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Written exercises at assessment centres: showcase your professionalism

If you're applying for a graduate job that involves producing reports or regularly communicating in writing, you could be set a written exercise as part of the assessment day. Find out what to expect.
Law firms, consultancies and property firms are among the employers most likely to set written exercises.

If you're given a written exercise to do as part of an assessment day, recruiters will want to check that you can communicate logically, clearly and appropriately in a professional environment. As part of this, they will also check your spelling and grammar.

The written exercise is likely to be related to the employer’s industry sector and the tasks you would be doing on the job. For example:

  • if you are applying to be a solicitor, management consultant, investment analyst or trainee manager (among other vacancies) you could be asked to review a case study and write a report, either making recommendations for further action or summarising the most relevant points for a ‘senior colleague’.
  • if you are applying for a marketing role you could be asked to write a press release.
  • you may be asked to write an email or report responding to a business scenario as part of an in-tray or e-tray exercise.

How to succeed at assessment day written tests

These exercises generally assess:

  • the clarity of your ideas and writing structure
  • your ability to identify the most important points in data/information
  • your ability to communicate processes/events simply
  • your ability to follow etiquette and communicate appropriately for your audience – whether a client, a manager or a fellow graduate
  • your spelling and grammar.

So, to a certain extent, you should treat a written exercise as a written exam:

  • Read through the instructions or brief and highlight what you need to do and the most essential points.
  • Write a quick plan to clarify your thoughts and to get your structure right.
  • Create the right tone. To be safe, keep it formal. However, you should also be simple, direct and straightforward. This isn't like writing an academic essay; the recruiter will want to understand your points as quickly as possible. Avoid using unnecessarily complex sentence structures and vocabulary.
  • Get to the point. Tackle the most important and most complex issues first. Ensure that any conclusions you reach, recommendations you make or any actions you call for are expressed unambiguously.
  • Use the format or structure of ‘correspondence’ given to you in your case study pack, if there is one, as a template if you are unsure of the right format or structure to use.
  • Ensure you have sufficient time at the end remaining to reread the question to check that you’ve done everything requested and to review your work, watching out for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • You can also practise for written analysis exercises.

It’s a good idea to brush up on your spelling and grammar before you go. The Oxford Dictionaries Online grammar and spelling sections are a good place to start. If you haven’t worked in an office before, research basic professional email etiquette – for example, always include an explanatory subject in the subject field. If you think it is likely that you will need to write a press release or news piece, research how to write them beforehand.

The employers who typically set written exercises

Law firms, consultancies and property firms are among those graduate employers most likely to assess you via a written exercise, but any employer that requires good written communication skills may test you in this way. Graduate employers who currently use, or have previously used, written exercises as a selection method include:

  • BNP Paribas Real Estate
  • British Sugar
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream
  • Dentons
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
  • The NHS (in England)
  • RPC.

Whichever assessment centre you're going to, be prepared for a written exercise. Bear in mind that many employers do not share the nature of their assessment centre exercises with graduates in advance, as they like to see how you think on your feet and react to the unknown.

Asking for extra time

If you have been allowed extra time in your school and university examinations – for example, if you have dyslexia – and would find it beneficial on the day, tell recruiters about this in advance. Recruiters are keen to ensure a level playing field when assessing candidates.

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