BCG Potential Test: the ultimate guide

At IGotAnOffer, we have helped hundreds of candidates prepare for their BCG Potential Test. Students who go through our full training programme are a happy bunch: more than 85% of them are successful at the BCG Potential Test.

Preparing for the BCG Online Test does not have to be complicated. Over the years we have managed to develop a simple step-by-step system to get you from "What is the BCG Potential Test?" to "I am confident I can crack the BCG test". We have summarised some of the key things we have learned in this free guide. You can either read the guide below, or watch the video version.

Part 1: Basics to get started

1.1 Why does BCG have a 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! If 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 was 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, BCG has used fit and case interviews to do that. But it has now added a new tool to help it recruit the best consultants possible: the BCG Potential Test. This test has got two major advantages over traditional case interviews.

BCG Potential Test - Why does BCG use a test?

First, every candidate takes 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. The Potential Test lets BCG compare candidates apple to apple.

Second, it is 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.

Now that you know why BCG uses an online test, let's step through its basic characteristics to set you up for success.

Important note

You will hear people using different names for the BCG Potential Test. This includes BCG Online Test, BCG Online Case, BCG Reasoning Test, BCG Written Test, BCG Aptitude Test or even just BCG Test.

These different names are all used interchangeably and actually refer to the same test.

1.2 Two formats currently in use

BCG uses two different formats of tests according to the candidates who have trained with us so far.

In most countries, it uses an online test that's carried out on a computer. This includes countries like the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Australia, Singapore, Greece, etc. 

But there are also a couple of offices where candidates reported having to do a different test on paper. The only two countries where we have seen this so far are Russia and Czech Republic.

If your country is not on that list, and you would like to confirm which format you will be taking, ask your question in the Q&A section below and our team will get back to you with the best information we have got.

BCG Potential Test version (online vs. paper) by country

1.3 Online test

The format of the online test used by BCG is exactly the one described by the firm in its four-question sample. This is also the format we use in the 10 free questions to prepare for the BCG potential test. Let's step through all the important aspects of this test one by one.

BCG Online Test characteristics

1.3.1 Online computer test

The fact that it is an ONLINE test might sound like a detail but it is VERY IMPORTANT. Past candidates have told us this is actually one of the main challenges of the test. All the information you will be given will be on a computer screen.

Going back and forth between the different documents to find information can be challenging because you can't take notes on the documents themselves. You have to take notes on a separate piece of paper.

In order to prepare for this, you should refrain from printing the PDF test provided in this guide. Instead you should do the test with the PDF on full screen on your computer and with blank scrap paper in front of you. This will better replicate the conditions you will be in when you take the actual test.

1.3.2 23 questions, 45 minutes

As BCG mentions in its four-question sample, the test includes 23 questions to be completed in about 45 minutes. This means you will have two minutes to solve each question on average.

Managing your time is therefore one of the biggest challenges in the test. Almost everyone can succeed at the BCG Online Test with unlimited time. But it's obviously harder to do so when you only have 45 minutes.

One of the objectives of your preparation should therefore be to gain SPEED. As we will discuss below this means you will likely have to both improve your maths and reading speed to be successful.

1.3.3 One single case

Another important aspect is that all 23 questions are about the same company. In other words, the test includes ONE SINGLE CASE. For instance, the test might be focused on helping an oil and gas company improve its revenues.

The case is laid out using a series of 5 to 10 documents. These documents are a mix of tables, graphs and text. For instance, you might have a graph describing the oil price, a table containing the volumes of fuel sold by the company in different countries, and a text extract from an analyst report describing the dynamics in the industry. And you will be asked to answer questions based on that information.

At the beginning of the case, you will only have access to a few documents (e.g. one or two). As you answer questions, additional documents will get unlocked which you will be able to use to answer new questions.

1.3.4 Scoring system

The test’s scoring system is also quite specific. As BCG describes in its four-question PDF:

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

In other words, you can get PENALISED for picking the wrong answer. This contrasts with other consulting tests, where there are no negative points. 

BCG uses this rule is to disincentivise candidates from picking answers randomly when they run out of time or when they have no clue about a specific question. This rule therefore decreases the role of luck in your final score.

1.3.5 Calculator allowed? It varies

Most candidates we have worked with were not allowed to use a calculator when taking the test. In its four-question sample BCG also specifies that the calculator is not allowed.

However, we have worked with candidates taking the test Israel and Greece who were allowed to use a calculator.

We therefore advise you to contact your local HR connection at BCG to clarify whether you will be allowed to use a calculator or not during your actual test.

If you find out that you are allowed to use a calculator, you should aim to complete the sample tests in our BCG Potential Test Training Programme in about 35 mins instead of the standard 45 mins without a calculator.

