Tips for Written Exercises at Assessment Centres

Be prepared for the more boring, but still essential part of the assessment process.
The gradsingapore Team

Amidst the fascination and hype with the other “funkier” exercises, such as the case study and in-/e-tray exercises, graduates may sometimes overlook their preparation for written assignments. Yet, the written exercise is an equally important task that reveals your ability to communicate logically, clearly, and appropriately – especially if you’re applying for a position that revolves largely around writing!

Usually more factual in nature, many recruiters feel the need for a written exercise in the assessment centre as they’re aware that your sent-in application/résumé may have be heavily edited. That said, it’s not used solely to check your spelling and grammar! Written exercises can also use to gauge your ability to manage information, assess problems, and suggest solutions. Logical thinking is crucial, as is the capability to work quickly and act decisively under pressure.

Written assignments at assessment centres can be quite varied, especially in terms of what they want you to write. Also, some of them may be done on paper, while others are conducted digitally – all within a specific deadline.

The kinds of written tests graduates are given

Some employers might opt for generic written exercises, such as asking you to prepare a list of instructions and to reply a formal letter an email. For instance, recruiters have been known to ask some applicants to prepare directions on how to get to a particular place, or to respond to a customer complaint email. However, generic written tests are typically used for jobs that are less writing-related, such as customer service positions.

More often than not, you’ll be asked to carry out sector-related or position-related assignments. Employers are also prone to combine a few exercises together:

- Case study: During a case study, you may be tested on your writing skills in a written recommendation report or to summarise the case for a senior colleague
- In-/e-trays: You may be requested to either respond to queries, complaints, and feedbacks; or make a written record of your decision-making thought process throughout the day

In the case that employers don’t combine the written exercise with other tasks, you may then be assigned for a drafting exercise instead. In a drafting exercise, you’ll be provided with details about a sensitive issue, and it’ll be your task to reword it tactfully and concisely without losing its original message. This could come in the form of sensitive or difficult complaints, queries, or journalistic/tabloid enquiries.

You may be requested to provide summaries, business letters, short reports, or justification accounts; but remember, the focus is rarely on the “right” answer, but more on whether you’re doing it right. Recruiters will want to see if you are able to pick out the right facts, defend your choice, and rephrase the situation tactfully.

How to succeed at assessment day written tests

Writing exercises are designed to evaluate a few specific criteria, including:

  1. Your ability to express yourself and your ideas clearly, using the appropriate writing structure. Are you able to present your case in a comprehensible and logical manner instead of jumping instantly into the fray? Good planning and organising skills are valuable in such an exercise.
  2. Your ability to identify important data. Employers tend to pile applicants with an enormous amount of information in order to confuse and test their ability to gather and organise crucial case-relevant details.
  3. Your ability to convey information tactfully and simply, regardless of your audience. Would you be able to rephrase a situation – especially in a heated one – in a tactful and straightforward manner? Thoughtfulness, diplomacy, and proper communication etiquette is key here.
  4. Your spelling and grammar – especially when you’re writing under pressure since some applicants have shown a tendency to revert to broken English when they are unnerved.

In order to excel in a written exercise, treat it the way you would any written exam:

  1. When you get your assignment, quickly scan through it and highlight the task(s) and the essential points.
  2. Before you get started on anything, draft out a quick plan as guidance so that you don’t get distracted and that your work is properly structured. You will need an introduction and a conclusion to start and end appropriately instead of delving immediately into the issue.
  3. Take care to use the right tone – keeping it formal is your best bet as you’ll be working under a formal circumstance.
  4. Avoid convoluted and long sentences, as well as bombastic words, no matter how cool you think it may sound. The commercial world is a fast-paced one, and being able to communicate your point clearly in as little words as possible is a boon. Don’t use confusing jargons and syntax – you want the recruiters to understand your recommendation at first glance, not ask you more questions!
  5. Prioritise and be decisive! Important information and complex issues go first, followed by everything else. You need to show the recruiters that you are capable of prioritising and making firm decisions when the situation calls for it.
  6. Be consistent in your stance and recommendation. If you’ve expressed a preference for condition A, then make sure that your recommendations are geared towards it as well. You can acknowledge other options as well, but do not sit on the fence because that will only make you seem indecisive.
  7. Reread and review! Many applicants forgo this because of time issues, but make it a point to at least reread once so that you can catch any careless errors that might mark you down.

Take some time to revise on your spelling and grammar. Reading grammar books and checking the spelling of words may not be how you’d imagine preparing for an assessment test, but sometimes, your success might just hang on your decision to use “exceed” or “excede”.

Research also on basic email etiquette, such as including an explanatory subject when titling your email and providing an appropriate sign-off.

The employers who typically set written exercises

While most recruiters will include an element of written exercise just to assess their candidates’ basic writing and communication skills, there are certain employers who hinge their decision on this task. A professional photographer agency, for instance, wouldn’t make written test his or her employment requirement, but law firms, consultancies, and property firms will.

Media-related companies, such as newspaper companies and publishers will make writing a primary hiring criteria; and so will education staff and estate planners. Quite unexpectedly, you’ll also find writing skills to be greatly appreciated in the gaming and the tourism industries as well.

Consult your career advisor about written exercises to see if there are workshops available. Business writing classes are usually a tremendous help as it deals mainly with the forms of writing used in the commercial domain.

Asking for extra time

With the appropriate reasons and justifications, you can actually ask to be given extra time by the recruiters. For instance, if you’re dyslexic or have sight problems, do speak to the employers in advance so that they can prepare beforehand. If you’re worried about being doubted, it would be a good idea to bring any relevant documents to proof your condition. A letter from your doctor or your referee would be sufficient.

Most recruiters are understanding, though, and will be happy to assist you so that you get a fair chance during your assessment.