Justifying Your Decisions

The  in-tray exercise is frequently used to assess your ability to prioritise, evaluate and organise your time effectively. It is also a key way in which organisations will assess your problem solving abilities and how well your decision making skills match their needs. You are being assessed on how you deal with the items and it is very unlikely you will be asked to compose emails, letters or memos as part of this exercise.

Your assessors will score you on the following:

  • How well you identify the ‘Key’ issue of the item.
  • Your interpretation of the information provided.
  • Ease and speed with which you arrive at your decision.
  • The way in which you evaluate the information.
  • How effective your actions/decisions are in dealing with the presented problem.


The assessors will be identifying how well you manage your own time and whether or not you spend your time on key issues that have a significant impact on the organisation or become distracted with urgent, yet trivial items. You will be judged on how well you prioritise the in-tray exercise items, your willingness and appropriateness to delegate and whether or not you set a deadline for the activity.

Sticking to the point is vital especially during your justification as it is easy to get side-tracked and run out of time. You need to address all the major issues raised in order to achieve your objective of maximising your score.

An in-tray exercise may also be assessing your skills and knowledge in respect of commercial insight, your use of creativity in problem resolution and decision making. Of course it will be scoring you on the way you display your management style

  • Supervisory
  • Mentor
  • Delegator
  • Customer orientated
  • Organisationally orientated
  • People orientated


Frequently there is a central theme to the in-tray exercise items. This could be an impending take over, potential merger, management buy-out, re-organisation with redundancies or poor financial performance. Whilst you are reading through the overview and the items provided be mindful for this re-occurring theme. You will not be expected to have specific market or product knowledge, although being up-to-date on current industry issues may be useful it’s important to focus on how you deal with issues, how you manage the information and what actions you subsequently take, as this is what you will be scored on.

During the justification they will want to see your reasoning behind these decisions and actions and you scored on how well you make the specification. If the in-tray exercise does not have this aspect then make sure your notes are readable (if you need to print in capitals) by anyone so they can see the thread of your reasoning.

Any organisation will also want to assess how well your ethos matches their own. They will score you on the way you use, and the importance you place on, the company goals and objectives in your decision making process. Your assessors will want to see how you gauge the impact on the organisation of your decision, or action, and also the implications this could have on resources and other projects. They will be looking to see what your initial planning stages consist of and how you will monitor and measure its success.

Some assessors will also judge what you do with an item once read (file/circulate/copy/discard/shred) as part of your overall score. You will be able to judge the importance of this aspect of your in-tray exercise depending on the nature of the organisation.

As the average number of multiple choice questions is slightly higher than those asked during a justification or discussion, you must be concise and decisive in your answers as you’ll only have about 5 minutes per question if you are asked a dozen during an hour.

If the in-tray exercise involves a discussion of your answers and the opportunity to explain your decisions then you must remember that during this discussion you are also being assessed in terms of how you handle yourself under ‘interrogation’ of your work. The Assessor will be observing how you respond to criticism and how easily you can be persuaded to alter your decision.

The justification provides you with an excellent opportunity to explain why you prioritised things in the way you did. This may be because of your experience or the type of environment you currently work in. You will also have the opportunity to bring into the discussion your knowledge gained from your research into the organisation, its ethos and mission statement. If you can also show how your reasoning matches the values and beliefs of the organisation you will be able to increase marks for this exercise.

You may also be interested in Introduction, Maximizing Your Score, Working Through the Items, Explaining Your Answers.

Pass the In-Tray Exercise