How I Studied for the FSOT

I have been getting a lot of questions from friends and people on the Yahoo! groups about how I studied for the FSOT. Some people will tell you that you cannot study for the test because it is too broad, but I disagree. I scored a 188 on the multiple choice section and a 10 on the essay, but there is no way I would have done nearly as well if I had not studied. I believe people who do not improve their score are just studying the wrong material or focusing on the wrong aspects of the test. We can always improve ourselves, and your score on this test is a direct commentary on you as a person (just kidding, it’s just a test, and the same person could fail one year but pass with a great score the next, then fail the year after). So here is my advice.

Step 1: Study the Test Itself

The most important aspect of studying is knowing how the test works. I give the same advice to my friends asking for advice on the bar exam. You need to understand how the test works. How many questions in each section? How many answers per question? How much time do you have for each section? How is it scored? What types of questions will be asked? Answers to all of these can be found on the Yahoo! FSWE group (it is called FSWE because that is what the FSOT used to be called) or on the State Department website. I’m not just providing you the answers because reading through the documents on each of those websites is very valuable, and it may lead to answers/questions that I had not thought of in advance for you. Read blogs (hey look at you, already started on that advice and I’m not even on step 2 yet), read stories on the Yahoo! group, and Google stuff. Really. That’s my advice. Google stuff.

Step 2: Identify Your Weakness

People often make the mistake of studying what they already know because it feels good to get the practice questions right. I took the practice test in the official study guide and missed one English Expression question due to misreading the answers. So how much time did I spend studying the EE section? None! However, it was clear that I knew nothing about economics or management, so I focused on that. It was also clear that my understanding of history was nowhere near where I thought it was.

Step 3: Do a lot of Practice Questions

This is very very important. You get a feel for what is asked. You’ll notice themes. There are a lot of questions on certain areas of geography, of certain people in history, of certain types of economic or management theories, etc.

Practice questions can be found on the State Department’s app on iPhone and Android. These questions are very useful; however, they are also very very hard. Do not get down when you miss half of them. I know that I only got 1/3 of them right at first in some sections. The important thing is to be familiar with the keywords and phrases in the questions so you can recognize them later.

There are also websites with good practice questions. This one and this one were the most helpful. Just do as many questions as you can. It is all about familiarity. The Job Knowledge section seems so broad, but there are only so many monumental things they can expect you to know, so you can feel confident at least some will be covered in practice questions.

Step 4: Know Thyself (for the Bio section giveth and taketh like your high school sweetheart)

Know thyself is more than existential life advice. This is vital for your score on the FSOT. As you know after step 1, the test has three parts of multiple choice questions: job knowledge, Bio, and English Expression. Browsing through the Yahoo! group messages and looking at the Google spreadsheet of past results, you’ll notice a lot of people did well on the JK section but bombed the Bio section. This is because they didn’t know their own resume as well as they thought they did. If I could advise you to study for one single part of the test, this is it. The study guide has practice questions. Prepare 4-5 answers for each question. DO NOT be overly humble, but be honest at all times. Your goal should be to give as many answers to each question as possible.

For example, if it asks “how many meetings have you led that were attended by 5 or more people in the last year? 0, 1-2, 3-4, 5 or more” then you need to aim for 5 or more. You will at first think, geez, I don’t even have meetings at work. I just dip the fries in the oil, take them out, salt them, and serve them (or in my case, I just do what the judge tells me to do when he tells me to do it). But you need to expand your understanding of the word “meeting.” Do you give a lesson at church? That’s a meeting! Did you gather your family to plan a vacation? Meeting! Did you place two pieces of beef on that sesame seed bun? That’s a meating. Doesn’t count for the question, but I’m sure it was delicious.

Another example. How many times have you held a supervisory position in the last 5 years? You may be at the bottom of the totem poll at work. But what about in school? Were you the president of a club or organization where you handed out responsibilities? Captain of a sports team? Internship? Group project? Think about every time you supervised something or somebody, not just for a career. But again, keep it honest. The questions are generally vague to allow you to use all of your experience, but you need to be able to easily defend the position as a legitimate supervisory one (I would count sports captain, but I wouldn’t count leading a clash of clans group).

