The Bain Sova Test is a relatively recent addition to that firm’s selection process, supplied by the UK-based SOVA psychometric test provider - and representing a new hurdle for you to clear if you want to make it as a Bain and Company consultant.
At time of writing, the Bain Sova Test has been replacing the older Bain Online Test at a number of locations, and seems to be becoming Bain’s go-to screening test.
In this article, we’ll cover the rationale behind Bain using screening tests at all. We’ll then discuss how screening tests have been rapidly changing in recent years and specifically how the Bain Sova Test differs from its predecessor.
Armed with this information, we’ll then look in detail at how you can best prepare for the Bain Sova test, as well as how you can fit that work into your wider case interview prep. Along the way, we will introduce the specific Bain Sova Test practice material which we have partnered with an expert psychometric test provider to bring to MyConsultingCoach users.
Important – Be Careful!
Before we dive into the detail, we have to convey one absolutely crucial point of caution.
As we’ll return to later, screening test practices have been changing rapidly across Bain and most other major management consulting firms in recent years - with this then accelerated hugely by the Covid-19 pandemic. At any one time, individual offices within a firm also typically have a good deal of latitude to conduct their own selection process as they see fit. The upshot for you is that this can mean differences in screening tests between different locations for the same firm and between years at the same location.
As such, you should always confirm with the HR team at your own target office whether you will be asked to take any screening tests and what form these will take if so. Don’t simply assume or take the word of others or Reddit or other fora – always ask!
What is the Bain Sova Test like?
Let’s start from the basics and cover the most important questions you might have:
Where does the Sova test fit in the selection process?
The Bain Sova Test filters candidates between resume screening and invitation to case interview. Thus, if you are asked to complete the test, you will have to score well and pass if you want to make the in-person rounds. In some cases, you might also have a brief telephone fit-style interview from HR before you are invited to site the Sova test.
What is the format?
- The test is generally conducted online from your own home. An individual office might decide to make you come in to take the Sova test in person, but this seems unlikely in the post-Covid world.
- Calculator and notepaper are allowed (realistically, there is no practical way of preventing this in the at-home setting anyway)
- The standard test is divided into five sections covering different areas of your abilities and profile.
What is Tested?
Offices might opt to give only a subset of the full test, but generally, the test given will have sections testing the following areas. Note that the ordering of these sections might vary.
- Mathematical: Here, you have to conduct calculations, analyse data and interpret various charts and tables.
- Verbal: You are presented with a block of text and must draw conclusions based upon it.
- Abstract Reasoning: Questions here are similar to those you might have seen in some IQ tests, with you being asked to complete chose the correct option to complete a sequence of geometric patterns (much as with Raven’s matrices)
- Situational Judgement: The Situational Judgement Test, or SJT, assesses your reactions in workplace situations. You are presented with a written question or even a video and must rank possible responses from best to worst.
- Personality: This assesses your personality as manifested in the workplace. Again, you must rank order answers, this time from Very True to False or similar.
How is it scored?
A point worth noting is that scoring is not simply a matter of getting the correct answer to the questions you are given. The Sova test will also take into account how quickly you answered questions, so that correct answers supplied more rapidly will be scored more highly.
This is important to bear in mind on test day, as you should be seeking to strike an optimal balance between accuracy and speed in your work. In reality, this is much like actual consulting work, where getting to the correct solutions efficiently the face of time pressure is a part of the everyday demands of the job. The old adage, “less haste more speed” is particularly to remember here, as considering time does not mean that you should rush and end up with incorrect answers!
Why does Bain use these screening tests?
So, we now know the fundamentals of what to expect from the Bain Sova test on the day. However, understanding how to prepare for Bain’s or any other screening tests, means understanding why these tests are used at all and what they are designed to assess.
Screening tests for top consulting firms like Bain have one clear goal – they reduce the number of applicants requiring expensive, time-consuming case interviews (remember consultants have to be pulled off projects to act as interviewers). Tests do this by identifying and removing applicants who would not have performed well in those case interviews.
To do this job correctly, then, the tests must assess at least a subset of the same key consulting skills which are examined in the case interview itself. For example, mental math is an important part of case interviews, so a simple mental math test could be used to weed out at least some candidates without the numeracy to make it through a tough case study.
