How I Would Prepare for the Foreign Service Exam Today – Management Theory

Hello…  I’m back again.  Here’s the second recommendation for preparing for the October Foreign Service Exam (written).  As I mentioned in my last post, there are different ways to get ready for this hurdle.  For me, if I were to do it all over again, based on what I learned during my 24 years working for the State Department, I would recommend a review of the following areas:

Management theory hit my radar based on a question that Jim from Texas raised in the Group Careers in Diplomacy on LinkedIn.  He asked me if I could explain the answer to one of practice questions from Department of State’s Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process (

13. A work group that has high performance norms

and low cohesiveness will most likely have

which of the following levels of performance?

A. Very high

B. High

C. Moderate

D. Low


And the truth is, I have no idea what the correct answer is.  I would add that never in my 24 years did this question ever come up, even in management and leadership training.  What is the Department of State (or ACT, who is hosting, grading and probably drafting most of the written test) saying by asking applicants a question like this one?  It’s not that I can’t answer it because I’m sure that there many who can, but what does Foreign Service work (or management writ large) have to do with such a ridiculous question.  It’s not even factual or definitive.  “A work group that has high performance norms and low cohesiveness will most likely have…”  Utter insanity.  But the folks who write the test have the last say, I suppose.

By the way, the answer to the above question is B, High.  (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)

Anyway, forgive my rant, but it’s disappointing that State or ACT could ask so many more important questions that might actually weed out those unsuited for the Foreign Service.  When I joined, State personnel officials told us that 15% of those entering the Foreign Service, half by their own decision and half because they couldn’t get tenure.  I think the 7.5% figure for those who couldn’t get tenured is very high.  I think the true percentage is less than 2%.  You really have to go out of your way to not get tenure.  That’s my opinion, and the ones who don’t get tenure are either resistant to change or have the emotional intelligence of a tree.  Seriously, it’s not that tough to get tenure.

But I do believe the total percentage is roughly 15%.  That makes sense and largely held true for my entering class, the 43rd A-100 course.


Okay, I’ll set you up with the best management theory background materials that Wikipedia has to offer:


Interestingly, none of those answers the question about performance and cohesiveness.  Sorry, but this is the best – and I believe enough – for you to get through the test.

Good luck!


  1. Are you sure the answer is B? The guide link you posted above the question says the answer is C.

    • Andrew–

      You’re absolutely right. Good catch. The answer is “C.” But again it proves my point that I haven’t a clue why C is correct. I’m not an expert in cohesion and performance, but perhaps surprisingly I do know how to manage people. Go figure.

      Best of luck on the test.

      Chrs, Bill

  2. Bill,

    I appreciate this blog and will continue to follow it. I apologize for not commenting on it regularly.

    I just finished taking the FSOT for the second time and found that these types of questions (as discussed in this blog entry) are separated into two sections: Leadership and Management. The test will typically give questions to address each individually. The above question that I asked (performance / cohesiveness) is an organizational behavior / psychology question and fell within the “management” category.

    I attempted to read Org Psych textbooks, interview HR reps, and even had lengthy discussions with a good friend who recently graduated with a Masters in Organizational Psychology…. I still had no idea where they were getting their measurements and logic.

    So! I turned to the Dummies/Idiots books, grabbed a copy a Management for Dummies, read through a chunk and skimmed the rest. I believe this gave me the high level knowledge and mentality that the test required. I was quite comfortable taking this recent test and will update you when I find out if I passed or not.

    For that specific question: “A work group that has high performance norms and low cohesiveness will most likely have which of the following levels of performance?

    –The internal logic is this: Levels of performance are basically arbitrary and are measured as: None = 0, Low = 1, Moderate = 2, High = 3, Very High = 4. If a group has High Performance Norm and Low Cohesion, you would take the average of High (3) plus Low (1) and you would get Moderate (2). Or, 3+1=4 4/2=2

    However! This doesn’t help you on the test though!!! Instead, approach it simply and without too much thought. So take the above question and think, “Hmmm…. High mixed with Low equals Moderate. Sounds good! Go with it!”

    All in all, the test requires such broad knowledge that I heavily relied on a weekly news magazine (Economist), daily news reports (NPR, and various online news articles that I happened along) and the Dummy / Idiot books. Note: If I came along a person, event, country, etc., that I had never heard of, I would read the wikipedia entry on it:

    – Leadership For Dummies
    – Management For Dummies
    – Economics For Dummies & mjmfoodie’s Youtube Economics videos
    – Idiots Guide to Geography (heavily outdated, but used in conjunction with a modern Atlas was suitable)
    – Idiots Guide to the US Constitution and a Pocket Constitution with Bill of Rights
    – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. Government and Politics
    – US History for Dummies
    – World History for Dummies
    – Basic Math Review (fractions, averages, basic algebra) or Basic Math and Pre-Algebra for Dummies
    – English Grammar for Dummies

    These are all concise high level overviews. Just what the Generalist test is looking for.

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