1.3.6 Passing score: 70%+

Finally, BCG does not communicate an official cutoff rate for its test, but we estimate that the passing score for the BCG Potential Test is around 70%+. This is both based on our experience of taking the test as well as feedback from more than 500 candidates we worked with so far. In both cases people who passed the test were scoring 70%+ before taking the test AND did well on the actual day.

If you have already taken a few tests you'll have probably realised that scoring more than 70% is difficult. In fact, most people score less than 50% the first time they take the test. But by training properly it's feasible to steadily increase your score over time and end up passing. We'll look at this in more detail in the preparation section of this guide.

1.4 Paper test

Let's now turn our attention to the second format of the BCG Potential Test. As we have mentioned above, so far we've only had candidates from Russia and Czech Republic saying they had to go through this second type of test.

BCG Paper Test characteristics

1.4.1 Paper test

This second format is a paper test. No computers involved this time. BCG will give you a question book and an answer sheet.

However, you will NOT be allowed to take notes on the question book. You will only be allowed to mark your answers on the answer sheet. 

This is because BCG uses the same question books with multiple candidates. And it does not want notes from previous candidates to help the following ones.

1.4.2 53 questions, 50 minutes

The paper test has more questions than the online one. It contains 53 questions to be answered in 50 minutes. The level of difficulty of the questions is similar to the ones in the BCG Online Test.

However, BCG gives the following word of advice on its question book:

"Don't worry if you cannot complete every question; many people don't. Just answer as many questions as you can in the time provided."

This clearly suggests that this test includes a lot of questions to increase the spread in candidates' results. If the test only had 15 questions, an excellent candidate would finish it in 30 minutes and spend the last 20 minutes doing nothing. An average candidate might complete the test in 50 minutes. And both the excellent and average candidates would end up with the same score in this scenario (assuming they get all questions right).

By adding a LOT of questions, BCG gives you the opportunity to really set yourself apart against other candidates. This is obviously not easy, but it can be achieved with the right preparation.

1.4.3 Multiple cases

The paper test includes multiple sections. Each section contains a short document outlining a business situation (aka business "case"). This situation can be about an industry (e.g. cocoa industry) or a company (e.g. a manufacturer). The information you are provided with mainly comes in the form of text. But some of the cases also include graphs and tables. 

There are about 10 sections in a paper test. For each section, you will need to answer a series of questions, usually between 3 and 10. On its question book's instructions, BCG suggests doing the questions in the order they are given.

1.4.4 Scoring system: varies

The scoring system used varies between sections! In some cases, you get 1 point for a right answer, in others you get 2 points. For some sections, you will also lose 0.5 points per incorrect answer. But that won't always be the case.

At the beginning of each section, BCG will specify how the scoring system works. It's important to pay attention to that. For those sections where there is no negative points, you should answer ALL questions. Even if that means picking answers RANDOMLY at the end of the test.

For those sections where there are negative points, you should use the same approach as for the online test and only answer the question when you have actually found what you think is the right answer.

1.4.5 No calculator

The candidates who took this test told us they were not allowed to use a calculator. If this changes in the future we will be updating this section.

Part 2: BCG Potential Test question types

Let's now turn our attention to the different types of questions in the BCG Potential Test. Questions in the test can be grouped in three categories and are used in similar proportions in the online and the paper versions of the test.

However, as described above the two versions of the test will FEEL quite different because of their different characteristics (e.g. calculator, one vs multiple cases, etc.) But in reality both tests leverage the same question types.

Question type by BCG Potential Test version

Here is the breakdown for the online version of the test:

  1. Maths word problems: ~40% of questions
  2. Logic - Data interpretation: ~35% of questions
  3. Logic - Reading comprehension: ~25% of questions

And the breakdown for the paper version:

  1. Maths word problems: ~45% of questions
  2. Logic - Data interpretation: ~35% of questions
  3. Logic - Reading comprehension: ~20% of questions

Let's step through an example for each of them.

2.1 Maths word problems: ~40% of questions

Maths word problems are the most common type of question in both the online and paper versions of the BCG Potential Test. These are sometimes called "word problems" in the US. Here is an example of this type of question:

Given the information provided in the documents, how many tickets would you expect the company to sell next year?

a. 8m

b. 10m

c. 15m

d. 17m

The purpose of this type of questions is to give you a lot of information in different formats (e.g. text, graphs, tables, etc.) and to see if you can find the maths formula needed to solve the problem. In most cases, the calculations required are not very complicated. It is just basic additions, multiplications, subtractions, divisions and some percentage growth rates.