Another important point for this section is to read the directions. There will be a blank box where you have to (very quickly, time is short) type answers expounding on your experience. The study guide may say “how many friends live abroad? 0, 1-2, 3-4, 5+” then ask you to “list the friends.” But the test may say “list the countries” instead of list the friends. PAY ATTENTION. Do not rush, but go quickly.

Step 5: Study What You Don’t Know

Step 2 said to find out what you are weakest in. The practice questions will help you catch up on some topics. I put the Bio study before this because you can improve it easier. But this is also important.

Here is a list of resources I used. Some will be easier to study if you are in America. Some will be harder to get without an American library, if you were studying in Thailand, for example.

  • ACT/AP study books. I checked these out from the library. I used History and Geography. They were great.
  • The Presidents series by History Channel. These were AMAZING and fun because I like the History Channel. It was on YouTube at one point, but now you might have to look for it. I see it on the History Channel app sometimes with my cable login. It covers important events in American history and gives you a frame of reference for all presidential actions.
  • Yahoo! FSWE group files. These are great. Go to the “files” section and just thumb through some of them on your smartphone or tablet while you are lying in bed. Don’t have a smartphone or tablet? Well, print them on paper with a printer or whatever it is that people do these days to get words to not be on a screen.
  • The Elements of Style. I didn’t study for the English Expression section. If you need to, it may be hard to learn all you need re: grammar and writing from a book, but this is THE book you need if you are weak on the EE section. High grades for its points on grammar and writing, low grades for teaching you how to match your tie to your shirt.
  • Cliffnotes. These were helpful for economics and management. I didn’t have time to read all of the ACT books (only studied for two weeks before I took the FSOT), but I covered each Cliffnote and did well.
  • Official “suggested reading” list. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I read Rise to Globalism. I firmly believe it was instrumental in me passing the test, and it was more interesting than it looks.
  • Geography Quiz apps on iPhone/Android. Same goes for presidents, capitals, flags, whatever will help you get familiar with the world. I didn’t travel a lot internationally. If you have extensive experience abroad, you have a definite leg up on me.
  • Landmark US cases. Oh the embarrassment when I didn’t know what Plessy v. Ferguson was about just 2 short months after starting my career as a lawyer.
  • Learn how to do multiplication on paper if you forgot. The math is easy, but you need to know how to do it. If you watch sports, you may do a lot of it in your head already. I’m always figuring free throw percentages, odds, etc. in my head when I’m watching sports. If you can plan a budget in your head, figure out how much to tip the waitress, or find the average weight of three people, you will do fine on the math.

It is also important to read a newspaper every day. I got a subscription to NY Times (the crosswords helped a lot too), and created an international news board on flipboard. I would flip through it on the couch, between meetings at work, and at church while my wife nudged me with her passive-aggressively pointy elbows.

Lastly, something that helped me was to look through various history timelines online and identify 10 important events in the last 1-4 years. I then read the wiki page on each of them. For those studying for October, I’d recommend the Arab Spring, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other similar events.

Step 6: The Essay

I put this here because it will be hard to quickly improve your grade on the essay. When I took the FSOT just 9 months ago, it was administered by ACT. This made the essay part easy because the ACT has extensive rubrics and advice on their high school essay. With Pearson Vue now running the test, I can’t give a lot of good advice on it. The only study I did for the essay was to review the grading rubric from ACT.

Be mindful of the time. I type quickly (about 100-120 WPM, depending on temperature, humidity, air speed of the A/C unit, tensile strength of the keyboard springs, and how many Dr. Peppers I have downed that day), but I finished with only 2-3 minutes remaining. I felt chewed up about it, and honestly wondered if I did enough to pass (need a 6/12, graded 1-6 by two graders). I got a 10, which is fairly rare, and immediately felt insulted that I didn’t get a 12, despite hoping for just a 7 or 8 moments before.

Remember KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Go back to high school. Five paragraphs. Thesis, three bodies, conclusion. Each body paragraph has an intro, three supporting sentences using relevant facts and ideas, and a conclusion. The conclusion paragraph sums it all up. After you do that, go back and write a dissenting opinion in each body between your last supporting sentence and the conclusion. Explain why the dissenting opinion is wrong, but give merit to good arguments. Don’t worry if you do not know a lot about the topic. You are graded on how well you organize and present your arguments, not how much you know about free speech, police brutality, what breed of dog is the best, or whatever else they may ask you to write about. Be concise, check your grammar, answer the question that is asked.

