The competitions are organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). Since 2010, they have taken place in two phases: the admission phase and the assessment phase.
The admission phase:
The admission phase consists of several tests called admissions tests. They are taken on computer in specialist centres in each of the Member States of the European Union. Each test takes the form of a set of multiple choice questions (MCQs). Tests vary according to the category of the competition:
|Test||Competitions||Number of questions*||Duration*||Language|
|Verbal Reasoning||X||X||X||20||35 min||L 1|
|Numerical Reasoning||X||X||X||10||20 min||L 1|
|Abstract Reasoning||X||X||X||10||10 min||L 1|
|Situational Judgement||X||X||20||30 min||L 2|
|Accuracy and Precision||X||X||40||6 min||L 2|
|Priority and Organisation||X||X||24||30 min||L 2|
|Secretarial skills||X||20||30 min||L 2|
*Based on the 2014 competition
In theory, the main language (L1) is your mother tongue but you can choose another language too. Unless indicated otherwise in the notice of competition, you must choose this language from among the official languages of the EU. The second language (L2) must be different from the main language. You must choose from French, English or German.
The assessment phase:
Candidates who fulfill all the admission conditions (studies or diplomas and potentially professional experience) and who achieve the best results in the admission tests are invited to take part in the second phase of the competition. This takes place in Brussels, at an assessment centre, generally over a day and a half. Tests vary according to the competition category.
Assessment tests for the AST competitions
|A case study in the chosen field|
|Practical exercise on preparing and/or processing an MS Word document|
|Practical exercise to assess your ability to express yourself in writing|
Assessment tests for AD competitions
|Case study in the chosen field|
The case study and practical exercises are aimed in particular at assessing your competencies in the chosen field (secretarial, finance, human resources, etc) The other exercises are aimed at assessing general competencies: – Analysis and Problem solving – Communicating – Delivering quality and results – Learning and development – Prioritising and organizing – Resilience – Working with Others – Leadership (only for AD competitions) These key competencies are defined in the guide to general competitions http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2012:270A:FULL:EN:PDF For a clear and detailed analysis, we recommend that you read the book “Situational Judgement Tests for European Institution Competitions” published by ORSEU. The candidates who achieve the best results in the assessment exercises are placed on a reserve list. The number of successful candidates is stated for each competition notification. For further information on the organisation of the competitions, please visit the EPSO website.
The admission results are out and the pre-selection phase is finally over. Congratulations to everyone who has been invited to the Assessment Centre!
Today is a day to celebrate the good news, but from tomorrow you will have to look ahead again as the hardest part is yet to come.
The next step in landing an EU job is the Assessment Centre (or AC), and the first exam to sit is the Case Study. For many people this is the scariest part of the whole EPSO competition process, but fear not: you have a month left to prepare and we have created this step-by-step guide to help you plan and schedule your preparation to become a Case Study pro by the time you enter the exam room.
Step #1: Re-read the notice of competition
Along with the communications you receive to your EPSO account, the notice of competition is your #1 official source of information from EPSO. Read it again! It tells you all the basic information about the structure of the AC and the competencies tested by each exercise.
The case study is designed to assess general competencies, and for specialists, their competence in their field as well. Your notice of competition will state explicitly which are the competencies measured by the case study in your case, as this can vary slightly depending on your field and the grade of the position.
For AD generalists the 4 competencies are: Analysing and Problem Solving, Communication, Delivering Quality and Results and Prioritizing and Organizing.
Step #2: Consult a more comprehensive summary material
The notice of competition is a good starting point, but it does not give you any guidance on the details. The competencies are listed, but they are not explained and there is no information on the possible scenarios, the test procedure, or the scoring system.
EPSO has two sample case studies on their website, which are great sources to familiarize yourself with the task you will be facing. I would recommend you to download them, maybe scan through them quickly, but do not plunge into reading them in details yet. They will be much more beneficial at a later stage as practice materials, once you are familiar with the exam setup and the details of what is expected from you to obtain a good score.
The Perfect Case Study Guidebook is a free resource written by a former EPSO selection board president. This booklet gives you a comprehensive summary of the EPSO case study exam and advices on preparation strategy. One of its most valuable assets is the detailed explanation of the assessed competencies and the list of positive and negative indicators for each one of them. These are the things EPSO markers will be looking for in your essay and your score will be based on how well these come through from your work.
