Acing Online Assessments and Tests in 2021 (McKinsey, Bain, BCG & More!)
Given their huge volume of applicants each year, consulting firms have been adopting automated assessments to speed up the hiring process. For example, automated assessments can help the Talent Acquisition team by screening their initial pool of candidates and highlighting the more promising ones.
While these assessments aren’t new (think GMAT-style questions or the McKinsey PST), consulting firms have been exploring more interesting assessment formats such as Psychometric Tests in recent times. In this article, I will give a quick overview of the types of assessments, and what each firm is using to assess candidates. This article will draw on my experience of going through multiple online assessments in past recruiting cycles. Hopefully, it gives you some takeaways to help in your journey!
Do note, this article would be more relevant for the Asia Consulting Audience. The process may differ from region to region so do adjust your preparation accordingly.
Firms and Types of Assessments
Type A: Critical Thinking + Numerical Reasoning (Bain, BCG, Kearney, KPMG etc.)
These tests are very straightforward. They are your typical GMAT-style questions that most of you should have encountered in school.
These questions usually test Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning, your ability to deduce insights and recommendations from graphs/data, amongst others. There are some differences between the tests of different firms which I will elaborate on.
For Bain, their tests are administered via HireVue. The test format is pretty similar to the McKinsey PST, with a focus on your ability to interpret business graphs. There are some Bain specific lingos that you should understand beforehand (eg. NPS), should they come up. You have to do some calculations on the side, so prepare a piece of paper/excel sheet for your quick math. While the test isn’t super difficult, you need to be in the top percentile to progress to the next round. Read this article for more information as well (specifically at the sample questions portion).
For BCG, the test is administered chatbot-style, by the company impress.ai. You will be introduced to a fictitious case, and you have to come up with insights and recommendations based on prompts that they give you. You have to complete all the questions within a certain time limit (I remember it being around 8–10 questions with a 20-ish minute time limit). Time management is super important, so move on if you are stuck. There are 3 types of questions, Multiple-Choice, Open-ended questions (at most 3 lines of text response), and a final video conclusion where you have to synthesise your insights to the client. The cases type differs for each candidate and may have a slight difference in difficulty between them (some luck involved here).
For firms such as Kearney, KPMG and others, rely on standard GMAT-style test providers for their assessments (eg. SHL, Pearsons). There are some sample tests here and here for you to practice on. Alternatively, any GMAT practice paper can help you get into the groove of things as well!
Type B: Pymetrics Tests (Accenture, BCG, PWC, Unilever etc.)
The Pymetrics test is a digital assessment that requires you to play 12 mini-games (each lasting around 2–3 Minutes). The games are relatively simple and do not require any preparation/context beforehand. You only are allowed to attempt it once (within a 12-month period) as the results from a single assessment will be used for multiple companies.
There are no right or wrong answers here. These games are specially designed to measure your cognitive and emotional attributes, which are then compared against the organization’s ideal employee profile (which apparently is created by a sample of high-performing employees who play the game). If you fit their criteria, you will be considered to have succeeded and will be moved forward into the next stage of the recruiting process.
- Attempt the assessment when you are most alert. Some of the games require higher levels of concentration and you need to be at your best to do well.
- It *may* be possible to optimize for the result you want. For example, if you think that the organization you are applying to favours people that are risk-taking, you could exhibit more risk-taking behaviour when playing certain games. One word of caution — we don’t know exactly what they are looking for (there are too many data points and variations to consider!). So just be yourself, enjoy the game and don’t think too much about it.
- Don’t be overly fixated on the outcome of each game. The game is more interested in the process and your actions that lead up to the outcome, rather than the outcome itself.
- Read the instructions carefully! There is no time limit for reading the instructions, so make sure you comprehend the game mechanics before attempting each game.
What games are there?
I won’t go into detail here but check out this site. Also, a simple YouTube search for Pymetric Games, and you may find people who have uploaded their entire test video there (depending on whether Pymetrics has issued a copyright notice against it).
Useful Links (Pymetrics Tests)
The stakes for your Pymetrics Assessment are pretty high. You can only do it once (as the results stick with you for a 12-month period) and companies have been using it as non-negotiable criteria for the initial assessments. Some Redditors detail this nightmare here. That being said, the best strategy is to be yourself and not overthink it! All the best :)
Type C: All — Critical Thinking, Numerical Reasoning, Psychometric (McKinsey)
This has got to be one of the most innovative and fun assessments that I had experienced over my recruitment cycle. I did not have to stress about understanding business terms or solving for revenue growth, but rather, ensuring the survival of an ecosystem and protecting my precious plants. How cool is that!