Finishing Up

Make sure you know where the test is, what time it is, etc. Go the day before to be familiar with your route. Get some sleep. Eat some breakfast. You might be nervous, and that is normal. Preparation always makes me feel better, and I felt prepared, though I had no idea how I would do since I had never taken the test before.

Remember to tailor this to your needs. Don’t follow my path just because it worked for me. Study what you don’t know, but don’t worry about getting too deep in it. You don’t need to know the intricacies of inflation of the Euro (I honestly don’t know if that sentence even makes sense). You just need to know basic tenements of economics.

Lastly, if you miss a question, move on. Take it one question at a time, but be mindful of the timer on the screen. Answer every question. Don’t get bogged down on one hard one. Good test takers can ignore missing 3 or 4 or 5 questions in a row and not let it affect the next 20 that you otherwise would have known had you not been shell-shocked from being asked to name the king of England in 1777 (George? CRAP, THERE ARE FOUR GEORGES ON HERE) or to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

I hope this helps you to pass the test. If you have more specific questions, feel free to comment or message me.

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100 responses to “How I Studied for the FSOT

  1. Hey Scott, great stuff. I am truly happy you post this information I really gave me a full scope of the test. I really love your suggested resources as well. I am taking the test in October, I am currently working on my Masters in business concentrating on international business and governmental logistics. I will definitely take your advice. Would love to interact with you more about the test, so any other insights or suggestions please feel free to let me know. Congrats on successfully completing the yest.
    Garfield

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      • Hi Scott, great blog! I was just wondering how long should the essay portion be? I feel like I am finishing with a lot of time left and of course this doesn’t feel correct. Can you advise?

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      • Blake,

        I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer here. Answer it as completely as you can. If you have extra time, add more details and revise.

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  2. Thank you!!!!!! I’m sweating bullets thinking about taking the test in Oct (I’m new to this world). Just read your blog and I’m almost (emphasis on the almost) excited to study for it now, as I feel like I will be more prepared now, than before had I not read your blog. You’re awesome ^_^

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    • It can be kind of fun at times. Preparation always helps with my nerves. When you know you’re as prepared as you can be to do your best, there’s nothing to worry about.

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  3. Hey Scott, thank you for posting the link to thi on the Yahoo FSOT group.This was really helpful. I’m a fellow lawyer gearing up to take the FSOT in October. The “written” exam doesn’t terrify me as much as the PNQs or the OA (assuming I make it that far), but I’m being cautious and not trying to be too confident or write off the brutality of the written exam. Your suggested resources are excellent. I am definitely taking your advice and hope it lands me a score high enough to be able to reach out to you for guidance through the next steps. Take care!

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  4. Scott: I’m in the same boat as you in a number of ways: recovering lawyer; recently passed the OA and going through clearances. I agree with pretty much all your advice, especially working on weaknesses. I have two additional thoughts: (1) on the essay, I did find it very helpful to practice writing under time constraints. Even if Pearson now scores the essay differently, if you are not used to writing under time pressure, I think that it would help to practice 30 minute essays; (2) don’t tell your 11 year old geography whizz son that you are taking the test. He will drive you insane with random questions about the various ‘stans and cause your confidence to plummet. Congratulations, and hope to see you around FSI soon!

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      • I passed the OA on august 8. Meeting with my investigator this week, and hopefully submitting med clearance forms. I’m in the econ track.

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      • Hi Scott: Any update on where you are in the process? I’m still moving forward. Just learned that I’ve been cleared for TS and sent on to FSR. So hopefully I’ll be on the Register soon.

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      • I’m about 110 days in and still pending with investigations. I had hoped to get a January offer. My background check is taking longer than I anticipated. Luckily I have a job where I can just hang around until I get an offer.

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      • I think mine went smoothly enough because I’ve been a US DOJ employee for 16 years and have generally behaved myself. Even if I were on the Register today, I think January is optimistic for me with my OA score and given that the registers seem to be backed up a bit due to no November class. But I think March is a realistic hope for me. It’s not ideal with kids in school, but we’ll take it if it happens. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

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      • January isn’t ideal for me either because my wife is due in January with our first kid. So it works out. But I’m still eager to start. I expected mine to go quickly because I have no travel outside of the USA except a cruise. Sounds like a good shot at us being A-100 classmates though in March.

