The BCG Pymetrics Test has been rolled out across offices internationally to replace the Potential Test and similar, more traditional assessments.
This test is far from the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper, GMAT-style tests that used to be the norm in consulting selection. Rather, BCG has contracted cutting edge cognitive testing firm Pymetrics to administer their innovative, game-based assessment.
Here, we will explain what the BCG Pymetrics Test is, why BCG has started using it, why it is so important that you perform well and how to prepare effectively.
To help you prep to the highest possible standard, MCC has mirrored BCG in partnering with a specialist psychometric testing firm to provide a professional simulation of the BCG Pymetrics Test for you to practice with.
NB: Know what you are up against
Before we dive in, note that you should always confirm which format of test, if any, you will be taking with the recruiter at the specific office you are applying to. Usually, you will be given details of what to expect, but don’t be afraid to ask if this isn’t the case. Often, new tests will not be rolled out globally all at once, whilst different offices will also have some latitude in how they conduct their own selection process – so the office you are applying to might do things differently. Even in an office where a screening test is indeed used, it might also not always be required for candidates at every level. For example, experienced hires will often be spared having to complete screening tests.
What is the BCG Pymetrics Test?
Let’s make sure we have the basics covered. If you have only just heard about the BCG Pymetrics Test, you’ll want to know what you are facing.
The BCG Pymetrics Test consists of a series of 12 games played on your computer at home.
Specifically, there are 12 games testing your “soft skills” and allowing the software to build a profile of your cognitive and emotional traits.
Each individual game lasts between 2-3 minutes, with a total gameplay time of around 25 minutes. You can pause for a break between different games, but not during gameplay.
Pymetrics can also supplement these 12 games assessing soft skills with two more conventional assessments of quantitative and numerical reasoning. However, Pymetrics does not seem to deploy these for BCG at time of writing (even if they were given, your mental math prep for your case interview should be sufficient)
Crucially, you cannot repeat games if you feel you have not performed well. Instead, Pymetrics bar you from retaking the test for 330 days - in effect a full year. This is particularly important because these same results will be sent by Pymetrics to any other firms you apply to who also contract Pymetrics for their screening tests. One reason it’s crucial you put in your best performance possible!
Not just BCG…
This idea of results being sent to other companies is s very important one. BCG is far from Pymetrics’ only customer, and the exact same tests are deployed across a broad range of both consulting firms and companies in other industries.
At time of writing, Bain is also trialling the same Pymetrics test across a number of offices, with the new assessment is already being used to inform recruitment decisions, as well as allowing Bain to gather data to potentially roll out Pymetrics more broadly.
Accenture and PWC have also been using Pymetrics to screen consulting applicants whilst, outside consulting, JP Morgan and a number of other financial institutions have been adopting the same tests. Pymetrics is also being used across entirely disparate sectors and to recruit staff at very different levels of seniority - from pharma giant Astra Zeneca to Kraft-Heinz, McDonald’s and UPS.
Whilst the average BCG candidate probably isn’t also applying to work front of house at McDonalds, you do need to bear in mind that your performance on Pymetrics might affect your career chances outside BCG and even outside consulting.
Place in the selection process
The BCG Pymetrics Test is used to help screen candidates between submitting their applications and being invited to case interviews. After you complete the test, you might receive an invitation to interview quite quickly, though candidates have also reported delays, so don’t panic if you don’t hear back immediately.
Trait Report from Pymetrics
All test takers, whether they are successful or not, will receive a “trait report” from Pymetrics. This will outline the candidate’s character in terms of several different traits, as revealed by their performance on the games, and suggest roles and professions to which they might find themselves particularly well suited.
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Why does BCG use the Pymetrics Test?
These kinds of tests look very much like the future for consulting recruitment in particular. Of course, McKinsey employs the much-discussed Problem Solving Game, developed for them by Imbellus. Besides trialling Pymetrics, Bain have also recently been implementing the similar SOVA tests at many offices, so are clearly moving in the same direction - as PWC, Accenture and others.
Importantly, BCG and all these other companies are transitioning towards this method of screening candidates for the same fundamental reasons – and understanding these reasons will help you understand how to approach the Pymetrics assessment to maximise your own chances of going on to land a job.
The Problem for Consulting Recruitment
Highly desirable jobs receive more and more applications per role each year, and nowhere is this truer than at the top end of management consulting. BCG will typically receive hundreds of high-quality applications for each vacancy.
Sifting through this avalanche of resumes becomes a nigh insurmountable task. Candidates vary across many dimensions at once and sorting them effectively by manual human effort can quickly become highly time consuming and expensive.
In the past, at many firms, this has led to the initial filtering of candidates being done on highly arbitrary grounds – with the obvious example being only looking at applicants coming from Ivy League/Oxbridge-level universities. Even where firms understand that real talent exists elsewhere, they have, in effect, been willing to accept that they might overlook a few individuals for the sake of a tractable recruitment workload.
