The glamorous life of a diplomat is a dream enticing to many, but realized by few. It’s easy to take one look at the first step—the foreign service officer test (FSOT)—and run in the opposite direction. But fear not! Here’s an inside look at the FSOT and some tips on how you can ace it.
The FSOT consists of four parts: a written exam, a personal narrative, an oral assessment, and finally, a security clearance.
1. The Written Examination
The written exam is a computer-based test on everything. Literally. From questions about the origin of bee-bop to the specifics of East Asian labor laws, the exam is designed to test general knowledge. You’ll also be asked about your work experience, responding to challenges, and communication styles in a short biographical section.
The test takes about three hours to complete, and is offered at several test centers around the US and abroad. The test is given during eight-day windows, three times a year, and can be re-taken once a year.
Tips for acing the written exam:
2. The Personal Narrative
Once you pass the written exam, you’ll be asked to submit a personal narrative to the Qualifications Evaluations Panel (QEP). Here, you’ll highlight what you’ve done, who you are, and what you’ve learned from your experiences in essay format.
This is your chance to express why you’re qualified to be a foreign service officer. The scoring is not concrete, but is instead reflects whether the QEP feels you would make a promising and qualified candidate.
Tips for acing the personal narrative:
3. The Oral Assessment
If the QEP is sufficiently impressed by your qualifications, you’ll be invited to participate in an oral assessment, a day-long exam where you’ll be evaluated on the “13 dimensions” essential for work in the foreign service.
The oral consists of three parts:
Tips for acing the oral assessment:
4. Security and Medical Clearance & Final Review
Once you’ve come this far, the rest is a piece of cake, relatively speaking. You’ll be investigated for a high-level security and medical clearance—lots of paperwork, but not an exam—and your file will be submitted to the panel for final review.
A last word of advice: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make it all the way through on your first try. It’s fairly normal to take and re-take the FSOT before actually acing it. As your experience and education becomes more extensive, your chances of passing the exam will improve. With a little persistence, you’ll be embassy-hopping with the best of them!
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