Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) is not your worst nightmare, but it is a nightmare. This post will be concerned with my experience taking the test and with my scores. This post will not be concerned with how to study for the test, which may come some other day. The purpose of this post is to ready prospective test takers to the experience itself, as well as interpretation of their scores.

Before the test.

I signed up for the FSOT at the behest of others. I'm not precisely sure why I delayed taking the test for so long. Perhaps I always assumed I'd get wrapped up with another career one day and I'd forget all about this whim. One thing I wish I had done was study and worry less. I spent too much time anxious that I had not read every jot and tittle of preparation materials. I read every world news section of every issue of The Economist within the past 5 months (a good idea), I read the Constitution and its interpretations (a very good idea), and plenty of US History (a terrible idea).

At the testing center.

I showed up and realized just how insignificant I was. There was around 35 to 40 test takers that day. I would say the mean age was about 30 years, weighed down by a small cluster of Senior undergraduates. I spoke with one of those Seniors before the test began. "Did you study?" I asked. "No, I've taken this before," he replied. He seemed remarkably collected. I didn't ask him if he passed.

Taking the test. 

As it turned out, the US and World History questions were a joke. I know I did fine. I wish I had read more on the Constitution; the questions I received I had known once but sorta forgot. I wish I had brushed up on my math. The essay question was nuanced and demanded a complex answer (no easy black-and-white solutions here!) but it was simple enough for anyone experienced in the English language.

The wait.

Thus begins three weeks of waiting. At first, I was apathetic. I could always retake it again next year, right? I thought. But as time drew on, I became increasingly excited. I began to read blogs of people's careers in the Foreign Service. I lived vicariously through their adventures. I wanted what they had. The reason for my apathy was not because I did not want to become a diplomat. Quite the contrary. It was a way of lowering my expectations so as not to be too crushed when my scores arrived. But as I read more and more about other successful applicants, I caught the diplomacy fever.

Getting your scores.

I received a nondescript e-mail directing me to log into a special weblink to view my congratulatory/consolatory letter. I downloaded the letter and let it sit on my computer. I didn't read it. I went to Subway and got a sandwich. It was delicious. I went home and opened my letter:

Congratulations! The scores you achieved on your Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) qualify you for the next step of the Foreign Service Officer selection process...

I made it. I ate my cookie from Subway to celebrate.

Interpreting your scores.

This is easier said than done. Your scores are a T-Score, which is based on how you performed as a percentage of those who did worse than you. There is a hard cut-off at 60%, which is then scored at 154. If you did better than 60% of applicants, you get a 154 on the dot and you pass. Your essay is then scored out of 12 with the same theory; a six is passing.

I received a cumulative 168.01 with a 10 on the essay. I wasn't sure how to precisely calculate the percentage of applicants who did worse than a 168/10, but I estimated it at roughly 80-85% for the multiple choice and about 96-98% for the essay. I've always done better at the writing sections on tests.

Anyway, I was invited to submit my PNQs to the QEP which I did yesterday. The rollercoaster is climbing ever higher.

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