Failing to recruit the best candidates is a pragmatic problem in itself – sub-optimal staff will make for a worse business. Recently, though, firms across the board have also come under intense pressure to diversify their hiring for ethical reasons.
The idea of using testing to find the best of a large pool of candidates is hardly new, and consultancies have been using screening tests for years. However, those older tests were problematic themselves.
GMAT-style tests have proven too easy to prepare for, such that applicants determined to game the system could easily edge out their more gifted peers. Even where this was not the case, these tests might not actually be predictive as to who will make a good consultant. This problem has been compounded in recent years, as the changing, more technical nature of consulting has meant firms need to skew hiring away from the traditional MBA set and towards those with more specialist knowledge and industry experience (we explore these ideas in more detail in our article on the McKinsey Problem Solving Game).
Pymetrics, then, promises to solve these problems. Case studies on the Pymetics site show how their tests have dramatically decreased recruiters’ workload and even allowed them to remove steps in recruitment pipelines by providing a fully automated means of reliably separating the best candidates in a cohort.
The online nature of Pymetrics’ tests also renders the selection process more convenient for applicants, who will be able to fit the test around work or study and avoid having to travel to a BCG location until later rounds.
Crucially, though, Pymetrics also promises its tests outperform any manual process to select both more diverse and higher quality candidates, who will perform better as real life management consultants. Again, case studies from Pymetrics show that performance of those staff selected by Pymetrics outstrips that of their conventionally recruited predecessors.
If you want to read more about what Pymetrics are offering to the companies that use their tests, their CEO goes into detail in this article in the Harvard Business Review.
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How does the test work? What does it measure?
As we have noted, Pymetrics uses the same test to select for radically different jobs – from warehouse staff and entry level roles at McDonald’s to top-end investment bankers.
The Pymetrics test measures performance against 91 cognitive metrics. The result is a mental profile of the test taker broken down into the following nine trait categories:
- Decision Making
- Risk Tolerance
Obviously, though, employers are looking for totally different candidates across these disparate industries. It isn’t a matter of just scoring “highly” on each trait. This is why Pymetrics say there are no correct or incorrect ways to play their games.
Rather, the specific way you play the games generates a distinct profile of your own cognitive traits. This is then compared to the ideal traits found to be manifested in the best performing employees in the company to which you are applying. Obviously, this means being compared against a different standard for each different company. Your own profile is not inherently “good” or “bad”, but it may or may not be what a given company is looking for.
This is best understood by considering a trait like risk tolerance. In a professional setting, a high or low level of risk tolerance is not inherently good or bad. What matters is context. For example, highly risk-tolerant traders might be sought out to maximise returns for an investment firm. By contrast, an accounting firm might be looking for very risk-averse employees.
For BCG, then, high performing consultants will have been asked to play through the same Pymetrics games. This allows Pymetrics’ system to extract the key mental characteristics typical of a top consultant.
Importantly, this output is then reviewed and tested by Pymetrics to filter out any biases percolating up from an unrepresentative sample. This manual intervention helps differentiate Pymetrics’ approach, where cruder tools might simply replicate the same sub-optimal, demographically skewed workforce the firm already had.
When you take the BCG Pymetrics test, then, your gameplay is being directly compared to how Pymetrics think an idealised BCG consultant would tackle those same games.
How do BCG use the test?
As we have noted above, candidates are asked to sit the Pymetrics test between the application and case interview stages.
At least during the Beta phase trials of the BCG Pymetrics test, BCG themselves claimed that they use the test only an “inclusion tool”. The rationale here seems to be that the Pymetrics test would simply highlight candidates who might be overlooked based on crude resume screening alone. BCG was insistent that test performance would only be one factor in deciding to advance a candidate and that nobody would be excluded on those scores alone. Decisions would be made on a combination of resumes and Pymetrics results.
However, this trial period will also have been an opportunity for BCG to check how predictive the test is of subsequent case interview performance, and indeed performance in the job itself after hiring. Thus, as with the similar McKinsey Problem Solving Game, we can expect that the Pymetrics game will have more weight placed on it as a screening tool over time.
In any case, though, whether scores are used as a hard filter or part of a more holistic assessment of your profile, the takeaway here is that your Pymetrics test performance is going to significantly impact your chances of landing an interview and ultimately a job.
What are the tests like?
So, what are these sophisticated cognition-testing games actually like? We’ll give a brief run-through of each here. However, you can read a fully detailed explanation of all the BCG Pymetrics tests – with plenty of images and some great tips and strategies – at this link.
1. Balloon Game
In this game, you have to progressively inflate a series of balloons. The larger you can inflate them without them popping, the more money you earn. However, if a balloon pops, you earn no money from it. Popping is not simply a matter of chance, though – there are patterns as to which colour of balloon can be inflated to which size. Quickly spotting these patterns is the key to doing well.
2. Tower Game
This is a version of the Towers of Hanoi game you have probably played as a kid. Your job here is to re-stack towers of coloured disks into a target configuration with the fewest moves possible.
