McKinsey Digital Assessment

The McKinsey Digital Assessment (MDA) is a game that assesses your ability to solve business problems using technology, and is a part of McKinsey’s screening process before you are invited to interview with the firm. The MDA is designed to replace the PST, which was a more traditional GMAT-style test. However, unlike the PST, which focused on general business knowledge and problem-solving skills with no particular industry or functional focus, the MDA is built to test your cognitive abilities and problem solving skills. So, even though it seems counterintuitive, business acumen isn’t as important to ace the McKinsey Digital Assessment, or “Solve Game” as it is also known.

It’s important to note that internalizing McKinsey Digital Assessment prep materials that show you how to “win” the game or “hack” the Imbellus test may actually lead you astray. This isn’t a test – it’s a video game that contains multiple simulations, and there are multiple ways to “win.” Rather than blindly following a process that any 3rd party recommends, it is more important to focus on building the skills that McKinsey is testing for.

As a result, developing skills that the case interview tests for will also help you pass the McKinsey Digital Assessment.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is the McKinsey Digital Assessment?
  2. The Purpose of the McKinsey Digital Assessment
  3. Does the Game Require Business Knowledge Like the PST?
  4. MDA Game Scenarios
  5. What is the Game Testing For?
  6. How to Prepare for the McKinsey Digital Assessment
  7. Tips For Success

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What is the McKinsey Digital Assessment?

The McKinsey Digital Assessment is an interactive gamified assessment that is used to help the firm understand how to develop and retain top talent. It was created by Imbellus, a company that creates simulation-based assessments. To put it in plain language – the assessment is a video game that places you in one of several ecosystems, and it’s your job to keep the ecosystem alive in the midst of challenges that are thrown your way (including predators!)

The game measures your cognitive abilities, including your ability to problem solve, think critically, make trade-offs, sense of prioritization, and your meta-cognition. It is not a business knowledge test, nor does it test technical skills beyond basic computer skills.

You can take the exam at any time at home online within 1 week of receiving the link. The whole test, made up of 2 parts, will take you approximately 70 minutes to complete. There is a timer displayed on the test that shows how much time is left for that section.

Candidates typically receive their results within two weeks of completing the assessment. If candidates fail the assessment, some have reported that they can not re-take it within two years. Others report that their ban is one year. Either way, you’ll want to make sure and do well on the test!

However, your performance in the McKinsey Problem Solving Game is not the only data point McKinsey considers when looking at your profile. There are many other factors (the strength of your resume, your ability to gain a referral, timing, etc.) in play. In fact, we’ve heard of folks bombing Solve but still receiving an interview invite.

The assessment can currently be taken in several languages including:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese

Other languages may be in development. Check with your recruiter to determine if your native tongue is supported.

The Purpose of the McKinsey Digital Assessment

The assessment allows the firm to scale their recruiting efforts without socio-economic biases. Candidates with means to acquire paid coaching or prep materials were said to have an advantage over those who couldn’t afford it. McKinsey partnered with Imbellus to create the Solve Game to overcome these issues. Perhaps more importantly to the firm, the MDA allows them to expand the top of their recruiting funnel without committing more human capital to the screening and interview process.

Does the Game Require Business Knowledge Like the PST?

The McKinsey PST does not require knowledge of business or management. The game is designed to test the way you think and your problem-solving abilities. If you are able to analyze data and make logical, systems-based decisions, then you can do well on the PST.

MDA Game Scenarios

The game is made up of multiple games or scenarios (usually two). To date, candidates have reported six different scenarios. Of those, two seem to be more consistently used, while the other four are randomly used or have been deemphasized.

The two scenarios that are most commonly seen are:

  • Ecosystem Management (Most common)
  • Plant Defense

The other four scenarios that candidates have encountered are:

  • Redrock Study
  • Disease Management
  • Disaster Management
  • Migration Management

Game Details

  • You do not need special/previous knowledge to complete any of the scenarios/games.
  • Directions are given before each game.
  • A candidate has about 60-70 minutes to complete all games.
  • Once a game is started, it cannot be paused.
  • Breaks are allowed in between games.
  • Games change every time they are played. Beware: this means that you cannot solve a game exactly like how somebody else did it.
  • Managing your time is critical.

Remember that the assessment is gamified, so it feels like a video game, but in actuality the game is testing your cognitive skills. The final result is important, but not the only metric the firm cares about. Your decision-making from start to finish is being examined.