McKinsey’s new digital assessment (PSG) has recently almost replaced McKinsey’s traditional Problem Solving Test (PST) in the recruitment process. This is not what you would traditionally expect — think plant versus zombies, tower defence and other strategy games packed within an hour or so!
The intention behind the game was to democratize the recruitment process by removing biases towards candidates (eg. Those who could afford GMAT/PST Coaching Sessions) and to provide McKinsey with a more holistic view of the candidates critical thinking abilities through the use of millions of data-points. Do check out McKinsey’s post on the development of the game here.
- Each candidate that had passed the initial HR Screen would be invited to participate in the Problem Solving Game.
- The game would take just slightly above an hour to complete (depending on how long you spend on the initial trial games)
- Conducted Entirely Online. No need for webcams, but a good internet connection is a must
- Literally a Game.
- You are given 2 Scenarios. For each Scenario, you have to complete certain missions within a time limit
- The Game assesses 5 Main Cognitive Abilities (Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Meta-Cognition, Situational Awareness and Systems Thinking). Case Coach broke down these segments in their post here.
My Experience + Tips
Note: Everything I am about to share here is already in the public domain :) Just better organized, with some tips on my end!
Out of the 4 Scenarios listed by CaseCoach, I was allocated only two of them — ecosystem survival and plant protection (aka plants vs zombies). While I would have liked to include screenshots here, potential copyright issues have prevented me from doing so. Hence, I have included certain URLs for you to check out the game interface itself.
Game 1: Ecosystem Survival (See the McKinsey Video at 1:30 for an example of the interface)
Objective: In this segment, you are tasked to create a self-sustaining living ecosystem. Think back to Primary School Science and how organisms survive — sunlight is converted to potential energy through photosynthesis by plants, and the plants are eaten by animals… you get the idea.
Actions: You have to select organisms based on various requirements (eg. Food Needs or their position along the food chain), to ensure a self-sustaining food chain for the chosen environment
- Strategise Early. The hardest part is the information overload. There are simply too many organisms to choose from, countless environments for your ecosystem and too little time to deep dive into every single permutation. Should you decide on your environment first? Or should you identify your top-level predator first? Hypothesise early, and build your plan based on that.
- Quick Math. Simple Math required, so do have your calculator/pen+paper ready for some quick numbers. Organise your calculation paper before starting the game (so that you won’t have to jumble around stacks of papers finding a specific number you wrote just a few moments ago)
- You don’t have to strive for perfection. The game is not assessing you by the outcome of your ecosystem, but rather the five skills that McKinsey is looking for. Numerous data points will be collected based on your interaction during the game such as your mouse clicks and hovers, the time taken to decide on certain actions etc. Don’t think about gaming the system, but rather, just be yourself and enjoy the process!
- Pay Attention to Time Management. Give yourself a hard stop for this game, as the time limit is for BOTH games. For what it's worth, I allocated around 30 minutes for this game.
Game 2: Plant protection (McKinsey Career Blog Screenshot)
Not much to explain here, but it is essentially “plant versus zombies”. The main goal is to stop the attackers from reaching your base. With each turn, you can take various offensive and defensive steps to ensure survival over the rounds of simulation.
Objective: Ensure that your base can survive X number of turns.
Actions: You have the ability to place items within the map that can hamper the attacker's progress towards your base. Such items include barriers that can slow down or block the attackers, as well as counter-attacking items that can damage the attackers. You have the ability to plan your future steps as well.
- Understand the properties of each item carefully. Take your time to evaluate the usefulness of each item, and how applicable it is to your current simulation
- Planning Ahead in the Game. The game allows you to input your plan for future turns. Run through the future turns in your head, and strategies accordingly. They are probably testing your ability to think big-picture, so do plan ahead!
- Be prepared for anything! Be attentive to everything that is happening on the map, and adjust your strategy accordingly. They will be measuring your ability to respond to different scenarios that come up. Don’t panic, keep calm and strategies at all times :)
- Play some Tower Defence Games to get you into the groove. Plants vs Zombies, Kingdom Rush and Tower Defence King are some free games to check out.
To sum up, the most important thing is to keep calm and enjoy the process! The PSG is one of the most fun assessments I have encountered. Be yourself :)
Useful Links (McKinsey PSG)
I’ve had mixed experiences with Online Assessments. There are so many factors that can influence your performance, and newer assessments such as Pymetrics and McKinsey’s PSG are like a black-box — we won’t know how we score on them, and what these companies are looking for. But remember. your ability to do well in the interviews is not solely based on your performance in these assessments. You can do it!