However, since the real point of a case interview is to test a full ensemble of abilities, screening tests which more completely capture the full consulting skillset will be able to reliably eliminate a greater number of applicants who would not have made it through the case interview – ultimately saving the firm more time and money! This impetus towards a more efficient recruitment pipeline is one of the main drivers for screening tests to be changed up over time.
As mentioned, screening tests across the management consulting world have been in flux in recent years. This has been both in terms of the format of tests and the basic skillset that they assess.
The highest-profile example of such a changing test is McKinsey largely ditching their notorious PST and moving to the new Problem Solving Game. This replacement of a pen-and-paper test of business-specific skills, tested in-person at the office, with a more holistic assessment of the applicant, generally taken online, at home is representative of the general direction of travel.
General skills rather than business knowledge
The drive to move screening tests away from heavily business-focused assessments to tests examining more fundamental skills has been necessitated by the changing nature of the consulting business. As we discuss in more detail our article on whether one needs an MBA to enter consulting, firms now need to recruit specialist technical talent to deal with the more in-depth projects they are brought by clients. Since such talent might not come with an MBA or business background, screening tests need to change to accommodate this fact.
The transition from in-person, pen and paper tests to online, at-home tests has then also clearly been accelerated by the necessities of recruiting during the coronavirus pandemic. For the foreseeable future, you can likely expect the direction of travel to be towards more and more of the recruitment process happening remotely.
How is the Bain Sova Test different from the Bain Online Test?
So, we know how and why screening tests in general have been changing, but how specifically is the Bain Sova test different to the older Online Test.
You can read more about the Bain Online Test in our full article on the subject. In short, though the Online Test typically split into two sections:
- The first is similar to a GMAT, assessing critical reasoning and problem solving.
- The second is a business case study broken down into multiple-choice questions. This requires you to interpret data and charts and is similar in format to the McKinsey PST.
Note that, if you have to sit the Online Test, our MCC Academy course will teach you how to solve business case studies using real consulting methods and teach you all you need to know about mental math, interpreting charts - all of which will be directly relevant to your in-person case interviews as well. As well as building your skills, the course exercises interspersed throughout the lessons act as great practice material for both halves of the Online Test. Our PST prep material is also highly relevant here, given the similarity outlined above.
Moving to the Sova Test, then, there are a few main differences:
The Sova test does not contain the kind of written case studies we see in the Bain Online Test or McKinsey PST. Some questions might have narratives in a business context, but this won’t require the same depth of existing business knowledge as a case study. Instead, there is a greater emphasis on general reasoning, as per the first half of the Online Test.
Assessment of Judgement and Personality
Half of the sections of the new Sova test This makes the Sova test a more holistic assessment, capturing a greater proportion of the qualities which are examined at case interview. This will have been one reason why Bain has outsourced this test to SOVA as an external, specialist testing company. Bain could have come up test questions on mathematical or business problems in-house if they had to. However, this kind of broader psychometric testing is a highly specialist area in itself and falls well outside the expertise of a management consulting firm. We see the same pattern in McKinsey moving from their in-house PST to the Problem Solving Game provided by specialist firm Imbellus.
Notably, the older Bain Online Test was sometimes sat on location and sometimes at home. By contrast, the Sova test appears to be sat exclusively at home. This is especially relevant in our post-Covid word, where at-home testing seems likely to be the new default for screening across all firms and sectors.
Is it harder?
A common question, whenever firms change any of their tests, is whether the new assessment is harder or easier than its predecessor. Many readers might think it is the most important question to answer.
However, this is really the wrong question to ask at all. To see why, we need to remember why Bain and other firms use screening tests in the first instance.
Recall that screening tests are used to reduce the size of the applicant pool to the point where it becomes viable for the firm to interview everyone.
This is not like a driving test, which might be made more or less difficult, but where it would be perfectly reasonable if everyone in a cohort turned out to pass - there is no hard limit on the number of qualified drivers, after all.
No – the function of these tests is ultimately to filter off the top X% of candidates (where you can expect X to be as small a number as possible) to be taken forward to case interviews. As such, whichever test is used, the challenge is not really to pass, but to beat enough of your competitors to make the cut for interview.
