McKinsey Solve Game (2024): How to Prepare and Ace the Imbellus

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Last Updated on March 26, 2024

The McKinsey Solve Game, previously known as the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, Digital Assessment, or informally as ‘the Imbellus’, serves as a pivotal tool for the renowned consulting firm in evaluating prospective candidates. This assessment is utilized in tandem with the infamous case interviews and personal experience interviews (PEI).

For those wondering how to prepare for McKinsey’s digital problem-solving game, this article breaks down the key areas to focus on for enhanced performance. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of McKinsey Solve Game preparation, providing you with the latest strategies to ace the assessment.

It’s important to mention that we consistently update this article with the latest and most relevant information. Initially published in May 2019, our coverage was a pioneering global insight into the Solve Game, even during its beta testing phase. Our most recent update to this article was in mid-February 2024, ensuring you have the most current insights at your fingertips.

History of the McKinsey Imbellus Solve Game

Developed in collaboration with Imbellus and psychologists from UCLA Cresst, the McKinsey Solve Game invites candidates to engage in a series of stimulating scenarios. This immersive experience is a precursor to embarking on a career with McKinsey, demanding a well-thought-out Imbellus Game strategy.

The game challenges players to create sustainable ecosystem simulations within diverse environments such as reefs, mountain ridges, or jungles. Additionally, participants assume the role of a researcher, analyzing animal populations. In an earlier version of the game, your focus was on protecting plant species from invaders in a tower-defense-like game. This immersive experience is a precursor to embarking on a career with McKinsey.

When this game-based assessment was introduced by the world’s leading consulting firms four years ago, it created a significant buzz in the consulting industry for two primary reasons. Firstly, the Solve Game marked a departure from traditional recruitment methods by incorporating an actual computer game. This represented a shift from the conventional Problem Solving Test (PST), a pen-and-paper test designed to gauge candidates’ abilities to solve business problems under time constraints. Secondly, McKinsey’s stance that the game’s nature makes it impervious to specific preparation strategies initially left applicants feeling uncertain about how to best approach the assessment. This was a notable change for applicants accustomed to preparing for weeks or sometimes even months to tackle their case interviews.

Quick reality check…

However, it soon became evident that the consulting firm recruitment game was not impervious to preparation and strategy. McKinsey’s claim was more of a strategic marketing move. Our interviews with some of the first candidates who participated in the initial Imbellus Test in London in November 2019 revealed insightful feedback. This was the first instance where the Solve Game was employed as a formal part of the recruitment process beyond its beta testing phase. These early test-takers made it clear that with a better understanding of the game’s format and the skills it assessed, they could have performed more effectively. Several candidates had even prepared for the PST, not anticipating any changes in the assessment approach. They were informed about the switch to the Solve Game merely a week in advance.

Leveraging this feedback and using their dissatisfaction as a starting point, we collaborated with experts in the field and continued to gather insights from test-takers across various countries. This collective input allowed us to develop effective preparation strategies and gameplay techniques to play the games successfully.

What we found is that – in contrast to McKinsey’s initial messaging – it’s indeed possible to prepare effectively for this assessment. Adopting the right strategies for each game segment can quickly enhance relevant skills, as evidenced by our candidates’ significant performance improvements compared to their peers, thanks to these McKinsey digital assessment tips. Adopting the right strategies for each game segment can quickly enhance relevant skills, as evidenced by our candidates’ significant performance improvements

This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to mastering the Solve Game. We’ll cover five key areas:

  1. Understanding McKinsey’s motivation for transitioning from the traditional Problem Solving Test to a gamified assessment, and what this means for you.
  2. Introducing and examining all six games included in the assessment, along with variations reported by test-takers.
  3. Clarifying the actual skills assessed, extending beyond the official communications.
  4. Detailing preparation methods, exercises, and tools to elevate your performance.
  5. Offering insights into effective test-taking strategies to facilitate Imbellus game skills development and maximize results

For those seeking thorough preparation, we offer a detailed preparation package including (with instant access):

  • 147-page Problem Solving Game Guide
  • Excel Solver tool for the Ecosystem Game with ecosystem game strategies
  • 14 videos that dissect every aspect of the games, including game-winning strategies.
  • Complimentary 14-page primer for McKinsey case and PEI interviews
  • McKinsey game practice tests was the pioneer in providing detailed analysis of this new assessment type, backed by authentic firsthand information. This has allowed us to continuously refine our insights based on feedback from our extensive customer base. The program has gone through 20 iterations, last updated in February 2024, and incorporates feedback from over 500 test-takers and several game designers.

We launched our original program at the end of November 2019 and have since been updating it regularly to maintain its relevance and accuracy, distinguishing ourselves from others who have merely replicated our content. To date, more than 8500 applicants from over 70 nations have used the guide to prepare for their Imbellus. 

Our McKinsey Solve Game Preparation Package

(260 customer reviews)

Elevate your Solve Game score with the original game guide, a 14-part video course, an Excel Solver tool, and Red Rock practice tests. Trusted by more than 8,500 customers from 70+ countries since November 2019. McKinsey Problem Solving Game Introduction

Introduction of the McKinsey Solve Game

“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.”

McKinsey & Company

Sounds exciting? Well,…you be the judge.

As a consultant with McKinsey or any other top-tier consulting firm, you often find yourself in situations where you must save the day. On an abstract level, the game simulates exactly this reality. While your consulting career mostly relates to strategy engagements with Fortune 500 companies, McKinsey chooses the environmental scenarios deliberately. More on that in a second.

Traditionally, the McKinsey way of hiring candidates was through the following funnel:

  1. Screening: Your consulting resume and cover letter are screened based on a number of filters
  2. Problem Solving Test: A 60-minute pen-and-paper test, covering 26 business-related questions
  3. Consulting Interview Round 1: 2 to 3 business case and personal experience interviews
  4. Consulting Interview Round 2: another 1 to 3 interviews depending on the region (Rounds 1 and 2 can be on the same day in some offices)

With the introduction of the Problem Solving Game (PSG), the Problem Solving Test (PST) was on its way out.

So, why would McKinsey replace a time-tested screening tool, which has evaluated hundreds of thousands of applicants, with a computer game? The reasons are threefold, reflecting McKinsey’s typical approach:

The answer is quite simple and – as ever so often in the McKinsey world – threefold:

  1. To attract new talent and new types of consultants.
  2. To have an assessment tool that is agnostic (in theory) of people’s backgrounds.
  3. To have a lower-cost program (in the long run) to assess a greater amount of candidates.

The Firm is employing the Solve Game to take into account the changes that every consulting firm faces: Changes in its client base, new types of problems the clients face, and its evolution through organic growth and acquisitions. New problems of clients require a new type of consulting workforce. The typical McKinsey career has changed. 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 in addition to their generalist consulting roles. A digital test is only logical when hiring digital natives.

Above, we teased the environmental abstraction of the game tasks. What is that all about? McKinsey stresses that to perform well in the different games, no prior knowledge and preparation is needed or beneficial (contrary to the PST). The natural context should be easily accessible for every possible candidate, regardless of their background. The PST was geared more towards business majors and quant-heavy degrees, evaluating candidates with a simple pen-and-paper test. With the Solve Game, McKinsey has created a much more complex assessment tool to avoid any biases related to a candidate’s culture, experience, or background. Why this is a fallacy and just introduces new types of biases, a bit further down on this page…

Lastly, McKinsey is receiving several hundred thousand applications every year. Can you imagine going through all of them and dedicating proper resources to every single one of them? No? Right, because neither can McKinsey. High-level screening algorithms decide what consulting cover letter and resume gets screened by a human and even then, many candidates are quickly sorted out. As a result, many potentially talented individuals do not make the cut. The Solve Game attacks this issue from two ends.

Administering the Imbellus Game to one additional candidate comes with almost zero additional cost for the Firm. The assessment can be taken from home (in most cases) and does not block many recruitment resources from the local office. It is part of a streamlined and automated process (sounds exactly like what a top-tier management consulting firm would do, eh?). For the PST, on the other hand, candidates had to go to the office to take the test, blocking many resources in the process. Second, with a negligible marginal cost for one additional test-taker, more people can be evaluated and potentially deemed ‘worthy’ of moving on to the interview rounds, even if their resume lacked some important metric that was relevant to the old screening algorithm.

