Though time ranges vary per person, you should study for the Foreign Service Officer Test on average for six months. There are many different methods of studying for this exam, but building a solid study schedule will pave the way for success.
The recommended guideline for studying to take the FSOT is six months. Since this is just a guideline, each individual will have different lengths of time where they will need to study based on their background knowledge, ability, and experience. You should start studying early enough to make it into the small percentage who pass and leave enough time to take the practice tests. Here are three things you need to prepare your study schedule:
- Practice Tests
- Study Materials
- Create a Plan
Have you gotten tired of searching all over the internet for information on studying for the FSOT? Look no further! I have accumulated books and websites galore for you to start the process on the sometimes arduous journey to becoming a Foreign Service Officer. The following gives you ideas on practice tests, study materials, and tips on creating a plan to fit into a busy schedule.
Practice tests are the most essential tools in your study toolbox. They show you your strengths, but also you’ll glean valuable information on what areas to focus your attention on. You’ll also get an idea of how long you’ll need on each question.
Remember, you have 3 hours to complete all parts of the FSOT, so if you’re taking longer on some questions, those are the areas you’ll need to focus on!
So, where can you find practice tests?
- US Department of State. You can get on the official site for the Department of State at for a practice test, which can be taken once. Then they’ll send you study materials based on the results. Later in the process, you can choose another practice test and gauge your progress.
The practice test can be found at https://careers.state.gov.
- Test Prep Sites. There are many sites out there offering practice tests for the FSOT and any other high stakes test.
- Hardcover Study Books. Though less authentic as far as taking the test, these resources will give you an idea of the types of questions you’ll encounter on the FSOT. They are usually accompanied by study materials and suggestions as well.
Some books for studying include The Complete FSOT Study Guide by Aegis Review and the Foreign Service Officer Exam by CliffsTestPrep.
Always choose practice tests and study materials based on your study style and needs.
Create a Plan
Most people have day jobs and full lives before they decide to take the FSOT. Since the average length of time to go through the entire process is around eight months to a year, it usually isn’t feasible to quit your current job right away. Many may still be in school as well. What does this mean in terms of studying? Here are the first steps in planning more efficiently to carve out time for study:
- Scheduling. First, you’ll need to schedule your appointment at the testing center. Hopefully, you will have at least six months to study. Then, and this may sound intuitive but get a monthly calendar. I would suggest a hard copy. Write in all your work commitments first for an entire month, then schedule any mandatory personal responsibilities such as holidays or familial obligations. Find the time of day that works best for you and plan out a weekly and monthly study schedule.
I find that a calendar printed off of Google Calendar works well for informal planning purposes.
- Starting. After you take the practice tests and note where your weaknesses lie, I would start with those areas of focus. I would also check out the FSOT reading list below for excellent reading materials to help you navigate each section of the exam. There are further websites and information under the Study Materials section of this article that will help you be successful on any part of the exam!
Here is the reading list: https://pathtoforeignservice.com/department-of-state-suggested-fsot-reading-list/.
It’s time to refresh your memory on any academic and life knowledge you may encounter on the exam. The general practice tests and study guides mentioned above are an excellent place to start but you’ll need a refresher on so much more if you’re going to make it to the Qualification Evaluations Panel.
Below is a list that will give you ideas on specific study materials for each area tested on the FSOT:
- English Language Arts. This area is tested in two different sections of the FSOT: English Expression and the Written Essay. Suffice it to say, you’ll need an extension handle of the English language to score well on the FSOT. It’s tested through multiple-choice questions that check your knowledge of sentence structure and grammar. Then, if you pass the English Expression, Job Knowledge, and Situational Judgment sections, your Written Essay will be scored, which includes how well you put an argument together and compose an essay.
There are online grammar practice and review sites like www.englishgrammar101.com, which can give you an idea of whether you need to study for this section more. I would also recommend the book The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus if you need more practice in this area. Though there are many sites and books for adults on English Language Arts out there, this will get you started. As far as the composition portion, you can practice at https://www.cliffsnotes.com/test-prep/professional/other/articles/foreign-service-officer-exam-the-written-essay
- United States Government and History. US government covers such a broad and general range; it can be tough to know what to study. Review your big wars and times of social and civil change. Also, know how our government operates, why it is structured the way it is, and how all the parts work together.
One of the more extensive sites for accumulation of online materials for this subject can be found at https://foreignserviceexam.org/preparing-for-american-history-on-the-fsot/. Another excellent study site with flashcards is https://quizlet.com/1614084/foreign-service-officer-test-us-history-flash-cards/.
- World History and Geography. Knowing what to study about world history can be even trickier than US history. My biggest piece of advice is to find a list of all the major historical eras and review the important events that happened. If you need a little more direction, there are two great sites below that can be used as a guide. In this case, geography goes along with your knowledge of history, so don’t forget the map!
