Archives for January 2017

Change to the FSOT & Why You Really Need to Practice Writing

The Department has decided to change the format of the first part of the Foreign Service Exam. Starting with the February FSOT instead of having one topic on which to write, applicants will choose one out of three “short topics.”

In the past, some test takers were actually asked to write two essays, not just one. I don’t know how this change squares with that.  In those cases, I’ve heard that the testing company and the Department didn’t score the essay, but used it to “improve” the test.

One of the Easiest Ways to Improve Your Score

Remember, the graders reviewing your essay are not looking at your opinions, but judging you on your writing skills — fluency, clarity, word choice, and grammar.

This is another reason why writing practice remains the best way to boost your score on the Foreign Service Exam. Writing is a major skill inside the Foreign Service and it is also a major stumbling block for test-takers. The trick is to draft clearly, succinctly, and with some humor and flair. If you emulate the journalists at The Economist, NY Times or Washington Post, your scores will be higher.

How to Improve Your Writing

Okay, it might be tough to add humor and elegance to your writing in the two weeks remaining before the February exam, but you can become a better writer. To do so adopt the following:

— write for 30-60 minutes every day;
— pick news stories that you find interesting, and practice rewriting them in your own voice;
— practice writing your autobiography.

Writing is a muscle that becomes stronger the more you use it. The goal is to write faster and more clearly. This will give you a major edge on the FSOT and once you pass the first test, it will give you an edge in the next round of the exam process — the Personal Narratives.

Good luck!

How to Prepare for the Foreign Service Exam

Quick step-by-step guide to pass the first exam of the FSOT:
1. Take the State/Pearson Vue practice test;
2. Based on your score, Identify your strengths and weaknesses.;
3. Study areas where you’re weakest.
4. Use general overview books to review subjects such as economics, US history, international relations, European/Asian/African histories, etc.
5. For English Expression, read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, visit the Grammar Girl Quick-and-Dirty Tips website, and the English Grammar 101 website.

Trivial Pursuit or Can You Really Study for The FSOT

Someone wrote recently that the FSOT is like Trivial Pursuit and therefore you can’t study for it. There is some truth to that, but I believe you’re off if you review areas where you’re having trouble, especially if you haven’t been in a college classroom in years. There’s a reason why Ivy League graduates, as rumor has it, continue to outperform other test takers. These universities push a strong liberal arts education, including writing instruction (which we’ll get to in the next posting).

Above all, don’t stress about the FSOT. It’s just a test, and if you prepare in advance you will be more likely to move to the next round — the Personal Narrative part of the selection process.