McKinsey PST Overview

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test (McKinsey PST) is a data interpretation and critical number reasoning test used by McKinsey to select candidates to be admitted to the first round of case interviews.

All you need to know about the McKinsey Problem Solving Test in 6 facts

Fact #1: 26 questions, a paper and a pen

The McKinsey PST is a multiple choice paper test made up of 26 questions distributed over three business cases. The cases test how you would perform in the different phases of a consulting project: client interaction, problem definition, problem solving, analytical work and implementation. Topics are the same as in real consulting projects, ranging from market entry to profitability or operational improvements.

Fact #2: 60 minutes

Simply put: if you had 3 hours to complete the test, you would easily score over 80%. Time is the real, big constraint of the PST. And since you will not be able to use any other device beside your brain, it is essential for you to develop the best skill set and test the most effective method.

Fact #3: Make it or break it

No matter how outstanding your resume is, if you fail the McKinsey PST, you will not be invited to the first round of interviews. If you pass the PST, McKinsey will use your PST score together with feedback from your interviewers to decide if you should be given an offer or not.

Fact #4: 70% cutoff score

While McKinsey does not publish the exact cut-off score for its Problem Solving Test, it is estimated to be around 70%. Estimates are based on interviews and surveys to successful candidates. Succeeding at the test depends only on YOUR score: scoring is absolute, not relative. Bear in mind to always answer all questions, as there is no penalization for wrong answers.

Fact #5: 1 out of 3 makes it

Although scoring is not on a curve, unofficial surveys tell us that about 1 out of 3 candidates passes the test and progresses to the interview round. The PST is the big differentiator in the recruiting process between McKinsey and its main competitors.

Fact #6: Not the GMAT

The GMAT and the PST serve a different purpose. Even though the format may look similar, the PST tests entirely different skills relevant to consulting work. Problem solving, prioritization, conclusion inference skills and business sense are all tested in the PST. Being good at math is definitely necessary, but being able to prioritize calculations and find the right shortcuts are absolutely crucial.

Why do so many candidates fail the PST?

After all, if succeeding in the test does not depend on the performance of your peers, given the number of books, guides and mock tests available on the internet, almost everyone should pass the test. However, over 2/3 of candidates still fail it.

The main reason for failing the PST is the inability to manage time. If you had two hours, you'd most likely score ninety percent. But unfortunately, your only have half of that time. Most people fail the test for two reasons:

  • They get stuck on an insanely difficult question and don’t have any time left for the easier ones.
  • They finish the test without having 4-5 minutes to copy their answers onto the answer sheet at the end.

More time in the PST translates to a higher score. If you manage to optimize your time by 10-15 minutes, you can easily boost your score by 15-20% - an increase which is likely to change the outcome from a failure to success. Developing a solid strategy is crucial to be successful in the PST. Find out how in our Develop a time strategy article.

What kind of questions will you get in the PST?

The test consists of three business cases with 8-10 questions each, ideally replicating a consulting engagement. As in a real project, in every business case you'll be presented with data in charts or tablesas well as descriptive text. Usually, every piece of information is followed by 2-3 questions that refer specifically to the information provided.

Questions can be broken down in 6 types in the PST. While all the questions follow a logical order and are related to a business case, the different question types test different consulting skills. Click on a question type to find out more about it!

Reading facts questions will test your ability to extract and elaborate data from graphs and table. They are the most common question type, constituting ~35% of the test.
Some examples are:

  • Which of the following values is the best estimate of ABC revenue in Year 4?
  • To the nearest tenth percentage point, what is the difference between Italy’s and Spain’s respective average annual agriculture sector growths due to fertilizing over the last 10 years?

Please visit our Reading Facts questions page to learn more.

Root cause reason questions test your ability to identify the underlying causes of a business problem.
Some examples are:

  • Which of the following reasons, if TRUE, is most likely to be the reason for the drop in house prices in year 2?
  • Which of the following, if true, LEAST explains the data for Slovenia and the Czech Republic in Exhibit 2?

Please visit our Root-Cause Reasons questions page to learn more.

Fact based conclusion questions test your ability to draw logical conclusions from a collection of facts.
Some examples are:

  • Which of the following is TRUE based on the data presented in Exhibit 1?
  • Which of the following can be concluded based on the information presented in Exhibit 2 about GDP growth?

Please visit our Fact-based Conclusion questions page to learn more.

Word problems questions ask you to solve business problems using data provided in the question and data from tables and exhibits.
Some examples are:

  • Assuming that a machine costs $2 m, how many years will be necessary for XYZ to break even from its investment?
  • If an average employee is paid 12 hours per month, which of the following formulae accurately calculates the average number of items handled per employee, per month?

Please visit our Word Problems questions page to learn more.

Client interpretation questions focus on understanding project requirements and the analyses necessary to tackle the client’s issues.
Some examples are:

  • Which of the following most accurately describes the reason for the team's project?
  • Which of the following best summarizes the CEO’s concerns?

Please visit our Client Interpretation questions page to learn more.

Formulae questions will ask you to express a quantitative word problem as a symbolic formula.
Some examples are:

  • Which of the following formulae calculates the share of non-performing loans out of total loans?

Please visit our Formulae questions page to learn more.