Bain SOVA Test (2023): how to prepare and ace it

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The Bain SOVA Test is one hurdle to pass if you want to work for Bain & Company. Bain has partnered with SOVA to add an additional element to their recruiting process. It can be either a gatekeeper between application screening and the case interviews or is used in conjunction with the first round of the case interviews to evaluate candidates.

In that sense, it is used in a similar way as the McKinsey Problem Solving Game or the BCG Online and Chatbot CaseBCG Pymetrics.

In terms of its content, it contains typical elements of aptitude tests such as numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning as well as elements from personality tests. It is overall very similar to general application aptitude tests, which we are seeing across different industries.

In this post, we focus on

  • the format of the Bain SOVA assessment
  • the types of questions Bain expects you to answer
  • simple ways to prepare for the Bain Online Test
  • tips to maximize your performance when taking the test

Before we start, make sure to clarify with your local HR what type of test you will have to go through in your Bain application. Not all offices employ the SOVA yet and it could be that you are asked to do the business case, the analytical test, the Pymetrics, or the HireVue video interview instead.

Why Bain uses SOVA assessments

Why does Bain employ the SOVA test in addition to case interviews and personal fit questions? Mainly for two reasons:

First, it is a quick and cost-effective way to assess a large number of candidates. By creating an additional step in the recruiting funnel, Bain reduces the number of candidates that move on to the case interviews and thereby decreases the expensive consultants’ hours spent on interviewing applicants. Consequently, for Bain SOVA is a valuable partner, decreasing the cost of recruiting over time.

Second, the Bain pre-screening assessment is highly standardized. While different questions are used, the metrics that they assess are the same. Hence, Bain is able to compare the performance of candidates across objective metrics. This adds an additional level of objectivity to the recruiting process, a marker that top-tier consulting firms are constantly striving for.

While no business knowledge might be required, it is certainly helpful, since the thinking processes and problem-solving prowess are the same as you would need for the case interviews. Hence, you should prepare for SOVA as diligently as possible, in addition to your case practice. After all, since a similar skill set is needed for both the case interview and the SOVA, training for one increases your performance for the other and vice versa.

With the SOVA existing for many years before Bain introduced it, candidates are usually well prepared, leading to score inflation over time. Hence, you need new strategies on top of the old ones to score higher than the rest.

The Bain SOVA Guide (+560 Practice Questions)

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Ace the Bain SOVA Test with ease. Detailed preparation, tips and tricks, up-skilling, and test-taking strategies for maximum scores. Now with more than 560 practice questions for numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning, as well as personality assessments.

The format of the SOVA

The SOVA test is a comprehensive, data-driven talent assessment platform that several firms are using in their recruiting. It helps Bain to gather more data points about their applicants in the process. This data is used to inform decisions on each applicant who takes the test.

At the moment, the test is used at a few Bain offices globally, mainly in Europe and Middle East offices, however, a global roll-out is to be expected during 2021.

This assessment consists of, depending on the office, either a quantitative, qualitative, and a psychometric test or just the psychometric test (MBA recruiting).

The quantitative and qualitative part evaluates your cognitive skills and zeros in on your logical, numerical, and verbal reasoning. This part contains elements of a typical business case, GMAT-like questions, and the BCG Online Case.

The psychometric personality test assesses your cultural and personal fit with the consulting lifestyle and Bain itself. Similar to the Pymetrics, Bain looks at certain personality traits. While the Pymetrics lets you play games to learn about your personality, Bain has you answer very targeted questions.

Additional details about the format

  • You can take the test at home using your personal computer
  • There is no official time or clock running, however, you are both scored on your results and speed. Work through the test swiftly and accurately
  • The test is designed in a way that allows you to use all materials that might help you. Keep a calculator and a few sheets of paper handy
  • The SOVA, in its full form, contains 5 sections (Numerical reasoning/ math, verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, situational judgment, personality traits)

The Aptitude Test offers some level of the predictive validity of the skills it assesses. It is a computer-based test, where the data and answers are displayed on a screen. This means that it artificially constricts the nature of possible answer spaces, thereby already ‘pre-framing’ the cognition of test-takers.

Generally, multiple-choice tests ask specific and static questions with one or several correct choices and several wrong choices. They focus on the end choice or result (i.e., is it correct?). You can use this format to your advantage, and we show you how in our Bain Aptitude Tests Guide.