To hit those three points, McKinsey hired Imbellus (which has since been acquired by Roblox) to develop the different games of the Solve Game, a company that claims to reinvent how we measure human potential. A bold claim.

Does the Solve Game live up to this claim and fill its new role as a screening device for applicants?

If you want to learn more about McKinsey’s rationale for the Solve Game, Fortune spoke with Katy George, McKinsey & Company’s chief people officer, regarding the impact of prevailing labor market trends on the consulting firm’s talent strategy.

The Firm wanted to change its talent recruitment strategy to align with current labor market trends. Shifting its focus from prestigious educational backgrounds to the potential and diverse skill sets of candidates, McKinsey now recruits from a broader range of educational institutions, increasing its outreach from 700 to about 1,500 schools, with plans to expand to 5,000. This approach supports the “paper ceiling” movement, valuing talent over formal qualifications.

To support this move, McKinsey developed the video game ‘Solve’ to attract a wider pool of applicants, including tech talent. This evaluation has reached over 150,000 candidates in the first two years of the game’s introduction, highlighting the game’s role in identifying talent with varied backgrounds, particularly in technology.

The Role of the McKinsey Solve Game

As a candidate, the Solve Game immerses you in several digital, scenario-based assessments, designed to understand and measure how you approach and solve problems, basically putting you in situations that McKinsey consultants face every day. This approach diverts significantly from other well-known testing formats such as the PST or the BCG Online Case, which test problem-solving skills in a business context.

A Digital Case Interview with Twists and Turns

The Imbellus replaces the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (which has been discontinued in several offices such as Germany and Austria years ago due to the bias it introduced – business majors usually got much higher scores).

While the PST is useful when gathering information about a candidate’s problem-solving skills, it introduces a bias toward candidates who 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 candidates arrived at a solution. 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 and approach.

By changing this part of the recruiting process and introducing an abstracted digital assessment, McKinsey hopes to gauge applicants’ cognitive abilities in a bias-free environment while at the same time collecting way more data points on them.

The Format of McKinsey Solve Game

The Imbellus Solve Game has evolved to a format where candidates engage in two out of six available mini-games within a 70-minute timeframe. This represents a change from previous versions, which allotted up to 81 minutes for gameplay. According to our data and surveys, every candidate since March 2023 has participated in a version of the Ecosystem Creation game and the Red Rock Study game. Notably, since the end of February 2023, the Plant Defense game, previously a consistent element of the assessment, has not been featured.

This setup emphasizes effective time management, as candidates must ensure completion of both games within the allocated time, 35 minutes for each.

In the following sections, we will provide an in-depth analysis of each game, outlining various strategies and techniques to efficiently manage time and maximize performance.

The Scoring of the Solve Game

The essence of the Imbellus test aligns closely with the conventional approach of consulting cases and interviews. It demands the identification of a problem, gathering and analyzing data, making informed decisions under time constraints and with incomplete information, and then crafting actionable recommendations. Essentially, the test is designed to assess problem-solving skills, but it does so in an online format, leveraging sophisticated algorithms.

Data on the test’s efficacy indicates that a candidate’s performance in the Imbellus problem-solving simulation is a reliable predictor of their likelihood to receive an offer following the case interviews. This predictive accuracy is reportedly superior to that of the traditional Problem Solving Test (PST). Further details and specific data on these outcomes will be discussed in subsequent sections.

the image shows how solve game performance correlates with success in case interviews at McKInsey
Source: Imbellus

The McKinsey Solve Game is tailored to evaluate candidates’ skills in scenarios that mimic real-life situations, going beyond what can be inferred from a consulting cover letter or resume. It scrutinizes candidates’ problem-solving approaches, their creativity in tackling tasks, and their overall thought processes. Specifically, the game is designed to assess:

  • Problem identification: The ability to accurately discern the core problem that needs resolution.
  • Analysis of information: Skill in sourcing and scrutinizing information from diverse channels.
  • Strategic solution development: Competence in formulating and methodically testing hypotheses to solve the problem.
  • Conclusion and decision making: Aptitude for drawing appropriate conclusions and making informed decisions.
  • Adaptability: Agility in responding to evolving situations or changing parameters.
  • Quantitative reasoning: With the introduction of the Red Rock game, McKinsey now also evaluates how effectively candidates can comprehend, process, and apply quantitative data in problem-solving scenarios.

To effectively measure these attributes, McKinsey and Imbellus use a dual-scoring system:

  • Product Score: This evaluates the quality of the outcome achieved. Did you complete the game objectives, like creating a sustainable ecosystem, providing the correct outcomes for your analyses, or protecting the plant?
  • Process Score: This score reflects the method and strategy used to achieve the outcome. It tracks every interaction, including over 100 different variables during gameplay. Factors like apparent nervousness or the execution of a logical plan are considered.

The implications of this sophisticated scoring system for new candidates are multifaceted:

For candidates, the McKinsey Solve Game’s scoring system has significant implications. It means that the assessment isn’t just about reaching the correct outcome, but also about how you get there. This dual focus on both product and process offers a more holistic evaluation of a candidate’s abilities.

  1. Holistic assessment: Candidates are evaluated on their results and the strategies they employ. This approach rewards not only correct outcomes but also thoughtful, strategic processes.
  2. Behavior under pressure: The game assesses how candidates perform under pressure, including decision-making speed, adaptability, and handling incomplete information.
  3. Broader accessibility: Since the game is less reliant on specific business knowledge and more on general problem-solving skills, it potentially opens the door for candidates from diverse academic and professional backgrounds.
  4. Increased stress: The knowledge that every action is being recorded and analyzed might increase stress levels for some candidates, possibly affecting their performance.

You might think that with such an assessment and with a focus on process, it’s harder for candidates to ‘game’ the system by preparing for specific outcomes. Yet, what we found out over time is that the range of potential outcomes for the Ecosystem game and the types of questions for the Red Rock Study game is very narrow. We have developed strategies and step-by-step approaches to navigate this challenge very well.

Overall, the McKinsey Solve Game represents a shift in how candidates are assessed, placing equal importance on the journey and the destination. For candidates, this means preparing for the game requires a focus on developing the right approach and the ability to remain calm and effective under pressure.

Current Roll-out and Scope of the McKinsey Solve Game

It’s all fun and games until your score actually determines your future McKinsey career.

A frequently asked question from candidates is about the necessity of participating in the Solve Game during their application process. The straightforward answer is that in almost all cases, yes, it’s required.

Initially, the game underwent testing with 5,000 candidates across 20 countries between May 2018 and October 2019, alongside the PST. This phase wasn’t about evaluating candidates; rather, it focused on gathering data, beta testing, and fine-tuning the games. Additionally, McKinsey’s active consultants were invited to play in trial runs, contributing further to the data collection.

As of now, McKinsey has globally implemented the Solve Game for a vast majority of applicant types, aiming to evaluate a larger pool of individuals with more refined metrics. Our internal data indicates that the game has been adopted in virtually every country with a McKinsey office. The comprehensive global deployment was finalized during the 2020 recruiting season, with many key markets initiating the rollout from January to June of that year.

Since 2022, the use of the Solve Game has extended beyond office applications. Candidates are also required to complete the game as a prerequisite for certain recruiting events, such as the McKinsey Women’s Leadership Summit.

In terms of the roles it applies to, the game is obligatory for all practice areas, including Generalist Consulting, Operations and Implementation, Research & Analytics, Digital, among others. The only exception, as of now, appears to be Orphoz, a McKinsey subsidiary specializing in transformations, which has not yet incorporated the Imbellus games.

Additionally, it’s noteworthy that senior and professional hires are often exempt from this requirement.

Timing of the Imbellus in the McKinsey Recruiting Process

Upon successful screening of your consulting cover letter and resume, you’ll be sent an email with a link to the Imbellus assessment. You have the flexibility to choose when to take the test, provided it’s within 7 calendar days of receiving the link, for most candidates.

However, in some offices and regions, you might be notified earlier (up to a month in advance) about your deadline for the test. In certain cases, you might even be required to visit the office for the test, which could coincide with your case interviews.

It’s advisable to begin preparing for the Imbellus as early as possible to develop and refine the skills evaluated in the assessment.

Post-Game Process: Waiting for Results

If you take the test remotely, the notification period to learn if you’ve passed and can proceed to the interview stage typically ranges from 1 to 14 days, though this can vary based on the office and the volume of candidates. The longest wait reported by one of our candidates was two months, an outlier, with the average wait time usually under a week. Some offices in Asia recruit continuously but only finalize decisions on Solve Game results on specific dates, potentially extending wait times. If you need a quicker response due to another job offer, contacting HR can often expedite the process.

