Passing the FSOT

The Foreign Services Officer Test, or the FSOT, is what lies between you and your dream of becoming a US diplomat. The FSOT is actually an umbrella term which covers a series of written and verbal assessment tests meant for people aspiring to become US diplomats in the near future. Read on to find out about the nature of the tests and how to ace them.


Understand the Test

Broadly speaking, the FSOT constitutes four stages – a written test, a personal narrative questions or PNQ, an oral assessment, and a final security and medical clearance. Let's quickly glance through each of them.  

The FSOT Written Test

The written exam is conducted by the US Department of State three times a year during an eight day window. The test contains three sections – Job Knowledge, English Expression and a Biographical Section. The Job Knowledge section is quite extensive in terms of the range of topics it covers, right from geography to history to international law to politics to current news to economics. The English Expression test is a tad bit easier and contains questions pertaining to general grammar and syntax rules. The aim is to assess your ability to read and write fluently in English. Finally, through the Biographical section, the concerned authorities try to get a sense of who you are, your ambitions, your achievements, etc.  

Personal Narrative

If you clear the written round, you will be asked to submit a personal narrative to the Qualification Evaluation Panel or the QEP. This essay is a more comprehensive way of expressing your aims and achievements. The State Department looks for conviction, the ability to take crucial decisions under stress, and it also evaluates your achievements objectively.  

Oral Assessment Followed by a Security Clearance

Just about 10% of the candidates who submit a personal narrative are called for an Oral Assessment, which involves a group exercise, an individual interview, and a case management writing exercise. Assuming that you get through these steps, you will undergo a series of security and medical checks. If all goes well, you will be well on your way to becoming a US diplomat. The entire procedure, right from filling out the form to being appointed takes approximately 9-12 months.  

Stay on Top of the News

Honestly speaking, you don't have to cram a dozen books about social sciences or international law to clear the written exam. Instead, you simply need to have fundamental knowledge about these fields. Start by reading high-quality newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, The Economist, and Time. Not only will this help you keep in touch with global news, it will also provide a lot of contextual information about international politics in general. Additionally, brush up your American history and geography and read up about different fields like economics, management, communication, and statistics. Remember, you don't have to dig deep for complicated stuff, it's more about being a "Jack of all trades". For more information about the kind of books you should read, refer to the bibliography provided by the US Department of State here.  

Learn How to Express Yourself Succinctly

The FSOT will test your writing and expression abilities at multiple stages. The written test has a separate essay question besides the English Efficiency section and you shouldn't forget the PNQ either. All of these are meant to see how well you can consolidate and express your thoughts. It's not about being florid or prolix with your writing; in fact, it's quite the contrary. The authorities are looking for simple yet organized essays, which focus on the central issue right away without meandering around it for pages. Give specific examples of your experiences in the field of foreign relations or law or communications. Don't hesitate to include seemingly trivial instances as long as they convey an important message about your leadership or communication skills.  

Brace Yourself for the Oral Assessment

The Oral Assessment round begins with a group exercise where your group will work on a complicated problem. This exercise is meant to test your ability to think critically, analyze situations, and most importantly, work with a group of people. More specifically, the State Department is looking for the presence of 13 qualities. This is followed by an interview where two people will ask you about your professional and personal background, among other things. During the interview, you will be required to respond to several hypothetical scenarios. To prepare for this segment, pick up certain case studies and analyze them carefully. This should give you an idea about the different ways to approach a problem, common obstacles and how to overcome them, etc. Finally, the assessment will end with a 90-minute case management writing exercise. As you can see, good writing skills are crucial for clearing the FSOT. The easiest way to ensure selection is through endless practice. Search the internet for model test papers and questions, join online forums, and practice your speaking and writing skills. With some patience and perseverance, you can definitely clear all stages of the FSOT. Here's wishing you the very best of luck!