How to prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment

mckinsey digital assessment

Updated on February 24, 2020, with the latest information!

We have released a detailed 42-page guide (which we continuously update) on how to prepare and ace the McKinsey Digital Assessment. For early customers, we offer a 20% discount on their purchase. For more details on the product, click here.

Overview and quick facts

  • What it is: A digital gamified assessment by Imbellus creating a simulated world (see screenshots below), highly customized and state-of-the-art.
  • Design: Developed with a team of psychologists from UCLA Cresst, game design experts from Imbellus, and McKinsey consultants
  • Length: 60 to 75 minutes, you cannot pause the game but there are untimed tutorials before each scenario
  • Structure: 2 scenarios (previously 3) or worlds, each with different problems that you need to solve
  • Content: The tasks are all about saving the world or a species. You need to create sustainable eco-systems or defend a plant species in a tower-defense like game
  • Tests for: Evaluates how you think, approach problems and make decisions. In general, each scenario is almost like a life-cycle of a real-world McKinsey study (project). The delivery of the concepts is new and the breadth of information you need to deal with is enormous, just as in a real-life setting. In the end, you have imperfect information and need to be comfortable with making quick decisions based on that
  • Does not test for: No business background or knowledge is needed, to cancel out the effect of your background and cognitive biases. The gaming aspect will be taught in short tutorials before each scenario
  • Test setting: The test can be done from your home on your own computer. Check your internet connection and the stability of your system, since the test cannot be repeated. Some test-takers need to do it in the McKinsey office they are applying for
  • Test-takers: Mandatory for candidates applying for vacancies in all practices: General, Operations and Implementation, Research & Analytics, Digital, and others.
  • Feedback: You will be notified within 14 days about your results. Ping HR if you have a more urgent deadline or counter-offer.
  • What is the purpose of the game? The purpose of the McKinsey gamified assessment tool is twofold. First, to find new ways to interest people in the Firm in an increasingly diversified market, thereby getting access to a new cohort of people. Second, to create an assessment environment that is agnostic to peoples’ backgrounds
  • What does it measure? The Imbellus assessment measures a broad set of cognitive skills of the applicant in a digital highly gamified assessment and environment, creating an experience that is very different from the case interview or the traditional pen and paper McKinsey Problem Solving Test (McKinsey PST)
  • Product & process. After all, the worlds present different challenges and choices. It is not important what path you choose, but how you reach your solution. This gives McKinsey insights about you beyond the resume or conventional case interview. In fact, the test creates a process score, testing how you approach problems in addition to the product score of the end result.
  • How to prepare? McKinsey highlights that no preparation is needed to go through the test
  • However, we would highly advise preparing for it, in a similar way to the older Problem Solving Test. The feedback we received from candidates that have used our preparation guide points to the fact that you can effectively prepare for all scenarios. Additionally, the preparation also helped them with their case interview performance later on
  • While no business knowledge might be required, the thinking processes and problem-solving prowess are still the same, whether its gamified or pen and paper

Why is McKinsey changing its recruiting strategy?

McKinsey now wants you to save the world by building a reef, a mountain ridge or saving a plant species before getting an offer with the Firm. Now we want to go deeper and tell you a bit more about the novel recruitment tool and how to prepare for this new type of assessment in combination with the case interview.

The Firm is employing this Imbellus digitized game to take into account the changes in its client base and its own evolution through organic growth and acquisitions. New problems of clients require a new type of consulting workforce.

Hence, McKinsey is investing heavily in the recruitment of new types of talent, including data scientists, implementation practitioners, IT experts, product and digital designers, as well as software developers. The test will be mandatory for candidates applying for vacancies in all practices: General, Operations and Implementation, Research & Analytics, Digital, and others.

Currently, the Firm is gradually rolling out a new gamification tool, the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, to different regions and types of applicants, set to assess a greater amount of people with more precise metrics.

A full global roll-out is to be expected for the recruiting season of early 2020 with key markets being launched in January and February. Candidates are immersed in a digital, scenario-based assessment designed to understand and measure how they approach and solve problems, basically putting them in situations that McKinsey consultants face every day.

McKinsey describes one scenario of the digital assessment in the following way:

“Imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene forest populated by many kinds of wildlife. As you take in the flora and fauna, you learn about an urgent matter demanding your attention: the animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. It’s up to you to figure out what to do—and then act quickly to protect what you can.”

Who has to go through the McKinsey Digital Assessment?

First things first. Currently, the tool is in the testing stages, being rolled out across offices and geographies while being fine-tuned along the way.

If you pass the screening successfully, you will receive an email with a link to Digital Assessment. You can choose the most convenient time for the test – you need to do this within 7 calendar days after receiving the link. Before starting Digital Assessment you will receive a detailed briefing on it.

In some offices and geographies, you will be notified earlier (up to one month) about when your deadline for the test will be or get a specific date on which you have to go to the office to take the test.

In any case, you should start to prepare as soon as possible to learn and internalize the specific skills tested in the Imbellus assessment.