If the Imbellus is taken in conjunction with the first round of interviews, such as in Germany, your game performance will be evaluated alongside your interview results. Different offices place varying levels of emphasis on the assessment’s outcome. For some, it’s an additional factor in the initial interview round, while for others, it acts as a crucial gateway to the interviews. Some offices may also weigh the Solve Game results in conjunction with your application and documents, where a strong resume or referral could potentially compensate for an average game performance.

Requirements to Pass the McKinsey Solve Game

After completing the McKinsey Solve Game, you can gauge your performance even before the official notification.

How to assess your performance?

  1. Ecosystem Game: The key is to know whether the ecosystem you created will survive. A quick completion time can be a positive indicator. Creating a sustainable ecosystem in less than 25 minutes generally suggests a good chance of success. Tools like our Excel Solver in combination with the right strategy can assist in predicting ecosystem survival, enabling you to craft a viable solution in under 20 minutes.
  2. Red Rock Game: While there’s no explicit benchmark for what constitutes a passing score, drawing parallels from the previous Problem Solving Test’s approximate 70% cutoff, a similar threshold might apply.
  3. Plant Defense Game: A strong performance typically involves surviving at least 15 turns per round, with higher numbers like 25 or 30 being ideal. We delve into the implications of these benchmarks in more detail later.

The pass rate for the Solve Game is expected to be similar to or slightly lower than that of the PST. Unofficial pass rates circulating for the Solve Game suggest that only around 20% of candidates successfully pass. With thorough preparation and a clear strategy, this success rate can be increased to over 80%.

McKinsey has conducted extensive beta testing with a large pool of applicants and internal staff to fine-tune the Imbellus assessment. Over time, as more candidates become familiar with the test and preparation efforts intensify, we see a trend of score inflation due to better-prepared candidates. In response, Imbellus frequently updates and introduces new games to maintain a level of unpredictability and mitigate the effects of overpreparation.

There is a reason why our current preparation package is already version 20 in just 4 years.

The Skills Assessed by the McKinsey Solve Game

The McKinsey Solve Game, while not requiring specific business knowledge like the traditional pen-and-paper assessments, focuses on evaluating similar cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills in a gamified context. To excel in the game, candidates need to:

  1. Understand the skills tested: Gain a deep understanding of what each game assesses.
  2. Learn effective preparation methods: Master the right techniques and strategies to win.

The 8 Core Skills Assessed by Imbellus Games

The games aim to create a comprehensive profile of your skills across various domains. Every keystroke and mouse movement is captured and analyzed to evaluate your performance, which is reflected in both a product score and a process score. The assessment goes beyond just the outcomes; it also focuses on the cognitive dynamics behind your decisions, your adaptability to changing scenarios, and your approach to error correction.

To score well, it’s crucial to optimize both scores and understand the diverse factors influencing the outcomes in each game scenario.

The key skills assessed, which are not officially communicated by either McKinsey or Imbellus, include:

  1. Critical thinking: Ability to form logical judgments from a set of facts both in the qualitative and quantitative realm.
  2. Decision making: Skill in choosing the most effective course of action from multiple options.
  3. Meta-cognition: Using strategies to simplify learning and problem-solving (e.g., hypothesis testing, note-taking).
  4. Situational awareness: Understanding the interrelationships between various factors and predicting scenario outcomes.
  5. Systems thinking: Grasping cause-and-effect relationships involving multiple factors and feedback loops, including foreseeing multiple layers of consequences.
  6. Cognition: The capacity to memorize, process, store, and integrate new information with existing knowledge for later retrieval.
  7. Adaptability: Flexibility in altering actions and strategies to accommodate new situations or changing conditions.
  8. Creativity: Inventiveness in developing unique solutions, approaches, and ideas for various problems.
the image displays the 8 core skills evaluated by mckinsey in the solve game
The Skills Assessed in the McKinsey Solve Game

The McKinsey Solve Game employs advanced data science techniques to meticulously track and analyze each candidate’s actions, offering a comprehensive assessment of their abilities. This digital format provides a wealth of insights into candidates’ skills, leveraging the vast amount of data collected and calibrated from thousands of applicants over time.

This digital assessment method enables McKinsey to observe candidates’ thought processes in a manner akin to traditional consulting interviews but with greater efficiency and depth. It’s a sophisticated approach that goes beyond just the outcomes, focusing on understanding how candidates think, analyze, and solve problems in real-time scenarios.

Demonstrating Key Skills in the McKinsey Solve Game

Maximizing your performance in the McKinsey Solve Game involves showcasing a range of skills through your actions and decision-making processes within the game. Here’s how you can demonstrate these essential skills:

  1. Critical thinking: Exhibit your ability to sift through large datasets, discard irrelevant information, analyze crucial data, and synthesize your findings to devise optimal solutions. This should be done systematically and methodically both for qualitative decisions and quantitative problems.
  2. Decision making: The game analyzes your decision-making process by tracking the time spent in each game menu and section, and how you form recommendations based on this data.
  3. Metacognition: While not directly trackable, your choice of paths and tools in navigating the game can reveal your metacognitive strategies – how you process and approach the games.
  4. Situational awareness: Demonstrate your understanding of the game’s elements, objectives, available options, and time constraints.
  5. Systems thinking: Show your ability to recognize interdependencies within the game’s parameters, such as aligning the food chain characteristics with the appropriate location in the ecosystem game.
  6. Adaptability: Particularly important in games like the plant defense game, where you need to adjust to changing scenarios and strategies.
  7. Cognition: Utilize your skills in memorizing, storing, integrating, and retrieving information as needed throughout the game.
  8. Creativity: McKinsey values innovative approaches. Display your ability to deviate from conventional methods and find unique solutions to the challenges.

To optimize both your product and process scores, it’s also crucial to have a clear understanding of the various games included in the assessment and their specific requirements. This knowledge allows you to tailor your strategies and approaches effectively to each unique scenario, thereby enhancing your overall performance.

Combine your Solve Game preparation with our McKinsey Interview Academy.

The Current Games of the McKinsey Solve Game

The McKinsey Solve Game typically allocates a total of 70 minutes for completion, dividing this time equally with 35 minutes dedicated to each of the two games. This standard timing, however, has not always been the case. In the past, the duration varied among candidates, ranging from 60 to 81 minutes, depending on the specific requirements of the tasks at hand.

An integral part of the McKinsey Solve Game experience is the inclusion of untimed tutorial sessions before each game. These tutorials are invaluable for candidates, as they provide a detailed introduction to the games, explaining their mechanics and objectives. The length of these tutorials is flexible, allowing candidates to take as much time as needed to fully grasp the concepts and strategies required for the games. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the game’s intricacies.

Once the actual timed games commence, candidates need to be aware that these cannot be paused. This aspect of the game adds a layer of complexity, emphasizing the importance of effective time management. Candidates need to be well-prepared and focused from the start, as the non-pausable nature of the games demands continuous engagement and strategic thinking throughout the allotted time. This dynamic is crucial in testing candidates’ ability to efficiently navigate and solve problems under time constraints.

Focus on Environmental Topics with Many Evolutions

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game, known for its focus on environmental themes, has seen a series of evolutions and variations since its introduction. Originally, the game included two distinct scenarios: Ecosystem Creation and Plant Defense. However, feedback starting from August 2020 suggested changes in these scenarios. Some candidates encountered a variation of the Ecosystem Creation along with the Disease identification game, instead of the usual Plant Defense game. It’s important to note that in these cases, the Disease Identification was not used for scoring but rather for future calibration of the Imbellus test.

In 2021, a new scenario focused on Migration Planning was introduced to the game. Yet, by the end of 2022, indications emerged that this scenario had been discontinued. McKinsey’s approach to introducing new games and variations appears strategic and careful. Over the last three years, six different games have been featured in the assessment. However, consistent with McKinsey’s methodology in their consulting interviews, the introduction of new scenarios or variations of existing games is primarily for beta testing and calibration. These new elements are not immediately used to evaluate candidates but to ensure consistency in results and skill assessments over time.

As of March 2023, the two scenarios that candidates face are the Ecosystem Creation and the Red Rock Study Game. Every candidate since then has encountered these games, making them the current standard in the Problem Solving Game.

