In-Tray and E-Tray Exercises: 20 Important Facts you need to Know

By | July 17, 2023
In-Tray and E-Tray Exercises
Employers use the In-Tray and E-Tray exercises to determine if a candidate is well suited for a specific role in the organization.

In-tray and E-tray exercises appear as business simulation exercises in which an individual is required to take the role of an employee working in an environment where tasks have to be handled in a busy day.

A collection of emails, reports, and letters may be presented to you in this exercise, either in electronic or paper format, in the form of items a person occupying the position you have applied for could expect to see in in-tray and e-tray exercises.

A timeframe will be offered for reading through all of the items and deciding on the action that needs to be taken including the priority that should be apportioned for each task.

For some items, you may be required to summarize key points from a report or draft an email response.

If you’re going into a graduate system or any type of role that requires organizational and situational judgment skills, it’s rather possible that you’ll be required to pass an In-tray and E-tray assessment.

Employers who want to know how well suited you are for a particular role use this kind of exercise to assess you and see how you deal with difficult situations.

Therefore, you need to develop the ability to read, interpret, and apply information to a variety of challenges.

Similarly, your prioritization skills and your core competencies for the role you are applying for will be assessed.

In-Tray and E-Tray Exercises: 20 Important Facts you need to Know

Here are important facts and tips you need to know about the In-tray and E-tray exercises to help you prepare for and perform exceptionally at the exam:

  1. What is an In-tray exercise?

The in-tray exercise is paper-based and imitates an office setting. The objective of this exercise is to picture a regular working day for the role you are applying for.

So, In-tray is used as an exceptional approach to assess a candidate’s competence and know whether they work in a manner that is helpful to the job and business entirely.

As a timed assessment, candidates are often offered about 1 to 2 hours to complete In-tray questions.

The In-tray exercise tends to require proof of your ability to work in a specific role. In the detailed background information section of the exercise, you will be asked to assume a role.

And then you are expected to complete tasks presented to you under the specification provided.

This generally involves a request to complete certain tasks from a variety of options that are offered.

You are not only asked to complete these tasks but also prioritize them in an order that describes you are most likely to complete them all in time.

  1. What is an E-tray exercise?

E-tray exercises imitate possible conditions you might come across while in a computer work setting.

E-tray exercises are completed online, unlike In-tray exercises that are completed on paper.

For this reason, you need a computer before you can complete an E-tray exercise.

You are assessed through a variety of emails and requests that come in a virtual email box.

The E-tray exercise is split into 3 parts: reading and comprehending background information, identifying the least and most effective responses to a variety of emails, and writing a response.

  1. How do the In-tray and E-tray exercises work?

In the In-tray and E-tray exercises, you will be given a lot of information. This often comes in the form of multiple emails with attachments, instant chat messages, and MS Outlook meetings.

You may possibly have access to certain information on paper documents, printed out emails, as well as diaries and calendars.

In any of the formats, you might be asked to schedule meetings and attend health and safety conferences or training.

You might face a situation where you will be asked to hand tasks over to team members, return a phone call, and prioritize a “to-do” list.

It’s possible you will also be asked to handle problems such as a customer’s complaint or advice on a business project.

Depending on the exercise, your job might be to pick your preferred action or response from a multiple-choice list.

You could be needed to rank a series of possible responses or actions from ‘most effective’ to ‘least effective’, prioritize a ‘to-do’ list of what you would act on first, and explain why, either in a written form or face-to-face in an interview.

And finally, you might be asked to write an email in response to one or more of the items.

In-tray and E-tray exercises are timed and normally take from 30 to 80 minutes. If you need additional time because of disability, this often can be put in place if sought beforehand.

  1. What are the components of In-tray and E-tray exercises?

These components are combined to make up the In-tray and E-tray exercises, including situational judgment, comprehension, and computer literacy for those taking E-tray, as well as prioritization tests.

No previous knowledge or experience is required for In-tray and E-tray assessments, unlike other tests.

You don’t have to spend days revising facts or reciting any information you can find and hope to pass.

So, In-tray and E-tray assessments do not evaluate your core knowledge and memory but your skills.

  1. What approach should you use to prioritize your tasks?

It’s very essential that you prioritize each of the tasks presented to you. In order to prioritize your tasks, there are generally three conditions you must meet, such as:

i. Urgency

As you don’t know if another task could emerge and take priority, you should try not to leave any of the tasks until the final minute.

Your tasks should rather be completed based on urgency.

ii. Size and Complexity

Tasks take more time to complete based on size and complexity. Larger documents or more complex tasks require enough time.