It is good to keep something in mind: Having the competencies is one thing, showing it in your essay that you have them is another. Practically, the preparation is learning how to master the latter.
Case Study Insights Webinar are useful tools for this. They not only introduce you to the case study exam system, but also give practical advice on best practice exam strategies, from time management to writing tips, to make your essay both professional and appealing to the markers.
Step #3: Catch up with EU affairs and know the EU institutions
EPSO case studies simulate real life, EU-related scenarios. Although you will have the key background materials provided, to quickly grasp the context of the assignment it is important to be familiar with current EU affairs and to know how EU institutions work.
You might be asking yourself: What could the possible subjects be this year? It is hard to guess. It can be a hot EU topic as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Maybe one of its sub-sections is of special interest, like GMOs. Or it can always be an EU evergreen, such as unemployment, climate change or gender equality policies. The best thing you can do is refresh your knowledge and be up to date with EU related news. Here are a few websites you can start with:
For EU institutions and legislation:
Pick your favourite from these news sites, bookmark 1 or 2 of them, and read them on a daily basis.
Step #4: Try a mock case study early in the preparation process
No reading can replace practice, so you should try practicing as much as you can. Trying an EPSO-style case study simulation test (remember to select Assessment Centre to view this service offering) at the beginning of your preparation process can help you in two ways.
First: You will get to know the test situation and the test interface. You can experience for yourself how difficult it is for you personally to read all the materials and write your essay within the 60-minute time limit. Plus, you will become familiar with the test software and its functionalities won’t surprise you, so on the day of the exam you won’t be wasting precious time by things like finding out how to copy and paste text in the EPSO editor. (No, ctrl+c / ctrl+v won’t work.)
Second: You can get detailed feedback from someone who has marked case studies in real EPSO exam situations. Taking into account the comments you receive and your own experience, you can find out where you are at in the preparation process. Make a list of your biggest mistakes and the focus points you need to improve on.
Step: #5 Create a preparation roadmap
Once you know where you are, and know where you want to be, it’s time to think about how you are going to get there. Consider the areas you need to improve and plan how you are going to do it. Do you run out of time because you cannot read through the background documents fast enough? Practice speed-reading. You get lost in long, wordy sentences? See what the European Commission recommends on how to write clearly, also view Claire’s Clear Writing Tips and practice your drafting skills by writing some more texts.
These are just a few basic examples, but the point is: if you see what needs to be done you will know what material to look for, and how much time and effort the tasks will need. Taking into account the time you will actually have, you can structure and schedule your steps to make the most of your preparation. It’s good to write all this down, so it becomes clearer for yourself too.
Step #6: Practice, practice, practice
While improving specific skills, do not lose the big picture. It is important to practice speed-reading, because it will add to your overall performance, but keep in mind what your ultimate goal is. It is to master EPSO-style case study writing in its entirety, and the best way to do it is by practicing it like that.
Pull out the EPSO sample studies and complete the assignment. Also, attached to the case study webinar on EU Training is a sample case study and sample solution. Even if you do not complete it, read the task and the corrected solution. This will give you a deeper insight into the common mistakes you should avoid, and general advices like ‘Be specific!’ are demonstrated in practice, and are much easier to grasp.
You can review the webinar and the guidebook from time to time, focusing on the sections which are more relevant to you personally. The more you practice, the better you will understand the task and its difficulties and the tips will find their context.
Step #7: Take a second simulation test
If you feel the need for reinforcement, take a second trial test about 10 days before the exam. This can serve as your dress rehearsal.
Before you start, look at the list of the mistakes and focus points you made earlier and, needless to say, try to avoid them. Receiving your feedback and seeing your progress should comfort your confidence, and it will let you double-check whether you keep repeating any errors.
Step #8: The day before the exam, rest and relax
Take it easy the day before the exam. Do a bit of news reading, and scan through your list of focus points one more time. Don’t panic, or start some last-minute learning frenzy. Get an early sleep, and rest assured: if you prepared, it will show in your score.