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      • Yes it does! Look forward to meeting you. Good luck to you and your wife with the baby. Between that and the FS, it’s exciting times in your house for sure.

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  5. I just decided to apply for the FSOT recently and will sit for the exam next month. Is it realistic to study for less than four weeks and still score high enough to move into the next group?

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    • You’ll find the answer to most questions like this in this process is “it depends.” I know people who didn’t study and passed. I know people who studied for months. A lot of people say you can’t study for it anyway because it’s too broad. Only way to find out is to take it.

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  6. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for this wonderful resource!
    Regarding the Bio section, I read that people had success simply listing answers quickly. Does that mean I can format my answers like this: Times I demonstrated leadership
    – Led a music group
    – Managed a kitchen
    – Took over a project

    Thanks!

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  8. I took the test last night and would say that your tips were helpful for the most part. I don’t recommend renting most of the books from the library on the references list. This will only slow you down for learning to pass the test. Instead take as many practice tests as you can and read up on international relations of the past 100 years. The presidents series from the History Channel is also really good.

    I would say the bio and essay portions were the easiest, HOWEVER, required the most amount of time to complete. In the bio section, I had to rewrite my answers many times because of the 200 character limit. I would recommend practicing your public affairs twitter skills by highlighting your experiences in bullets. “Do you have friends that didn’t learn English as their first language?” “What are their names?” I wasn’t prepared to get down into those weeds. In many cases, I had to forego listing four examples and just went with two or three representative examples. List your examples in bullets, but be SPECIFIC. Don’t use generalizations, e.g., “Chaired the Corporate Safety Committee in September 2014.”

    The essay portion was very similar to what you would see on the SAT or other exams that are testing your ability to formulate an opinion and present your arguments in a thoughtful, systematic way. Read Mother Jones, The Economist, international news cables, press briefings, the constitution, and style manuals!

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  10. This is really helpful. I just copy and pasted this entire article to use as a guide for creating my study plan for the FSOT (I am working in a cabbage cooperative up in the mountains and usually only get internet once a week). I am trying to stock up on PDF’s I can read when I don’t have internet to study. Thanks for the practical tips!

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  11. Thanks Scott. After reading your post I already feel more prepared. Each recommendation was helpful and easy to follow, and I read your article on a daily basis to help compass my study plan. Thanks again and the best of luck in your career.
    -Ernie H.

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  12. Hey Scott,
    Thanks so much for this resource. You really help put the test into perspective for me being a college freshman who’s looking ahead. You also seem to be a really talented writer (future NYtimes best seller perhaps?). Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for the tips and wish you the very best of luck with lawyering!

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  13. Hi Scott,

    Many thanks and congrats on your passing the dreaded exam. Your article on passing the FSOT Test is the most insightful and sincere I have seen so far, as if you really care about people succeeding. I appreciate how well you express your spot-on advice to potential prospects that might be sitting on the fence. Nice of you!

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  14. Scott. Thank you v much for a very informative blog. I would like to know how did you study for the Mathematics and US society and culture section of the test ? What were the questions in mathematics (like just give me a general idea)? How did you target those questions ? For the other sections like management, economics, US history, government, politics and world history and geography I am going through the Cliffs and other study material. But i am confused for those 2. Please enlighten and best of luck!!!

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    • I can’t go that much further in depth than I already have here. The math is just basic math. Percentages or ratios or averages type answers. I didn’t study for the culture part of it. I’d recommend reading a newspaper and a magazine like newsweek.

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  15. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for this overview. I am having difficulty with the “Communication” section of the exam. How would you recommend I go about studying for this part? Any books or courses I can take?

    Thank you!

    Cammy

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  16. Hey thanks so much for this guide. Just a quick note the Presidents docu isn’t online anymore but it’s streaming on Netflix if anyone needs it.

