The admission results are out and the pre-selection phase is finally over. Congratulations to everyone who has been invited to the Assessment Centre!
Today is a day to celebrate the good news, but from tomorrow you will have to look ahead again as the hardest part is yet to come.
The next step in landing an EU job is the Assessment Centre (or AC), and the first exam to sit is the Case Study. For many people, this is the scariest part of the whole EPSO competition process, but fear not: we have created this step-by-step guide to help you plan and schedule your preparation to become a Case Study pro by the time you enter the exam room.
Step #1: Re-read the notice of competition
Along with the communications you receive to your EPSO account, the notice of competition is your #1 official source of information from EPSO. Read it again! It tells you all the basic information about the structure of the AC and the competencies tested by each exercise.
The case study is designed to assess general competencies. and for some specialists, their competence in their field as well (but this will be mentioned clearly in the Notice of Competition). Your notice of competition will state explicitly which are the competencies measured by the case study in your case, as this can vary slightly depending on your field and the grade of the position.
For Administrator candidates, the case study generally measures 4 competencies: Analysing and Problem Solving, Communication, Delivering Quality & Results and Prioritising & Organising.
Step #2: Consult a more comprehensive summary material
The notice of competition is a good starting point, but it does not give you any guidance on the details. The competencies are listed, but they are not explained and there is no information on the possible scenarios, the test procedure, or the scoring system.
EPSO has two sample case studies on its website, which are great sources to familiarise yourself with the task you will be facing. I would recommend you download them, maybe scan through them quickly, but do not plunge into reading them in detail yet. They will be much more beneficial at a later stage as practice materials, once you are familiar with the exam setup and the details of what is expected from you to obtain a good score.
The Perfect Case Study Guidebook is a free resource written by a former EPSO selection board president. This booklet gives you a comprehensive summary of the EPSO case study exam and provides advice on preparation strategy. One of its most valuable assets is the detailed explanation of the assessed competencies and the list of positive and negative indicators for each one of them. These are the things EPSO markers will be looking for in your essay and your score will be based on how well these come through from your work.
It is good to keep the following in mind: having the competencies is one thing, showing it in your essay that you possess them is another. Practically speaking, the preparation is to learn how to master the latter.
Case Study Exam Insights Webinar is also a useful methodology tool. Not only will it introduce you to the case study exam system, but it also gives practical advice on best practice exam strategies, from time management to writing tips, to making your essay both professional and appealing to the markers.
Step #3: Catch up with EU affairs and know the EU institutions
EPSO case studies simulate real life, EU-related scenarios. Although you will have the key background materials provided, to quickly grasp the context of the assignment it is important to be familiar with current EU affairs and to know how EU institutions work.
You might be asking yourself: what could the possible subjects be this year? It is hard to guess. It can be a hot EU topic as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Maybe one of its sub-sections is of special interest, like GMOs. Or it can always be an EU evergreen, such as unemployment, climate change or gender equality policies. The best thing you can do is refresh your knowledge and be up to date with EU related news. Here are a few websites you can start with:
For EU institutions and legislation:
Pick your favourite from these news sites, bookmark 1 or 2 of them, and read them on a daily basis.
Step #4: Try a mock case study early in the preparation process
No reading can replace practice, so you should try practicing as much as you can. Trying an EPSO-style case study simulation test at the beginning of your preparation process can help you in two ways:
- You will get to know the test situation and the test interface. You can experience for yourself how difficult it is for you personally to get through all the materials and write your essay within the 60-minute time limit. Plus, you will become familiar with the test software and its functionalities won’t surprise you, so on the day of the exam you won’t be wasting precious time with things like finding out how to copy and paste text in the EPSO editor. (No, ctrl+c / ctrl+v won’t work.)
- You can get detailed feedback from someone who has marked case studies in real EPSO exam situations, via the evaluation service. Taking into account the comments you receive and your own experience, you can find out where you are at in the preparation process. Make a list of your biggest mistakes and the focus points you need to improve on. It is important to note, however, that at this stage only ENGLISH and FRENCH language completed case study simulations can be sent off for evaluation.
Step: #5 Create a preparation roadmap
Once you know where you stand in your preparation journey and know where you want to be by exam time, it’s time to think about how you are going to get there. Consider the areas you need to improve and plan how you are going to do it. Do you run out of time because you cannot read through the background documents fast enough? Practice speed-reading. Do you get lost in long, wordy sentences? See what the European Commission recommends on how to write clearly, also view Claire’s Clear Writing Tips and practice your drafting skills by writing some more texts.
These are just a few basic examples, but the point is: if you see what needs to be done you will know what material to look for, and how much time and effort the tasks will need. Taking into account the time you will actually have, you can structure and schedule your steps to make the most of your preparation. It’s good to write all this down, so it becomes clearer for yourself as well.
Step #6: Practice, practice, practice
While improving specific skills, do not lose sight of the big picture. It is important to practice speed-reading because it will add to your overall performance, but keep in mind what your ultimate goal is - it is to master EPSO-style case study writing in its entirety, and the best way to do it is by practicing it under exam condition on an EPSO like platform.
Pull out the EPSO sample studies and complete the assignment. Also, attached to the case study webinar on EU Training is a sample case study and sample solution. Even if you do not complete it, read the task and the corrected solution. This will give you a deeper insight into the common mistakes you should avoid, and general advice like ‘Be specific!’ are demonstrated in practice, and are much easier to grasp.
You can review the webinar and the guidebook from time to time, focusing on the sections which are more relevant to you personally. The more you practice, the better you will understand the task and its difficulties and the tips will find their context.
EU Training has 17 case study simulations available in English, 5 in French and recently has added one new Case Study in German, Italian and Spanish.
Step #7: Take a second simulation test
If you feel the need for reinforcement, take a second trial test about 10 days before the exam. This can serve as your dress rehearsal.
Before you start, take another look at your list of mistakes and focus points you made earlier and, needless to say, try to avoid them. Receiving your feedback and seeing your progress should comfort you and boost your confidence. Also, it will allow you to double-check whether you keep repeating any errors.
Step #8: The day before the exam, rest and relax
Take it easy the day before the exam. Do a bit of news reading, and scan through your list of focus points one more time. Don’t panic, or start some last-minute learning frenzy. Get an early sleep, and rest assured: if you've done some preparation, it will show in your score.