The skills that are assessed

The full SOVA tests three different reasoning skills as well as your personality.

Verbal reasoning

Verbal Reasoning evaluates your skill to understand complex information under time pressure. In this format, you have to read one or more paragraphs to answer a multiple-choice question. Either you can select a specific answer or have to indicate if a given statement is true, false, or no statement can be supported based on the information provided.

Logical reasoning

Logical Reasoning. The Bain logical reasoning test focuses on inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning looks at how you handle abstract concepts and unfamiliar information. For example, you might be asked to continue a logical sequence (figures, numbers, etc.). Deductive reasoning questions usually give you a set of facts to answer whether a certain statement is true or false or alternatively need to weaken, strengthen the statement. In that sense, it is similar to the verbal reasoning we discuss above.

Numerical reasoning/ math

Numerical Reasoning questions focus on your ability to handle complex quantitative data. They use tables and other exhibits to present data and ask you to elicit specific information and facts in a multiple-choice style question.

Personality traits

The most common format that is reported is based on the SOVA Personality Test, conducted via two types of questions:

  • Traditional personality test: Read a number of sentences and decide how much this is true for you based on a scale of: Least Like Me, Little Like Me, Neutral, Somewhat Like Me, Most Like Me
  • Situational judgement test: You are seeing a video or statements related to a workplace situation and have to rank responses from Last favourable to Most favourable

How to prepare for the SOVA

As with every other assessment you need to learn 3 things to become proficient.

  1. Learn what the test is all about, what types of questions are asked, and what skills are evaluated
  2. Get access to the right tools and preparation exercises to build your skills and stamina for the test
  3. Practice those skills and internalize the strategies to become proficient and condident in our abilities on the test day

We have compiled a 110-page preparation document that helps you understand the types of questions, build the skills needed for the analytical and the psychometric parts of the assessment.

In the document, we dive deep into the different skills and discuss the key strategies to approach every question. Included in the guide are more than 560 practice questions for you to upskill as well as tools that help you maximize your approach efficiency and score when taking the test.

How to improve your reasoning skills

Practice in simulated test conditions

When practicing, emulate real testing conditions. Most importantly, set yourself time constraints, focus on practice questions that are similar to the Bain questions, and use your computer as the main source of information. Do not print out any handouts, exhibits, data tables, etc.

Use the practice tests provided by the firms to prepare as well.

Look for official examples of the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, which are still online on some McKinsey recruiting websites. If you have trouble finding them, please reach out to us.

Practice text analysis and verbal reasoning

As with every other aptitude test, you will have to sift through large amounts of data, which leaves you with significant time pressure.

For text analysis, you will have to pick a correct answer or statement. In order to do this successfully, learn three things.

  • Reading comprehension: Find the needle in the haystack and zero in on the important bits of a complex business text to interpret its core statements. Use business publications, research papers, and articles to train this skill
  • Chart, table, and data interpretation: Practice the ability to understand and interpret complex data and elicit true conclusions and statements from it. We have written extensively on chart interpretation here
  • Logical reasoning: Learn how to deduct correct statements from the different sources of information. GMAT reasoning questions are your best friend when preparing for this

Brush up your mental math, pen-and-paper math as well as numerical reasoning skills

We have written extensively on case interview math here. In the article, we discuss what to expect and how to prepare. The same principles we discuss in the linked article also apply to the Bain SOVA assessment. While you can use a calculator, you should still be proficient in quickly setting up calculations and then performing them.

In general, the level of math required is not more complex than what you have already learned in school and you do not need a specific degree to pass the test.

Keep in mind that for every calculation, there are two steps: First, you will need to come up with the correct calculations (the logic), and second, perform swift calculations (the calculation).

If you want to go deeper to brush up on your math skills, we have created a program with detailed insider learning materials, 25 videos, and a guidebook as well as 2,000 practice drills that mimick the McKinsey, BCG, and Bain case interview math as well as the aptitude and analytics test math for you here: the Case Interview Math Mastery.

Monitor your progress

Assess your strengths and weaknesses and build your skills up from there. Create a preparation plan and monitor your progress in developing the right kind of skills. Work both on your strengths and weaknesses so that your strengths are able to secure your baseline score in the assessments. Your weaknesses should be at a good enough level to gain additional points on top of your baseline score.

How to work on the right personality traits

Bain wants you to match the typical consultant’s profile. Based on your answers, SOVA creates a personal profile for each candidate. While there is no perfect profile, certain traits are more commonly found in consultants. Think about this when you decide on your answers on the Bain test.