Scenario 1: Ecosystem Management

In this scenario, you will be asked to solve a problem around Ecosystem Management. The context is either a coral reef or a mountain ridge.

mckinsey problem solving test

Goal:

Sustainability through creating an adequate food chain for the species and the chosen location.

Scenario Details:
    • Species are divided into categories.
    • Understand the needs of the species that are in the ecosystem.
    • Choose 8 species to focus on, including some from each category.
      • The variables that affect your species choice are:
        • Food Sources
        • Predators or Herbivores
        • Calories Provided
        • Calories Needed
        • Preferred Environment
    • Once the species are defined, determine a location that is best for those species given a set of variables.
      • The variables that affect your location choice are:
        • Location is represented by a marker that can be dragged around on the scenario map.
        • Moving your cursor over these markers will allow you to see the attributes of each location.
        • Assess which attributes would be best for the set of your chosen species.
        • Mountain Ridge Context Variables:
          • Sunlight
          • Precipitation
          • Altitude
          • Cloud Height
          • pH of Soil
          • Wind Speed
          • Moisture
        • Coral Reef Context Variables:
          • Temperature
          • Depth
          • Current
          • Clarity
          • Salt Content
          • Dissolved Oxygen
          • Wind Speed

Scenario 2: Plant Defense

In this scenario, you will be asked to defend a plant species from invaders outside the ecosystem.

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Goal:

Defend plants from attacking invaders, and/or delay the invaders for as long as possible.

Scenario Details:
    • This game is made up of 3 stages, each with its own map.
    • Each stage allows ~15 “moves” that you can make.
    • With each stage the map changes and typically increases in size.
      • In the first stage the map already includes an invader.
        • A yellow line shows how the invader would approach the plant.
        • Invaders show a number value, indicating their strength.
      • At the beginning of turns 1, 6, & 11, the game requires you to make some decisions. You must choose 5 resources, either barriers or animals, to defend the plant.
        • Barriers will slow down the invaders.
        • Animals will reduce the strength/number value of the invader if they are near them.
        • Remember the goal is to protect the plant for as long as possible. Once invaders reach the plant at the center of the map, the game ends.
        • You must decide which animals might best defend against each invader.. Some animals have more of an effect on invaders than others.
      • Once you click “Run the Plan”, you see how your tactics worked as the invader moves.
      • At this point you must decide if you want to make any changes to your plan. Of the resources you chose, you would have 4 remaining changes to the resources that you could implement to change tactics.
      • Click “Run the Plan” again, and see how your tactics worked as the invader(s) move again.
      • After about three turns, more invaders are introduced into the game.
      • Each time you click “Run the Plan”, you have one less resource as an option in your plan, until you have no more resources.
      • After 5 turns, you then choose another 5 resources for the second stage of the game.
      • At the end of the third stage, or about 15 moves, the game doesn’t allow you to make any more choices/moves, but the invaders will continue to attack the plant. The better your plan and tactics, the longer your plant will last.

Scenario 3: Redrock Study

In this scenario, a candidate engages in research about animals and answers questions about them.

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Goal:

Answering questions correctly based on previously given information.

Scenario Details:
    • This scenario is divided into two segments.
    • The first segment is focused on research.
      • You are given a prompt/objective, and information to sift through.
        • The information could be in the form of:
          • Graphs
          • Text
          • Numbers
      • You have to determine what information is important, and what isn’t.
      • You are provided a notes area where you can save pieces of information.
    • The second segment will require you to answer questions with the information that you were given.
    • You may be asked to calculate numbers, but a calculator will be provided.

Scenario 4: Disease Management

In this scenario, animals acquire a disease and you must identify which may be affected next, and try to stop the spread.

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Goal:

Define which animals might be infected next and understand how the disease is being transmitted.

Scenario Details:
    • This scenario does not have turns, but rather a timer at the top of the screen, indicating how much time has passed.
    • There are two main stages in this scenario.
      • The first requires you to identify and understand what changed, as compared to the past.
        • The type, the effects, etc.
      • The second stage requires you to determine which animals may be affected next.
    • A key to this scenario is to understand what connection the infected animals have, and try to determine which animals might be affected next.
    • Animal species information that could affect game play:
      • Name
      • Age
      • Weight
      • Temperature
      • Altitude
    • Time Periods:
      • There are 3 total time periods
      • The first 2 time periods should be used to analyze and determine your course of action.
      • The third time period is where you see how well your plan played out.