Watch this space as we always update the article and our preparation package as soon as the next evolution is launched by McKinsey.

Let’s take a deeper look at the different games.

Ecosystem Creation

the image shows a screenshot from the mckinsey ecosystem creation game

The Ecosystem game, often referred to as the Ecosystem Building or Ecosystem Creation game, has been a cornerstone of the McKinsey Problem Solving Game. It is the only game that is still part of the Solve Game lineup since the very beginning, albeit with a couple of minor variations.

We’ll explore proven strategies to succeed in the Imbellus Ecosystem Simulation, highlighting how to effectively balance your ecosystem.

In this game, you are placed on an island (either in the reef, the jungle, or on a mountain ridge) and tasked with establishing a sustainable ecosystem in a chosen location. The primary objectives are twofold:

  1. Create a sustainable chain: You need to select 8 species out of 39 that together form a sustainable ecosystem.
  2. Find a suitable location: Determine the best location for this ecosystem on a map.

These tasks must be completed within a 35-minute timeframe.

The game begins with a tutorial that is untimed, providing an opportunity to understand the game mechanics.

At the core, the game is an optimization problem. You will be confronted with an overload of different data points (similar to the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, yet not business-related). You match the location to the species as well as the species with each other based on many different characteristics such as calorie need or provision and environmental requirements such as temperature, sun exposure, etc. All requirements need to be fulfilled at the same time to create and sustainable ecosystem and to successfully pass this game.

There are 2 parts:

First, you need to pick 8 species, either animal or plant, to inhabit the mountain, reef, or jungle location. Selecting a suitable, heterogeneous sample for the food chain relationship out of the numerous species is crucial. You need to account for the interaction effects between the species (e.g., coral, aquatic animals, algae, etc. in the reef) and several individual characteristics such as the required environment, place in the food chain, how many calories they need to survive, or how much energy they need, how many calories or energy they provide when consumed, etc.

Second, you need to decide on the location of the ecosystem to create good living conditions for several species. You need to consider several characteristics of the location such as altitude, cloud height, ph-level of the soil, wind speeds, precipitation, etc. for the mountain ridge or depth, temperature, salinity, etc. for the coral reef.

The catch in this game is that you are presented with information overload and need to show proper systems thinking. The food chain must not collapse, and the ecosystem must sustain itself. You will know if you have provided a good answer before submitting it since you can test your hypotheses to see if the ecosystem can actually sustain itself.

In the summer of 2020, McKinsey started to introduce new boundary conditions to make the game more challenging. For instance, you not only need to create the food chain with several levels and match it with a location but also adhere to certain new rules related to the hierarchy of the food chain. This twist adds another dimension you need to consider when drafting your solution.

There are several ways how to approach this scenario, which we worked on with our candidates and created an Excel sheet that helps you solve the eco-system puzzle. Below is a high-level approach you can use when going into the game.

What you need to know when approaching the species selection

  1. Selecting 8 species: From a set of 39 animals, you must choose 8. These species include 9 producers (like corals and algae) and 30 animals (such as sharks, tuna, etc.). Producers consume natural resources and do not require calories, while animals consume other organisms and require calories for survival.
  2. Environmental conditions: Species are divided into three environmental ranges, each with specific environmental characteristics like depth and temperature. For instance, depth may be categorized into ranges such as 11-15m, 16-21m, and 22-27m.
  3. Distribution of species: In each environmental range, you’ll find 3 producers and 10 animals. Your final ecosystem should consist of species all from the same range.

Having this key insight into the food chain mechanics in the McKinsey Ecosystem Game can be a significant advantage. As this information isn’t explicitly communicated by McKinsey, most candidates would typically need to deduce these details during the game, consuming valuable time within the 35-minute limit. However, being aware of this beforehand allows you to approach the game with a more informed strategy.

  • Start with producers: Knowing the calorie dynamics, you can begin by selecting a set of producers that not only share the same location characteristics but also provide the right amount of calories for enough animals. This understanding narrows down your options significantly, reducing the initial choice of 39 animals to a more manageable 10.
  • Focus on the right producers: Identifying the correct set of producers is crucial, as they form the foundation of your food chain. Choosing the right producers simplifies the subsequent steps in creating a sustainable ecosystem.

In our McKinsey Solve Game Guide, we delve deeper into these strategies, offering a step-by-step approach to solve the Ecosystem Creation game efficiently – in less than 20 minutes. Our guide is designed to streamline your process, ensuring you can focus on building a viable ecosystem without getting bogged down by the multitude of options.

We also provide an Excel Solver tool as part of the guide. This tool is immensely helpful in assessing the sustainability of your ecosystem. It aids in determining whether the food chain you’ve created can sustain itself, saving you the trial-and-error time during the game. Additionally, the Excel Solver can suggest instantly which set of producers is most likely to support a survivable food chain, further enhancing your ability to make quick and effective decisions in the game.

The game intricately simulates a natural food chain, requiring you to strategically link species as either food sources or predators to create a sustainable ecosystem. Here’s a breakdown of how this works and how you can effectively create a sustainable chain:

1. Species interactions:

Each species in the game has relationships with others – as either a predator or a food source. For instance, a Blue Jay might be preyed upon by a Shark, while it feeds on Yellow Fish.

2. Caloric dynamics:

Every species is assigned specific caloric values: calories provided and calories needed.These caloric values are crucial in determining which species from the available 13 you should select to form your final ecosystem of 8. The moment you select your 3 producers, you are only left with choosing 5 animals out of 10. A much easier task than before.

3. Eating rules and algorithm to test your sustainability:

The game outlines essential rules about the feeding mechanism. The key rules include:

  • The species with the highest ‘calories provided’ value eats first.
  • It consumes the species offering the highest caloric value as a food source. In the case of ties, it splits its consumption 50/50.
  • Consumption reduces the ‘calories provided’ by the prey by the amount of ‘calories needed’ by the predator. A species needs non-zero ‘calories provided’ to survive, and all its ‘calories needed’ should be zero after feeding.
  • After the first species feeds, the next one with the highest ‘calories provided’ follows suit, and the process repeats.

4. Ensuring chain sustainability:

It’s crucial to ensure each animal receives adequate calories from its food source and that no species depletes its ‘calories provided’ to zero. If a species either doesn’t receive enough calories or depletes its own, the chain becomes unsustainable, leading to failure in the game.

To quickly and efficiently establish a sustainable chain, you must:

  • Carefully analyze caloric values: Assess the ‘calories provided’ and ‘calories needed’ for each species to determine the feeding order and the sustainability of the chain.
  • Ensure continuity: Verify that every animal in your chain is connected and that there’s continuity in the food chain.
  • Balance the ecosystem: Maintain a balance where no species runs out of calories while ensuring each one’s dietary needs are met.

By following these steps and paying close attention to the caloric requirements and relationships between species as well as the eating rules algorithm about who eats first, second, third, etc., you can successfully create a sustainable food chain within way less than the allotted time in the McKinsey Ecosystem Game.

Once you have successfully identified the 8 species for your ecosystem, the next critical step is to choose an appropriate location for this ecosystem on the island.

What you need to know when approaching the location selection

How to Approach the Location Selection:

  1. Navigating the map: The game presents you with a map where you can use your cursor to explore different potential locations for your ecosystem.
  2. Analyzing location conditions: Each location on the map comes with seven different environmental conditions. However, not all of these conditions are relevant to your task. Your focus should be on the variables that you identified as important in the previous step while choosing your species, usually just 2 to 4 variables.
  3. Identifying relevant variables: Recall the parameters you noted earlier for each species. These are the variables you need to match in the location selection process.
  4. Utilizing the interface for matching: As you hover your cursor over different locations on the map, you can refer to the top-right menu on your screen. This menu displays the environmental variables at the current cursor position. You need to check if they are all within the required range for your selected species. If you approach this effectively, you can do this in less than 1 minute.

By methodically checking these variables and finding a location that aligns with the environmental requirements of your 8 species, you can complete this task efficiently. Proper selection of species in the first task significantly simplifies this process, allowing you to quickly identify a suitable location without getting distracted by irrelevant data.

This streamlined approach helps ensure that your ecosystem is not only sustainable in terms of species interdependence but also well-suited to the chosen location’s environmental conditions.

