In-tray exercises

In-tray exercises  assess your ability to handle administrative tasks by simulating either a typical paper ‘In-Tray’ or an electronic ‘e-Tray’ Inbox such as Microsoft Outlook. Often timed. Typical tasks include:

  • Prioritising in order of importance a range of materials including memos, letters, phone messages and emails
  • Providing written notes explaining your reasoning for the order in which you placed them
  • Writing written responses to any emails or memos using appropriate business language
  • Coping with additional emails or extra papers that arrive midway through the test

Tips for success

  • Read everything before you start to prioritise and respond, as you may find something important towards the end that you might overlook if you don't read everything first
  • When replying to emails look carefully at who it has come from – adapt your tone and language appropriately – eg friendly banter to the Chief Executive is probably not appropriate!
  • There often isn’t a right or wrong answer – clarity of thought and clear explanation of your reasons are what the assessors are looking for
  • Try to balance urgency with importance – try to assess what is immediate, what can wait and what can be delegated
  • Look out for any deadlines within emails/memos and make sure you meet them

Further information

  • Assessment Day A practice in-tray exercise to give an understanding of how they work and what you will be expected to do in an in-tray exercise
  • A very challenging e-Tray exercise is available from Civil Service Fast Stream 
  • Deloitte UK has a sample 'e-tray' exercise and psychometric test examples, together with brief information on competencies
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers Tax, Financial Advisory and Assurance simplified in-tray challenges that give an overview of what you might encounter in a real test
  • Careers Group University of London Leaflet giving information on written and e-tray exercises


Page last updated: Monday 29 September 2014