BCG Potential Test – How to prepare? January 25 2015

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Why does BCG have a Potential Test?

Imagine you are the CEO of BCG. You are in the business of helping companies make better decisions. What is the one thing that could really improve your business both in the short-term and the long-term? 

Hiring amazing people probably ranks very high on the list! Think about it. You hire the brightest candidates out of universities. They make your clients happy in the short-term and they become the best partners in the industry in the long-term. If BCG were much better at hiring than McKinsey or Bain, it could probably become the strongest name in the industry in 5 to 10 years.

In fact, hiring the best possible people is every consultancy’s obsession. And that is why BCG is investing so much in identifying top talent.

Historically, consulting firms have used fit and case interviews to do that. But BCG has now added a new tool to help it recruit the most amazing people possible: the BCG Potential Test, also know as BCG Online Test or BCG Reasoning Test.

BCG Potential Test basics

Online case

The BCG Potential Test is an online case that is designed to assess your analytical and logic skills as well as your business sense. Junior consultants at the Boston Consulting Group and other top consultancies spend a lot of time analysing reports and building models based on what they read. It could be a forecasting model for the profits of a company, for the size of the market etc.

The BCG Potential Test aims at reproducing this situation and at testing your ability to find information quickly, to think logically and to do mental maths. These skills are already partly tested in case interviews but using a test before or in addition to interviewing people has got two major advantages. 

First, every candidate does the same test and the results are therefore directly comparable. Comparing the performance of two different candidates on two different case interviews that were led by two different interviewers is more challenging.

And second, a test can be a cost-effective way to gather objective information about a candidate. In other words, administrating a test is cheaper than having partners interview a large number of candidates. This is probably also one of the reasons BCG uses a reasoning test as one of the first steps in its recruiting process.

Free resources available

The good news is that getting a good score at the BCG test is feasible by preparing in advance.

BCG makes a four-question sample available on its website for you to train. We have also put together 10 free questions to prepare for the BCG potential test to help you in your preparation.

Number of questions

However, one of the difficult things about training for the BCG online test is that the consultancy is not fully transparent on the format of the test to this date.

In its four-question sample BCG mentions that the online test includes 23 questions and needs to be completed in 45 minutes. However, past candidates have also reported slightly varying numbers of questions and time limits. Here are the different formats we have heard about so far:

  • 23 questions, 45 minutes
  • 50 questions, 50 minutes

Although the number of questions can change from test to test, it is likely that this will not impact the overall difficulty. When there are more questions to answer, they will probably either be slightly easier or the number of right answers you need to get will remain unchanged.

Scoring system

In addition to the format of the test, you will also have to get used to its scoring system. As BCG describes in its free pdf:

“For each right answer you will get +3 points, 0 points for no answer and -1 point for a wrong answer.”

Yes you read that correctly, you can actually get penalised for picking the wrong answer. This contrasts with other tests such as the McKinsey PST where there are no negative points and has got important consequences in terms of the strategy you should adopt. One of them is that you should only answer questions when you have a fairly high degree of certainty about the right answer. This takes some practice!

No calculator

As mentioned previously, one of the objectives of the test is to assess your maths skills. Using a calculator is therefore not allowed during the test. As a consequence, you will have to perform all the required calculations mentally.

Most of us haven’t used mental maths in a very long time. If you forgot how to do long divisions and multiplications on paper, you will benefit a lot from investing effort into reviewing this type of operations at the beginning of your training. 

Strategies for success at the BCG Potential Test 

So how do you make sure you succeed at the BCG Potential Test? Based on our experience, the following four-step approach makes for a great preparation.

Get familiar with the test

You should first get familiar with the format of the test by taking the 4 questions made available by BCG as well as the 10-question sample we provide. This is will give you an idea of the type of questions and the level of difficulty you should expect.

Develop confident maths skills

When you take your first few tests, you will probably realise you need to refresh your mental maths skills. This is normal as most of us do not do mental calculations in our daily lives and therefore tend to forget how to do them.

Making sure you are fully confident in maths and as fast as you can possibly be will help boost your score and make sure you pass the test. Improving your mental maths requires developing new habits and practicing. The earlier you review basic operations and start going through practice exercises the better.

Acquire a consistent answering method

Once you feel more confident in maths, your next objective should be to develop a consistent answering method. This will enable you to make a habit of answering BCG questions and to become faster at answering them over time.

Taking the BCG Potential Test is like any other new activity; it takes a lot of concentration and energy at first. To make it easier you should develop a routine and always approach questions in the same way. This might feel a bit mechanical initially but it will help you be more comfortable and faster when you take the actual test.

Practice on sample tests

Finally, after developing a consistent way of answering questions, you should practice on sample tests as much as possible. There are three important things you should remember when practicing. 

First, you should always take tests in real conditions. Do not use a calculator and allow yourself the adequate amount of time to do the test. For instance, if you take BCG Potential test #1 that comprises 23 questions, you should aim to complete it in 45 minutes. Reproducing the real conditions of the test is common sense but extremely important to ensure that you progress as much as possible.

Second, you should always study your mistakes in detail. This will make you progress quicker than just solving large number of practice tests. Indeed, it will help you avoid making the same mistake twice and therefore maximise your score.

Third, you should not hesitate to take the same test multiple times. Indeed, this is a great way to check that you are actually making progress. You might think that you will remember the answers if you have already done it but you will be surprised! Taking a test a second time very much feels like doing it the first time around. It is still very challenging. 

Difference between the McKinsey PST and the BCG Potential Test

At first glance, the BCG Potential Test and the McKinsey Problem Solving Test seem fairly similar. After all, they serve a common recruiting purpose and test similar skills (logic, maths, business sense) for similar business positions.

However, when you take a closer look, you will realise there are important differences between them.

Scoring system

As mentioned above, giving a wrong answer is penalised at the BCG Potential Test (-1 point). However, it is not when you take the McKinsey Problem Solving Test. As a result, you should adopt a different strategy when taking each test.

For both tests, your objective is to maximise your score. With the McKinsey PST, this will involve occasionally selecting an answer at random as there is no downside to doing so. On the contrary, you should only select an answer in the BCG Potential Test when you have a fairly high degree of confidence that you found the correct one.

This aspect of the test is evaluating your ability to judge your own results and have the right amount of confidence about your findings. If you are overconfident, you will lose points because of the penalties you will incur on your wrong answers. If you are under confident, you will not maximise your score as you will not collect points for the questions you could have answered correctly. Managing this aspect of the test requires some practice! 

Format

Finally the formats of the tests are different. While the BCG test is online, the McKinsey PST is carried out on paper. This might sound like a small difference, but it actually creates a completely different experience. As we have already mentioned, training for these tests under the same conditions as you will face when taking the actual test makes a huge difference.

Whenever taking a BCG test we encourage you not to print the test but to do it on screen instead. This will enable you to easily recreate the conditions you will be in on the D-Day.

Once you have taken the BCG Potential Test

Once you have taken the test, feel free to leave a comment on this page. It will be extremely valuable for future candidates!

Good luck!

Additional resources

Candidates from the best universities around the world use our McKinsey Case Interview Training ProgrammeFree McKinsey Case Interview PrepMcKinsey PST Training ProgrammeFree McKinsey PSTBCG Potential Test Training Programme and Free BCG Potential Test. Some races are worth the extra effort - let's get started!

The IGotAnOffer team

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