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How I Tackled the FSOT

I took the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) this past Saturday, Oct 4. The FSOT is the entrance exam for people who want to work in the Foreign Service, i.e., work in embassies and consulates in other countries. I don’t have the results yet, so I’ve got to wait for the results in about 3-4 weeks. I’ll add another post with my results and some analysis. Fear not, Job Recruiters! This is just a practice run for me.

The test is in four parts: job knowledge, biographical information, English expression, and the essay.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and people about how I studied for the FSOT. Many people told me that I could not study for the test because it is too broad, but I disagree. So here is my advice.

The job knowledge section: Dozens of 4-choice multiple choice questions, covering history, geography, politics, economics, computers, and probably several other topics. The questions were difficult because many of the answers were very similar. Read blogs, read stories on the Yahoo! group, and Google stuff.

The biographical information section: Know thyself. Dozens of multiple choice questions, this time about yourself. For example, how many times in the last six months have people come to you for help resolving a stressful management issue at work? 0,1,2,3,4,5. If you answer anything other than zero, you have to list the specific incidents. I answered truthfully, but there’s no way to know exactly what they’re looking for so DO NOT BE SHY.

The English expression section: You have  several paragraphs of text, with certain words or phrases underlined. Kinda like the SAT/GRE. You have to pick the best substitution for the underlined portions, from a list of similar answers. The test measures your grasp of the English language and grammer. This section was particularly draining for me. As soon, I clicked next, the screen would take about two seconds to load the next question. I saw that the timer continued during the loading process, taking away precious time. I felt I did not have time to argue and bring this up to the assistants, so I just went with it. However, I finished with about 5 extra minutes to double check some of answers. Beware, if this happens to you.

Of all the sections of the test, the essay was the most difficult: You have thirty minutes, including the time it takes to read the prompt (which is itself a small essay) and think of responses. I have been advised you must be able to come up with three points, and intro and conclusion. I know I wrote to the best of this structure, so I’m not sure if any of my points made sense, but they kept saying they were looking only at the structure of the essay, and not the content. I continued writing, just as the seconds ticked off!

>> Additional Advice:

— READ A DAILY NEWSPAPER/MEMOIRS/ONLINE CONTENTS. I can’t stress this enough. I recommend The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Financial Times. Please note, Feds, military and students get FREE access to Washington Post digital. You don’t need to read it cover-to-cover, but you should be aware of what the heck is going on in the world. Personally, I read memoirs of former public officials. For example, reading Madeleine Albright’s , Madame Secretary, helped me answer an African geography question.

— Read and know the U.S. Constitution. Learn all the Amendments to the Constitution. You don’t need to memorize it word-for-word, but you should be able to immediately know, for example, that slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, that the 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, etc.  I researched fun facts because it was easier to retain information.

— If you haven’t written in a while, practice writing. Research a current hot topic (same-sex marriage, education, human tights etc.), pick a viewpoint and write a one-page typed essay that defends your viewpoint with clear, succinct examples (i.e. current events, recent legal cases or other precedents you might have heard about in the news, etc). You are not graded by your position, only the structure and how you analyze content.

— Download the DOScareers Mobile App: Test your knowledge with more than 500 sample FSOT questions about U.S. government and culture, world history, technology, economics and more..

— Sign up for an FSOT Information Session: You can do this via the app and find upcoming recruitment events near you, add events to your calendar and get directions to events/exam centers.

Get some sleep the day before. Eat some breakfast or lunch, I actually took my test at 5PM. 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.

Just as I entered the room, waiting to receive the form filled with Q&A’s, someone tapped me on the shoulder. A fellow Seton Hall Alum had just finished taking the FSOT and came over to wish me luck. Seeing someone familiar had given me a bit of confidence!

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

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