Scenario 5: Disaster Management

In this scenario, a disaster hits an ecosystem and you must manage and mitigate the effects.

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Goal:

Define the disaster and work to save as many of the affected animals as possible by moving them to a safer location.

Scenario Details:
    • This scenario does not have turns, but rather a timer at the top of the screen, indicating how much time has passed.
    • There are two main stages in this scenario.
      • The first requires you to identify and understand the disaster
        • The type, the effects, etc.
      • The second stage requires you to find a place to move the animals to, where they could better survive the disaster.
    • Elements of the disaster determine the type.
      • The types of disasters include tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
      • Additional criteria will be similar to that of the Ecosystem Management scenario.
        • Temperature, atmospheric pressure, rainfall, etc.
    • The best area to move the animals to will depend on the ability to create a sustainable food chain.
      • The presence of plants or predators are main components of suitability.

Scenario 6: Migration Management

In this scenario, you help animals migrate from one location to another.

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Goal:

Define the location that animals should move to and help get as many animals to that location as possible.

Scenario Details:
    • This scenario is turn-based. Each turn corresponds to a move on the map. The game progresses through multiple maps, each getting progressively more difficult.
    • Each map has a starting point and an endpoint, connected by defined path(s). Each location has specific resources associated with it.
    • To start with you’ll only have a few resources like:
      • Water
      • Flowers
      • Apples
      • Nuts
    • Your resources increase as you progress.
    • If you make a move, but don’t have sufficient resources, then you’ll lose animals in that turn.
    • You won’t have all the information you need about resources before you make a move.
    • You’ll want to reach the endpoint with as many animals alive as possible.

What is the Game Testing For?

The game is testing for five key cognitive abilities:

Critical Thinking

The ability to form a rational decision from a set of facts without simply taking a circumstance at face value. You must understand the context and attribute value to different factors accordingly.

Decision Making

The ability to select the best course of action among several options with limited time and information.

Meta-Cognition

The ability to use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier (i.e., testing hypotheses, taking notes). In large part, understanding how you think.

Situational Awareness

The ability to determine the relationships between different factors and to project the outcome of a scenario.

Systems Thinking

The ability to understand cause & effect relationships involving several factors and feedback loops (i.e., anticipating several orders of consequence).

How to Prepare for the McKinsey Digital Assessment

The McKinsey Digital Assessment is a game that is played online. The game tests your ability to think strategically and analytically, so you need to engage the above cognitive traits rather than following set “prep materials”.

Tips For Success:

  1. Do Not Use Exact Solutions From Past Candidates

The McKinsey Digital Assessment provides a unique scenario for each test taker. Therefore, the situation you encounter could be completely different from the one that other candidates see.

  1. Time Is Key, Manage It Well

In order to pass the McKinsey Digital Assessment, you must complete all of the tasks within the allotted time limits. If you don’t finish all of the tasks, then you will fail the test. Don’t spend too much time on one section.

  1. Understand The Directions!

It may seem simple, but reading the directions (not assuming) and gaining a thorough understanding is key to accomplishing the tasks. The good news is that the time you spend in the tutorials and reading the directions doesn’t count against your time limits. So, ensure you understand the directions and rules before you begin!

  1. Analyze The Data Given

There will be a lot of data points and variables included in the scenarios. Some of this data is a red herring. You must prioritize the pieces of information that are actually important. Assess the data well, and add it to your notes for later use. It may not be available to you once you change screens.

  1. Decide With Incomplete Data

A point that McKinsey emphasizes in their overview of the assessment is that you’ll have to make decisions with incomplete information. The game is designed this way. There is not enough time to vet every option conclusively. Do your best to understand what information is important and make a decision.

  1. Prepare Your Space

Get ready for the assessment by having a quiet place to take the test with reliable internet access. You don’t want to lose connection while taking the test!

Concluding Thoughts

The McKinsey Digital Assessment/Solve is a fascinating new-ish way to measure a candidate’s raw cognitive ability. The tool is still being proven out, but candidates should expect to face some form of the digital exam this recruiting cycle. Other competitors – looking at you Bain and BCG – are following suit by offering digital assessments of their own.

If you are asked to take the McKinsey Digital Assessment, we suggest managing your time carefully and being comfortable with making imperfect decisions based upon incomplete information. Since there’s no relevant practice test, take a deep breath and do your best! If you are a good fit for McKinsey, you will likely do well. And if you’re not, better to find out now.

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Filed Under: McKinsey Case Interview, McKinsey Consulting, Technology in Consulting