get familiar with the general setup and structure of the PST. This will help you to pass any problem solving test of this kind. Then, start pracitcing. Focus on the real tests provided by McKinsey and GMAT style tests that you can find for free on the internet. Additionally, we designed extra practice PSTs for you on PrepLounge. Working with a team of experienced McKinsey consultants, we made sure that these tests have the optimal difficulty and choice of exercises to help you ace the real PST at your McKinsey office and get to know the different types of questions. This will save you a lot of time during your practice and will help you optimize your test performance.
When practicing the PST, it is important that you:
- Never use a calculator when practicing - on the real exam day, you won’t be able to use one, either!
- Don’t use scrap paper! Scrap paper is not allowed during the actual test, so you will have to perform all necessary calculations on the white spaces in your PST booklet. Abiding by this rule during your practice will ensure you’re used to it on the test day.
- Set yourself a timer for 60 minutes! If you try to not spend more than 2 minutes on each question, you should be able to finish on time. If you’re struggling with the time, you can start off your practice by going through a test untimed in order to get comfortable with the style of questions. However, for additional practice tests you should introduce time constraints.
Check your score after each practice test and identify the type of questions you have difficulties with and focus on them by doing extra exercises. However, there might be some areas that you are just naturally weaker at - don’t stress too much about these. Get yourself to a level where you feel competent - you don’t have to be perfect. Over time, you will become familiar with answer trends, question types and you will get your own flow of which questions to estimate, leave or compute.
Overall, the questions given in the test are actually not that hard. The biggest problem in passing the PST is the limited amount of time you have. Start with being fast at mental math - that’s the the most obvious skill to improve in terms of speed. This will also help you to cope with the fact that you cannot use a calculator or extra paper. The trick here is the right kind of preparation:
- Learn the right tools: Know the basics, learn shortcuts like the rule of 72, become a gun at simple multiplication tables, long divisions and fraction/percentage calculations. Our Mental Math Tool allows you to practice these skills extensively.
- Know how to handle these tools: Practice accurate calculations first. There is no point in quickly calculating wrong results.
- Apply the tools - fast: Practice getting faster once you are certain that you end up with the right results most of the time.
PST questions come with a bunch of information and data, not all of which may be relevant to answer the question. Once you feel confident in carrying out mental math, you can work on your reading skills to help you cope with this overload of information under time pressure. There are a several things you can do:
- Practice quick reading! There are various speed-reading exercises online and even smart phone apps that can help you to double the words you can read per minute. After 15 minutes of exercise your reading speed will increase significantly, so do some speed-reading exercises right before the PST.
- Always read the question first! To help your brain to focus on relevant information, you should first read the question, then read the answers, and finally read the additional information. This way, you will prime your brain to look for the information you really need and skim through the useless parts quicker.
- Practice quick identification of key information! After having finished several practice PSTs, you will be able to identify patterns and tell which information to read and which not to bother with. With enough practice, you will get a feeling of the wording of the questions and you will know where to find certain information. More often than not, the answer to a question is hidden in a single paragraph or graph.
The PST is a battle against time but the favorable aspect of the test is that it is not negatively marked which means that there are no penalties for wrong answers. It’s a no-brainer to attempt every single question - even if your answer is a mere guess. To improve your chances, you should get rid of the answers that cannot be right. This elimination process generally helps you quickly find the solution that is most likely correct. Especially when it comes to numbers, you can eliminate wrong answers that are too far off or have a wrong decimal placing, just by roughly estimating the calculation.
A general rule of thumb is that if you cannot figure out how to solve the question within the first 30 seconds, there will probably be other questions you should be solving first. You don’t need to be able to actually solve it within these 30 seconds, but you should know how to solve it. If you know how to, commit to a time of maximum 2 minutes in total for each question, and move on to the next question if you surpass this limit. If you practice enough, you will be able to recognize harder question types. If you encounter a question that proves difficult, resist the temptation to crack it. Trust your gut feeling on what the answer might be, mark the question and move on to questions that are easier for you to nail. It’s important to be ruthless! Imagine someone was looking over your shoulder and giving you objective advice on when to move on. This way you will not end up wasting too much time on an exercise. If time allows it in the end, you can go back to a question and try to solve it.
As you are not allowed to use scratch paper, you should take the most out of the paper you are given. Marking numbers, underlining and circling keywords in the text help you quickly rediscover relevant information. Time is too precious to spend it on quickly and accurately calculating using numbers of the wrong row of a data table.
The same goes for answer possibilities you eliminate: cross them out! That way you do not have to re-think in case you want to revisit the question. Make sure to check that you marked the answer of a question that you solved. It would be a pity to lose points on minor flaws like that.
Usually, the PST takes place in the McKinsey office on a different day than the actual case interview. There will be no way to impress anyone or to start networking with McKinsey consultants. However, please dress properly which in consulting terms means putting on a suit. We know that many candidates repeat the same mistake and make a bad first impression!
Working with a team of experienced McKinsey consultants, we designed McKinsey PSTs for you that you can download as PDFs and use to practice. Going through each PST example will give you a feeling for the different types of questions McKinsey likes to use. We made sure that these tests have the ideal difficulty level to help you ace the real PST at your McKinsey office. Additionally, our McKinsey PST Preparation Guide will help you to get familiar with the general setup and structure of the PST. Practicing with the best and newest material online, will save you a lot of time during your practice and will help you optimize your test performance. Follow our 10 Tips and start practicing McKinsey PSTs now!
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