Note that some locations still employ the PST or the SHL, however, it is expected that all regions will transition to the Digital Assessment within 2020 as the number of people that have to take the gamified assessment will grow “significantly over time,” as stated by McKinsey. While testing 5000 candidates in 20 countries over the last 18 months with the Imbellus assessment in addition to the PST, our internal customer data shows that McKinsey rolled it out to more than 40 countries by now.

What are the differences compared to the PST?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test is a well-known testing format that tests business problem-solving skills and logical abilities. You can prepare for it with the help of various manuals and training resources.

The Imbellus replaces the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (which has been discontinued in several offices such as Germany and Austria already due to the bias it introduced). The PST is a 60-minute pen and paper multiple-choice test in which the candidate has to circle the correct answer.

While the PST is useful to gather information about a candidate’s problem-solving skills, it introduces a bias towards candidates that are familiar with business problems. Since it favors business major backgrounds it is not in line with McKinsey looking to expand its hiring base. Also, the PST does not allow for understanding how the candidate arrived at a particular solution.

By changing this part of the recruiting process to an abstracted digital assessment, McKinsey hopes to gauge applicants’ cognitive abilities in a bias-free environment. In sum, the Imbellus Assessment allows McKinsey to get both a product score, evaluating how good your solution is and a process score, providing insights into your problem-solving prowess.

At the core, the Digital Assessment is still based on a standard case. You need to identify a problem, collect and analyze data, make a decision in a limited time and without complete information, and then formulate recommendations.

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game evaluates problem-solving skills, but online, using a variety of algorithms and based on tasks of a different level. This is a more advanced format with the idea that you can’t prepare for this test, predict the scenario or find the correct answer in advance.

Initial test data suggest that a candidate’s performance on the Imbellus problem-solving simulation is a good indicator of whether he or she will land an offer after the case interviews. The predictive power is said to be higher than the one of the PST.

However, the skills that the test assesses are known and we have compiled ways on how to train them in our guide and refined with feedback from experts and recent test-takers.

The Digital Assessment analyzes the skills of candidates deeper in conditions that are close to real-life situations: what approaches do they use to find a solution, how creatively they approach the task, how they perceive the world and think. In particular, the test helps to evaluate:

  • the ability to correctly identify the problem and the problem that needs to be solved
  • analyze available information from various sources
  • find the right approach to solve the problem, including formulating and testing strategically hypotheses
  • draw the right conclusions and make the necessary decision
  • quickly react to changes in a situation or its boundary conditions

At the same time, taking an online test is much more convenient as it can be done remotely in many geographies.

What do you need to do during the McKinsey Digital Assessment?

The McKinsey Digital Assessment lasts 60 to 75 minutes (+ untimed tutorials) and currently includes two individual scenarios revolving around environmental issues. Before each scenario, there are untimed tutorials. The game itself cannot be paused!

Be aware that the scenarios could be rotated for individual candidates as the Firm experiments and tries to adjust along the way.

In general, you will encounter two distinct worlds, which are visually depicted.

Ecosystem creation

The first is a mountain ridge or coral reef, where you have to create an ecosystem combining a number of species to build a sustainable food chain and match it with a specific location.

You will be confronted with an overload of different data points (similar to the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, yet not business-related). An alternate version of the same game is set in the ocean, where you would need to build a coral reef.

The goal is to select a suitable spot and then build a food chain consisting of 8 different species. You need to optimize and match the location to the species as well as the species among each other.

Tower defense

In the second scenario, you need to defense a plant species from invaders using several tools at your disposal in a static, round-based tower defense style game. The tools consist of barriers that slow down invaders and predators that damage and eradicate them.

Previously, candidates have reported scenarios related to different environmental disasters you need to remediate. First, you need to figure out what has happened, second, you need to plan a course of action to remedy the disaster and achieve a positive outcome. All games are set in an ecological context to be accessible to all backgrounds. At the same time, no two test-takers will have the same experience as there are tens of thousands of possible variations of the same game, all with the same level of difficulty.

Artificial intelligence should ensure that the virtual environments and animals look are indistinguishable from reality to put candidates in a flow state and full immersion when playing the game.

At the end of testing, the system will inform the recruiter of the candidate’s result – a specific assessment of the skills. Depending on the points scored, the candidate goes to the next stage of the interview or receives a ban (1 year for an internship, 2 years for all other roles).

The software by Imbellus captures and analyzes every keystroke and mouse movement a candidate makes. In the end, you will be evaluated based on a product score and a process score. The game not only evaluates the outcomes you generated but also the cognitive dynamic responsible for how you got there. For instance, it is important for McKinsey to understand how you made the choices or when you made errors, how you corrected them.

How can you get high scores in the Imbellus Problem Solving Game?

To win the game, you must understand the multitude of factors that affect the outcome you are pursuing and for each scenario at hand, either save a particular plant species from predators or build an ecosystem.