Red Rock Study Simulation

the image introduces the mckinsey red rock game

The Red Rock Study game has become a staple in the McKinsey Solve Game lineup, replacing the Plant Defense game for all candidates since March 2023. This game marks a shift towards a more conventional analysis and problem-solving context, reminiscent of the approach used in older BCG Online Cases. Despite the game casting you in the role of a researcher, the tasks closely resemble those undertaken by a typical consultant. The game is designed to assess abilities like information processing, data collection, mathematical calculations (involving growth rates, averages, and percentages), and the interpretation of exhibits.

The game is divided into two main sections, the Study Section and the Case Section, each with distinct tasks and objectives, and you have a total of 35 minutes to navigate through them.

The Study Section

The Study Section consists of a three-step process:

Investigation Stage: Here, you are presented with an objective for your research, accompanied by data in various formats such as text, tables, and charts. Your primary task in this stage is to identify and gather insightful, relevant data, which you then record in your on-screen research journal.


  • Objective and data collection: You start by receiving text, graphs, and tables, along with a specific objective for your research. Your task is to sift through this information.
  • Selective data gathering: Key information can be dragged and dropped into your Research Journal, located on the right-hand side of the screen. It’s important to discern which data is relevant and avoid unnecessary information.
  • Preparation for analysis: Once you’ve collected all the relevant information, you proceed to the Analysis phase.

Analysis Stage: This stage involves answering three mathematical questions related to your research objective. You have access to an on-screen calculator for computations, but the main challenge lies in developing the correct approach and filtering the right data. There’s flexibility to move back and forth between the Investigation and Analysis stages, allowing you to retrieve any additional information you might need.


  • Mathematical questions: This phase presents 3 to 5 math questions, usually pertaining to different groups of animals.
  • Using tools: An embedded calculator is provided for calculations. The tricky part is setting up the right calculations and equations. You’ll also refer back to the data collected in your Research Journal to answer these questions.
  • Drag-and-drop feature: Also here, you need to drag and drop information to create your calculations and move your answers around.

Report Stage: The final stage requires you to synthesize your findings by filling in the blanks of a report and presenting them effectively. This latter involves summarizing your research and choosing an appropriate chart to visually represent your supporting data.


  • Combination of Written and Visual Tasks: This phase includes a written section and a visual representation task.
  • Written part: Answer questions based on your findings from the Analysis phase by filling in the blanks of a report text.
  • Visual part: Select and create a graph to effectively represent your analysis results.

After completing the Report, you transition to the final section of the Red Rock Study game, known as the Cases Phase.

The Case Section

In March 2023, McKinsey introduced a significant update to the Red Rock Study assessment, adding a new mini-case component. This new section includes 6 to 10 quantitative reasoning questions, each associated with the context of the study segment, yet distinct in terms of data and information.

The introduction of the mini-case has notably increased the assessment’s complexity. Candidates now face the dual challenge of completing both the study part and the case questions within a consolidated time frame of 35 minutes. This is a marked change from the previous format, where the time limit was solely allocated to the study segment. The recommended approach is to divide the time equally between the two parts, emphasizing efficient time management.

The quantitative reasoning questions in the mini case require strong quantitative and analytical skills. Candidates must swiftly interpret information presented in various charts and textual sources, perform calculations accurately, and derive correct answers. The added time pressure necessitates not only quick thinking but also precision in analysis and calculations.

Given these heightened demands, thorough preparation and practice become even more crucial. Familiarizing oneself with quick data interpretation and ways to set up calculations under time constraints is highly advantageous. Such preparation mirrors the real-world demands of consulting, where professionals are often required to process complex information rapidly and make informed decisions under pressure.

We cover this game and 6 practice tests in more detail in our McKinsey Solve Game Guide.

Each phase of the Red Rock game is designed to mimic real-world consulting tasks, testing your ability to process information, perform quantitative analysis, and present findings coherently. The game challenges you to filter through data, apply mathematical concepts, and communicate results clearly, skills that are essential in a consulting environment. By understanding the structure and requirements of each phase, you can better prepare and strategically navigate through this component of the McKinsey Solve Game.

The Red Rock game, with its business-like analysis and structured approach to problem-solving, tests a range of skills that are directly applicable to the world of consulting. It challenges candidates to not only understand and interpret data but also to apply it effectively in a simulated research context. The game’s emphasis on analytical thinking, data interpretation, and effective communication of findings mirrors the skills required for a successful career in consulting.

The integration of the Red Rock Study game into the McKinsey Solve Game lineup signifies a notable shift in McKinsey’s approach to candidate assessment. This change not only diverges from McKinsey’s previous game-based assessment strategies but also aligns more closely with the types of evaluations commonly used by other consulting firms.

In that sense, it is much more a problem-solving test rather than a game.

The demand for information for this game was so big, that we dedicated a full-length article to it here.

Creating a Strategy for the Red Rock

Developing an effective strategy for the Red Rock Study game is essential to successfully navigate its complexities. We have crafted a four-step approach to optimize your performance in the game:

1. Understanding the Objective (Investigation Stage)

  • Interpretation is key: Begin by carefully reading and interpreting the objective of the game. Understanding what is expected of you is crucial in setting the right direction for your investigation.
  • Clarity of goals: Ensure you have a clear grasp of what the game is asking you to accomplish. This understanding will guide your decisions and actions throughout the different stages of the game.

2. Identifying Relevant Data (Investigation Stage)

  • Data selection: Amidst the plethora of information provided, focus on identifying and prioritizing data that is directly relevant to the game’s objective.
  • Efficient data gathering: Aim to distinguish between essential information and potential distractors. Collecting the right data in your Research Journal will streamline your analysis process.

3. Conducting the Analysis (Analysis Stage)

  • Strategic analysis: Set up and execute your analysis and calculations. This step involves applying the data you’ve gathered to solve the problems posed in the game.
  • Accuracy in calculations: Use the provided tools, such as the on-screen calculator, efficiently to ensure your calculations are accurate and relevant to the task at hand.

4. Visualizing the Findings (Report Stage)

  • Effective presentation: Once your analysis is complete, the next step is to report your findings and visualize your data effectively in the Report Stage.
  • Choosing the right format: Select a graph or chart that best represents your findings, making sure it aligns with the narrative of your analysis.

By following these steps, you can create a focused approach to the Red Rock Study game. This strategy helps in navigating the game’s challenges methodically, ensuring that each stage is tackled with precision and clarity. Preparation, practice, and a clear understanding of each stage’s requirements are key to mastering this McKinsey assessment.

For the Red Rock Case Section (and the Study section actually as well), developing a strong proficiency in quantitative reasoning is crucial. This part of the assessment requires you to not only understand and analyze numerical data but also to set up and solve equations swiftly and effectively.

Enhancing Quantitative Reasoning Skills for the Red Rock

  1. Practice with quantitative questions: Regularly engage with various types of quantitative reasoning questions. This practice will help you become familiar with different question formats and data interpretation challenges.
  2. Efficient equation setup: Focus on setting up equations quickly. This skill is crucial for solving the mathematical problems presented in the game efficiently. Read up on percentages, growth rates, averages – the 3 most common operations found in the game,
  3. Speed and accuracy: Balance speed with accuracy. It’s essential to work through questions rapidly, but not at the expense of making careless errors. If you get stuck on one question for too long, move on!
  4. Utilize tools effectively: Make the most of the on-screen calculator provided in the game. Familiarize yourself with its functionality to enhance your efficiency during the test.
  5. Analytical thinking: Develop your ability to think analytically, particularly in interpreting charts, graphs, and tables, and in drawing conclusions from complex sets of data.
  6. Mock tests and timed practice: Engage in timed practice sessions. These simulate the pressure of the actual test and help improve your time management skills.

By honing these skills, you can approach the Red Rock Case Section with greater confidence, speed, and accuracy.

The skills that are needed in this game are much closer to an actual case interview and we would recommend that you also take a look at our articles on

Be aware that the game is still relatively new and we have seen many iterative changes to new games in the past. As a result, be prepared to encounter minor variations or adaptations when you face the Red Rock simulation.

The Former Games of the McKinsey Solve Game

If you are pressed for time, you can skip this section. If anything changes in the Solve Game lineup, we will adjust this article and our preparation package accordingly.

Plant Defense

the image introduces the mckinsey plant defense game

In this scenario, which was active until March 2023, you need to defend 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.

