Early on in the McKinsey case interview process, candidates will take part in an evaluation called “Solve,” the McKinsey digital assessment game (formerly called the McKinsey Problem Solving Game).

This game evaluates your ability to solve problems efficiently and think critically. It uses algorithms to evaluate your reasoning skills and decision-making process.

In other words, if you simply guess the right answers, the algorithm will know you didn’t follow a systematic-reasoning process.

If you get the answers mostly correct because you used a systematic process, the algorithm would detect that you used a logically disciplined approach. Because of your strong approach, it can tell that you would get the right answer if you had more time to complete more iterations of your process.

What Is the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

McKinsey’s problem solving game Solve consists of two mini-games that fall into three potential categories. Each of these mini-games requires the candidate to manage an ecological situation.

The three categories that the games may fall into include: 1) Constrained optimization; 2) Strategy + adapting to new data; and 3) Cause vs. effect.

Each of these mini-games takes about 60 to 75 minutes to complete.

Time management is a factor in your success, but it’s not everything. Some candidates finish early, while others don’t complete it in time.

The more important thing to focus on is showcasing your critical thinking skills. McKinsey wants to see what you display during that time rather than how quickly you can complete each task.

The metric that McKinsey calculates from the problem solving game is what’s called a “process score.” The process score grades your thought process as you problem-solve.

McKinsey’s Solve calculates this score by tracking your mouse clicks and movements. How often do you have to click back and forth? What do you click on first? What was the actual process through which you reached your conclusion?

These factors make it easier to discern whether you stumbled upon the correct answer through luck or good critical thinking skills.

What Does the McKinsey Problem Solving Game Test For?

McKinsey’s digital assessment game tests for five factors:

  1. Critical Thinking: How well do you analyze the information?
  2. Decision-Making: What actions do you take based on your analysis?
  3. Metacognition: How well do you execute strategies to achieve the objective of the game?
  4. Situational Awareness: Do you maintain focus on the environment? Can you anticipate future changes?
  5. Systems Thinking: How well do you understand the cause-and-effect relationships of the items within the system?

How Can You Prepare for the McKinsey Problem Solving Game?

Preparing for McKinsey’s digital assessment game is challenging for two reasons:

  1. There are multiple versions of the game
  2. The scenario is randomized for each candidate

These two factors mean that one person’s correct answers for their game will be completely wrong for a different candidate playing a different randomized version of the game.

In other words, even if you had a recording of someone else successfully passing the game, you could not copy their exact strategy and also find success.

How to Win the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

To win McKinsey’s problem solving game Solve, focus on these strategies:

  1. Remember the skills being tested. Solve is testing for critical thinking skills, decision-making skills, metacognition, situational awareness, and systems thinking. During the game, focus on how you’re performing in those areas and make intentional choices that showcase those skills.
  2. Understand the instructions and the objective. Take your time to read the instructions and objectives for McKinsey’s Solve to make sure you understand them fully. This portion of the assessment is not timed, and taking an extra minute or two to reread them can help you avoid simple mistakes. If it helps, take notes.
  3. Watch the time. Don’t spend too much time looking for the perfect answer. Zero in on the relevant information, ignore irrelevant data, and make your best guess when there is limited info. It’s more important to finish the game in time than to spend an accessive amount of time only slightly improving your performance in the first phase of the game.
  4. Prioritize. McKinsey’s Solve game tests how well you can turn a pile of data into actionable and successful strategies. Remember the big picture and prioritize your goals. This will help you avoid getting caught up in irrelevant details.

Types of McKinsey Problem Solving Game Mini-Games

As previously mentioned, there are three types of mini-games in McKinsey’s digital assessment game:

  1. Constrained Optimization
  2. Strategy + Adapting to New Data
  3. Cause vs. Effect

These mini-games may seem very different, but they are all designed with one goal in mind: to measure your logical thinking process.

As of this writing, the first two types of mini-games — constrained optimization and strategy + adapting to new data — are the most common and the oldest. The third type of mini-game — the cause vs. effect mini-game — is newer and currently only seen sporadically.

It is unclear why the third type is used less often, but my guess is that they are still being tested with candidates to create a statistical track record to see how the scores in cause vs. effect mini-games correlate with the large database of scores collected from the first two types of mini-games.

Personally, I think the cause vs. effect mini-games do a better job of testing the skills needed in real-world client engagements. I predict that it will replace or be utilized in rotation with the strategy + adapting to new data mini-games in the future.

