BCG, Bain and other firms like Accenture and PWC have all been using the same Pymetrics assessment to help select candidates for consulting roles. Beyond consulting, JP Morgan and others are using Pymetrics to select for finance jobs you might well also be applying for.
Crucially, you only get one shot at the Pymetics assessment across all the firms you apply to – so messing up that one test could have an outsize impact on your career prospects in general. This is pretty daunting, not least because the Pymetrics assessment - as a series of video games designed to psychologically profile you - is highly idiosyncratic, and it isn’t necessarily clear what you can do to prepare effectively.
Don’t worry, though – MCC is here to help!
Here, we’ll run through what the Pymetrics assessment is, how it works and – crucially – how you can prepare for it. Most useful of all, we introduce a detailed simulation put together by a specialist third-party firm to let you practice for this unusual test.
Of course, if you’re in a hurry, you can go straight to that practice resource here:
NB: Know what you are up against
Do note that, especially if you’re applying to BCG or Bain, Pymetrics is not the only online assessment these firms use. BCG has increasingly been leveraging their Casey online case study either alongside or instead of Pymetrics. Similarly, Bain has also been using the Sova assessment. Of course, you should make sure that you are prepping for the right test - reach out to HR if you aren’t sure.
What is the Pymetrics Test?
Pymetrics was originally produced by a start-up of the same name - though the parent company has since changed its name to Harver whilst retaining the Pymetrics brand, including the Pymetrics website.
Similar to Imbellus, the start-up that initially devised McKinsey’s Solve assessment, Pymetrics/Harver have an explicit raison d’etre around broadening access to opportunity and eliminating discrimination in corporate recruitment (more in this article).
The Pymetrics assessment is designed to build a psychological profile of the test-taker that can then be compared to what a specific company is looking for in new hires. This means that the same assessment can be used by many disparate companies to select quite different candidates depending on the kind of profile they are seeking. Indeed, Pymetrics has been used by firms as diverse as Kraft-Heinz, Astra Zeneca and even McDonald's to recruit for roles ranging from executives to warehouse staff.
These “ideal” benchmark profiles will typically be generated by having existing high-performing staff take the same Pymetrics test and averaging their performance across the different attributes tested for.
However, in line with the stated goals of the Pymetrics/Harver company, there is an additional step there adjustments are made to the resultant profiles remove any bias and ensure that under-represented groups are not disadvantaged.
Let's look further into the specifics of how it works in practice...
The BCG Pymetrics Test itself consists of a series of games played on your computer at home.
Specifically, in the core assessment, 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 at time of writing
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 first 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!
Place in the selection process
The Pymetrics assessment is generally used to help screen candidates between submitting their applications and being invited to case interviews. As mentioned above, Pymetrics might be deployed alongside other online tests or automated interviews at this stage.
After you complete Pymetrics, 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.
Of course, for any subsequent firms you apply to also using the Pymetrics assessment, you don't sit the test again. Those firms simply receive the same profile generated the first time you took the test.
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.
Prep the right wayLearn how to think like a consultant instead of outdated frameworks Learn more
Why do BCG, Bain and others use Pymetrics?
Online tests are very much the future for consulting
recruitment in particular. Of course, McKinsey employs the much-discussed
Solve assessment, initially developed for them by Imbellus. As noted, Bain have been using the similar Sova tests
at many offices, and BCG has developed Casey - an online case administered by a chatbot. Other firms have also been moving in a similar direction.
Importantly, all these consultancies transitioning towards this method of screening candidates are doing so 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
The likes of BCG or Bain will typically receive dozens or even hundreds of high-quality
applications for each vacancy.
This is far more individuals than the firms can hope to interview.
Indeed, consulting case interviews are particularly expensive and inconvenient for firms to conduct, requiring that consultants (and partners for later rounds) be taken off projects, disrupting whole projects and requiring them to fly back to the office if they are working on location.
Thus, the challenge is to minimise the number of interviews required without compromising the integrity of the selection process.
This has been easier said than done, though. The need to make large cuts to the applicant pool has, in the past, too readily resulted in strict filters based on criteria like university attended, course studied etc - too readily leaving out talented candidates from elsewhere and potentially serving to bias recruiting away from under-represented groups.
Assessments have also been used in the past, though these tended to be GMAT-style, often explicitly business-focussed - with the McKinsey PST as the most well-known example.
However, these proved too easy to game and again favoured candidates from a rather narrow set of backgrounds (usually MBA grads). Older tests were also sat in person at company locations, with all the inconvenience for both candidate and firm that entails.
Compounding these issues, the changing nature of consulting work itself requires firms to hire staff with a more diverse skillset - with industry experience, technical skills and/or a PhD now being just as useful as an MBA.
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 physical location until later
rounds. This fulfils the dual purpose of opening up recruitment to those outside hub cities and/or traditional target universities, as well as reducing the carbon footprint from travel associated with their selection process.
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 the performance of those staff selected by their assessment 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.
Everything you need in one placeAll the most up-to-date resources delivered as a MBA course Learn more
How does the test work? What does it measure?
As 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 and, of course, management consultants.
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 match up with 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.
At BCG, Bain and other firms, 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 at each individual company.
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.
In short, then, when you take the Pymetrics test, then, your gameplay is being directly compared to how Pymetrics think an idealised consultant would tackle those same games.
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 Pymetrics games – 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 your Pymetrics assessment
An intentional feature of “gamified” assessments like Pymetrics or the McKinsey Solve assessment 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 from 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.
Long-Term - Building modes of thought
According to BCG’s own research on the matter, the traits Pymetrics tests for might be deeply ingrained, but they are not immutable and are amenable to training.
Over the longer term, your general consulting prep will inherently build these traits. The task over the course of weeks or months is thus not so much to prep for Pymetrics directly, but rather to immerse yourself in your wider consulting skill building.
In particular, screening tests will generally be calibrated to predict case interview performance - thus there will be a great deal of carryover from properly preparing for case interview. Of course, we recommend that an ideal case interview prep should begin before applications go in - and thus before any screening tests.
If you haven't already, you can get started with case interview prep with our introductory article here.
Short-Term: Get into the consulting/firm mindset and simulation
In the shorter term, you can also prime yourself to step into the mindset of a consultant at your target firm before you start the games.
An important part of this is to sit down and consider what it is Bain, BCG or whichever other firm you are applying to are
looking for in a consultant and how an ideal staff member should approach the
Pymetrics games. Ideally, you should have already considered this general subject in some depth when putting together your resume and cover letter. If you haven't already, read through the firm website and anything else you can find about the qualities they look for in staff and the kind of approach to work they try to foster.
The very best thing you can do in the short term, though, is to practice with an accurate simulation of the Pymetric games. This allows you to become accustomed to the precise format of what you will face, whilst also letting you think more clearly about how to answer like a real consultant. Luckily, MCC has sourced just what you need here...
Practice - Pymetrics Simulation
Difficult doesn’t mean impossible, and just because it’s hard to put together a good simulation of the Pymetrics games doesn’t mean MCC doesn’t have one for you.
To offer this, we’ve mirrored the consulting firms themselves and partnered with a specialist psychometric test provider who has built 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 here:
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.
Looking for an all-inclusive, peace of mind program?Choose our mentoring programs to get access to all our resources, a customised study plan and a dedicated experienced MBB mentor Learn more