How to Crush the McKinsey Digital Assessment

What is the McKinsey Digital Assessment?


The McKinsey Digital Assessment is a video game style online simulation used to assess a candidate’s cognitive abilities. It is created by a startup called Imbellus, which builds simulation-based cognitive assessments that measure how people think.


You do not need previous business knowledge or gaming experience to do well in this assessment.

McKinsey Digital Assessment


The McKinsey Digital Assessment begins with the following prompt:


“Imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene forest populated by many kinds of wildlife. As you take in the flora and fauna, you learn about an urgent matter demanding your attention: the animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. It’s up to you to figure out what to do—and then act quickly to protect what you can.”


You are then given 60 minutes to complete five tasks in the McKinsey Digital Assessment across two different scenarios.


Before each scenario, you will go through a tutorial, which will provide instructions. Going through the tutorial will not count towards the 60-minute time limit.


You will be given suggestions for how long to focus on each task, but you will not be restricted as to how you use your time.


For example, if you spend 20 minutes on the first task, you’ll have 40 minutes for the remaining tasks. If you spend 50 minutes on the first task, you’ll only have 10 minutes for the remaining tasks. Typically, the tasks in the first scenario will take longer than the second scenario.


Imbellus, the company that created the assessment, has explicitly stated that they have avoided building in time pressure for the assessment. So, you should have enough time to finish all of the tasks. However, candidates have had a wide range of experiences with this. Some candidates finish with 10 to 15 minutes left over while other candidates barely finish.


There are four different scenarios, but you will only get two of them. The first two scenarios are more common than the last two scenarios:


Scenario 1: Ecosystem creation

McKinsey Digital Assessment - Ecosystem Creation


In this scenario, you are asked to create a stable ecosystem. You will be working with either a marine ecosystem or a terrestrial ecosystem.


To complete this scenario, you will need to choose a location for the ecosystem on a map and choose eight different species to inhabit the ecosystem.


The problems you’ll face in this scenario are that different locations on the map have different environmental conditions. For example, if you are working with a marine ecosystem, different locations have different depth, temperature, current, salinity, and clarity of water.


Different species have different environmental requirements for surviving. For example, some coral can only survive within a particular temperature range or level of depth.


Additionally, not all species are the same. You will be given information on what species each species consumes, how many calories they need to survive, and how many calories they provide when consumed.


You will need to select eight species that give the ecosystem the best chance of survival.


Scenario 2: Organism protection


For this scenario, you are protecting a native plant against invader species. If you play video games, this scenario is very similar to tower defense games.


The goal of this scenario is to survive a certain number of rounds. In each round, invader species will appear and take a path towards the plant you are protecting. If the invaders reach your plant, you lose.


To defend your plant, you can deploy predators and geographical barriers to disrupt these invaders.


Deploying predators will attack the invaders. Each species of predator does a particular amount of damage and has a particular range in which they can attack invaders. Each species of invader has a different amount of health. When the health of an invader reaches zero, they will disappear and no longer be a threat to reach the plant you are protecting.  


Deploying geographical barriers will slow the invaders down or make them take a different path.


Scenario 3: Disaster management


In this scenario, you will need to identify the type of disaster that is happening based on a set of symptoms. The types of disasters include tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Potential symptoms could be temperature, atmospheric pressure, and rain.


After identifying the type of disaster, you’ll need to move species of animals to a location where they are most likely to survive based on both the characteristics of the species and characteristics of the locations.


Scenario 4: Disease management


For this scenario, you’ll need to identify which disease is affecting an animal population based on a set of symptoms. Afterwards, you’ll need to recommend the best course of treatment based on characteristics of the disease, the animal population, and the treatment options.


The overall goal is to optimize the rate of survival for the animal population.


Why is the McKinsey Digital Assessment Used?


There are six main reasons why McKinsey is using this type of digital assessment.


1. The McKinsey Digital Assessment predicts how successful candidates will be in case interviews


Interviewing candidates takes a lot of time and resources. By using a digital assessment to screen candidates, McKinsey can predict how well a candidate would do during a case interview. With this data, McKinsey can focus on interviewing candidates that have the best chances of getting hired.


