If you’re heading into a graduate scheme, or any kind of role that requires situational judgement and organisational skills, it’s quite possible that you’ll be required to pass an In-Tray or E-Tray assessment. These exercises are designed to assess how well you can read, interpret, and apply information to a range of situations. Likewise, you’ll be tested on your prioritisation skills, as well as whether you meet the core competencies of the role which you are applying for.

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what is in-tray?

In-Tray is a paper-based exercise which simulates an office environment. The goal of the exercise is to be similar to a normal working day for the job which you are applying for. Therefore, In-Tray is an excellent way to measure a candidate’s ability and see whether they work in a way which is conducive to the job and business as a whole.

In-Tray exercises are timed assessments, and candidates are usually given somewhere between one and two hours to complete them. In a sense, the In-Tray exercise is like a role play exercise. You are asked to assume a role, detailed in the ‘background information’ section of the exercise. Then, under the specification given, you are expected to complete the tasks presented to you.

Generally speaking, this involves being given a collection of tasks to complete: your job is not only to complete these tasks, but to also prioritise them in an order which means you’re most likely to complete them all in time.

what is e-Tray?

E-Tray exercises are simulations of possible scenarios you might encounter whilst at a computer workspace. Unlike In-Tray exercises, which are completed on paper, E-Tray exercises are completed online, so you’ll need access to a computer in order to complete them. You are tested via a series of emails and requests which arrive in a virtual email inbox.

The E-Tray Exercise is divided into three sections:

  1. Reading and Comprehending Background Information – You will be expected to read a series of documents giving you introductory information about the role you will be fulfilling during the exercise. The information in this section will be vital for completing the E-Tray exercise.
  2. Identifying the Least and Most Effective Responses to a Series of Emails – You will be given a number of emails, all of which come with a series of responses. You will need to choose the best and worst responses.
  3. Writing a Response – In this section, you will need to write a response based on the information in the exercise. This is a written section of prose which you will need to construct, which means that your written communication skills will be tested.


In-Tray and E-Tray exercises are a combination of situational judgement, comprehension, computer literacy (in the case of E-Tray), and prioritisation tests. Unlike other tests, no prior knowledge is required for In-Tray and E-Tray assessments. While this means that you don’t need to revise facts for days on end, it also means that you can’t just regurgitate information and hope to pass! In other words, In-Tray and E-Tray are assessments which measure your skills, not pure knowledge and memory.

For this reason, it’s vital that you prepare yourself with practice materials. Our expert guide contains everything you need to know about In-Tray and E-Tray tests: tips and advice, sample questions, as well as practice tests that you can use to get an idea of how well you’ll perform in the real exercises.


To: You

Subject: Acting Manager


Congratulations and thank you for taking on Andrew’s responsibilities as manager of the copywriting team while he’s away. We all appreciate that you have a lot on your plate with your own tasks, so we hope that the workload from managing the team won’t be too extreme.

As you know, Andrew likes to meet with each of his team members for a ten-to-fifteen minute catch-up once every two weeks. Andrew informed me on Friday that his last catch-up with the team was two weeks ago. Therefore, it would be great if you could get in touch with the rest of the team and find a time to meet with each of them. You’re probably well aware of what’s going on between everyone on the team, so hopefully a catch-up will be straight-forward. Please organise these for the end of the day.

In addition, I’d like you to take a look at some possible clients with projects that the team will be working on. I’ll send a brief report with each of the clients’ projects sometime later today, but if you could also decide on which (if any) of the clients to work with by the end of the day would also be excellent.

If you have any queries, or have any questions about your new role, don’t be afraid to get in touch.


Linda Peterson,

Managing Director

Task 1

Choose the most effective and least effective course of action:

  Most Effective Least Effective

Hold a group catch-up with the entire copywriting team to save time.



Email or chat to each of the copywriting team members to find a time which suits them.


Ask Andrea to send you a list of times which are likely to suit the copywriting team.
Choose a time which suits you for each catch-up meeting.


Prioritise Your Tasks

This has already been mentioned briefly in the previous chapter, but it’s extremely important that you prioritise each task set out before you. Generally speaking, there are three criteria which you should use in order to prioritise your tasks:

  1. Urgency – The closer the deadline, the sooner it needs to be done. As a rule, you shouldn’t leave any of these tasks until the last minute, because you never know if another task might appear and take precedence. Complete tasks based on their urgency as much as possible.
  2. Size and Complexity – The bigger a document, or the more complex a task, the more time it’s going to take to complete it effectively. You should try and complete the bigger tasks as soon as possible so that you can get them out of the way, making room for the smaller tasks.
  3. Importance – This is slightly more abstract than the other criteria, since the importance of a task will depend on your scenario. For example, if you receive a task from the director of the company you’re working for, then it might take precedence over a task assigned by a team-mate. There’s no real trick to this: just use your own judgement to figure out which tasks are more important than others.

Read Every Item Before Starting

While a lot of the key information will be supplied in the background information document, there might be more key details in the other items for the entire exercise. Therefore, it’s important that you read every document before you get started, since some new information in a document could change everything about how you approach the tasks.

In addition, reading every item before getting started allows you to prioritise everything effectively. You don’t have to read each piece closely before starting since you’ll do that later, but at least skim through each document for important details before starting on anything.

Some Tasks Can Be Delegated

You don’t have to complete every task yourself. In some cases, you’ll have the opportunity to delegate tasks to other ‘members of staff’. Of course, these aren’t actual people, but if you can justify why you’re assigning the task to them then this is acceptable.

As part of the background information package, you might be given a chart listing relevant staff members at the company. While this can be used for completing tasks (such as figuring out who to forward a letter to), you might also be allowed to assign a task to a relevant staff member.

For example, you receive a note asking you to deal with a refund request. The company policy states that all refund requests must be processed by Katie, the Head of Quality Assurance at the company. In this case, it would be completely acceptable to delegate the task to her to complete.

In some cases, you will be asked to find a suitable individual to assign a specific task to. For example, your manager might have noticed that there was an issue with the office printer, and someone is required to get in touch with the manufacturer to resolve the problem. Your manager may specifically ask you to deal with this, or they might suggest that you find someone else to do it. In this case, you would try to find an individual with the clearest schedule as well as the best qualifications for the role.

In other cases, you might not be asked to delegate a task, but it’s appropriate given your workload or qualification. If this is the case, try to find an individual who is most suited for the task.


Written and researched by the UK’s leading recruitment experts, this ultimate guide consists of:

  • Explanations for both In-Tray and E-Tray exercises, including assessment criteria, types of question, and test format;
  • Expert tips for both the In-Tray and E-Tray exercises, giving you the best possible chances of success;
  • Clear guidance throughout takes you from the beginning to the end of your In-Tray or E-Tray process;
  • Sample questions and practice questions to give you an idea of what the real test will look like, as well as giving you a chance to practice;
  • All of the above written in a clear, easy-to-read format which will make learning how to pass In-Tray and E-Tray exercises much easier!
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