The main challenge is really the time pressure to do these questions quickly and accurately. The most common mistake people make when going through this type of questions is misreading or misunderstanding the data provided or the question asked. Another common pitfall is making calculation errors.

In the preparation plan section of this guide we will discuss how you can prepare to work around these challenges.

2.2 Logic - Data interpretation: ~35% of questions

The online and paper versions of the BCG Potential Test also includes logic questions where you are asked to assess different statements and determine which is true / false. These are sometimes called "data interpretation questions" in the US. Here is an example of such a question:

Based on the information available in Document #1's graph, which of the following statements is true?

a. Company A's revenues are 10% higher than Company B's

b. Company A's revenues are 20% higher than Company C's

c. Company B's revenues are 30% lower than Company C's

d. Company C's revenues are 40% lower than Company A's

This type of question is less maths intensive than the maths word problems we discussed above. They do involve some maths, but they don't really test your raw computational skills. They are more focused on testing your logic and critical reasoning skills. This is why we call them logic questions.

Amongst the statements provided some will be fairly obviously wrong. But you will usually be left with two or three where the data suggests they could be right. The challenge will be to quickly make a difference between the statements that are DEFINITELY right according to the data (i.e. factual conclusions). And those that COULD be right, but it is not 100% proven by the data (i.e. unproven hypotheses).

2.3 Logic - Reading comprehension: ~25% of questions

Finally, in reading comprehension questions you will be provided with a passage containing 400 to 600 words about a business topic (e.g. US steel industry). You will then be asked to answer a series of questions about the information contained in the passage. Here is an example of this type of question:

Passage #1 provides information to support which of the following statements?

a. US steel manufacturing is profitable only if done on a large scale

b. US consumption of steel has been unusually high for three years

c. US production of steel will return to normal once Chinese imports return to historical levels

d. Surplus stocks of steel have been reduced in the past three years

This type of question tests your ability to quickly read and understand complex and lengthy business materials similar to those you will encounter as a consultant. To pick the right answer, you'll often need to distinguish main ideas from supporting ideas, and opinions from facts.

Some statements in these questions will LOOK like they are true (e.g. statement A above is probably true). But they WON'T be SUPPORTED by the passage and it will therefore be incorrect to select them. One VERY IMPORTANT tip is to select your answers ONLY based on the information available in the passage and nothing else.

Finally, you will probably have noticed that this type of question is similar to Logic questions in terms of format. But instead of relying on data interpretation (e.g. charts, tables, numbers in text), they purely rely on your interpretation of a text and don't involve ANY numbers.

Let's now turn our attention to how you should go about answering BCG Potential Test questions.

Part 3: Tips for passing the BCG Potential Test

Here is a list of important tips to follow to maximise your chances of being successful at the online and paper versions of the BCG Potential Test.

BCG Potential Test top 10 tips for passing

Tip #1: Read the questions first

You should read the questions FIRST, and THEN look for the information required to answer them. This will allow you to get an idea of what information you are looking for. And it is much faster than reading the documents first, then reading the questions and finally reading the documents AGAIN to find the data you need.

Tip #2: Scan the text

As you will have understood by now, speed is essential to be successful at the test. SCANNING the text as opposed to READING the text is a great way to become faster. By scanning we mean that you should look for specific information in the text, as opposed to reading line by line.

Tip #3: Probably true ≠ True

You should take every question LITERALLY. A common mistake candidates make is interpreting or extrapolating the question and the data. Some answers in the BCG Potential Test will LOOK like they are true. But they won’t be supported by evidence in the data you have got and they will therefore be false. When you take the test, you will need to remember that something is not true unless it is 100% PROVEN by the DATA you have got.

Tip #4: Brush up your maths

Most questions in the BCG online test involve maths. In our experience, successful candidates invest some time upfront to properly brush up their maths skills. You will not have time to double check your calculations when you take the test. As a consequence, there's a lot of value in being VERY CONFIDENT in maths. In addition, this will also be helpful for your BCG case interviews.

Tip #5: Exhibits are often the key

Pay very close attention to GRAPHS and TABLES as they usually are MORE IMPORTANT than the text your are provided with. Indeed, in our experience you will almost certainly have to use the information available in exhibits but not always the information available in the text. You should therefore start with focusing on exhibits and then move on to the text.

Tip #6: Plan THEN solve

You should plan how you are going to answer the questions before actually answering them. This will make you MUCH FASTER because it means you will know what information you are looking for in the documents. You will do everything with a PURPOSE.

Tip #7: Approximate

For most maths questions in the BCG Potential Test you can get to the answer by approximating numbers. You therefore don’t need to do precise maths all the time. It's fine to APPROXIMATE your calculations when the answers you are choosing from are sufficiently far apart. Again, estimating will enable you to gain precious time.