The McKinsey Digital Assessment has better predictive power on whether a candidate will land an offer than the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST), which it previously used to screen candidates.


2. The McKinsey Digital Assessment lets McKinsey expand the pool of applicants 


McKinsey spends most of its recruiting efforts targeting top-tier undergraduate and MBA schools. They don’t recruit as heavily at other schools because they don’t have the resources.


By using the McKinsey Digital Assessment, McKinsey can expand the number of schools that they recruit from. This enables McKinsey to identify talent at non-target schools they would have otherwise missed.


3. The McKinsey Digital Assessment removes biases based on socio-economic background


McKinsey previously used the McKinsey Problem Solving Test to screen and identify promising applicants. However, the big issue with the McKinsey PST is that it puts candidates with lower socio-economic backgrounds at a disadvantage.


Since the McKinsey PST has fairly standardized problems, it can be mastered through practice and familiarity with problems. Therefore, candidates from higher socio-economic backgrounds can dedicate resources to learn what will be on the test and prepare and memorize strategies to pass the test. Candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds don’t have the resources to do this.


The McKinsey Digital Assessment removes a lot of these biases and evens the playing field. The test cannot be as easily mastered through extensive preparation or memorization.


4. The McKinsey Digital Assessment assesses process, not just the answer


Another issue with the McKinsey Problem Solving Test is that it assesses candidates only on their answers. Since it is a multiple-choice exam, candidates can get lucky by guessing the correct answer and receiving full credit for it.


The McKinsey Digital Assessment removes the element of luck because it not only assesses you on the outcomes of your decisions, but it also assesses you on the process that you took to make those decisions.


So, even if you get lucky and make the right decisions by guessing, the McKinsey Digital Assessment could still give you a low score based on the process you took.


5. McKinsey wants to improve their recruiting process 


McKinsey wants to make the recruiting process better for candidates. They want to make recruiting less stressful and more engaging.


The McKinsey Digital Assessment is one step towards improving the recruiting process. Since it is a video game style assessment, it is much more engaging than a traditional exam and much less intimidating.


6. The McKinsey Digital Assessment is good for marketing


Standardized exams to screen candidates have been used for decades at consulting firms such as McKinsey and BCG. By launching the McKinsey Digital Assessment, McKinsey is making a statement that it is an innovative and forward-thinking consulting firm.


This may help give McKinsey’s brand a slight edge over BCG and Bain when it comes to recruiting candidates that have cross-offers.


What does the McKinsey Digital Assessment Assess?


There are five qualities that the McKinsey Digital Assessment scores:


  • Critical thinking: How well can you draw the right insights and make appropriate judgments from facts?


  • Decision making: How well can you select the best course of action among different options with limited time and imperfect information?


  • Meta-cognition: How well can you develop and use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier? (e.g., taking notes, using a hypothesis-driven approach)


  • Situational awareness: How well can you determine and understand relationships between different variables to predict the outcome of a scenario?


  • Systems thinking: How well can you understand cause and effect relationships?


The McKinsey Digital Assessment captures information on all of the candidate’s actions. For example, it measures the time spent on each page and the movement of the mouse. It then uses data science to assign a score on all five of these capabilities.


It is important to note that the McKinsey Digital Assessment gives each candidate two different scores. The product score measures how good the outcome was in each scenario. The process score evaluates the different steps and actions the candidate took to complete each task.


McKinsey Digital Assessment Tips


Follow these eight tips to nail your McKinsey Digital Assessment.


1. Do not replicate the solutions of other test takers


Do not submit the same solutions as other candidates. The McKinsey Digital Assessment creates a unique scenario for each test taker. Therefore, the data you see could be completely different from the data that other candidates see.


2. Make sure you understand the task and the instructions


Although you are only given 60-minutes to complete the digital assessment, the time that you spend going through the tutorial and reading the instructions does not count towards this time. Therefore, take your time reading through the instructions so that you fully understand how each scenario works and what you are tasked to do.


3. Manage your time well


The McKinsey Digital Assessment provides suggestions on how much time to spend on each task, but it is ultimately up to you how you choose to allocate your time.