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  17. Great tips…and I had also watched the Presidents series on Netflix before reading this. One tip for those of us who are (ahem) a *few* years out of school and need to brush up on world geography: there are guided games/quizzes here that I have found very helpful. http://www.kidsgeo.com/geography-games/

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  18. hello,

    I will be taking the FSOT June 8th. On the bio part of the test how is it determined if your answers are right or wrong? How can I be prepared for the bio part?
    Thank you,
    Julie

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    • Hey Julie! There is no right or wrong in that section. It’s just whatever is true about you. They’re scored based on a rubric they have about what to look for. That isn’t public. I imagine that speaking 4 languages earns you more points than 0, for example, but I’m not sure how many more points you’d get for 4 languages compared to 3. So the best way to approach it is to sell yourself as positively as you can while remaining honest.

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  19. Hi, Scott!

    Thanks for the great tips. There sure is a lot out there to scare the bejeezus out of you. I am excited about taking the test. Even if I don’t pass on the first go around, I am not afraid to try. Anyhow, I wanted to add a couple of tips that have helped me a lot. I am mid-career with a Master’s in healthcare so pretty rusty on the history stuff. Even though I read a lot of news (not much of a TV watcher), I also wanted to delve into current events deeper.

    I recommend Al Jazeera America for the variety of news stories. It seems all the others just recycle the same stuff but there’s more in depth international news on Al Jazeera.

    Also, watching documentaries has been a great supplement to the Dummies/Idiot’s books and my daughter’s AP Gov book. I love them. The repository of Frontline episodes on NPR’s website is awesome. I got an in depth look at Syria and Iraq. On Netflix, I watched the one on all the Presidents, but also watched the biography of Benazir Bhutto which had a ton of history about Pakistan, and America: The Story of Us.

    On the Yahoo group it seems like there are people who have taken the test 6 times without passing, then I read stories like yours, the B files, and Shawn who all went straight through on the first try. I’m keeping the faith until I learn otherwise!

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  20. What a great post! I am in last last week of prep and behind where I’d like to be (then again, who isn’t?) I have taken it before and done fine on the essays (8s), but I need to bump up to a 10 so BEX has no choice but to invite me to Oral Assessments. Linking to the grading rubric is ridiculously helpful as I do practice essays. Thank you!
    Also, you are so right regarding the Bio section being fickle. I was told you *can’t* prepare for it, so I didn’t the first time I took the test, and it was my lowest score by 8 points or so. I prepared the second time, and it was my highest score. Moral of the story: know not just your resume, but your sub-resume of personal accomplishments, group events, and knowledge acquired.
    Thanks again.

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  21. Hey, Scott!

    Well, I’m writing with a post-mortem of sorts. Took the exam yesterday. I began studying a month out and one week prior took the State Department’s online practice/predictive test. On that one I scored a 92 for JK and 88 for EE with an overall predictor of 85% chance to pass. (For those who don’t know, the practice test is a percentile score, not a percent right score)

    While I believe you actually can study for this exam, you can’t necessarily “learn” a whole lot for it. By that I mean, you have a much better chance if you are a person who has a broad knowledge base in general and then can brush up on things. I knew my weak spots would be economics (had it in college in 1987) and world history (don’t use that much in healthcare!). The study combo I used was a few of the Dummies books (highlights only, not reading the whole thing), a lot of historical and contemporary documentaries (Frontline’s online collection was awesome as was Netflix), some online kids quiz games (incredibly helpful for brushing up on geography in particular!) and several different versions of FSOT study guide. I have the one from ACT, several files I downloaded from the Yahoo group, and I bought a FSOT prep app for my Nook.

    One thing I will mention is that critical thinking is very important. You can’t just memorize some historical facts and leave it at that. The exam may ask you questions in which you are required to compare a contemporary President’s *something* to a historical something else. This requires you to know the general information on the historical reference *and* be able to critically relate it to something contemporary.

    I felt pretty good coming out of it, but will just hang tight to get my results. I’m choosing to think positively!

    Thanks for all the tips and guidance!

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  22. Hi Scott,
    thanks for this wonderful blog. It helps a lot.

    My background – I am a Bosnian girl, first-generation immigrant to the US. I lived through the war and experienced 5 yrs of refugee life in Serbia.

    Fast forward – currently I live in Hawaii (10 yrs) where I have completed all my education with honors and as the best student in my class. I got BA in Geography – GIS and Remote Sensing, MA in Geopolitics, and Graduate Peace Certificate from Matsunaga Peace Institute. I have published my masters thesis on Arab Spring and the Humanitarian Intervention in Libya. Working in international relations and diplomacy has been my dream job. I am preparing for taking the FSOT in February 2016. However….