Therefore, you should try as much as possible to complete bigger tasks first in a short time so you can clear the way for smaller tasks.

iii. Importance

The importance of a task will depend on your scenario, making this condition more abstract than other ones.

For instance, a director’s task where you are working given to you to execute has to come first before another task given by a coworker.

The only technique needed here is to use your own assessment to figure out which tasks are more important than others.

  1. Tips for passing the In-tray and E-tray exercises

Here are valuable tips for passing the In-tray and E-tray exercise:

  • Read all the information you have been given carefully before attempting the questions so you will know where to find the answers.
  • Obey rules and carefully follow instructions to be aware of what you should do.
  • Create a quick plan of what you will do.
  • Prioritize the tasks according to their order of importance and urgency.
  • Discover important problems and what action should be taken.
  • Stay quiet in order to cope with the pressure of the activity.
  • Ensure you justify your decisions as sometimes there is no right or wrong answer.
  • Make realistic assumptions if you are not given complete information.
  • Ensure to work with speed without making mistakes to complete all questions in time.
  • Examine dates on each item to help you to prioritize tasks.
  • Negotiate additional time with items if required.
  • Understand how important each item is.
  • Confirm if the task can be delegated to another person in the organization.
  • Check if other tasks should be performed first before other activities can be completed.
  • Verify if some tasks can be done at the same time and by the same person.
  • Find out if there are conflicts between tasks.
  1. How to prepare for In-tray and E-tray exercises

In-tray and E-tray exercises enable employers to test a wide variety of your skills and abilities in situations that closely look like those you might face in a real workplace.

For this reason, how you behave during these assessments provides a more accurate and reliable idea about your characteristics.

It’s important to practice the In-tray and E-tray exercises to increase your chances of accomplishing your true potential.

It’s also necessary to research and acquire the right skills needed for specific roles that you are applying for.

The following tips will help you to prepare for In-tray and E-tray exercises:

  • Get fully ready for the assessment with free In-tray and E-tray simulators and online tests for a preview of what to anticipate from the exercises.
  • Pay attention to detail to be able to provide the correct answers to the questions, and read instructions carefully and thoroughly to be able to understand each question clearly before providing an answer.
  • Analyze the tasks and organize them in order of priority, starting from the highest to the lowest.
  • Always respond to the information presented irrespective of your in-depth knowledge of a certain area of specialization.
  • These exercises are timed to evaluate your time management skills and how you can perform under pressure. So, manage your time well by not spending too much time on each task and not rushing through the tasks so as not to skip some questions or answer them incorrectly.
  • Proofread your work to make necessary corrections where necessary. This will help you to maintain an appropriate style and format.
  • Use proper vocabulary and avoid the use of slang or informal speech unless you are instructed to do so.
  • Stay calm and try your best when under pressure. You may try holding your breaths to keep your nerves under control.
  1. How many In-tray and E-tray items will be presented to you?

You will often get from 10 to 30 In-tray items to work on; and information about the fictional organization’s aims, goals, problems, and structures will be presented to you.

You will need to pay attention to fellow employees, and information about important third-party organizations and relationships, as well as a calendar of future events.

  1. How will my In-tray and E-tray exercises be judged?

There are two most common ways in which your response to the In-tray and E-tray items will be judged:

  • Your response to questions in a multiple-choice format
  • How you responded in an interview to questions that required you to explain and justify your actions and decisions.

You should ensure to check how you will be judged and whether or not you are permitted to write on your In-tray and E-tray items before you start.

Ensure you write down everything you have thought of if you know you will not have the chance to talk through your answers with an assessor at the end, otherwise you won’t get the marks for it.

  1. What is the best approach towards In-tray and E-tray exercises?

Don’t look away from the importance of identifying the main problems arising from the In-tray and E-tray items, and remember to keep an eye on prioritizing more vital tasks.

Also, attempt to complete each task within the time allocated.

The assessment you will undergo isn’t simply about your ability to perform very fast, but all about your ability to identify whether some tasks are more vital than others, and how you can balance between working quickly and working effectively.

Quickly reading through each item in your In-tray and E-tray exercises is the most excellent approach, before trying to answer the questions.

As you read through each item, it’s important to make notes on your thoughts.

  1. What will my In-tray and E-tray exercises be measuring me on?

All In-tray and E-tray exercises measure your ability to search through, take, and analyze complex information effectively even under strict time pressure.

Your ability to explore and identify main problems and prioritize your work accordingly and your ability to communicate efficiently about the decisions you’ve made will also be measured.

You will be evaluated on how vividly and efficiently you can explain your decisions and actions, and also on how you can identify special issues that arise from the set of tasks and documents offered to you.

