Google GCA Interview: General Cognitive Ability Interview Guide

Anthony PellegrinoAnthony PellegrinoLast updated

During your upcoming Google interview, there will be a critical round called the GCA, or General Cognitive Ability, interview.

GCA interview rounds assess your general cognitive abilities, thought processes, and approach to solving problems.

Expect to hear behavioral, hypothetical, or estimation questions.

Despite the importance of this part of the Google interview process, Google cognitive ability questions are tough to master.

Below, we dive deep into the Google GCA interview.

What is the Google GCA interview?

GCA interviews are similar to behavioral interviews at other companies.

However, these questions are focused on evaluating how you think and solve problems rather than role-related knowledge.

Often, these interview rounds won’t take more than one hour.

Most candidates will be interviewed by Google hiring managers or by a member of the team you’re hoping to join if hired.

Google GCA interview questions are very open-ended questions meant to give candidates significant leeway with how they can answer. They showcase a candidate’s thought processes and potential approaches to solving problems.

Don’t be surprised if the questions you are asked during your interviews are either specific to your role, seemingly irrelevant, or both.

Google GCA Behavioral Interview Questions

In most cases, you'll find that Google GCA questions will be in the form of behavioral questions.

Still, GCA behavioral questions may focus more on situations that demonstrate how you think on the job.

In other parts of the interview, Google interviewers will also ask these questions to gauge your culture fit.

Here are some examples of Google GCA behavioral questions:

  1. Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder.
  2. Tell me about a time when you worked on a project with a tight deadline.
  3. How do you prioritize if you have to work on five different projects?
  4. Tell me about a time you faced technical and people challenges simultaneously.
  5. Tell me about a time when you handled conflict.
  6. How do you sell an idea to senior management? For example, if you use slides, what would the content include?
  7. Tell me about a time you had to convince engineers to implement a particular feature.
  8. Tell me about a time when you made a decision based on data and were ultimately wrong.
  9. Tell me about how you brought a product to market.
  10. Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a team after a demoralizing event.

Google GCA Hypothetical Interview Questions

One unique aspect of the Google GCA is that some of the behavioral interview questions you'll be asked are about hypothetical scenarios rather than past behavior.

Google interviewers will ask you how you'd act or react in a given situation.

Here are some examples:

  1. You have a coworker who is not comfortable working on the team. What steps would you take to make the person more comfortable?
  2. What would you do if you were introduced to new technology and never used it before? How would you know that you have learned it well?
  3. Your team isn't innovating. What will you do to analyze the situation and make them innovate?
  4. You have 12 months to deliver on a project. After six months, you released during a meeting that another team is working on the same project. What would you do?
  5. How would you react when you find the price of a product in a drug store to be very high?
  6. How would you handle people who are not team players?
  7. Imagine your manager strongly believed in something, and you did not. How would you manage the situation?
  8. A developer is not testing the work. How would you deal with this?
  9. What happens when a team member takes sick leave when your project has an upcoming deadline?
  10. An essential feature of a product is not working on the day of the conference you are releasing it. What will you do?

How to Answer Behavioral and Hypothetical Questions

It is crucial to explain your thought process in problem-solving, using data to inform your decisions and seeking feedback from the interviewer.

In a sense, hypothetical GCA interview questions are simply a type of behavioral interview question.

Both are rather open ended questions. As such, you can answer them effectively in essentially the same way. Here’s how:

Use interview frameworks.

The best way to ensure your behavioral interview answers are concise yet compelling is to use interview frameworks where appropriate.

You should not rely solely on interview frameworks to answer every question your way; they can be a valuable tool during the GCA round.

Two frameworks will be best for the behavioral and hypothetical GCA interview questions. These are the triangle method and the STAR framework.

The STAR Method

The STAR method is a way of answering these types of questions in a succinct but complete way.

STAR stands for:

  • S - Situation
  • T - Task
  • A - Action
  • R - Results


Set the stage with context, such as impending investor meetings and recent coding setbacks. Illustrate the complexity of the situation.


Clarify specific benchmarks or goals, such as a sales increase target. Define the task clearly.