1. Constrained Optimization Mini-Games

Let’s take a closer look at the first type of mini-game in McKinsey’s Solve game: the constrained optimization mini-game. There are a few different versions of this mini-game, including:

  • Ecosystem Building: The candidate chooses the best location and species to inhabit that location to create the most sustainable ecosystem. In this version, there are multiple species of creatures with interrelationships. Herbivores eat plants. Omnivores eat herbivores. Carnivores eat omnivores.
  • Disaster Identification: An unknown natural disaster is decreasing the population of animals in the ecosystem. Find what the natural disaster is and move the animals to a new location where they can survive. A large amount of data is given to reach the solution, and the candidate must be able to discern the key factors.

Over time, McKinsey will likely introduce new variations of this mini-game.

Strategies to Win
Mini-games like these include systems with linear progressions. This means that the output of one component in an ecosystem is the input of another (e.g., plants “produce” food for herbivores to eat). Below is a list of strategies and tips to help you succeed in these games. But before I go over them, I want to note that if you simply read these instructions without actually using a practice version of the game, these tips may not make a lot of sense. To help, I recommend reading the guidelines below twice: once now and a second time after you’ve played a practice version of this type of game. It will make a lot more sense the second time around. For these and other constrained optimization mini-games, focus on these strategies:
  1. Note the maximums and minimums. In these games, there are often local minimums and maximums. These are rules on how the metrics used in the game must be greater than or less than some specific threshold.
    It’s important that you quickly find out which specific metric (because there will be more than one) is subject to the great-than and less-than rules. These rules create the “constraint” part of the constrained optimization problem to be solved.
  2. Ignore irrelevant data and focus on solving the optimization problem at hand and navigating the constraints. You will intentionally be given more data than you need to reach your objective. Figure out which information is irrelevant/unnecessary and ignore it. You don’t want to waste time on information that doesn’t help you find the solution.
    (By the way, this happens all the time in client engagements! The client hands off a ton of information, and 90% of it is irrelevant to the issue you’re addressing.)
  3. Use a pen and paper to take notes and test out hypotheses. You are allowed to use pen and paper during McKinsey’s Solve. So take advantage of that and take notes of important factors, do some quick math, and test out hypotheses before making changes to the mini-game.
    Write down what you think will work and what you’ve tried so far that didn’t work. It will help you avoid simple errors like trying the same strategy over and over again.
    Note: Constrained optimization mini-games have an element of trial and error. So you do not want to accidentally test the same hypothesis twice. Each cycle of trial and error consumes valuable time.
    Write down every trial you attempt, and when a trial produces an error, make a note that this trial did not work and why.
  4. Don’t start in the middle of the system. Be strategic about how you approach the system. You might start at the bottom with a part of the system that generates output but has no input (e.g., feeder fish in an ecosystem or raw materials in a factory). Then, you can work your way up.
    You also might start at the top of the system with a part that accepts input but doesn’t generate output (e.g., an apex predator in a biological ecosystem or finished goods in a factory). Then, you can work your way down from the top.
    Either of these strategies allows you to move through the creation of the system linearly. A bottom-up approach works. A top-down approach also works. What doesn’t work is starting in the middle and attempting to go both directions at the same time.
    You need a baseline to rely on. That’s why it’s important to start at one end and work your way to the other.
  5. Take a step back after a mistake. Don’t completely scratch an attempt and start over if some part doesn’t align with the others before and after it. Instead, go back to the previous step that did align, and try the next option. Take note of the component that didn’t work and review your notes to see what other options you have.

2. Strategy + Adapting to New Data Mini-Games

Another type of mini-game that you may encounter in McKinsey’s Solve game is a strategy + adapting to new data mini-game. The different versions of the mini-game include:
  • Plant Defense: An invasive plant species has entered the ecosystem. Protect native plants and introduce predators and obstacles to manage the spread of the invasive plant. The invasive plant will inevitably take over, and the game tests how long the candidate can delay that outcome.
  • Migration Management: Choose the migration path of a group of animals and monitor their limited resources. There are 15 scenarios to complete in a single mini-game, and each scenario is comprised of three to five turns. Animals die and resources are consumed at the end of each turn — the amount of each is determined by which path the candidate takes.
    Along the way, there will also be choices that allow the candidate to collect additional resources or animals. The candidate must reach the new destination with as many animals and resources as possible.
Strategies to Win
Strategy + adapting to new data mini-games like these require you to adjust your strategy as you gain more information in each round. Here are some strategies for these and other strategy + adapting to new data mini-games:
    1. Go slow. You gain new information each turn  (invading animals, new obstacles, etc.), so don’t rush through the turns without reviewing the new information. Ensure that your strategy still works as planned or adapt it.
    2. Adapt to new information. Each turn is an opportunity to adjust your strategy based on new information. Be flexible and recognize when your hypothesis on the winning strategy seems to be incorrect (hint: this will happen a lot).
      If you know your strategy does not work, revise it and adapt. Don’t cling to a strategy if the data shows that your approach is not helping you toward your desired outcome.
    3. Use a pen and paper to take notes and test out hypotheses. You are allowed to use a pen and paper during the McKinsey problem solving game. Some of the games test your conceptual thinking process, and you can perform that reasoning in your mind.
      However, other games may require some calculations, or it may help to visually map out your logic so you don’t lose track of what decisions you’ve made and why. Use the pen and paper in these instances to note important factors, do quick math when necessary, and test out hypotheses as much as you can before applying those strategies in-game.
      When you face a decision between multiple options, write them down and mark which one you chose. You might need to go back to these options and use the process of elimination to find the best one (e.g., finding out the right option by trying each one out to find out if they’re the best choice). Having notes on which options are available and which you’ve already tried will come in handy.