In this sense, then, the difficulty will really always remain effectively unchanged – you will always need to win out and beat the bulk of your peers. If the questions in a specific new test are individually less challenging, the pass mark for the assessment as a whole will be jacked up until a sufficient number of candidates are rejected for it to be doing its job correctly.
As such, the correct mindset will always be not to attempt and cruise through and “just pass”, but to perform as well as you possibly can. In reality, it is this higher level of performance which will likely be required to pass, as this will always require scoring higher than the majority of a very talented pool of test-takers.
Also, note that firms have been known to not only apply tests as an initial filter but also to use scores to compare candidates further through the selection process. In this context, you need to have the highest score you possibly can.
How to prepare for the Bain Sova Test
Now, what many readers will have come here to find.
Before delving into the nitty-gritty of specifics, it will pay to make sure you are taking the correct approach in planning out your prep. Some will think the best way to prepare is simply to go through as many practice tests as possible. However, this is not the best wat to proceed.
Straight off the bat, pragmatically speaking, there is a limited amount of specific Sova test specimen material available. You could easily blast through it all in a couple of days. What is more important, though, is that simply blasting through all those practice tests wouldn’t necessarily leave you much better off than before. This is because test preparation is not just about simulation, but also about skill-building.
Think about learning a language. If you’re trying to learn French from scratch, just pitching up in Paris and trying to chat to people is not going to work as well as spending some time with a textbook to build vocabulary and grammar first.
Knowing that we need both skill-building and practice, then, the immediate temptation might be to approach these two aspects of preparation sequentially. That is, to spend some time working on things like mental math and then practice a few example tests just before the big day to get ready for the real thing.
This is not the worst approach, but it is far from optimal. This is especially true as last-minute practice will often reveal some major blindspots. Perhaps you spent a lot of time practising your arithmetic but are let down by your interpretation of charts or verbal reasoning, which is not as sharp as you had hoped. Finding this out just before test day means there is not enough time to make meaningful corrections.
As we advise for other screening tests, the best way to prepare is to iteratively cycle back and forth between skill-building and practice.
This has the following advantages:
- Efficient use of limited practice material – Each time you take a test it is for the specific reason of tracking your progress and establishing what you need to do next to make optimal progress.
- Focused Skill Building – With practice tests revealing your weak points, you will know exactly where you need to focus your attention in the immediate term. For example, if your math lets you down in practice, you can work on mental arithmetic as a priority. Your scoring in the next test you take will then tell you if you have brought up the lagging skill and can move on to something else, or if it still needs work.
So, how do we go about each element of this cycle? Let’s take a closer look:
As we’ll return to below, building your skills for the Bain Sova test will be part and parcel of building your wider consulting skillset for the other stages of selection.
Thus, one of the best places to improve your general reasoning and problem solving and mental math skills is with the MCC Academy course.
Video lectures teach how to approach difficult problems logically, how to read charts effectively and advanced methods to speed up your mental math. Along the way, you will also go through many sets of exercises and assessments letting you practice these skills directly and including detailed solutions to help you learn from your mistakes.
Otherwise, to practice mental math, you can make use of our free mental math tool. Beyond this, as we’ll cover shortly, working through the cases in our free case bank is always a great general skill builder for your Bain selection prep in general.
The fit-interview aspect of the MCC Academy will help you get into the correct mindset to tackle the situational judgement and personality sections. Our lengthy articles on consulting resumes and cover letters are also useful here, as they discuss in detail which skills firms are looking for and how applicants manifest them. Of course, those articles will also be helpful in getting you to the screening test stage in the first instance!
As we have noted, practice material for the Bain Sova test is not in hugely abundant supply.
Especially with the situational judgement, personality and to an extent the abstract reasoning sections, this is also not something that can readily be put together simply by those
in the way McKinsey PST material could be. We noted that this will have been one reason why Bain has brought in a specialist company to supply the Sova test.
For this reason, MyConsultingCoach has partnered with specialist psychometric test company JobTestPrep to offer you a full package of Bain Sova test material. You can find this by clicking through at the following link:
There, you will find a huge volume of practice material, including question sets with solutions for each of the sections of the Sova test. The perfect way to practice!