Tip #8: Be organised 

Keep clean notes. This might sound very basic but with the pressure of the test it is easy to try to go too quickly and to take poor notes. Writing down the wrong numbers or mixing up numbers leads to calculation errors which you can easily avoid.

Tip #9: Don't stall

Candidates who succeed at the test resist the temptation to spend too much time on any single question. They don’t spend more than 2 or 3 minutes per question. If they get stuck, they simply move on to the next question. Skipping a question is better than stalling.

Tip #10: Prepare for it

Finally, everyone struggles the first time they take a sample BCG Potential Test. And that includes the team here at IGotAnOffer :) Don't give up, passing the test is definitely possible with the right preparation.

Now that you are up to speed with these BCG Potential Test tips, let's turn our attention to how you should manage your prepration.

Part 4: BCG Potential Test preparation plan

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.

BCG Potential Test preparation plan

  • First, get familiar with the test and question types
  • Second, develop confident maths skills
  • Third, master a fast and consistent answering method
  • Fourth, practice on sample BCG Potential Tests

For full disclosure, this is the approach we use in our BCG Potential Test Training Programme and 85% of candidates who used it ended up being successful. But even if you don't end up using the programme, we still encourage you to take this four-step approach. Trust us, it really works!

4.1 Get familiar with the test and question types

If you have not already done so, you should get familiar with the format of the test and the type of questions being asked. We have listed a number of resources that you can use to do this below. 

Here are some BCG Potential Test samples:

Some questions in the GMAT and in the GRE also somewhat resemble the questions in the BCG test. In particular, we would recommend practicing some GMAT word problems to train on the maths questions. And some GRE data interpretation questions for the logic questions as well as GRE readingin comprehension questions.

Maths word problems

Logic questions

Reading comprehension questions

These questions are a good way to get some practice. If you find any other interesting resources, please post them in the Q&A section below and we will add them to this list.

Keep in mind that the actual BCG Potential Test questions are HARDER than most GMAT and GRE questions. In addition, questions in the ONLINE version of the BCG test require you to find information in MULTIPLE places. Whereas the GMAT and GRE questions we have listed above refer to a single chart, or single table, or a single paragraph of text.

Finding information in multiple places is one of the BIGGEST CHALLENGES in the BCG Potential Test and it's therefore an important skill to train when preparing. We therefore recommend to use both GMAT / GRE questions to get some practice as well as actual BCG Potential Tests to replicate the exact conditions in which you will be when you take the online version of the test.

4.2 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.

In our experience, candidates who are successful at the test have invested some time at the beginning of their preparation to brush up their maths. The BCG Potential Test is a TIMED test. It's designed to identify the best people at maths and logic reasoning. It is therefore VERY IMPORTANT that you practice your maths computations.

Doing mental maths quickly and accurately is a very specific skill. It's very different from the kind of mathematics you would do in an engineering or physics degree (e.g. calculating integrals). The calculations themselves are not hard. What is hard is doing a LOT of calculations VERY QUICKLY and without making ANY mistakes.

That requires some training even if you have an engineering or science degree. Improving your mental maths requires developing new habits and practicing. The earlier you review basic operations and start going through practice exercises the better.

The first part of the BCG Potential Test Training Programme contains maths videos to review maths basics and also learn shortcuts that maximise your speed. You'll also get access to a calculation workbook to practice computations.

4.3 Master a fast and consistent answering method

Once you feel more confident in maths, your next objective should be to develop a FAST and 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 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.

This is what we do in the second part of the BCG Potential Test Training Programme. The step-by-step method is taught through a video where you can watch a best-in-class candidate solve the Free BCG Potential Test. We always use the same step-by-step method to answer the questions. It's a simple but very fast method that's proven to work.

4.4 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 on these test.

First, you should always take tests in REAL CONDITIONS. Do not use a calculator unless your HR contact specified you will be allowed one. Don't print the tests if you are taking the online version of the test (printing and taking notes makes the test much easier). And allow yourself no more than 45 minutes to complete it. 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. 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. 

The BCG Potential Test Training Programme contains 3 tests, made up of 23 questions each. These tests follow the online format of the test. And past students that have taken them reported that they closely resembled the actual test they had to take with BCG.

Additional resources

Join our BCG Potential Test Training Programme and learn how to crack the BCG test directly from ex-interviewers. More than 80% of candidates who use the programme are successful. As a result, we’re now recommended by consulting clubs at Universities including Harvard, Columbia and Berkeley. Learn more below.

 BCG Potential Test Training Programme


Any questions about the BCG Potential Test?

If you have any questions about the BCG Potential Test, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!