3. Cause vs. Effect Mini-Games

The third type of mini-game that may be included in the McKinsey problem solving game is a cause vs. effect mini-game. In these games, you will be given a scenario (or effect) and data (to help you find the cause). You must analyze the data to anticipate, infer, predict, or conclude what happens in the next scenario.

In some variations of this game, you’ll know the effect or outcome of a particular scenario and a bunch of data. Then, you have to reverse engineer what caused that outcome.

This tests skills you’ll need for real-world applications like:

  1. You have a client who will reduce prices by X%. You have access to the history of pricing changes of all companies within that industry, including your client. Based on that information, how will the price reduction affect sales? [You have the cause and must extrapolate the likely effect.]
  2. Your client’s profits have been decimated. You must find out why this happened and what they should do. [You have the outcome/effect (decimated profits) and need to analyze available data and reverse engineer the cause.]

One example of the cause vs. effect mini-game is:

  • Disease Diagnosis: Find out why the animals in an ecosystem are dying. Review large amounts of data to find the problem and correct treatment.
Strategies to Win
Practicing and preparing for cause vs. effect mini-games is difficult (I suspect they will become more prevalent in part because of this). Here are some general tips:
  1. Identify what data provided is relevant and ignore the irrelevant. As a consultant, it’s important that you are able to distinguish between data that is relevant and irrelevant to the situation at hand.
    For example, let’s say a client drops off 1,000 documents grouped. The documents are grouped into ten different categories. Reading all 1,000 documents is a lot of work and will take a long time.
    However, you can save time and energy if you notice that nine of the document categories have nothing to do with the situation at hand. You can then ignore those documents and focus on the one category that is relevant for the time being.
  2. Look for mathematical or logical RELATIONSHIPS between the data. For example, if your client suffered a decline in profits, it is important to recognize the mathematical relationship between profits, sales, and expenses.
    Here’s another example: In a factory line, some steps are sequential. The steps must be completed in a particular manufacturing order. You cannot start the next step until the prior step is complete. The engine of a car can only be installed after the frame is welded together.
    Sometimes, steps in the process can be done in parallel. You might paint the car doors while others weld the frame together.
    There is a logical relationship between the different components in this example. You can see the relationships in how they have to be completed.
    Common Data Relationships:
    • Something is part of a whole
    • Something causes something else to happen
    Note: Some of these strategies will not fully make sense unless you’ve practiced with similar mini-games. However, I encourage you to read and remember them the best you can so you can practice with them later. Reinforcing these strategies through practice will help you recognize how you can apply them during a live assessment.

How to Practice the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

Unfortunately, McKinsey does not allow candidates to see or play the game before their scheduled assessment. This can be challenging because the game format is quite different from what you might expect from a game app on your phone or an everyday board game.

So, there is a bit of a learning curve as you become familiar with how to navigate these kinds of games.

While you can’t practice the actual McKinsey Solve game, there is another option that you can use for practice. It’s a simulator of McKinsey’s Solve that allows you to get familiar with the format of the game. You can also practice the skills that will be tested by McKinsey by playing games that are similar to the real assessment’s mini-games. This simulator is called…

The McK Game

Introduction

The McK Game is NOT produced nor endorsed by McKinsey. They do not want you to use the McK Game because it will give you an advantage over other candidates who haven’t tried this practice tool.

With the McK Game, you gain access to practice mini-games that you can play many times as you need. Over 70% of candidates do not pass McKinsey’s digital assessment game on the first try. By practicing with the McK Game, you can increase your chances of success.

Unlike the McKinsey digital assessment game Solve, the McK Game mini-games don’t have a time limit. You can take as much time as you need.

However, the McK Game does include a clock so you know how well you’re managing time and can note how you’d do if the mini-game actually did have a time limit.

