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How to Beat the McKinsey Digital Assessment (2022)

Over the last three years, McKinsey has developed their ‘Digital Assessment’ with the help of Imbellus. This was initially presented alongside the PST. More recently, it has completely replaced it as the preliminary application assessment to test logic, innovation and clarity of thought.

Since its inception at McKinsey, BCG has developed its own pre-interview test and Bain’s testing has become increasingly based on high-level logic.

The Digital Assessment is a very different kettle of fish for candidates who have applied to a range of firms. It is designed to filter candidates who have passed the initial screening. No-one quite knows how to beat it just yet and it doesn’t resemble the applications process of any other consultancy. In this article, we are bringing our tips and tricks for doing as well as possible by dismantling the psychological attributes that McKinsey are looking for.

The reason for this is that candidates can revise for the PST. Endless previous tests and online assistance can get you in order for a 1 hour, 26 question test. McKinsey found that there was a strong bias in testing towards applicants with the university or household resources to ‘game’ testing procedures.

The Digital Assessment is meant to be a completely novel scenario for applicants. Every recruitment cycle has seen the games slightly change. In theory, it prevents candidates who study a mathematical subject having an advantage. Instead, it tests pure logic, innovation and clarity of thought.

It was developed by Imbellus‘ leading psychologists to test 5 key attributes.

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Decision making
  3. Meta-cognition
  4. Situational awareness
  5. Systems thinking

Here are the correlation co-efficients between each of the attributes and the likelihood of passing the digital assessment. These are all quite obviously skills that are important for consultants and skills. They can also be tested by different, similar tests like PWC’s balloon popping exercise.

McKinsey say that the game measures a candidate’s ability by tracking every move of the mouse, hesitation, time spent to do an action. It then uses data science to score the five abilities. This may well be true, implausible as it may seem. Many candidates have reported getting correct answers via trial and error but not passing the Digital Assessment.

The Digital Assessment is designed to resemble the feel of a computer game. At least in so far as strategic thinking and planning are crucial to success. One crucial element of this is that you have 60 minutes which you can divide up as you wish. The guidance offered is fairly rough and so this is a difficult judgement call.

McKinsey has repeatedly reinforced that experience with computer games is not an advantage. We would suggest that familiarity with strategy-planning games is almost certainly beneficial. In fact, Part 1 is not completely dissimilar to one game in particular – Zoo Tycoon.

Part 1 – Ecosystem Management

This was part of the very first round of testing and has clearly been a success. You essentially need to create a stable habitat for a group of animals and plants.

The ecosystem is a piece of software that pictures a piece of terrain when you open it. As you scroll around with your mouse, you can see that the conditions of the terrain vary. At different points, there are variations in wind speed, pH of the soil, temperature, sunlight, moisture etc. Your job is to arrange animals and plants in such a way as to make the ecosystem work.

Each organism has its preferences for certain conditions. Therefore, every animal and plant has to have a sufficient amount of the resources that they need for survival. Usually, a candidate has to consider about ten conditions of which four are the crucial determinants of your ecosystem. You have to position eight animals or plants from a range of about 40.

The hardest bit is calculating what the animals need to eat. Each animal has a certain number of calories required for survival. Equally it provides a certain number when consumed. In addition, they have preferences. i.e. the wolf would prefer to eat the boar to the fox. Therefore, although boars eat foxes too, you can’t rely on them to do so if they are also being eaten!

For the Digital Assessment in general, it is especially important to read the instructions carefully. There is a lot of superfluous detail which you can side-step if you know where you are going from the very start.

Part 2

In previous years, this part evolved into further problems. There would be two successive parts of the test. First there would a natural disaster and then a disease. The candidate would have to re-position the animals under new conditions.

This means that because the lava was approaching, some organisms had to move. Only, they can’t move to areas where their predators are already waiting, for example. Similarly, certain animals are more susceptible or more likely to transmit disease.

As we said, candidates didn’t face Part 2 in the 2019/20 admissions cycle, but beware! It may well return.

Most candidates found it slightly easier than Part 1. Once you have your head around how the game works, the ins-and-outs flow more easily.

Lots of people think that because Part 2 has popped up, they were successful at Part 1. This isn’t necessarily the case. Just because you are still working with the same organisms you initially picked, does not mean they were the right choices!

Part 3 – Protect the Plant

Part 3 is a whole new part of the test. You are presented with a grid. We reckon its roughly 12×12 squares. In the middle is your plant. You have to protect it from invading rodents. They start at the outside and work their way in. They can only get to your plant by attacking from an adjacent square.

There are three rounds. Each round brings with it new rodents. Each type of rodent moves across the squares at different speeds, therefore reaching your plant quicker or slower. Your job is to make each round as long as possible. i.e. to keep your plant alive for as long as you can.

You have tools which can stop or slow the rodents down. For example, you can employ predators to hunt them or brambles to delay their approach. The problem is that you have to employ 90% of your tools before you know where the rodents will appear. Rodents can enter the grid at any point, so you have to optimise your tools for maximum coverage.

No-one quite knows how to beat this part of the test just yet. There seems to be slightly less time pressure, so try to think through a few potential configurations of the game.

If you place your tools close to the plant and get it wrong, at least you have time to react to a mistake. In each round you can add a few plants mid-way through, after the first few rodents. If your initial plans are around the plant, you can build out. If they are in defunct positions at the edge of the grid, they are useless!


For more on the digital assessment watch Strategy Case’s video:

Or CaseCoach’s ideas!

If you are also keen to learn more about the PST, check out our page that we update with all the latest advice, tips and tricks. For more on how McKinsey think about their new recruits, check out Ethan Rasiel’s The McKinsey Way.

Alternatively, find out more about MBB, about working at McKinsey and the differences between some of the top firms!


  • Will Bennett

    Will Bennett is a Cambridge graduate. He worked as a Consultant and Senior Consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in London. Will is the Founder of The Cambridge Consultant.