All about E-Tray Exercises

E-tray tests are becoming more and more common in job assessments. Below we explain what these tests are all about and what we have to offer to help you prepare.

E-Tray Exercise
  • 2 case study and 2 in-tray exercises
  • Self-evaluation forms
  • Presentation tips and detailed explanations
  • Group exercise tips and guides
  • Comprehensive study guides

What is an E-Tray exercise?

The E-Tray exercise is the online version of the In-Tray exercise. It is essentially a job simulation test: It simulates a realistic working environment and assesses key working skills employers look for when they hire new staff members.

These tests are provided by numerous assessment companies (like Cubiks). They are usually part of the assessment centre stage of the application process for many big employers, such as Deloitte, KPMG, Shell, and the UK Civil Service, but can also be taken online in some cases.

E-Tray vs. In-Tray

The E-Tray exercise uses an email inbox simulation to make the test feel more realistic and dynamic. Different emails arrive in your inbox during the exercise, informing you of meeting requests, problems that need to be dealt with, new tasks from your superiors and so on. You will need to prioritise each message according to its relative importance and be ready to act appropriately when a new urgent email suddenly arrives.

In fact, all of the materials of an E-Tray exercise are entirely computer-based, as opposed to the paper-based ones usually used for In-Tray exercises. Your responses are entered on screen as well. Thus, the E-Tray is able to simulate real modern office environment more accurately than the In-Tray. However, both versions measure the exact same set of skills, such as time management, the ability to delegate, problem solving, decision making and so forth. The only difference is the format they use to assess these competencies.

What does E-Tray include?

The exercise usually consists of three parts: Background information, online inbox simulation, and a writing task. Sometimes there is no writing task, or it is done orally as part of the following interview. Time limits and number of questions differ between test providers, but are usually about one and a half hours for 25 questions. The Cubiks E-Tray exercise, which is very popular amongst big employers, follows the format below:

Background information (about 10-15 minutes)

In the first part you need to review various documents describing your role in the company, the company's organisational structure and values, current affairs and so on. There may even be a calendar with several appointments already set in it. All of these documents will be organised in folders with indicative titles to help you figure out where everything is. Your performance is not assessed here, as this is only meant to provide you with the information you need in order to answer the questions in the following parts of the exercise.

Online inbox simulation (about 60 minutes)

Emails from different people arrive at your inbox. These can be from your boss, your boss' secretary, your subordinates, someone from your team or people outside your work place. Each email is accompanied by a question, the nature of which depends on the position you have applied for; customer service applicants will probably have to handle angry clients, whereas managers may have to analyse financial reports or recommend new strategies. The background information is still accessible at this stage, so you can use it to decide how important the message is and how to handle it. Some emails may include attachments with further information you will need to consider before you answer the question.

The questions are usually multiple-choice, asking you to choose the most appropriate course of action. Some versions ask for the least appropriate response as well, so you need to choose two answer choices. It is important to understand, however, that the distinction between correct and incorrect answers here is not as clear-cut. For this reason, if you choose the second-best response instead of the most appropriate one, you should still be credited with some of the points.

Some of the later emails you will receive may relate to previous ones you have already replied to. You will not be allowed to change your answers, but you will be able to review them as many times as you like. These follow-up messages will only arrive after you have replied to the first ones, so if you keep messages in your inbox for too long, you will not get the chance to complete enough items.

The frequency of incoming emails usually increases toward the end of the session, to assess your performance under pressure. You should try to respond to as many messages as you can in the time you have left, but beware of making hasty decisions which will result in inappropriate answers.

Some of the questions may require the use of a calculator. You will also be able to make notes, either on paper or the exercise software.

Writing task (about 20-40 minutes)

In the third part of the exercise you will be asked to type one or more emails in response to some of the messages in your inbox, evaluating your writing and problem solving skills. You will need to make valid arguments, justify your decisions, and use appropriate language, depending on the receiver's identity.

The inbox task is usually scored automatically by a computer, whereas the written exercise is scored by a human assessor, who then gives the final evaluation taking into account your performance on all parts of the exercise.

Should I practise for my E-Tray exercise?

Just like with any other test, reducing the element of surprise will save you time and allow for better performance. Being familiarised with the properties of the test, types of questions and how to handle them will make you more confident and increase the chances of answering more questions correctly.

How can JobTestPrep help?

We are currently working on a specialised E-Tray practice pack that will simulate a real E-Tray test. 

In the meantime, however, we would like to offer our professional In-Tray practice pack. As both the In-Tray and E-Tray exercises essentially test the same traits and abilities, albeit using different formats, you can gain excellent benefit by practising In-Tray tests. Our pack includes complete In-Tray practice tests with detailed explanations, a thorough guide, tips and more.