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Problem Solving Tests: The McKinsey PST

by Susanna Hofmann January 19, 2012

​Many top-tier strategy firms will require candidates to take a preliminary problem solving test as part of their recruitment process.

For example, if interested in working at McKinsey, the preliminary test you will be asked to undertake,  before a potential first round interview, will be The McKinsey PST.

This test is used to evaluate a candidate's analytical and quantitative ability: candidates will be tested on ratios, percentages, fractions and extracting information from tables and graphs. The test is one hour long and contains 26 multiple choice questions.

Why are these tests so important?  When you become an Associate Consultant, you need facts to support your hypotheses. Therefore, possessing strong critical-thinking skills is a conditio sine qua non for becoming a successful strategy consultant.

Normally, when you join a top-tier strategy firm as a Graduate, you do not have extensive commercial experience. Needless to say, you cannot just follow your gut instincts when approaching a strategy piece. In fact, most of your time will be spent on collecting data, manipulating large data sets, digesting lots of information from different data sources and drawing insights.

As a result, the best way to gain credibility in front of clients will be through your ability of backing up your hypotheses with your findings, which need to be tangible and relevant: “First, facts compensate for lack of gut instinct. Second, facts bridge the credibility gap” (The McKinsey Way).

Generally, candidates who have studied a scientific subject  at university will be more advantaged. In the test, there are certainly lots of questions to go through within a short period of time. However, I will be very surprised if Physics Graduates who,  for example, were  able to use the Lagrangian approach instead of the Newtonian one, during their studies at university, would find the McKinsey test beyond their capabilities.

Also, candidates who have studied philosophy in depth tend to show a strong analytical mind.

The tradition claims that this phrase was engraved at the door of Plato’s Academy:  "Let no one ignorant of geometry come under my roof" (mèdeis ageômetrètos eisitô mou tèn stegèn);   that to emphasize the need of a robust analytical approach to investigate both society and nature and solve the very many problems reality poses.

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