The following is a report from a successful EU exam candidate who is now a European Commission official (Part 1 of 2).
"I have just been informed that I successfully passed the 2011 Administrator (AD5) statistics competition, so I decided to share with your readers my experience with EPSO competitions. As I am extremely pleased with the services on your website, it really makes a difference using this tool for preparation. Feel free to use my text below if you wish to publish it and please do so without mentioning my name. What matters is to share information for everyone’s benefit.
Passing an EU exam? How it all started...
I had my first try to pass an EPSO competition in 2006. Tried... and failed. I thought “one in a million”, “lottery”, “bad luck”, “it happens”, “do I really want to work in the public sector”... Forget the Eurocrats! – or so I thought. Then fast forward to 2010.
I already moved to Brussels by the time the revamped EPSO selection system was launched: I felt it was in favour of my curriculum and skills. So I tried the European Public Affairs 2010 competition... and failed again. No one really knew what to expect; the new system was a bit of a surprise to all applicants and most probably I was not prepared well enough either.
But I learned a lot during the training about myself and – importantly – how to navigate in the currents of the “EPSocean”. I decided that I would not give it up at this stage.
The first success came when in 2010 I passed the competition for Contract Agents (CAST) and I was lucky to get a contract quite quickly and so be employed by the European Commission.
In 2011 I applied for literally EVERYTHING: the general AD5/AD7 exams, the AST tests, the Structural Funds competition and the Translator competitions. This time I did not let preparation go by: I trained intensively. As a result, in 2010 I was invited to 3 (!) ACs and I thought that sharing my experience would help others to pass the exam.
My tips for success at the EPSO tests
I. General advice
- Give it a try - a lot of tries: Obviously, if you do not give a try, you have no right to judge the system. It costs no money to sign up or to sit an exam, and it only costs time to dedicate and give it a chance that you are selected to be among those candidates who are hired at the end. Moreover, try all the exams you are eligible for: the more experience you get, the higher your chances are.
- Select your domain in a smart way: Experience shows that the vast majority of the applicants goes for the European Public Administration (EPA) competition. My advice is that if you are eligible for a specialist domain, apply for that. Though still substantial, you will face much less competition – so statistically speaking you are in a better position even before the kick-off.
II. The computer-based pre-selection test
- Be dedicated and persevere: It's a simple tip: just don't give up! The weak is not the one who falls but the one who does not stand up afterwards. I spent 1 hour every day in front of the computer for 3 entire months before my first competition. For instance, I barely had any question not yet solved in the abstract reasoning database. After some time, practicing started bear its fruits. From the average 60% I initially had, I worked up my results to an average 90%. This went with my confidence level rising too. The good news: once you practice so much and become familiar with the questions, you save a lot of time for later, for your next competition. Simply, you will not need so much investment next time because the know-how is yours and nobody can take it away from you.
- The more you practice the better sense you have about "how" to guess the answer: I found the tests on this website extremely similar to the one of EPSO. After a good amount of practicing, you simply "feel" what to concentrate on. For example, regarding the numerical reasoning, you will spot immediately what you should focus on, will make no stupid mistakes and foremost, you will be able to accomplish the tasks within the given timeframe. Same goes for verbal reasoning. Since there is an explanation after mistakes you will be able to grasp the most important thing you need: the mindset you need to leverage at the exam.I should, however, mention that my personal view and experience call for some scepticism regarding the verbal reasoning tests not done in English. My mother tongue is not English, yet I managed to reach an average of 90% in English verbal reasoning while practicing. In the recent competitions when one could use any official EU language, I saw a drop in my results. Together with many competition attendees I share the view that it is not our skills that have weakened in the meantime but EPSO's (or their provider's) translation of English texts to other languages is unsatisfactory. And here we talk about the finest nuances of a language. I clearly would support a thorough quality check by EPSO towards the translations of the texts…or simply, dear EPSO, develop new texts, do not translate!
- Try to memorise, list the typical question types: Regarding the numerical and abstract reasoning tests, my experience is that there are no more than 20-30 types of questions. By practicing you learn these "skeletons" and fail much-much less.
- If you think you need them, take part in preparatory courses: Though I personally did not participate in classroom courses as I believed I could manage without them, I did in fact view the webinars of Online EU Training. I think that once you practice online, the offline course feels like slow motion. Good for beginners, less practical for the "advanced".
- Have a real rest the day before the exam: It may be too repetitive and you may have heard it from many advisers, but please take it seriously. Go to bed in time before the exam and on the exam day, do not even think anymore of the exercises. I always "forced" myself to be relaxed, though it's not so easy to do as it sounds. Relaxing is already a relief after much preparation…and for those who have not done the homework: you have nothing to lose."