In this game, which, for the majority of candidates, is a bit more challenging than the first, you need to defend a plant at the center of a map from an invasive species for as long as possible. This scenario is broken down into 3 rounds. Each round lasts between 8 to 12 minutes, presenting a slight variation of the game with increasing complexity and an increase in the map size. For each round, invaders spawn in several turns per map.

Each round is divided into two parts.

In the first part, you can actively manage your defense strategy in order to react to new invaders that spawn every 3 to 5 turns. You can manage 15 turns by initially placing your defense units on the map, adjusting their positioning after every turn, and selecting new defense units every 5 turns.

Your goal is to have the plants survive each of these increasingly difficult turns. You can slow the invaders down so that they do not arrive at your plant within the number of turns or eliminate them fully before they do so.

In the second part, the endgame, you are no longer able to change your strategy and the placement of your defense units. The game fast-forwards until your plant is defeated. Depending on the quality of your last placement strategy it might take the invaders many turns to kill the plant, ideally more than 30.

Your goal is to optimize for the plant to survive as many turns as possible. Your product score is the direct result of the turns survived, while your process score focuses on how well you adjust to the changing behaviors of attackers and how much you can learn and adapt over the course of the turns and over the course of the 3 rounds.

In order to do this, you need to choose certain animals that eat the invasive species and natural barriers/ terrain to slow them down and block them, in a static and turn-based environment, contrary to most other tower defense games that are dynamic.

You are presented with information about what each tool such as animals or geographical/terrain barriers can do, e.g., how many invasive species an animal can kill in a given time or how much a forest can slow the invaders down. These animals have different stats in terms of their reach/sphere of influence (shown as squares) as well as the damage that they are able to inflict on the invaders.

For instance, there could be a dog and an eagle as animals. The eagle has a large radius and inflicts less damage whereas the dog has high damage but a smaller range of effectiveness (e.g., one square only). Some animals have a large radius and high damage (usually during the last game). The damage inflicted might also differ depending on the type of invader. The barriers are elements such as mountains, rocks, and forests. Mountains block invaders and make them change their pathway toward the plant (ideally make the pathway longer). Rocks and forests slow invaders down (different effectiveness for different invaders)

The invaders will start attacking the plants once they reach it in the middle and the game ends.

While initially, you will be able to kill the invaders, they will show up in greater numbers in each consecutive wave and it is possible that you will be defeated. This is not, per se, a bad thing since it will die eventually in the fast-forward mode of the game. Keep the plant alive for as long as possible.

The aim is to defend the plant in the center for as long as possible, hence, to kill all invaders before they reach the plant. It is very important to make use of both defending animals and barriers to unlock their synergistic effects and keep the invaders as long as possible in the sphere of influence of the animals.

Use the untimed tutorial to think about the most effective combinations and layouts of the tools before starting the game. Prepare using video games in the tower defense niche to train yourself for this scenario. The key in this game is to show adaptability by being able to learn quickly and improve your strategies and reactions with each turn and with each game.

Creating a strategy

Let’s again break down your approach into several steps.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the map
  2. Create your initial strategy
  3. Focus on new invaders first
  4. Secure the plant from future attacks
  5. Adjust your strategy as the game evolves

We discuss each step, variation, and successful start-to-finish strategy in full in our McKinsey Solve Game Guide, which has been co-created with the help of tower defense game designers, who developed games for iOS and Android.

Disease Identification

the image is a screenshot of the imbellus disease and disaster identification game

It seems that McKinsey reintroduced a game briefly that was already present in the beta testing stages of the PSG, with a slight variation. It replaced the tower defense game for roughly 5% of the candidates over the course of late 2020 and early 2021. By June 2021, it appears that the game never really made it out of the testing stage and we have not heard about any reappearance in 2022. Nonetheless, let’s look into them since we cannot guarantee that they won’t come back in one form or another.

As a player, you are tasked with identifying which animals on the map will be infected by a given disease. The nature of the disease is not important. What is important is to identify patterns of the disease and ultimately identify which animals would be infected in the next turn.

The game has many animals on the map. There are also three time periods, which they call Time 1, Time 2, and Time 3. In Time 1, a small subset of animals is already infected. When you click on Time 2, that same map will show which additional animals got infected. Your goal is to identify which animals will get infected in Time 3. The approach to this game is relatively simple:

  1. Figure out what the key variables are that could give a hint about the disease progression.
  2. Create an array of different filters and look at them through different points in time to see the changes in the animal population.
  3. Move to time 3 and select the next animals that will be affected by the disease based on your tested hypotheses from step 2 (e.g., if you know that all animals above 6 years are affected by the disease and in time 3 there are 20 new animals that are above 6 years of age, select them)

Contrary to the old version which was used in beta tests before the game was actually launched, you do not need to provide a remedy or a treatment plan.

Disaster Identification

Another game has not made a new appearance since 2021. In this game, candidates had to figure out the nature of a natural disaster impacting an animal population and then place the animals on another area of the map so that the most number of animals survive. The mechanics are similar to the ecosystem game.

In this game, you can display three things, a map, species, and a list of events. You can tackle the game in 4 steps:

  • Identify what event has happened in an area (a natural disaster such as a tornado or a flood) by combining information from an event description with variables on the screen.
  • Identify dominant ranges to move the animals to an area that is best suited for their survival.
  • Select the location by clicking on it and check for the relevant ranges you identified before. Prioritize characteristics that allow for the greatest number of animals to survive.
  • Sanity check your selection in a similar manner as for the ecosystem game.

Migration Planning

the image depicts the mckinsey imbellus migration management game

A new game was briefly tested in 2022. We call it the Migration Planning game.

Your task is to plan the migration of 30 to 50 animals from a starting position to an endpoint on a map by selecting the best route out of several alternatives.

You have to solve up to 15 different scenarios within 35 to 40 minutes. Each scenario consists of 3 to 5 turns that have you decide on the next step of your route. In turn 1 you select the first step on your route, in turn, 2, the second leg, and so on until you reach the desired endpoint.

You start with a given number of animals and a specific set of resources (consumables such as food or water). With each turn of the game, a predetermined number of animals will die, and resources will be reduced by a specific amount, depending on your selected route. Alternatively, you can also select intermediate points on your route that will replenish and multiply existing resources as well as collect additional animals along the way.

The objective of the game is two-fold: First, you need to ensure that the highest number of animals survive until you reach the destination. Second, you need to arrive at the endpoint with some of the resources preserved as well. As said before, there are up to 15 different scenarios with 3 to 5 turns each, which leads to 45 to 75 unique decisions you must make along the way.

Organize the migration of 30 to 50 animals from one spot to the next by managing resources and animals from start to finish in 3 to 5 turns. Select the most optimal route to preserve resources and animals along the way and pass 15 rounds in total.

Map the routes on a piece of paper or in an Excel sheet.

  • Write down each available route
  • Calculate the outcome variables for resources and animals for every route
  • Select the route where most animals survive and resource requirements are met

We provide you with a specific table and approach that you can use to create your strategy for each route in our McKinsey Solve Game Guide.

Game sectionSkills assessedDecision-making under pressure, Strategic adaptation, Quick learning
Ecosystem CreationSystem thinking, Strategic planning, Problem identification, AdaptabilityPlayers must build a balanced ecosystem, requiring an understanding of complex interdependencies and the ability to adapt strategies based on environmental factors.
Red Rock Study
Quantitative reasoning, Data analysis, Information synthesis, Effective communicationTasks include processing quantitative data and making logical conclusions, necessitating strong analytical skills and the ability to communicate findings clearly.
Plant Defense (Former)Decision making under pressure, Strategic adaptation, Quick learningInvolves defending a plant from invaders, demanding quick decisions, learning from past outcomes, and adapting defense strategies under time constraints.
Disease Identification (Former)Pattern recognition, Analytical thinking, Hypothesis testingPlayers analyze disease spread patterns among animal populations, testing hypotheses about transmission and applying analytical thinking to predict future outbreaks.
Migration Planning (Former)Resource management, Planning and optimization, Critical thinkingThis scenario requires careful planning to guide animal migration, optimizing routes and resources while engaging in critical thinking to overcome obstacles and ensure survival.
Disaster Identification (Former)Crisis management, Strategic relocation planning, Environmental adaptationPlayers respond to environmental crises by relocating animal populations, necessitating skills in crisis management, strategic planning for relocation, and adapting strategies to new environments.
Overview of McKinsey Solve Game Scenarios

Preparing for the McKinsey Solve Game

Addressing the critical question: Is it beneficial to prepare for the Imbellus test, despite official advisories suggesting otherwise? The answer is a resounding yes.