In the case of the invaders that are haunting plants, you would need to figure out how the disease is spreading, which disease it is, which animals are affected, and how the herd dynamics feed into this equation. Based on that you have to come up with a solution, iteratively test and adapt it based on a number of feedback rounds.

This gamified process tests key skills, as explicitly stated by Imbellus in a research paper on a conference on the topic of gamified assessment centers and educational data mining:

  1. Critical thinking: the ability to form a rational judgment from a set of facts
  2. Decision making: the ability to select the best course of action among several options
  3. Meta-cognition: the ability to use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier (e.g., testing hypothesis, taking notes)
  4. Situational awareness: the ability to determine the relationships between different factors and to project the outcome of a scenario
  5. Systems thinking: the ability to understand cause & effect relationships involving several factors and feedback loops (e.g., anticipating several orders of consequence)
  6. Adaptability. the ability to change and adjust your actions and approach to a task in order to suit a new situation or boundary conditions

All of a candidate’s actions – even the movement of the mouse – are tracked by the game and then assessed using data science to score the five abilities. The digital assessment gives many more insights into candidates’ skills since McKinsey is able to collect the test results of thousands of applicants over time.

The firm then applies people analytics on this fast-growing data set to evaluate a candidate’s creativity, and the ability to gather information and generate ideas. Additionally, the test looks into problem-solving skills, focusing mainly on the ability to work with multifactorial data as well as the candidates’ problem-solving approach dividing methodology vs. intuition.

Consequently, it is as important to show how you solve the problem vs. to arrive at a feasible solution.

If you are taking the test from home: before starting the test, the system will automatically check the Internet connection, but still, make sure that your computer is charged and the internet signal is stable. The test cannot be repeated!

Can you prepare for the McKinsey Digital Assessment, and if yes, how?

McKinsey tells candidates that preparation is not needed and not possible. However, the feedback we have collected from candidates point to the fact that you can actually prepare really well for the different scenarios.

For that matter, we have analyzed the test, talked to game design experts and test-takers, and turned to science-backed methods to create a very detailed guide for the game and its mechanics.

If you want to improve your score and increase your chances to pass the test, check out our 42-page guide with a detailed look of each scenario, proven strategies on how to prepare for the Imbellus game, as well as examples, tips, and tricks on how to take the test.

Initial feedback from candidates in more than 40 countries has been highly encouraging and we are constantly expanding and updating the material based on their improvement ideas and experience.

Below, we compiled some higher-level tips for the Digital Assessment.

  1. Do not try to replicate results or solutions since every test taker will face a uniquely generated scenario. Focus on the process instead!
  2. As with the Problem Solving Test – Keep an eye on the time! It is easy to get lost in the details and the sheer complexity of information overload the test presents. However, make sure to go swiftly through the tutorial, keep track of the time and roughly stick to the 20 minutes for each scenario. The progress bar shows the remaining time, however, there is no clock or explicit mention of the time left.
  3. Look into the key skills that are being assessed by Imbellus. Playing logic games and answering GMAT questions can be beneficial to train these areas specifically. Figure out what your weaknesses are and tailor your preparation with specific problems to solve. Additionally, this preparation will benefit you during the actual case interview.
  4. Get ready to make 80/20 decisions based on incomplete information. Likely you won’t reach the best answer within 60 minutes, however, you should reach a good answer, demonstrating a clever problem-solving strategy along the way. Be careful not to get bogged down by the details and losing yourself in the several subcategories the game provides. Similarly, test your ideas and write down the different outcomes.
  5. Just as in the actual case interview, make proper note-taking a habit. Write down your observations on the mechanics of each scenario. It will help you structure your thoughts and reach a solution quicker. As Imbellus states, so far, the notes have been collected after the test. However, it is unlikely that they will be taken into consideration for the screening decision. The game itself provides more than enough data points to automatically analyze.
  6. Get comfortable with pen and paper math. That way you will be able to calculate and compare the expected outcomes of several options. After all, that is the same skill that was already needed for the McKinsey PST and is still needed for the McKinsey case interviews that follow the digital assessment.
  7. Enjoy the Imbellus game. Try to enjoy the game just like any other computer game you would play. It is actually quite engaging and entertaining.

How and when will you know if you have passed the McKinsey Digital Assessment?

In general, the notification whether or not you passed the test and move on to the interviews will take between 2 and 14 days depending on the office and the number of candidates. If you want to expedite the process because you have another offer and need to know, just call HR and they will likely help you out.

Our candidates have told us that they know whether or not they passed the first part of the assessment, the ecosystem creation because you can test for the sustainability of the food chain. The tower defense game is much more chaotic and it is not entirely clear whether or not you score high enough for McKinsey standards.

In general, we expect the pass rate to be similar to the earlier days of the PST. McKinsey has run beta tests with a significant number of applicants and internal staff to calibrate the Imbellus assessment. Over time, we expect score inflation as people learn more about the test and preparation increases.

If you have taken the Imbellus McKinsey Digital Assessment and want to share your experience or have further questions, please let us know in the comment section below!

imbellus assessment


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