Integrating Bain Sova Prep with Case Interview Prep
As we have made clear, the Sova test – as with screening tests generally – is designed to test the same fundamental skillset as your case interview.
Case interviews are also highly demanding, such that you will need to begin preparing some time in advance if you are going to hope to succeed. Ideally, you should be underway before you have even submitted your resume and cover letters to your target offices! (To get started, see our introductory article on consulting case interviews)
This means that, ideally your case interview prep will be running in parallel to your preparations for the case interview. Since both preps are engaging the same skills, it therefore makes sense to combine the two into one general prep for the selection process as a whole. This will help you make optimal use of your time as well as encouraging you to focus on the genuinely fundamental skills that will be useful when you start the job itself.
Case practice in general is an ideal skill builder here. Working through cases from our free case library will help you build the key skills of verbal and mathematical reasoning. The time pressure when you simulate case interviews with peers on our meeting board or with one of our experienced MBB consultant coaches will also get you into the habit of operating quickly but accurately which will help you with the Sova test’s scoring for both your answer and your time taken.
As noted above, our MCC Academy course is a great resource to build the consulting skillset assessed by the Sova test and directly training you to solve cases using the same methods as real consultants.
Throughout your preparations, it is worth bearing in mind that, if you are good enough to get through a demanding case interview, then the screening tests on the way there should not pose too many problems. Not only is this typically the case in practice, but also makes sense in principle, given the function of screening tests in assessing some subset of the skills leveraged by case interviews.
Common Question: Can you really prepare for questions on Situational Judgement or Personality?
The particularly broad nature of the Bain Sova test’s “blended” approach invites questions of how anyone can hope to prepare for the more “subjective” sections. We can clearly imagine practising for questions on verbal or mathematical reasoning. But how can you hope to get ready for a personality assessment?
It is fashionable to say that one cannot meaningfully prepare for tests of personality or judgement. The idea is that there is no right or wrong answer for these kinds of questions and one should just respond honestly. The rationale would be that, whilst employers might have a particular profile of recruit they are looking for, you will not be able to consistently second-guess this consistently enough to “fool” a test.
However, this is not really correct and relies on the assumption that the characteristics being tested are innate or similarly immutable.
For one thing, questions on judgement and to some extent even on temperament are really testing skills which one actively builds across the span of a lifetime. Learning how to make the right choices in tough situations and how to relate properly to others in different contexts is part of simply growing up. By the same token, how to behave in a professional environment is not innate, but something we all have to learn for ourselves – sometimes the hard way!
Most readers will recall the process of learning how to properly behave in a business setting. Indeed, many of us will probably look back in horror at some of their interactions during that period and wonder why our superiors put up with us. Even those attempting to enter Bain straight out of undergrad with minimal previous professional experience should bear in mind the transition they made from school to university and how a different set of rules applied with different expectations for their own behaviour.
Assuming one cannot improve scores on these tests is like saying that there is no point preparing for a math test because some people are innately gifted in math and some aren’t. Sure, some people aren’t mathematically inclined and might not ever be getting a Fields medal. However, this does not mean that they can’t learn to get by with basic calculus. In the same way, pretty well anyone can learn to become a more professional version of themselves (or at least present themselves as such).
As such, one way you can prepare to perform better in these tests by actually considering how a competent professional really ought to conduct themselves. You can do this by becoming more aware of the consequences of actions for your employer, for your colleagues and for client outcomes.
One of the best routes to do this in practice is to work through the example questions in the Sova practice material linked above. As you do, you will be able to see how some of your current answers compare to better alternatives, improving your understanding of how to deal with professional situations in the way employers are after. This should help you be ready to give your best possible responses in the test itself.
Over to You!
We have covered a lot of ground in this article, to try and get your preparation for the Bain Sova test off to the best possible start.
We’ve explored the format of the Sova test, the rationale for Bain moving to it from the older Online Test and discussed how you can prepare. Perhaps most importantly, we have provided a link to high quality, specific Bain Sova test prep material, designed by a specialist external provider.
Now it’s over to you to get on with the work of prepping! Remember that every hour you put into prep now takes you one step closer to your goal of landing that dream job as a Bain consultant!