This practice without time restriction helps you to: 1) Learn how the mini-games work; 2) Become more effective at the mini-game; and then 3) Attempt to be effective at the mini-game within an allotted time frame.

Mini-Game Synopses

The McK Game includes two mini-games:

  1. Build a Factory
  2. Protect the Diamond
1. Build a Factory — A Constrained Optimization Game

In “Build a Factory,” you design a factory production line that includes three areas:

  1. Raw material receiving
  2. Processing
  3. Finishing

You will have a variety of machines to choose from for each area, but you are only allowed eight machines in total.

After choosing the machines, you will choose the best place to locate your factory. The best location for the factor will depend on the requirements listed for each machine in your assembly line.

The objective of this game is to choose machines strategically so that your factory has the maximum output of finished goods possible and to find the optimal location based on those machines.

You can work backward and forward. Until you finalize your selections, you can swap out machines as you attempt to create the most effective line and find the best location.

[Once you play this mini-game, try to recognize the aspects that make it a constrained optimization mini-game.

How do you optimize output given certain constraints?

Real-life applications of these skills include:

  • When you have an expense budget, how do you produce the most profitable sales?
  • With only a certain number of employees on a shift, how can you produce the fastest turnaround for new orders?
  • How do you optimize stock market value while taking on the lowest amount of risk?

A lot of what consultants do is some variation of optimization (improve some key performance measurement) given a constraint (budget, headcount, number of hours in the day, etc.).]

2. Protect the Diamond — A Strategy + Adapting to New Data Game

In “Protect the Diamond,” you’ll see a board that looks something like a checker or chess board. Like a traditional board game, there are multiple players, and each player has a turn to make a set of choices, and each player gets a fixed number of turns.

In Protect the Diamond, each competitor gets 15 turns, and after all the turns are completed, the game is over.

For this mini-game in particular, you are competing against a computer.

The basis of the game is that you provide security for a diamond, and robbers are attempting to steal it (the robbers are your competitor/the computer).

The mini-game starts with a few guards placed on a grid, a diamond in the center of the grid, and a few approaching robbers around the edge of the board. To start, you can place additional guards and security measures to slow down or stop the robbers as they move toward the diamond.

As mentioned before, each competitor gets a total of 15 turns. During these turns, the robbers will continue to approach, and new robbers will appear.

These 15 turns are split into three sets of five turns. During each set of five turns, you have the option to adapt your strategy. You can use your turns to assign new guards or security measures and move them around the board as needed.

Within a single set of five turns, these measures can be swapped out as you fine-tune your strategy. Once the set of five turns is up, the tokens will remain where you left them. You cannot move them again for the rest of the mini-game.

However, you will then start the next set of five turns (there are three sets in total), and you will have new opportunities to place security measures and guards in addition to what’s already on the board.

If you complete all 15 turns and the robbers have not reached your diamond, you win.

This mini-game assesses a few key skills relevant to consulting. One of the skills tested is your ability to consider multiple scenarios (e.g., scenario analysis) of what could happen if you make a particular decision.

As a real-world example, imagine you’re advising a client to reduce prices on products so that they have a pricing advantage over competitors. Then, one of the client’s competitors (in a later “turn” or month) lowers their prices too. Now, neither party has a pricing advantage.

The Protect the Diamond game also tests your ability to analyze new data and adapt your decision-making process to that data.

Continuing the previous example, the client’s competitor cut their prices to match your client’s (causing both to lose profits), and so you reconsider your original decision in light of that new data.

Like most strategy games, you start playing this game with a hypothesis (a.k.a., a guess) about the best approach to help you win. As the mini-game goes on and you gain new information, your first may not be correct. This mini-game assesses how quickly you recognized that your initial thinking was incorrect.

Did you notice immediately, or did it take three or four turns before you knew you were in trouble? Once you knew you were in trouble, were you able to adapt?

The Importance of Practicing the McKinsey Problem Solving Game

McKinsey’s problem solving game Solve is intended to test your thinking skills. But without practice, a candidate might be completely unfamiliar with these types of mini-games, how they work, and the object of each. As a result, McKinsey’s Solve inadvertently tests the candidate’s familiarity with these kinds of mini-games as well as their thinking skills.

It is entirely possible that you possess the exact set of thinking skills that McKinsey wants to hire and still perform poorly at the mini-game. You might perform poorly simply because you don’t know how the game works, how well you manage time, or there was some nuance of the game that you were confused by.

This is why practicing with the McK Game is useful. With this tool, you can get familiar with these types of mini-games and practice the thinking skills necessary to perform well.

