The U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) originated in 1932 as a general knowledge test for prospective Foreign Service Officers and traditionally focused on knowledge areas such as geography, history, math, economics, culture, and the English language. As of the mid 2000s, approximately 17,000 to 20,000 candidates were taking the examination each year, of whom less than 25% passed.
In December 2006, the New York Times reported that the Foreign Service Officer recruitment process was being overhauled to deemphasize the knowledge-based "Trivial Pursuit" testing approach and instead place greater emphasis on candidates' other attributes and abilities such as foreign language ability and life experience living and working abroad. As part of this transformation, the FSOT was shortened and converted from a paper-and-pencil examination into a computer-based examination. Its scope was also broadened to assess more elements of a candidate's character and experience.
Most notably, the current version of the FSOT includes not only the traditional exam subjects such as geography, history, math, economics, culture, and English, but also includes a multiple-choice Biographic Information section in which candidates provide a self-assessment of their education, life experiences, and personality. The State Department reports that this section "credits candidates for what they have achieved relative to the opportunities they have had."
Function of the Test
The FSOT is used by the U.S. Department of State as part of the application process for all Foreign Service Officer positions, whether in the career tracks of "Consular," "Economic," "Management," "Political," or "Public Diplomacy." The examination is the first major step of the lengthy Foreign Service application process which also includes the submission of a Personal Narrative to a Qualifications Evaluation Panel; taking an Oral Assessment, typically in Washington, DC; receiving medical and security clearances; and passing a final review panel.
The few candidates who pass all of these steps are placed on a hiring register for their selected career track to be offered positions if any become available. Ultimately, successful placement in the Foreign Service depends on both the candidate's qualifications as well as the availability of positions, so in the end, the State Department must turn down many highly-qualified candidates who pass the FSOT.
Typically, more than 20,000 candidates take the FSOT each year. In 2013, a total of 291 candidates were ultimately hired as Foreign Service Officers, or roughly 1.5% of the number of people who took the FSOT exam that year.
In order to be eligible to apply to take the FSOT, candidates must be U.S. citizens who are at least 20 years old, but less than 59 years old. The Department of State also notes that although there are no formal education requirements, most successful candidates have at least a college degree. Many successful candidates also have advanced degrees in related areas of academic study such as international relations or law, and many have former experience working or attending school outside of the United States. Similarly, although there are no foreign language proficiency requirements and no foreign language sections on the FSOT, candidates with a "demonstrated speaking proficiency" in a foreign language are preferred over those without a foreign language proficiency.
The FSOT is administered for free worldwide, typically at Pearson VUE testing sites or at U.S. embassies and consulates. The full exam takes approximately three hours to complete. It is offered three times per year: in February, June, and October. Each of the three examination windows is about one week long. Candidates may apply to take the FSOT at any time, but registration for any specific examination window closes a few days before the examinations begin. For example, for the testing window of 1/31/15 to 2/7/15, the registration deadline was 1/28/15.
The FSOT may be taken an unlimited number of times; however, candidates may only take the FSOT one time in any given 11-month period.
Candidates who require testing accommodations for a disability must apply directly to Pearson VUE for special accommodations at least 30 days in advance of the testing window in which they wish to take the examination.
The FSOT is administered three times a year at Pearson VUE locations. There are also select locations overseas where the test is offered. Test takers are expected to arrive at least 15 minutes early to their exam, and bring identification for admission.
The FSOT is broken down into four main components: Job Knowledge; English Expression and Usage; Biographic Information; and an Essay. There are many topics that test takers are expected to be well-rounded in, including Communication; Computers; Grammar and Writing Skills; Economics; Management; Mathematics and Statistics; United States Government; United States Society and Culture; and World History and Geography.
- Sample FSOT Job Knowledge Questions
The Department of State does not appear to publicly publish any information regarding scoring methodologies, possible score ranges, or pass-fail rates on the FSOT. However, candidates who have taken the examination report that the scaled passing score on the multiple choice portion of the examination is 154 points, and that a score of 6 out of 12 is required on the essay.
- The New York Times - Rarely Win at Trivial Pursuit? An Embassy Door Opens January 25 2015
- U.S. Department of State - Becoming a Foreign Service Officer January 25, 2015
- U.S. Department of State - Test Information and Selection Process January 25 2015
- U.S. Department of State - Foreign Service - Competitiveness January 25, 2015
- U.S. Department of State - Foreign Service - How many people are able to get the job? January 25 2015
- U.S. Department of State - Worldwide/Foreign Service January 25, 2015
- For FSOT Test Takers 24 March 2015
- Test Process 24 March 2015
- The eaubergine... - FSOT Scores Analysis - Foreign Service Test January 25 2015
- U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Forums January 25 2015
- DiploJournal - FSOT Score and Advice January 25 2015