So, what qualities should you focus on demonstrating during the SOVA?

  • Attention: Approach each task with structure and a steady pace
  • Focus: Swiftly adjust to changes in the tasks and handle multiple issues at once without neglecting one or the other
  • Learning: Show a willingness and openness to learning quickly and adapt to the feedback you receive
  • Decision Making: Make your decisions based on evidence and data and less so by relying on your instincts or intuition
  • Risk Tolerance: Show a balanced risk-taking attitude. Do not be overly prone to take risks, but also do not spend endless time to weigh your options before you choose
  • Fairness: Put more focus on fairness and equality when making decisions in the game and spot unfair situations
  • Effort: Demonstrate an 80/20 approach, working most effectively on the task at hand to find a swift outcome. Don’t get lost in the noise
  • Emotion: Show that you can understand people’s reactions, emotions, underlying concerns, and motivators. Look below the surface
  • Generosity: Be a team player, willing to forgo personal gain for other people’s sake or the greater good of the team

If in doubt, try to err on the side of the spectrums we discuss above. Obviously, there is some leeway in the personality profile as Bain is explicitly targeting new types of candidates. Still, you don’t want to be a rogue profile and diminish chances for your application.

A word of caution: Provide a natural sequence of answers. Personality Tests have many control questions that assess the same dimensions to spot people that try to game them and deliberately choose favorable traits. Sometimes these tests also adjust their question sets based on your previous answer to make sure you are consistent.

How to take the SOVA

Make sure your tech setup works

Make sure that your computer works properly, the internet connection is fast and stable. Also, take the tests in a quiet and orderly location, where you can make sure that no one will disturb or interrupt you.

Do not replicate results or solutions 

Focus on your own test and the process instead of trying to replicate answers you have discussed with friends and peers.

Get comfortable with 80/20 decisions and incomplete information

There is a lot of data and many questions. Focus on the ones you can solve quickly. Sometimes, you might not select the best answer, e.g. in the personality test and that is ok too.

Get comfortable with estimations and simple math. That way you will be able to calculate and compare the expected outcomes of several options. Sometimes being in the right ballpark is good enough.

Read the instructions carefully and take an educated guess if possible

Make sure that you understand clearly what your task is and what you are asked to solve for. Also, focus on whether or not you are allowed to use a calculator and if there are any negative points for selecting the wrong answer. Adjust your strategy accordingly.

If points are deducted, focus on the quality of your answers over quantity. If there are no negative points, take an educated guess. Improve your guesses by following the exclusion principle.

If you are taking the test from home, obviously keep the calculator handy.

Scan the rest and prioritize key bits of information

Whenever you have to deal with large walls of text and data blocks, scan the information provided.

First, read the question carefully and make sure you understand what you are asked to do. Find your objective!

Second, figure out what information you need to answer the question.

Third, for a math question, draft your logic and look for the information. For a verbal reasoning question, scan the document for the relevant information.

Fourth, once you found it, zero in and read the specific part carefully.

Train your reading speed with speed reading exercises and smartphone apps.

Keep an eye on the time 

It is easy to get lost in the details and the sheer complexity of information overload these tests present. Make sure to go swiftly through each task.

In the aptitude, analytical and business test, you have between 30 and 90 seconds to answer each question. Do not waste time. If you get stuck, move on to the next question.

Set yourself goals and time markers. For instance, if you know you have 30 minutes to solve 30 questions, you should have worked through 15 questions at the 15-minute mark.

Have a plan on how to approach every question

Use a process to help you make more deliberate and thoughtful decisions on how to approach each question and move through the test. This will increase your organization, your pace, and your performance.

Take proper notes

Write down key observations, calculations, intermediate steps. Keep the notes organized since you might need them at a later stage (e.g., in the business case).

Our Bain Sova Guide

If you want a full preparation program with preparation plans, detailed insights into the test, the preparation, and test-taking strategies, check out our 110-page Bain Sova Test Guide (which also contains sections on other Bain assessments).

The guide has been fully refurbished in December 2023 and includes more than 560 practice questions in all relevant areas:

  • Verbal Reasoning (comprehension, inference, statement)
  • Numerical Reasoning (abstract and business cases)
  • Logical Reasoning (deductive, inductive, visual)
  • Personality Questions
  • Situational Judgement Tests

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