Explore multiple options, consult with stakeholders, and emphasize empathy and understanding to navigate team disagreements. Involve team leads and senior engineers in brainstorming.

Demonstrate collaborative problem-solving and adaptability.


This resolution showcases the importance of empathy, effective communication, and team collaboration in achieving successful project outcomes.

The Triangle Method

The triangle method is a framework that consists of breaking your answer into (typically) three main sub-points.

You may find that this framework is a little more appropriate for answering hypothetical questions.

Create an Interview Story Bank

Another way to prepare for the GCA behavioral questions is to create a story bank.

This is a collection of stories, situations, or previous experiences that you can reference or repurpose during your actual interviews.

Google GCA Estimation Questions

Also known as Fermi Problems, you may be asked these estimation questions during your GCA interviews.

  • How many tennis balls would fit into a typical car?
  • How many eggs are sold in the US per year?
  • How many windows are in New York City?

Among the big tech companies, Google is notorious for asking these difficult estimation questions.

Nevertheless, the estimation questions being asked during GCA interviews have changed. Estimation questions like those above have fallen out of fashion and are asked less frequently during interviews.

Instead, if you are asked estimation questions during your GCAs, they will likely be Google-specific, such as these:

  1. Estimate the number of videos watched on YouTube per day.
  2. How much money does the Play Store make in a year?
  3. What is the market size for driverless cars in 2025?
  4. How many quarters do you need to reach the height of the Empire State Building?
  5. Estimate the total amount of online sales for fruits and vegetables per year in NYC.
  6. Estimate Google Photos storage for Pixel phones.
  7. Estimate the total internet bandwidth needed for a campus of 1000 graduate students.
  8. What's the market size for Android in India?
  9. Estimate the number of Gmail users in the US.

How to Answer Estimation Questions

While this kind of Google interview question may seem mind-numbing, if not a little ridiculous, at first, don't worry.

It is still possible to prepare for them ahead of time and answer them effectively on the day of your GCA rounds.

Remember basic facts.

These basic figures can come in handy later when attempting to make some reasonable estimations.

We've compiled a list of some important ones you should try to memorize for your GCA interviews.

Don't try memorizing as many facts and figures as possible. After all, Google interviewers aren't assessing your memorization abilities for these interview questions.

Estimation questions during your GCA evaluate how you think, so simply reciting remembered figures won't do you any favors.

Clarify the problem.

If your Google hiring manager asked you to estimate the weight of a monster truck, you could ask questions such as:

  • Do I need to include a full tank of gas in my estimate?
  • Do I need to account for the weight of a driver in my estimation?

Depending on your questions, your hiring manager may simply tell you to make your own assumptions as necessary.

Break into smaller pieces.

You'll need to explain and outline the structure you use to answer the question for the most effective answer.

Once you've clarified the scope of the question, you'll need to break down the problem into smaller pieces and explain why you are doing so.


Estimation questions in GCA interviews aren't meant for perfectly accurate answers.

So long as you can explain why you believe the number you chose is reasonable given your assumptions, it doesn't matter if you're a little off the actual figure.

Explain why it's wrong.

Once you provide your estimate, you should also mention how or why it could be wrong.

Then, explain to your interviewer if the number you provided is likely overestimated or underestimated.

Mention some other factors you could have considered to find a more accurate figure.

Interview Tips

The GCA interview assesses your general cognitive ability and level of intelligence.

Truth be told, the only truly effective way to prepare for this interview is to practice, practice, practice.

Review Google interview questions.

You never know what Google hiring managers may ask you.

Luckily, you can study up on questions previously asked in actual Google interviews.

We've sourced hundreds of different Google interview questions from members of our community for you to review before your GCA interview.

Practice mock interviews.

There's no shame in admitting that an upcoming Google interview makes you nervous. Considering how competitive and massive the tech giant is, we wouldn't blame you for feeling some nerves on your big day.

Before you go for your actual interview, try practicing mock interviews to help build your confidence ahead of time.

Work with a coach.

One of the most effective ways to prepare for these questions is with Google interview coaching.

Exponent has partnered with several Google interview coaches who can give you an inside look into the company's hiring process while giving you expert advice on your potential interview performance.

Your Exponent membership awaits.

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