Ways to Practice the McK Game

Because the McK Game and McKinsey’s assessment are unlike most games, the best way to practice is to simply start playing. In some variations of the game, you need to do a lot of math. In others, you’ll focus on conceptual reasoning skills.

The easiest way to understand what the games are like and to gain experience is to just dive in and play.

With the McK Game, each game-play session must be purchased, and you can play as many sessions as you want to help improve your skills.

Based on our analysis of previous players, playing the McK Game three times is the optimal number for practice. Candidly, if you play the McK Game three times and are not close to passing, based on our empirical data, you’re unlikely to improve by playing the McK Game additional times. Most candidates who pass McKinsey’s digital assessment game Solve are able to figure out the McK Game within three game-play sessions.

Additionally, the mini-games are randomized. Each game-play session is unique so you know you’re not just memorizing the best strategies for that particular mini-game instance. You’re actually improving the skills needed to win.

I also recommend that you use a pen and paper to help you take notes. This is allowed in Solve, McKinsey’s digital assessment game, so it’s useful to practice with those tools as well.

Recommended Practice Approach

Practice Game-Play Session #1: In your first play session, start with the goal of gaining familiarity. Play without regard to the timer. Do not rush. Go slow to:

  1. Understand the objective of the mini-game
  2. Identify what the mini-game variation is asking you to optimize for
  3. Notice the constraints involved

You’re going to make some errors in the first practice session because you don’t yet have that familiarity with the mini-game format. You’re coming up the “learning curve” for this kind of mini-game. That is okay. It’s a part of the learning process.

Practice Game-Play Session #2: The goal of the second attempt is to improve your effectiveness (a.k.a. win the mini-game).

Now that you understand the objective and format of the game, try to make zero mistakes that stem from a lack of familiarity. (That was the purpose of the first practice.)

For optimization mini-games like Build a Factory, try to win in the fewest iterations of trial and error. Also, be mindful of the clock, but don’t stop if you “run out of time.” This will give you an idea of your time management skills, but finishing before a certain time isn’t a priority for this game-play session. The goal here is good habits — the least amount of decision-making “waste.”

Practice Game-Play Session #3: The goal of the third attempt is time effectiveness.

For this practice session, simulate real-world conditions with the clock. Before, you took notice of the clock to see how well you were doing, but you still played after the time “ran out.”

This time, behave as if your time is being recorded. You must manage your time. The McK Game won’t stop when the clock reaches a certain time, but watch the clock to see how well you do within the allotted time. Take note of how far you were able to get.

How to Play the McK Game

McK Game: McKinsey Assessment Game Practice Simulator
(3 Game-Play Bundle)

This Deluxe offering includes THREE game-play sessions.  Within each game session, there are two mini-games, both designed for practice developing the skills assessed in a live McKinsey problem solving game.

This option offers the lowest rate per game play available (and may not be available in the future).

The investment for the Deluxe (3 Game Plays) offering is $117 (This is a 17% discount from the standard individual game-play rates).

OR

McK Game: McKinsey Assessment Game Practice Simulator
(1 Game Play)

This standard offering includes one game-play session.  Within each game session, there are two mini-games, both designed for practice developing the skills assessed in a live McKinsey problem solving game.

The investment for the Standard (1 Game Play) offering is $47.

Practical Details
  • Access to your game play(s) is delivered digitally, and you will receive access instructions within 15 minutes of purchase.
  • We use an industry-standard delivery that is compatible across all major computing platforms.

Access to these practice games is only available through CaseInterview.com.  So chances are that none of the candidates that are interviewing in the same office will have practiced with this game, giving you a huge competitive advantage.

Take your McKinsey case interview preparation to the next level, and take advantage of the opportunity to practice with the McK Game.

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Got questions ?

Each “game play” of McK Game consists of:
  • My guide on the McKinsey digital assessment and the skills assessed;
  • One single game-play session (allowing you to play two mini-games);
  • Your score on each mini-game so you can evaluate your own performance and whether you would have passed in a live assessment.
Access to your game plays for the McK Game are delivered to you digitally within minutes of your purchase, allowing you to start the game immediately.

McK Game game-play sessions that have NOT been played are backed by our 30-day No Questions Asked Money-Back Guarantee. Note that refunds for games that HAVE been played will not be issued. 

You can feel confident starting out ordering our deluxe bundle of game plays. If you are dissatisfied after your first game play, you may request a refund for the remainder of your (UNplayed) games. Just send an email to [email protected] after the first game play.

Note that the 3 Game-Play Bundle discount only applies for 3 or more played sessions, so if fewer than 3 game plays have taken place, the game plays that have been used will be charged at the standard $47 per game play instead of the discounted rate.