    My question to you (or anyone else who might know a thing or two about this issue) – is there any chance for the US naturalized citizen to become FSO? Did you come across some other FSO who have similar background as me?

    Thank you so much!

    B.

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  23. Thank you for easing the process on us Scott.
    The thorough break down to the FSOT examiners is way better than DOS itself.

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  24. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for your great tips. I have some questions want to ask you, but I probably should start with a brief self-introduce first.

    I am Chinese, I grew up and born in China and speak fluent Mandarin, I moved to US about 4 years ago, naturalized last January. I major in international studies and currently a senior student for my undergraduates degree, planning on doing my master’s after I graduate. I have served in the military for 3 years so far and planning to get out of the military when my contract ends in 2020. I am interested in public diplomcy officers track.
    My questions:
    1, As I still have not graduate yet, should I wait to take the test after I graduate or before I graduate? or should I wait to take it after I finish my master’s degree? What do you suggest?
    2, As English is my second language, I sometimes struggles with speaking and writing, so I am quite afraid of the writing and oral sections:( Do you have any good suggestions on how to improve these sections? ps:I took the public speaking class and all the required English classes, but unfortunately I didn’t find they are very helpful. I went to school’s ESL center, seems people there English even worse than me, and they only teach quite basic stuff. I do not have too much trouble with listening and reading, just the speaking and writing worries me.
    3, Start from the day I plan to take the test, how many months prior should I register for the test online?
    4, How long does the whole process take usually?

    I am applying summer embassy/consulate internship programs for next year, preparing all my documents right now, hopefully I will get the opportunity to go:)

    Thank you very much,
    Lee

    Like

    • Lee,

      For your first question, I always advocate taking it. It doesn’t hurt you if you fail. So take it as soon and as often as you can.

      Two, being able to speak and write easily and clearly in English is the most important skill. Communication is 95% of a diplomat’s job. I know plenty of people who learned English as a second language and are now in the foreign service, despite having an accent. I used to tutor Chinese ESL students. My biggest tip is to read obsessively in English from all different sources. Gossip magazines, George Orwell novels, newspapers, twitter, etc.

      The third question is up to you. I only had two weeks to prepare; it ended up working out in the end, but it would be ideal to have a month to prepare. I’d say at least a couple for somebody who speaks English as a second language.

      The process from FSOT to A-100 can be as fast as 9-10 months. I know people who took 10-15 years. It really depends on a lot of factors, the main factors being passing all the tests first.

      Good luck!

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      • Hi Scott,

        Thank you so much for your quick response:) I will start to prepare it from now on and take it to give it a try. If I cannot pass I will have time to prepare and take it again. Thanks again!

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  25. I’m currently studying to sit for my 4th FSOT next month. I’m using the Dept. of State’s study app (Android), which has practice exam questions. One of the mathematics sections, however, has advanced corporate finance questions: Calculating weighted average cost of capital, calculating the tax shield of debt to equity, IRR, etc.
    1. I don’t remember seeing anything like this on my previous 3 FSOTs.
    2. These require memorizing formulas and multiple-steps of multiplication with decimals which gets tricky on paper.
    3. I have not seen any such math questions on prior Study Guides nor have I seen them on any previous practice exam websites, etc.

    I’m a bit stunned. Is this something that is legitimately new to the exam? Has anyone seen these types of question so far this year?
    Thanks.

    Like

    • I can’t say what I saw or didn’t see due to the NDA, but I’d say that is so complicated it wouldn’t be worth the effort of learning it when you can use the time elsewhere.

      Like

  26. Thank you for the great info. Hope all is well with your new life. I’m curious about the State Dept smartphone app you mentioned. I can’t seem to find one (iphone) by DOS for the test. Could it be it’s put out by a private company? Thanks!

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  27. Thanks for this, especially the info on the bio section. I took the test two times previously and passed each section but bombed on the bio section both times. How can I fail a section about myself? Anyway, now I am looking at it more strategically and using your advice for the third time which is coming up next week. Thanks again

    Like

      • Hi again, Scott! Just wanted to let you know that I ended up passing the written exam. Your tips were invaluable, especially referring to the matrix for the grading of the essay. I didn’t know much about the subject, but arranging my thoughts in a logical manner made the difference, I believe. Now I’m getting ready for the PNs. Thanks again!