The easiest way to fail the McKinsey Digital Assessment is to not finish all of the different tasks. Therefore, don’t spend too much time on a single task. Give yourself a time limit for each task and make the best decision that you can based on the information and analysis you have done so far.


It is better to finish all of the tasks than to spend all of your time nailing one task but leaving the remaining tasks untouched.


4. Prioritize the data and don’t get lost in the details


The McKinsey Digital Assessment will have a lot of data. You won’t have enough time to analyze every single variable, so don’t get lost in the details. Prioritize which pieces of data or information are most important.


Some data will be irrelevant to the decisions that you make. Other data will be relevant, but not that important. You should focus your time on the data that has the greatest impact on your decision-making.


5. Test your ideas and record the outcomes


In some scenarios, you will have questions about certain ideas or strategies that you have. You’ll most likely not get answers to these questions unless you test your strategies. Therefore, test your ideas and strategies and record the outcomes. Afterwards, you can adapt your strategy based on what you have learned.


You may think that this is risky to do, but remember that the McKinsey Digital Assessment assesses you not just on the outcome, but on the process that you take. So, the assessment may actually reward you for taking calculated risks to test different ideas or strategies.


6. Take notes on your observations and learnings


During the McKinsey Digital Assessment, you should be constantly learning new things as you read information and analyze data. Make sure that you take good notes on your observations and learnings.


This will help you be more effective in your use of time by helping you avoid having to re-read information or re-analyze data.


7. Get used to making decisions with incomplete information


During the McKinsey Digital Assessment, you will not always have all the information you need to make decisions that you are fully confident in. This is intentionally done because the simulation is trying to assess your decision-making process.


Therefore, be comfortable with making imperfect decisions and guesses based on incomplete information.


8. Adapt your strategy if needed


Some scenarios may introduce new data or information halfway through the scenario. Whenever you receive new data or information, make sure you review it. You may need to change or adapt your strategy given new circumstances.


How Important is the McKinsey Digital Assessment?


As of now, the McKinsey Digital Assessment has not completely replaced the McKinsey Problem Solving Test. However, there is strong potential that this digital assessment could replace the PST in the future.


The bottom line is that doing well in the McKinsey Digital Assessment will be more important for some candidates than other candidates.


Impact on applicants at target schools


If you attend a top-tier school and have an impressive background, not much of the recruiting process should change for you. You’ll likely still get an interview with McKinsey even if you do not score very high on the assessment.


McKinsey will always hire high pedigree candidates from top-tier schools. They need these candidates to maintain McKinsey’s brand name and prestige. Having consultants with impressive credentials also makes selling consulting projects easier and helps justify McKinsey’s high billing rates.


Therefore, as long as you don’t score abysmally low, the McKinsey Digital Assessment should not be a big deal for you if you attend a target school.


Impact on applicants at non-target schools


If you attend a school that McKinsey does not heavily recruit at, the McKinsey Digital Assessment will be much more important for you.


Since you don’t have a high pedigree resume and background, McKinsey will more heavily use their digital assessment to identify which candidates, if any, should get an interview.


McKinsey could decide to set a particular threshold score and only interview candidates that have scored above the threshold. They could also decide to only interview candidates whose scores put them in a certain top percentage in their school.


Therefore, if you attend a non-target school, you will need to score well on the assessment.


Impact on applicants that are working professionals


McKinsey hires most of its consultants from undergraduate and MBA schools. McKinsey designates much fewer resources on hiring working professionals because these hires are much less common.


If you are applying to McKinsey as a working professional, a combination of your resume and McKinsey Digital Assessment score will be used to determine whether you will get an interview.


If you have an impressive resume, have attended prestigious schools, and have worked for brand name companies, you probably won’t need to score as high on the McKinsey Digital Assessment to get an interview.


However, if your resume is not as impressive, you’ll most likely need to score high on the McKinsey Digital Assessment to improve your overall application if you want to have a chance of getting an interview with McKinsey.


Other Useful Links


McKinsey Digital Assessment Video

McKinsey Digital Assessment Blog Post


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