How to Pass a Group Exercise

How to Pass a Group Exercise at Pilot Selection

A look at how to excel in a group exercise scenario

How do I pass a Group Exercise at an airline pilot assessment?

In short, a group exercise is about moderation. Don’t engage too much or too little. Make sure your contributions are valuable, clear and concise. Don’t be too overbearing yet don’t be too passive. Involve others, listen and provide feedback. If you’re able to follow this simple advice, you will have a good chance of passing a group exercise at an airline pilot or flight school assessment.

What is the Purpose of a Group Exercise?

A group exercise is used to reveal how you interact with others as part of a team in a pressurized environment. Generally speaking, people find it harder to act and hide personality traits when under pressure so a group exercise is an effective way in which the assessors can reveal an individual’s personality and behavioural characteristics. Revealing these traits is important as it allows the assessors to predict how you are likely to behave in the workplace (i.e. as an airline pilot on the flight deck) in the future. There will likely be between about 6 to 12 people taking part and you can expect these individuals to have range of personalities and characters. Having a dynamic group reflects the make-up of real-life teams.

The environment can feel a bit ‘false’ and clearly some people don’t always take well to being observed. You are being put under the microscope with multiple assessors located round the room, furiously scribbling down information on your every word or move – it’s difficult to be completely natural!


Have a think about who you will need to interact with on a daily basis as a pilot…

  • The Captain or First Officer
  • Cabin Crew
  • Engineers
  • Operations Control
  • Crew Control
  • Dispatcher
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Passengers
  • Cleaners
  • Caterers
  • Fuellers
  • Security
  • Border Control

In order to get the aircraft from A to B safely, a pilot has to interact with many groups of people, all with different personalities, backgrounds and priorities. How do you think you should interact with any of the above groups? Hopefully you will have said professionally, clearly, concisely and courteously. This is in essence, how you should come across in a group exercise.

The Standard Group Exercise

A typical group exercise lasts around 15 – 30 minutes. You’ll be led into a room and sat round a table with a number of assessors strategically located around the room. Usually there is one assessor who will be tasked with taking notes on you and one or two others within your group.

You will be given a task which needs to be analysed by the group. A decision will need to be made or a problem solved within a set time period. Finally, you will probably be required to report your solution to the task to the assessors.

Check what information you’ve all been given…

Some members of the group may be given different pieces of information regarding the task which isn’t always initially obvious. After everyone has taken the time to review the information in front of them, it can be a good strategy to check what information has been given to everyone and see if it differs between individuals. It might be that most of the information you’ve all been given is very similar, but there might be a small amount, but important differences to figures and facts. Don’t get halfway through the group exercise and realise that you are all working on different information!

The right answer…?

In a group exercise, there is no right or wrong answer. The assessors are interested in your individual contribution to the team rather than the specific team result. If you feel the team has ended up making the wrong decision, don’t worry it’s what you did to get there that counts! You may have excelled even if the team didn’t reach a conclusion or ended up making a decision which you felt was wrong.

Starting the Group Exercise

When seated, note the time the group exercise has started. Someone within the group should volunteer as the time keeper and provide the group with updates regarding how long is left. Pointing out the half way point, 10 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute to go can be helpful to ensure the group is on track to finish on time.

Each candidate is typically provided with an information card or piece of paper with detail about the scenario. You will usually start by reading through this. Initially you should aim to establish that all candidates have received the same pieces of information. Note that sometimes the information cards may initially appear to provide the same information, but are in fact subtly different. For example, a single sentence may differ between the information provided which can add or clarify important details. If only one information card is provided, someone should volunteer to read it clearly so all group members can hear.

Finishing the Group Exercise

Whilst the final decision of the group is very unlikely to actually be factored into your overall score, how you get to the result is very important. As you approach the end of the exercise, with a few minutes to go, if the group isn’t already in the process of finalising the decision then tactfully direct the group to do so. You can suggest that as the end of the exercise is approaching, the group should start to finalise the plan. Once the group has made a decision or has produced a solution to the problem, then in the last minute or two, offer to provide a summary of what the group has decided to ensure everyone is on the same wavelength.

What are the assessors looking for in a group exercise?

  • Your ability to relate to others
  • How you interact and work with an unfamiliar team
  • Teamwork and Co-operation skills
  • What leadership qualities you might have
  • Initiative
  • Time Management
  • Your communication skills
  • Listening / Verbal Communication / Body Language
  • Your ability to make decisions as a group

How should I approach a group exercise?

  • When speaking to other members, try to address them by their name. It’s not only polite but is an attention getter and shows you have an eye for detail.
  • If you don’t interact you can’t be assessed! You can only be assessed on what the assessors see. If you don’t engage and don’t say what you’re thinking, you won’t pass. Be conscious of how much you are talking and what your input have been and ensure there is a good balance between making valued contributions and either talking too much or too little.
  • Making valuable, useful and helpful contributions is one of the most important factors in a group exercise, i.e. ensuring quality over substance. There is no point doing a lot of talking if the points you are making are irrelevant.
  • Whilst it’s important to get involved, it’s equally important not to be too overbearing and take control of the group. It’s possible to be too dominant, which as on the flight deck, is not a good attribute. Listen to what others have to say without interrupting.
  • Volunteer to be one of the time keepers, note keepers, summarisers etc. Perhaps even volunteer for more than one of these tasks if needed, however, don’t volunteer for lots of roles the expense of others not being given a chance to have the opportunity to do so. Be inclusive but not authoritarian.
  • Involve others. If someone is quiet or hasn’t had the chance to say anything, invite them to participate. Perhaps saying something like ‘What do you think about this idea Barry?’.
  • Try to keep the group on track. If the group starts to go off on a tangent, try to subtly restate what the purpose of the exercise is in order to redirect the discussion.
  • Don’t dismiss other people’s ideas (not matter how silly they are). Listen to what others have to say and support their participation. If you disagree with an idea or suggestion, highlight why you’re not comfortable with it, but try to extract some positives from it. “I can see why you’d want to take the matches Tim, it’s important to be able to light a fire, but do you think taking water should be a higher priority?”
  • Ask open ended questions. What have we missed? What does everyone think of this?
  • Advocate your position with clear and concise reasoning.
  • Offer to monitor the time limit. If there isn’t a clock in the room, you could put your watch in the middle of the table for everyone to see the time. Keep your eye on the time, and provide updates to the others in the group. For example, “that’s 10 minutes gone so we’re half way through” or “we’ve got five minutes left so shall we think about finalising our decision?”.
  • Be polite and courteous at all times. Even if someone is being very overbearing and annoying, keep your cool and stay respectful.
  • Offer to conclude or summarise what the group has decided near the end of the exercise. For example, “we have one-minute left, shall we just run through our decision to ensure we are all happy and understand what we’ve selected”.
  • Risk shift is a factor to consider. You’re more likely to agree to a riskier decision as a group than an individual as the responsibility and consequences of the decision are spread across the group.

If you found this article helpful, take a look at our ‘How to Pass an Airline Interview‘ page.