Why preparation is crucial:

  1. Significant impact on outcomes: Our data indicates that preparation can dramatically increase your chances of success, from a 20% to an 80% success rate. This is even more pronounced than with the old PST, as the games in the Imbellus are more predictable than a traditional pen-and-paper test.
  2. Consequences of failure: Failing the Imbellus test results in a 2-year ban from reapplying to McKinsey (1 year for internships). Post-ban, you must demonstrate substantial improvements in your consulting cover letter and resume.
  3. Learnable skills: While McKinsey suggests that the games can’t be prepared for, Imbellus emphasizes that their games assess higher-order thinking skills, which are typically acquired through education, training, and experience.
  4. Gaming experience matters: Familiarity with computer games and digital environments can provide an advantage in a video game-based assessment. This introduces a different kind of bias in candidate evaluation, which can be mitigated by employing effective strategies.

Understanding the games and their objectives is key to effective preparation. Knowing what each game assesses, and the skills it targets, allows you to focus your preparation on enhancing those specific abilities. Additionally, familiarizing yourself with the gaming environment and practicing similar types of games can improve your comfort level and performance during the assessment.

While McKinsey advises candidates that preparation for the Imbellus game is neither necessary nor feasible, our extensive feedback collection from over 500 candidates we talked to suggests otherwise. In fact, thorough preparation can significantly enhance performance in the game’s various scenarios.

To aid candidates, we have meticulously analyzed the test, consulted with game design experts, and applied science-backed methods to develop a comprehensive guide detailing the game’s mechanics. Here are some overarching strategies to lay the groundwork for your preparation:

Imbellus Game Practice

Train the key skills that are being assessed by Imbellus. Playing logic games, mobile games, and tower defense games with similar themes can be beneficial to training these areas specifically. While these games will differ somewhat in their user interface, objectives, and mechanics they still train your skills, make you think about potential strategies, and just get you in the habit of interacting with a gamified environment. If you have sufficient time before taking the Imbellus, try out some of the games below to practice the Imbellus gameplay.

Games for the Ecosystem and Migration Planning

Games for the Plant Defense

Preparation for the Red Rock

Focusing on quantitative reasoning tests is an excellent way to prepare for the McKinsey Solve Game, particularly for the Red Rock Study section. Here are some effective ways to enhance your quantitative reasoning skills:

  1. GMAT Quantitative Reasoning: The quantitative reasoning sections of the GMAT are a great resource to start with. They offer a wide range of problems that can improve your ability to analyze data, perform calculations, and make logical deductions under time constraints.
  2. Red Rock Practice Tests: We have developed specialized practice tests specifically designed to mirror the challenges you will face in the Red Rock Study game. These tests are tailored to give you a realistic experience of what to expect during the actual game.
  3. Additional Quantitative Reasoning Resources: For those seeking more extensive practice in quantitative reasoning, we provide a comprehensive question bank in our Bain SOVA Guide. This bank contains hundreds of questions similar to those you might encounter in the game.
  4. Case Math Mastery Package: This package is another valuable resource that focuses on developing your case math skills. It is particularly useful for candidates who want to strengthen their ability to handle numerical data and complex calculations efficiently.

By incorporating these resources into your preparation plan, you can significantly improve your quantitative reasoning abilities. This will not only aid you in the Red Rock Study game but also enhance your overall problem-solving skills, which are crucial for a successful case interview performance.

General Preparation Advice

Enhancing your performance in the McKinsey Imbellus Game involves more than just playing similar games. It requires a multifaceted approach that focuses on developing key skills and strategies.

Approach each decision methodically and develop a plan for tackling each decision. A step-by-step decision-making process helps in making more deliberate and thoughtful choices, increasing the likelihood of selecting the most effective solution.

  • Identify the decision: Clearly define what you need to decide. Understand the primary goal and any additional objectives.
  • Gather information: Collect relevant information needed for the decision. Identify the best sources and methods for acquiring this data.
  • Identify alternatives: As you gather information, recognize various possible courses of action.
  • Weigh the evidence: Consider the potential outcomes of each alternative based on the information you have.
  • Choose among alternatives: Select the option that seems best after weighing all the evidence.
  • Review your decision: Reflect on the decision’s outcome and assess if it addressed your initial goal.

Learn to take proper notes and document your observations about each scenario’s mechanics. Using tools like Excel templates can help structure your thoughts and find solutions more efficiently.

Develop skills in structuring, analyzing, and synthesizing complex issues. Combine logical thinking with creativity to formulate effective recommendations.

Adopt a hypothesis-driven mindset. Start each game with one or more hypotheses, then test and refine them as you progress. This approach helps in focusing your analysis and quickly deriving recommendations.

Visualize processes and relationships. Practice creating quick sketches to visualize situations, processes, and relationships. This skill is particularly useful in unfamiliar scenarios and helps in breaking down complex issues.

Practice estimations and setting up equations. Engage in exercises that improve your quick math skills. These are essential in all games, from calculating calorie budgets in the ecosystem game to determining damage points and optimal routes in others. Become familiar again with basic equations, ratios, growth rates, and averages.

Test-taking Tips and Advice

To excel in the McKinsey Imbellus Game and enhance your test performance, consider the following insights into McKinsey’s innovative recruitment game. These guidelines are designed to help you navigate the unique challenges of the game effectively:

Avoid replicating solutions: Each test taker encounters unique scenarios and numbers in the Imbellus game. The games are set in ecological contexts, making them accessible to all backgrounds, but with thousands of possible variations, no two experiences are identical. Focus on your strategy and process rather than trying to replicate specific results.

Make decisions with incomplete information and practice 80/20 decision-making: Often, you won’t have time to reach the perfect answer in the ecosystem game. Aim for a good answer that demonstrates a sound problem-solving strategy and fulfills the objectives. Avoid getting lost in excessive details and consider writing down various outcomes to test your ideas.

Read instructions thoroughly and understand the tasks: Overcoming challenges in the McKinsey Solve Game requires a deep understanding of the game’s objectives. With the increasing variety of game scenarios, it’s crucial to read and comprehend all instructions. A missed detail can make your approach invalid. Ensure clarity on your objectives before proceeding.

Ensure a stable test environment and check your setup: If taking the test from home, ensure a reliable internet connection and a fully charged computer. Some candidates have reported high CPU usage; consider using a more powerful system if needed. Remember, you can always contact the 24/7 Imbellus service center for any issues during the test.

Monitor time closely and manage it well: The complexity and depth of the games can make it easy to lose track of time. Keep a close eye on the time, aiming to allocate the right amount of time for each step of the way (e.g., 15 minutes for the ecosystem species and 2 minutes). The progress bar will help you monitor the remaining time. Have pre-determined time goals that you execute if they are met (e.g., only taking 2 minutes to think about a quantitative reasoning question in the Red Rock).

Elevate Your Score with Our Comprehensive Preparation Package

Preparing for McKinsey’s recruitment game: Tips and strategies included in this comprehensive guide to mastering the Imbellus game are designed to give applicants a competitive edge. Unlock your potential to ace the Imbellus game with our comprehensive Solve Game preparation package. It comes with

  • a 147-page guidebook with best practices for McKinsey digital assessment preparation
  • an Excel Solver for the Ecosystem Creation
  • a 14-part video series
  • 6 Red Rock full-length practice tests
  • a McKinsey case interview and PEI interview primer

The package gives you the definite edge in your preparation and test-taking, detailing winning strategies for the Ecosystem in less than 20 minutes and ample practice opportunities for the Red Rock Game. Gain immediate access to PDFs, Excel tools, templates, and video content, ensuring you’re up-to-date with McKinsey’s evolving assessment criteria.

Since November 2019, we’ve led with first-hand information, starting with interviews with early test-takers and experts. Our ongoing customer interviews have built a vast database, aiding over 8500 candidates in 70+ countries. We regularly update our guide, offering you the latest insights. On top of that, our team, comprised of ex-McKinsey consultants and interviewers, brings deep insights into McKinsey’s evaluation criteria, surpassing the generic advice found elsewhere.

