How to do well at In-tray and E-tray Exercises

What is an in-tray exercise? In-tray Exercises

It is a business simulation, usually part of an assessment centre, where you play a member of staff who has to deal with the tasks of a busy day. You will be given a selection of letters, emails and reports in either paper or electronic format, which somebody doing the job might find in their in-tray or email inbox first thing in the morning.

You have to read each item, decide on the action to be taken, the priority to be allocated to it (See our time management page) and complete related tasks such as summarising a report or drafting a reply to an email. There is a tight time constraint.


The in-tray could contain any of the following together with information about the structure of the organisation and your role within it.

  • Memos
  • Letters
  • Letters of complaint
  • Telephone messages
  • Emails
  • Personnel information
  • Organisation charts
  • Policy documents
  • Reports
  • A calendar

What is the difference between in-tray and e-tray exercises?

Why do employers use in-tray exercises?


To perform successfully you will require the ability to:


Tips and comments from Kent students

    We had an hour to complete an e-tray exercise.  They sit you in front of a computer and send you emails (about 25).  Each email has a passage, and 3 options at the bottom about what you want to do with the email.  There are files on all the companies and calendars etc. on the side so you have all the info you need to make the correct decisions.  I found it helpful to read through all the materials before I started going through the emails and maybe making some notes on what I thought would be important info.  The emails you receive will depend on the answers you give. Just take your time, you have an hour so you can definitely get through it all.
    Written exercise.  Is on the computer again, drafting an email giving a recommendation on a business decision. Give clear reasoning behind all your statements. Structure it like a formal letter of recommendation.  Make sure you can justify all your responses.
    First part of the interview was questions about the e-tray and written exercise.  Was in the style of a role play.  Had to be able to justify your responses and the decision you chose to make in your written exercise: advising a company on which course of action to take. (Deloittes)
  • At the assessment centre, the most challenging experience was a simulated Inbox exercise (including the arrival of unexpected emails) and included the need to refer to other given sources of information. Answers were multiple choice. (70 minutes)
    A further 50 minute Inbox exercise followed during which we were expected to give two longer email responses, including recommendations for action. This addressed time management skills as both tasks must be completed within the allotted time and writing skills: grammar, punctuation, spelling, content and a good email style were assessed. (KPMG)
  • In timed conditions you are given lots of different information and are asked to provide a report by the end of the day. This exercise is quite intensive as you don't have a lot of time; I had already practised in-tray exercises before at so found the exercise a lot easier than some of the other candidates.

On-line Examples you can try


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Last fully updated 2012