3. Money Exchange Game I
Here you have to divide $10 between yourself and a character in the game, with some complications thrown in for you to respond to.
4. Money Exchange Game II
This game is quite similar to the last, with you and a game character working together to earn an amount of money and then splitting it between you. You then decide how fair the result is.
5. Keypress Game
This is a pretty straightforward game – you have to press a certain key on your keyboard (typically the enter key or spacebar) as many times as possible within a given period of time (usually around a minute). Importantly, you need to start and stop exactly when instructed.
6. Hard or Easy Task Game
Here, for each of multiple rounds, you are given the choice between an easy task paying a small amount of money and a more difficult one paying a larger amount. To complicate matters, for each round there is a variable chance that you will complete the task you pick and not get paid - introducing the possibility that you can take the trouble to complete the difficult task without any reward.
7. Digits Memory Game
In this game, you have to correctly recall strings of numbers. Those of you with any kind of background in psychology will recognise this as a test of “digit span”, which is taken to be indicative of your working memory (which itself correlates with IQ and other measures).
8. Stop Game
Here, you are quickly flashed a sequence of different coloured shapes. When you see a certain shape – such as a red circle – you must press a certain key (generally enter or the spacebar). When you see other shapes – green circles, for example – you must not press any key.
9. Arrows Game
This is similar to the last game, but more difficult. You are flashed a series of groups of arrows. If the arrows are one colour, you have to press a key to indicate the direction of the middle arrow of the group. If the arrows are the other colour, you press a key to indicate the direction of the outermost arrows.
10. Lengths Game
This game is similar in theme to the previous two, but more difficult again. In this case, you will be shown sets of two mouths or moustaches and have to determine which is the longer of each pair. This is made tricky by the fact that the mouths/moustaches are very similar in length and because you have to answer as quickly as you can.
11. Cards Game
This game brings to mind the old Solitaire PC games in that you must draw cards unseen from four decks. Money is earnt depending on each specific card, with your job being to maximise amount of money you have at the end of the game. As with the balloon game, the key to success is to identify patterns in the cards.
12. Faces Game
This game is distinct from the others in testing your emotional ability rather than cognitive capacity. You are presented with a photo of a person’s face and a piece of text describing an emotive situation. Based on this, you have to decide which emotion the person is feeling. Things are made more difficult by the face in the photo seeming to express very different emotions to what would be expected based on the text.
How to prepare for the BCG Pymetrics Test
As discussed, an intentional feature of “gamified” assessments is that they are harder for candidates to prep for. Specifically, they are notably harder to simulate in order to practice - after all, it’s a lot easier for a third party to generate PDFs of multiple-choice test papers than it is to build a series of video games. Games are supposed to prevent candidates gaming the system, as it were.
Don’t worry though - there is still a lot you can do to prepare in general and MCC has you covered for practice material in particular.
Before we get to the practice games, though, there are some things you should do to maximise your chances before you play any games at all.
Build the consulting mindset
According to BCG’s own research, the traits Pymetrics tests for might be deeply ingrained, but they are not immutable and are amenable to training. In the shorter term, you can also prime yourself to step into the consulting mindset before you start the games.
An important part of this is to sit down and consider what it is BCG are looking for in a consultant and how a BCG staff member should approach the Pymetrics games. Ideally, you should have already considered this question in some depth when putting together your resume and cover letter.
There will also be a lot of carryover here from properly preparing for case interview. The fundamental key to success both there and the Pymetrics test is to approach problems with a balance of logical rigour and efficiency, whilst keeping in mind the overall ways of thinking BCG will be looking for (for much more on this, see our Case Academy course). Remember that these screening tests are calibrated to predict case interview performance!
Difficult doesn’t mean impossible, and just because it’s hard to put together a good simulation of the BCG Pymetrics game doesn’t mean MCC doesn’t have one for you.
To offer this, we’ve mirrored BCG themselves and partnered with a specialist psychometric test provider who have been building excellent, highly accurate simulations of the Pymetics games for you to practice on before the real deal (these are the same guys who created our Bain Sova simulation).
This practice version will let you build confidence and develop optimal strategies for each game in advance of the big day itself.
Certainly, you should see meaningful improvements from practising the likes of the keypress, arrows or lengths games, where you can get used to spotting what you need to at speed. If nothing else, though, you can avoid that horrible “rabbit-in-the-headlights” feeling of getting to grips with something totally new under pressure, as well as the risk of misunderstanding what you should be doing at any point in the games.
You can find this practice test at the following link:
Of course, once you hopefully blitz your Pymetrics test, the next step is aceing your case interviews.
Ideally, your case interview prep should start before you have even submitted your application. To get off on the right foot, you can check out our intro to case interviews. From there, you can get down to work with our Case Academy course and coaching sessions with experienced MBB consultants. And don’t forget to also check out our free meeting board for prep partners and our extensive free case library.