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
- Which of these U.S. Supreme Court decisions did not involve discrimination based on race?
- A. Korematsu v. United States (1944)
- B. Loving v. Virginia (1967)
- C. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968)
- D. Frontiero v. Richardson (1973)
- Which of the following was least associated with actions President Rondald Reagon took against Communism in his administration?
- A. His reinforcement of America's military weaponry
- B. His Strategic Defense Initiative for space defenses
- C. His Reagan Doctrine supporting freedom fighters
- D. His withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola
- Which of the following statements regarding the Branch Davidians in 1993 is not true?
- A. The Branch Davidians were a Seventh Day Adventist sect living on a compound located near Waco, Texas.
- B. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms got a search warrant for the Branch Davidian Compound.
- C. When attempts to look for weapon stockpiles led to gunfire and deaths, the FBI attacked the compound.
- D. The incident at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco developed into a siege that lasted for two weeks.
- One of the earliest political parties in the United States was the Federalist Party. Its decline is best explained by:
- A. a failure to organize state political parties.
- B. the enmity of wealthy Americans.
- C. its opposition to the War of 1812.
- D. its advocacy of a strong central government.
- Which of the following is the term for someone appointed to a group to argue against the group's position in an attempt to avoid groupthink?
- A. Outsider
- B. Devil's advocate
- C. Mind-guard
- D. Leader
- Sample FSOT English Expression Questions
- In the passages that follow, words and phrases are underlined and numbered. Read the alternate suggestions for each underlined part and choose the one that seems to work best with the style and tone of thea rticle and is grammatically correct. The original response is always listed as the first option.
- The construction of the Panama Canal began on (1) May 4 1904. The efforts leading up to the start of the canal had been marked by time-consuming frustration and political disagreements. In June of 1902, the United States had begun looking more seriously into a canal across Panama. It was not until January of 1903 that the Hay-Herran Treaty passed, (2) gave the United States government the opportunity to proceed in building the canal.
- As it turned out, the process rapidly became complicated. In 1903, Panama was a (3) province of Columbia and while the United States Senate ratified the Hay-Herran Treaty, the Senate of Columbia did not. The debate over the canal also coincided with the Panamanian hopes for (4) independence from Columbia, when Columbian troops tried to block a Panamanian revolt the United States lended its aid. Panama declared independence on November 3rd of 1903. Three days later, the United States signed Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama to begin work on the canal.
- A. May 4 190
- B. May 4, 1904
- C. May, 4, 1904
- D. May 4th 1904
- A. gave
- B. was given
- C. giving
- D. have given
- A. province of Columbia and while the United States Senate
- B. province of Columbia yet while the United States Senate
- C. province of Columbia, and while the United States Senate
- D. province of Columbia, and the United States Senate
- A. independence from Columbia, when Columbian troops
- B. independence from Columbia; when Columbian troops
- C. independence from Columbia, but Columbian troops
- D. independence from Columbia, Columbian troops
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.
Answers to Sample Questions
Job Knowledge: 1;D 2;D 3;D 4;C 5;B English Expression: 1;B 2;C 3;C 4;B
- 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