Six pillars of our strategy:

  1. Understanding McKinsey’s criteria: As former McKinsey consultants and interviewers, we grasp what McKinsey seeks in their next-gen consultants.
  2. In-depth scenario analysis: Learn the nuances of user interfaces and gameplay mechanics.
  3. Skill development: We cover the core skills with actionable advice and practice resources.
  4. Effective test strategies and shortcuts: Benefit from proven strategies and tools, derived from successful candidate experiences, meticulously refined over 4 years.
  5. Efficient preparation hacks: Accelerate your readiness with our targeted tips and techniques.
  6. Low-cost and accessibility: We are a small team and sell directly to consumers without an intermediary. Hence, we can offer this product at a much lower price than every competitor.

Additional benefits:

  • Exclusive support: Join our McKinsey applicants’ inner circle for 24-hour support on all consulting interview questions. Get access to the world’s leading McKinsey interview coach, who has helped generate almost 200 McKinsey offers for coaching clients in 3 years.
  • Regular updates: Stay ahead with our constant updates and a free 1-year access guarantee.
  • Free McKinsey interview primer: Get a 14-page primer with essential case and PEI preparation tips.
  • FREE BONUS: A 10% discount on the Solve Game Simulation by MConsultingPrep.

Our credentials:

  • Extensive reach: Assisted 8500+ students from 70+ countries over the last 4 years.
  • Rich experience: Built on 500+ test-taker interviews, expert inputs, and McKinsey know-how, 100% proprietary information
  • Comprehensive materials: Includes a 147-page guide, automated Excel Solver, 14 concise videos to get you up to speed quickly, and 6 full-length Red Rock practice tests.

Currently, the package leads to an 87% success rate with our clients (based on customer feedback from Nov 23 – Jan 24)

Latest update: February 2024 (includes the new Red Rock Simulation variation and 6 practice tests)

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McKinsey Solve Game Guide (Imbellus) 20th Edition

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McKinsey Solve Game FAQ

Navigating the McKinsey Solve Game can be a challenging part of your journey towards joining a top-tier consulting firm. To help demystify the process and enhance your preparation, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions. Whether you’re wondering about the skills assessed or looking for the best preparation resources, you’ll find the answers here.

What specific skills does the McKinsey Solve Game assess?

  • The game evaluates problem identification, strategic solution development, decision-making under pressure, adaptability, and quantitative reasoning.

Can you really prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment, and how?

  • Yes, preparation is possible and beneficial. Focusing on having the right tools at your disposal such as an Excel Solver, playing similar simulation games, and developing a strategic approach to problem-solving and quantitative questions can enhance your readiness.

What are the key strategies for succeeding in the ecosystem simulation?

  • Success involves understanding ecosystem balance, prioritizing tasks, managing time effectively, and applying logic to predict the outcomes of different actions.

Are there any official practice tests available for the Imbellus Game?

  • McKinsey does not provide official practice tests, but various online resources and guidebooks offer simulations and strategies that mimic the game scenarios.

How does the Imbellus Game differ from traditional consulting firm recruitment tests?

  • Unlike traditional pen-and-paper tests or computer-based case assessments that focus on business scenarios, the Imbellus Game uses gamified simulations to assess a wider range of problem-solving and strategic thinking skills in diverse contexts.

What resources are recommended for McKinsey Solve Game preparation?

  • Comprehensive guidebooks and videos, strategic game-playing, online forums for candidate experiences, and practicing with games that require similar skill sets are highly recommended.

How important is game familiarity in succeeding in McKinsey’s digital assessment?

  • Familiarity with the game’s format and the types of challenges presented can significantly improve performance by reducing the learning curve and anxiety during the actual assessment.

Can playing similar digital games improve my performance in the Solve Game?

  • Yes, engaging in similar strategy and simulation games can enhance relevant skills such as critical thinking, strategic planning, and decision-making under time constraints.

What is the most challenging aspect of the McKinsey Solve Game, according to past participants?

  • Many participants find the time pressure and the requirement to make strategic decisions with incomplete information to be the most challenging aspects.

How does McKinsey use the Solve Game results in the recruitment process?

  • The results are used alongside resume screenings to provide a holistic view of a candidate’s problem-solving abilities and potential as a consultant, influencing the decision on whether to proceed with the candidate.

We value your feedback and experiences with the McKinsey Solve Game! If you have additional questions, insights, or tips that weren’t covered in this article, please share them in the comments section below.

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15 Responses

  1. Lenka says:

    Hello, thank you for this introduction. I would like to ask about one thing. In the ecosystem… From all 8 species – they have to survive? Or they can be eaten by predators? I understand how to create the food chain, but still…if you create a food chain and the species do not replicate, they will be eaten by predators…

    • StrategyCase says:

      Dear Lenka,
      All species in the food chain (animals and plants) need to survive. The sum of the calories provided by a species – the sum of calories needed for the predator species should always be positive.

  2. Angelina says:

    hi Florian,

    I only have 3 hours before the PSG is due, is it possible or useful to buy the guide given such a short time limit?
    Thank you

    • StrategyCase says:

      Dear Angelina,
      3 hours would be enough to read through the strategy section, watch the videos and familiarize yourself with the Excel. While not ideal and we receommend more time to practice, it would still make sense.

  3. […] using digital badges to recognise learning and, for example, the consultant company McKinsey uses a game during its recruitment process,” adds Nikoletta-Zampeta […]

  4. Keyi Yu says:

    Hello Florian Daniel or Colleague,
    I am very pleasantly surprised to see this guide that you have masterfully complied. Having tips from insiders is such a confidence boost! I purchased this pack without hesitation and am hoping to try it out before investing in the comprehensive 6h coaching program.
    Nonetheless, I wonder if you can email me back by helping me with downloading the actual guide? I encountered a technical issue whereby I completed my payment on my phone, but it became impossible to download it via my laptop. I am very worried as the deadline of the test is approaching so could you please get back to me asap?

    Many Thanks
    Aspiring Consultant

    • StrategyCase says:

      Hey there,

      I have just sent you your documents, which also contain access to the video program.

      Please let me know if I can assist further.

      Kind regards,

  5. Emmanuel says:

    Hi, how long would you suggest I prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment test after purchasing the digital assessment guide? 2 weeks? 4 weeks?

    • StrategyCase says:

      Hi Emmanuel,

      We have candidates that prepare between 2 days and 1 month. The shorter your preparation time, the more your focus should be on learning the proven strategies we outline in our guide (so that you can implement them properly on the game day) and go through and practice the most effective and important tools we provide you with to quickly raise your skill levels.

      Obviously, when you have more time on your hands, you can prepare in a much more relaxed way and go deeper with all our exercises and tools. Generally, I would say that 2 weeks is the sweet spot we have seen with our candidates and it is rare for them to fail after they have gone through all exercises and tools, practiced the preparation tips, and have our game-plan and strategies internalized over this time period.

      4 weeks would give you enough time to prepare without a rush, and in parallel to the case interview practice. In any case, should something change in the game between your purchase and the testing date, we will send you a new version of the guide and the videos free of charge!

      Let me know if you have any further questions!

      All the best for your preparation and your application.


  6. Luiz says:

    I heard that there are also other games that could be part of the PSG like predicting and preventing an environmental disaster. Are you sure that there are ‘only’ the 2 two games you describe?

    • StrategyCase says:

      Hi Luiz, we talk briefly about these potential other scenarios in our Problem Solving Game Guide. Be aware that they were used during the trial stages in 2018/19 only and none of our more than 700 customers has reported on them pro-actively. From the 80+ customers we interviewed since November 2019, all went solely through the ecosystem game and the tower defense-like game. In the ecosystem game, recent candidates report having done the mountain ridge scenario and not the reef (even though this has no impact on the actual gameplay).

  7. Patrícia says:

    Hi, how do I know if I passed the ecosystem simulation task?

    • StrategyCase says:

      Hi Patricia, on an aggregate level the game looks at both your product score (did you produce a good outcome?) and your process score (did you perform well under stress while working towards the outcome?).

      In order to pass the ecosystem simulation, ideally, you reach the threshold McKinsey set for both scores (which is unknown). For the product score, you should be able to test your hypotheses during the game and see if your food chain is actually sustainable and works out. However, for the process score, you can only take a guess. McKinsey and Imbellus record every movement of your mouse, every click, as well as how long you pause, go back and forth in the menus, etc. In short, the more you have worked in a calm and collected manner towards selecting your food chain, the higher the chances to reach a solid process score.

  8. Federico Minotti says:

    Hi, I have one question, Is McKinsey problem-solving game material included in Mc Kinsey program?

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