While performing this exercise and you’re asked to imagine that you are at work, it’s vital not to take the importance of communicating your thought processes to your assessors too lightly.

You should be able to prove what you know so as to be given credit for your responses by knowing the reasons behind your actions and decisions.

As you know that your attitudes are being measured, you should pay attention to how you present yourself during the exercise.

This comprises how you organize your desk area, how neat your notes are presented, and whether you show an anxious approach to handling the in-tray and E-tray items.

  1. What should I do to perform excellently in my In-tray and E-tray exercises?

What to do to perform extremely well in your In-tray and E-tray exercises include:

  • Bear in mind what kind of job you are being assessed for and which particular competency you should demonstrate.
  • Be logical and organized in your work.
  • Approach the exercise in an organized way, ensuring that you don’t miss out on anything or spend too long on any task.
  • Scan through each In-tray and E-tray item in the beginning of the exercise and keep an eye for items that affect each other.
  • Be attentive to items that have already been handled and items that are in need of particular urgent attention, so you don’t need to get anxious about them.
  • Give close attention to details despite the time pressure, such as names of important personnel, date of each document, and actions that have already been taken which might affect your decisions.
  • Demonstrate what you know and don’t assume credit from the assessor for characteristics you didn’t show during the exercise.
  • Ensure you make notes of reasons for your decisions and explain your thought processes either in the test, during the role-play, or at interview that follows the exercise.
  • Maintain calmness as you go through the In-tray and E-tray items, and handle them in a methodical approach.
  • Make short notes of every decision you make, especially if an assessor asks you to explain one of your decisions.
  • Learn the personality and style of the fictional organization you are asked to imagine working for.
  1. Eight essential In-tray and E-tray exercise tips for success

When you are taking your In-tray and E-tray exercises, you should bring your attention to the fact that you really need a good score at the end of it all, and you can’t score high without performing well.

This portion of the post describes some approaches you can take to perform perfectly well in your In-tray and E-tray exercises.

Here is a list of the best tips to help you achieve success in your In-tray and E-tray exercises:

i. Write down all of your observations.
ii. Consider the closeness of your In-tray and E-tray appointment.
iii. Take note of the importance of the originator/receiver of the communication.
iv. Pay attention to the date you received correspondence in your In-tray and E-tray exercise.
v. Picture yourself really confronted with your In-tray and E-tray items in reality.
vi. Think cautiously about handing over during your In-tray and E-tray exercises.
vii. Practice example In-tray and E-tray exercises.
viii. Set your In-tray and E-tray items in a logical sequence.

  1. Why do employers use In-tray and E-tray exercises?

The In-tray and E-tray exercises are used to measure a set of key competencies that are required for a specific job position.

Employers usually evaluate these competencies with competency-based questions during an interview.

Competency-based questions involve the description of a past situation after you have shown that quality.

Employers are able to utilize In-tray and E-tray to measure these competencies directly in a pressurized and timed simulation.

The In-tray and E-tray exercises are used to measure your ability to manage and respond to a range of various tasks, negotiate conflicting demands, and analyze diverse priorities.

Below is a list of some of the key competencies assessed by employers during In-tray and E-tray exercises:

  1. How do I make a decision on the best way to act on each item?
  • Time/task management (ability to delegate and prioritize).
  • Client focus (flexible and adaptable when handling client requests).
  • Analytical skills (ability to assess the relative importance and urgency of information).
  • Interpersonal skills (ability to respond strategically and take various personality types into consideration).
  • Negotiation skills (ability to consider multiple and/or conflicting demands and decide on a course of action that contributes to the general advantage of the organization).
  • Decision-making ability (ability to make quick and accurate decisions).

You should consider the following factors in deciding how to respond to each of the tasks:

  • Where does the item come from?

What is the person’s importance to the organization – an internal stakeholder like a staff member or external such as customer, client, or distributor?

  • When was the item delivered?

Examine the date of the item to see if it has a deadline. If it does, check whether the deadline is flexible?

If it’s not certain, check if you can possibly confirm or arrange for extra time to attend to the item.

  • How essential is the matter?

Before you can go on to select your response or how you would act on the item, it’s important that you categorize the item into “urgent”, “non-urgent”, or “important” as some In-tray and E-tray exercises will require you to do so.

Explore how the item affects the organization and in what manner, and also which areas of the company the item does affect, like customer satisfaction, company reputation, cash flow, health and safety, competitors, legal union relations, and inventory supply.

  • Should I attend to the item personally and immediately?

You can execute some items by delegating it to a staff member or coworker, while some require your personal attention.

In addition, judge the urgency of the item whether or not it requires immediate attention.

When assessing how urgent the item is, it’s important to also consider the sender.

