The EPSO e-tray exercise has been a part of the Assistants (AST) exam for a long time, but from 2015 it became even more important when the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) decided to integrate this type of test into the Administrators (AD) competition process.
Starting this year (2015) the e-tray exercise serves as an intermediate test between the Pre-Selection and the Assessment Centre phase of the AD exams.
Approximately 10-11 times the number of successful candidates sought for the Reserve List qualify for the e-tray test. Those who attain the highest score during this intermediate stage make it to the final phase of the selection process: the Assessment Centre. A very important detail that makes it vitally important to attain the highest possible score in the e-tray test, is the fact that successful candidates carry these scores over to the Assessment Centre and will be added to their final total score.
What does the e-tray exercise look like?
This type of test is designed to mimic a future EU official’s email inbox, and to simulate one, or several, busy day(s) at work in one of the EU institutions. During the test, candidates receive about 19-21 emails that contain all the necessary background information they need, and based on this information they will have to respond to a number of situations that could occur in the work environment.
There are between 17-21 situations in each test and each situation has 3 possible actions that candidates will have to evaluate. Candidates need to rate each action via a five step scale from totally disagree to totally agree. Candidate ratings are based on what they think is the ideal way to address the problematic situation posed. It is possible that out of the 3 options none of the actions are a “totally agree” perfect solution, but candidates still need to look for the “best” response given the information provided in the emails. Furthermore, each rating (totally disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, totally agree) can only be selected once per question. Answers are recorded once a candidate has ranked all 3 options.
Possible scenarios for the fictitious duties the test might task candidates with could include the drafting of a report, organizing an important stakeholder meeting, or supporting a superior to prepare for an important committee meeting etc. These scenarios can also vary depending on the competition being undertaken. For example, in AD role e-trays it is more likely that candidates will face an exercise where the main task will involve drafting a report, whereas in an AST role competition it is more probable that candidates will be tasked with organising a conference.
One thing is common for all competitions however, and it is very important to remember, that the e-tray test measures general competencies. This means that even if a candidate is tasked with drafting a report about greenhouse gas emission quotas in different member states, they do not have to know anything about greenhouse gases to attain a high score on the test. The situations and the related actions won’t ask about the difference between the effects of methane and CO2 on global warming. However, the test might ask a candidate how they would allocate their time given the tight deadline to complete the task.
The possible scenarios could probe candidates about whether they would pick their team based on experience or motivation, or whether they considered a tiny piece of information in one of the background emails where the superior reminded the candidate to keep interns involved in challenging tasks. Of course this is just an example, but hopefully it gives an idea about what EPSO means by measuring general competencies.
What competencies do the e-tray tests measure?
For the AD and AST competitions, there are FOUR EPSO competencies that are tested and they are the same for both roles. They include:
“Working With Others” which can be described as co-operating with and caring for a range of people of different backgrounds and motivations.
“Analysing and Problem Solving” looks at the candidate’s ability to analyse critical, complex information and suggest workable solutions.
“Prioritising and Organising” measures whether the candidate can organise their time and prioritise workload efficiently.
“Delivering Quality and Results” examines a candidate’s ability to maintain quality of work output, even in challenging situations.
For the Secretary (SC) competitions only three of the above competencies are tested. “Working With Others” competency is not part of the test.
How best to prepare?
As with all other EPSO tests the best course of action can be described in two straightforward steps:
1) Try to get a basic understanding of the test methodology.
Knowing what the test looks like, understanding the competencies and the scoring system can help a lot when trying to find the most appropriate answers. A good place to start is a thorough read-through of the specific notice of competition being undertaken. Informative articles (such as this) as well as, e-tray methodology webinars shed more light on the process and provide deeper insights.
If you are preparing for the e-tray exercise it means you have made it through the first round of the selection process, and have experienced for yourself how invaluable practice is in the process of improving your final test score. It is no different with the e-tray. Being familiar with the test interface, undertaking practice tests under simulated test situations and within the 50 minute time limit in place, is the most important part of preparing for the real thing.
Reviewing results and the corresponding explanations is also a vital part of the preparation process, as it can give candidates even more insights into what kind of answers these tests are looking for.
Which practice tests to choose?
Practice tests available on our site are divided into two categories: e-tray practice tests for AD roles and those for AST roles. As discussed earlier, these practice tests mainly differ in the ‘scenarios’(the fictional tasks) they assign to the candidate, not the process. Just like EPSO’s own tests, they measure the same competencies so if you have completed all our practice AD e-tray exams and feel you need more practice, the AST tests are a perfect substitution to keep on preparing.
As for AST-SC role candidates, we do advise you use the AST e-trays as they follow very closely what will be presented in the real exam situation. There is an extra competency measured, but the scoring, the form of the test, the type of situations and questions included are very similar, and can help a great deal with preparations.
Looking for test methodology and practice options?
EU Training regularly holds live EPSO E-Tray Methodology Webinars that explain the competencies measured, covers the positive and negative indicators for each competency, provides strategies for finding the correct solution, offers insights into how the e-tray is scored and explore the best strategies for maximising efficiency. Presented by EU Training’s Senior Occupational Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience in psychometric tool design; find out first-hand what to expect from the process.
Want to put your newly acquired e-tray methodology insights to the test? EU Training has 27 AD e-tray simulations and 5 AST/SC practice e-tray exams in our database. Our e-tray tests have been designed to mimic those encountered at the EPSO exams and measure the exact same competencies. Currently, they are all available in English and six of them in French. To see what an e-tray practice test looks like click here to view our FREE Demo E-tray!