        Like

  28. Yes, next week. So, I’m doing practice tests and I have to work on the essay writing. It’s hard for me to get my head around the concept of expertly answering an essay when I don’t know much about the subject matter. That has also thrown me off on past tests. But, I’ll follow your advice. Thanks!

    Like

  29. I just finished the test about an hour ago and I feel very confident about how I did. Of course in 3-5 it might be a very different story. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the information you posted here, it definitely help me prepare and gave me an edge

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  30. Hi Scott! I came across this and thought it was great advice. I watched the President’s series and read “Rise to Globalism” – the first third, anyway – and got a couple AP guides to brush up on government and economics. Happy to say I learned I passed this morning and will be submitting my PNs soon! Thanks for such great advice!

    Like

  31. Hi Scott,
    Thank you for the great advice! I think you mentioned you were a consular officer? Is that career track geared more toward someone with legal backgrounds? Seems though more papers are involved than other four career tracks.

    Like

    • Consular is basically all face to face interaction. A lot of lawyers select it because their interviewing skills come in handy. I know lawyers in all of the tracks though.

      Like

      • Thank you for your quick reply! I worked with the visa security program and American travel issues at US Immigration & Customs Enforcement so I was going to select this field but all those legal stuff scared me.

        Like

  32. Hello Scott,

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s certainly more helpful than advice to just study the Economist. I have a question for you. How can one pass the QEP? I know people who have passed the test every year but cannot get passed the QEP. It seems that a lot of people making it the oral interviews in recent years either have military experience or a JD degree. Just curious. 🙂

    Like

  33. Hi there, thanks for this informative page. what did you say you used for history and geography, the ACT study guide? I am not sure the 2 subjects are tested for the ACT test. Any idea on subjects like statistics, communication and media,or technology what did you read for those?

    Like

    • I meant the AP books. I’ll fix that. Statistics isn’t deep on the test. I didn’t think they’d be asking me to calculate standard deviations, but they might ask what it means. Technology took no prep or study for me so no advice there. For media, I don’t know what you mean. Current events?

      Like

  34. hello! Thank you so much for this article, it took some weight off my shoulders. I’m planning to take the exam this summer. As for the exam, Is it math intensive (my weakest subject)? What should I be studying specifically?

    Like

    • You need to be able to do simple math. Addition, subtraction, some multiplication or division, finding means/medians/modes, etc. As far as I know, you aren’t expected to know complex geography or calculus. Nothing on the exam requires a calculator to solve.

      Like

  35. Another question I have is, do they base selection heavily off of your education? I just have a bachelors not from an Ivy league school but I’m very well aware of what is happening around world. I don’t want to waste time taking the test if it is based off of someone who comes from an elite school or education.

    Like

    • I went to a state school. The people who sit next to me went to small liberal arts schools, state schools in Montana, ivy league, small schools I’ve never heard of, and top law schools. It’s a big mix. It’s about your entire experience and potential as a whole, not a checklist of schools you have to have on your resume.

      Like

  36. Hi Scott,
    I passed the FSOT today. Your blog post was instrumental in my success. Until I read your advice on preparing for the bio section, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I score the highest (70) on that section. I also read the Rise to Globalism (really enjoyed it), watched the presidents series, and did as many practice exercises as possible. Thanks for the great info on how to prepare for the FSOT! 🙂

    Like

  37. Hi Scott,
    I’m a duel American-Israeli citizen who has lived all over the United States growing up. I spent a few months in Northern Ireland after High school working with troubled youth. I later moved abroad, learned Hebrew from scratch, served in the IDF, and studied a B.A. in Government/International Affairs/Counter Terrorism. I recently graduated, and would love to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, and i feel that my life experiences make me an ideal candidate however… Does my duel citizenship/Foreign military service bar me from such a career? Or are there ways to obtain security clearances? Have you ever heard of people with similar backgrounds as mine becoming FSOs?

    Like

    • You wouldn’t be automatically barred, but that doesn’t mean you’d pass the security check. There are a lot of dual nationals in the FS and many of them served in the military. But I know each case is approached individually for the clearances.