Again, https://quizlet.com/cn/430626276/fsot-world-history-geography-flash-cards/ has flashcards and topics of study. Another useful resource would be on the website: https://www.testprepreview.com/fsot_worldhistory_practice.htm. Both of these sites will give you an idea of what eras and historical periods of time they’re looking at. For specific geography questions, here are some practice questions: https://practicequiz.com/fsot-geography-practice-exam
- Economics. If you haven’t ever taken a course in economics or it has been way too long, then this will be an area you’ll especially need to study to pass the FSOT. There are a lot of economics questions on the exam. A basic understanding is required to do well.
Start reading the business section of major newspapers and magazines. This actually supports many different subjects on the FSOT. One example is The Economist. This will also give you valuable insight into current world politics, economies, and news www.economist.com. Here is a website for an extensive list of other sites useful to your study of economics: https://foreignserviceexam.org/how-would-i-prepare-for-the-exam-today-economics/
- Mathematics and Statistics. For many, math and statistics can be challenging. There will be several types of finance and statistical knowledge type questions on the FSOT. If you haven’t completed money conversion, decimals, and percentages in a while without a calculator, you’ll need to practice extensively.
You’ll find a vast collection of the types of problems and vocabulary at this site: https://www.testprepreview.com/fsot_mathematics.htm. There are also more flashcards at https://quizlet.com/58102369/fsot-mathematics-statistics-flash-cards/. There are also free YouTube videos sponsored by MoMetrix explaining the different long-hand and calculator-free methods of answering these questions. One on percentages can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRNV3wgkDIY
- Management Principles, Psychology, and Human Behavior. There are numerous methods and modes of contact when working and managing different groups of people. As a Foreign Service Officer, you’ll need to be flexible with how you interact with different cultures and belief systems than yours. This leads to communication techniques, how people function together most efficiently, and how they react in stressful situations.
After taking the practice test, you’ll realize what types of questions will be asked regarding these subjects. The principles themselves will also work into the Situational Judgement section of the FSOT, though they won’t be explicitly stated as in the general knowledge section. Some flashcards to use specifically for these questions can be found at:
https://quizlet.com/nz/485762925/fsot-management-principles-psychology-and-human-behavior-flash-cards/. Also, here is an extensive reading list for all parts of the Job Knowledge section of the test but scroll through to find the specific books on Management Principles, Psychology, and Human Behavior: https://pathtoforeignservice.com/department-of-state-suggested-fsot-reading-list/.
- Communications. This area covers your knowledge of effective communication strategies, public speaking, media relations, and anything having to do with how communication plays a role in diplomacy. Effective communication can make or break most relationships in politics or other areas of life. It takes great skill to be able to finesse this part of public service.
There are specific practice questions you can review to help improve this area of the FSOT. You can find it here: https://www.testprepreview.com/fsot_communication_practice.htm. The flashcards for this portion can be found here: https://quizlet.com/142804456/communication-fsot-flash-cards/. Also, revisit the reading list for specific books on Communications and Public Policy.
- Computers and the Internet. You’ll need to ask yourself how proficient you are with computers and their functions. Review how to read and prepare spreadsheets and other tasks concerning business-related information.
The test-prep questions for computers and the internet can be found here. As with other subjects on this test, remember to note what terminology and/or concepts that need to be revisited. https://www.testprepreview.com/fsot_computer_practice.htm. After taking and reviewing these test questions, I would start watching YouTube videos on different parts of the internet, like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMX6dVa61t0.
- Situational Judgement. This is one whole section of the FSOT and tests your background experience and how you’ll react in certain situations. It is in a multiple-choice format, and you’ll have to decide the best and worst decision for each given real-life scenario. Like the management principles section, you’ll need to utilize those types of skills here. This is a relatively new section of the FSOT.
Like with all the others, practice makes better, and knowing your weak points for any given section is necessary for focusing your study habits. First, start with the practice test questions here at https://www.mometrix.com/academy/fsot-practice-test/. There are also some YouTube videos out there, giving suggestions and tips on this portion of the exam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8ucJdHOAFY. The key to this section of the test is in knowing and remembering the 13 Dimensions of being a Foreign Service Officer. These can be found at: https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/officer/13-dimensions/.
All of these areas are essential in passing the FSOT successfully. Even though the passing score on the Job Knowledge, English Expression, and Situational Judgement Sections is 154, many believe that a higher score plays into your overall chances of making it to the Oral Assessments. So, study, gather, and note which study materials and websites will help you gain proficiency in taking the FSOT.
Learn about CLEP proportions here: https://civilservicehq.com/how-do-clep-courses-and-classes-work/
What are the 13 Dimensions of an effective Foreign Service Officer?
The Department of State’s 13 Dimensions for an FSO is:
- Cultural Adaptability
- Experience and Motivation
- Information Integration and Analysis
- Initiative and Leadership
- Oral Communication
- Planning and Organizing
- Working With Others
- Written Communication
- Quantitative Analysis
How many people pass the FSOT?
The passing rate of the FSOT is usually between 30% and 50% of people who take the test. A passing score is 154 out of 200 to have your Written Essay scored. The Written Essay will need to score a 6 out of 12 to move on in the process.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your foreign service exam click here!
For more information about the civil service be sure to check out our free guide here: https://civilservicehq.com/
Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
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