  1. How are In-tray and E-tray exercises scored?

In-tray and E-tray exercises are designed to test someone in scenarios that will simulate a regular workflow.

Tasks will be presented to you and you will be asked to act in the role of a company’s employee and cope with standard tasks at the job you are applying for.

Therefore, you will get your score as a report on your actions and efficiency.

  1. What are In-tray and E-tray exercises used for?

In-tray and E-tray exercises are used to assess how suitable a candidate is for a specific job role.

The exercises emulate a regular work scenario as if you were already a part of the company.

The tasks will look like those of routine responsibilities and some major conditions.

This process is therefore utilized to assess skills such as the ability to plan, organize, communicate, and make decisions, and more.

  1. What should I know prior to taking my In-tray and E-tray exercises?

Since your ability to handle real work situations is meant to be tested by these exercises, you should be aware that you’ll be tasked to tackle urgent duties in a short period.

You have to select your response and rank them according to their order of priority when taking the test.

Both In-tray and E-tray exercises follow the same format and will evaluate the same skill sets, except that the E-tray exercise is a digital equivalent of an In-tray exercise.

The only difference between these two exercises is that one involves hard copies of documents while the other is performed online.

When taking an In-tray or E-tray exercise, you will be assessed based on your ability to analyze problems, take action, resolve issues, express yourself strategically, make decisions, process information quickly, work accurately, manage your time, and prioritize under pressure, and more.

  1. What can I do to perform extremely well on In-tray and E-tray exercises?

There are a few things you should do if you actually desire to score higher or do well during the In-tray and E-tray exercises. These include:

  • Ensure you read the instructions cautiously and waste no time going through the entire information resent to you.
  • Draw attention to any contradictions such as involvement with a client or manager and details like keeping accurate dates.
  • Select the option that mirrors their priorities as an organization and the main responsibilities of the position you are applying for.
  • Take a deep breath and think positively if you feel worried.
  • Get ready for whatever comes up during the test.
  1. What should I not do during the In-tray and E-tray exercises?

There are certain things you should avoid during these exercises if you truly want to excel.

Don’t pay too much attention to one task or email, and respond before reading all the information or respond to one item and then look for conflicting information in another document.

Furthermore, learn to manage your time, remain calm, read all the information fast, and then begin to prioritize.

In-Tray and E-Tray Exercises Practice Questions and Answers

Here is an example question and answer of In-tray and E-tray exercises you can practice and get familiar with:

Example Question

For the reason of this exercise, you are Tommy Parker, Human Resource Manager in Pinnacle Computers Inc.

You have just returned to the office after a two-week absence (business trip) at 7:30 AM, Tuesday morning, the 24th of February and you are leaving on the 26th of February for a two-week holiday.

A set of emails that have been sent to you over the course of the last two weeks are contained in your mailbox.

A managers’ meeting you have with the CEO holds in one hour’s time. Meanwhile, you must review all your emails and decide which course of action to take.

To Human Resource Manager:

Dear Tommy,

It has come to my notice that 10 of the 15 new workers will be transferred to the Production Department. I would like to remind you that the VP has authorized 8 new staff members in marketing.

Mr. Steve Patrick
Marketing Department Manager

After deciding the value of the document, please select from the following options the best way to handle the problem at hand.

A. Call Mr. Patrick and inform him that the subject will be discussed in today’s meeting with the CEO.

B. There is no need to respond to the letter since the subject is due to be discussed in the meeting with the CEO in an hour.

C. Inform Mr. Patrick that Mr. Peter Grimes is taking care of the issue and that he should address it to him.

D. Call Ms. Paulina Drew, VP, to confirm Mr. Patrick’s letter and take action.

Answer with explanation

A. Call Mr. Patrick and inform him that the subject will be discussed in today’s meeting with the CEO.


Since one of the topics on today’s meeting agenda is the recruitment of the fifteen new staff members, and since Mr. Patrick must attend the meeting, the logical thing to do is discuss the problem in the scheduled meeting.

Of course, you must respond to his letter regardless of whether or not it would be discussed in a meeting.

Therefore, calling Mr. Patrick and informing him that the subject will be discussed in today’s meeting with the CEO is the best answer.


If an organization has asked you to sit for In-tray and E-tray exercises and you have made it to the assessment stage of recruitment process, then know that they just want to be sure that you can be suitable for the available position you have applied for.

For you to develop the self-confidence to pass the test, you need to practice and ensure that you prepare maximally in advance so as to excel in the test.

Practice will help you to perform well on your In-tray and E-tray exercises. The exercise simulates a business-related scenario, and the assessors are looking for time management and decision-making skills, as well as your ability to work under pressure.

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