      Like

  38. Hi Scott,
    I am thinking of taking the June FSOT and so far your blog has been really awesome in showing me what I need to focus on. So Thank you for that.
    My question is this: I am toward the end of my 2L year. I want to take the FSOT this year before I need to hardcore study for the Bar. Is it worth it to take it now?
    I know the whole process takes 9-10 months with an acceptance but will they give me time to take the bar?

    Like

    • If you take it now, you could always defer an offer for A-100 until you finish the bar exam. Same goes for the oral exam, depending on the timing. I think you can defer for a year.

      Like

  39. Hi Scott,

    I just recently decided to retake the exam after not having passed my first exam some 3-4 years ago. Think I was pretty scarred from the experience that I thought it might not be the way to go. After much needed pep talks from friends and family and continued passion for the foreign service, I plan to kick some FSOT behind and prepare as much as possible on the areas where I failed last time.

    If memory serves right, I remember finding many HR and management questions where I wasn’t able to decipher what would be the best behavioral response if I were in a given situation. Any input on how to pass or study for some of these behavioral assessment questions?

    Like

    • The cliffnotes on management and the practice tests were the best help for me. That’s all I studied for the management questions and felt confident after the test.

      Like

  40. Pingback: Jamaicaversary | ficklomat·

  41. Great post! I am a political science major and international studies minor, graduating this upcoming June. The foreign service officer position is my dream job. I plan on taking the FSOT for the first time this upcoming February. What do you think are the chances that I will pass or fail? I can take the brutal honesty. My classes have covered all the topics mentioned and I will continue to study. How well do you think my political science classes have prepared me? How in depth or detailed/specific are the questions on the exam? How long is the entire hiring process, from taking the FSOT to being notified of whether or not you are hired? How long does it take for them to notify you of whether or not exam have passed the FSOT? What similar alternatives are there that allow or require international travel? There are jobs that I qualify for under other government organizations but they do not allow the international travel that foreign service officers are able to do. Having a government that allows international travel is my main objective. Thank you for taking the time to read and answer my questions! Reading your post has calmed a few of my worries.

    Like

    • An undergraduate degree alone won’t do a lot to get you through. 80% or so of FSOs have a master’s degree, I’ve heard. Nearly everybody applying has at least a relevant bachelor’s degree and only 2-3% who sign up for the test eventually get hired. That said, all you have to do is pass one part at a time and eventually you’re done and hired!

      Like

      • How long is the entire hiring process, from taking the FSOT to being notified of whether or not you are hired? How long does it take for them to notify you of whether or not exam have passed the FSOT?

        Like

  42. Getting ready to take the test next month and I’m terrified!! Thankful to find your post. I know what my areas of weakness are Math/Statistics and Management. How in depth are these questions? Where’s a good place to start studying? I see your CliffNotes citation and am currently perusing the site. How bogged down do I need to get in the information? Trying not to be overwhelmed here.

    For the essay. Holy. Cow. How do you prepare for it?

    Like

  43. Thanks for the helpful tips. I just applied today and I can only take the test that is available 13 days from now. I don’t know how I will do, but I will try to cram as much as I can.

    I have been doing the practice questions on Practice Quiz website that you have linked, and I was wondering how many of those questions are similar to what I will encounter on the test? Some of them I found to be very easy (Such as “Which medium came first: Books, newspapers, TV, or radio). However, one pattern that I notice is that I get a lot of questions correct (even if I don’t know the concepts) simply by grouping similar answers, eliminating those answers, and then finding the correct answer through this process of elimination. Did you happen to used this process of elimination technique often on the exam?

    Like

    • Using good test taking techniques like you described definitely helps. I think that’s partly why I did so well. I’ve always been a good test taker. It’s also why I didn’t do so well in law school when I was given open-ended questions that I had to answer with word vomit.

      Good luck!

      Like

  44. Hi Scott,
    I have just started looking to to FSO. I am 50 with a BSN, long nursing career, and worked internationally for a NGO over a 10 year period in over 10 countries with Ministers of Health, elected officials, other NGO’s, and locals. I have extensive international travel outside of that work. How do I know what is the best category to go for? Also, I did see your earlier post about bachelor’s degree. Do you think my international experience would help buffer only having a bachelor’s degree?

    Like

  45. This was very helpful! Thank you for all the great links! How many months in advance did you really start actively studying before taking the exam?

    Like

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