CAREERS BLOG: Assessment Centres – practice makes perfect

UoY Careers Imagine the possibilities LARGE dark green  Blog written by Irena Zientek, Information Resources Manager, Careers

If you’ve heard of assessment centres (run by employers, as part of their recruitment process), but are a bit uncertain of what exactly is involved, then read on for an intro to these sorts of events.

Assessment centres are used by employers to observe a candidate’s ability in a range of activities. These may include any of the following:

  • Group discussions and exercises
  • Presentations
  • Social activities (eg ‘mixing’ with other candidates and company representatives over refreshments)
  • Written tests, such as aptitude tests, case studies, and e-tray exercises
  • Interviews.

Group discussions

You and your fellow candidates will be observed as you engage in some form of group exercise (such as a practical activity / problem solving task) or debate (often a topic relevant to the employer’s business). The assessor will be looking at the team dynamics and an individual’s interaction with the rest of the group. Just to put you really at your ease, you may even have to do some role playing!

With this exercise, employers are assessing skills like team working, communication, persuasiveness, and clarity of thought, among others.


You may have to give a short presentations. At some assessment centres  you may be given prior warning before you attend. On other occasions you may not be told until the day of the assessment centre. You may have to give the presentation by yourself or as part of a group.

Employers use this to assess your communication skills, time-keeping, and your ability to think under pressure, among others.

Social activities

It may be lunch or a refreshment break for you, but you may still be being assessed. If you’re ‘mixing’ with company employees, some employers will ask for their opinions of the candidates afterwards – so keep this in mind.

Written tests

There are a number of tests and exercises used by recruiters. These include:

  • E-tray/in-tray exercises – providing you with a range of materials (emails, phone messages, memos, etc) to test skills including, analytical, communication and prioritising
  • Case studies – expecting an analysis of a hypothetical situations, to assess skills, such as logical thinking, decision making and understanding information quickly
  • Drafting exercise – based on some given information, you’re required to draft a document, communicating it
  • Personality exercises – these identify your likely response to a given situation. There are no right/wrong answers to these, so don’t try to ‘second guess’ what the employer is looking for
  • Aptitude/psychometric tests – these can include, verbal, numerical, diagrammatic and spatial reasoning. There are plenty of practice questions available book online and in some of the reference books in Careers (see the information sheets below for useful resources).


These may be one-to-one or panel interviews. They may potentially be more in-depth, particularly if you’ve already had an initial interview with the company. Ensure you’ve reread your original application, and you’ve researched the role, the company and the sector/industry it operates in.

Practice makes perfect

If you’d like the chance of trying out some of these sorts of exercises, check out the Assessment Centre Activity Day, when four employers (Asda, BT, Coca-Cola and PwC) will be running practice sessions for students. It takes place on Weds 29 Jan 1.20 –5.00pm, at the Ron Cooke Hub, Heslington East campus. More details are available at (click on Assessment Centre Activity Day in the navigation side bar) or join the Facebook page

Further resources

Information sheets (downloadable at

  • Preparing for an assessment centre
  • How to practise aptitude tests
  • How to prepare for interviews
  • Presentation skills.

Books – for reference use in Careers or on loan from the University Library

A variety of titles on aptitude tests, including:

  • How to pass verbal reasoning tests
  • How to pass numerical reasoning tests
  • How to pass graduate psychometric tests
  • How to succeed at an assessment centre. 

Streamed media on the Careers website. Also available in DVD format for reference use in Careers.