The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) is a screening test for people looking for a career in the foreign service. The different sections on the exam test your knowledge, judgment, and English skills.

The foreign service exam is the third step in the FSO selection process, and the first major hurdle you will need to overcome on your path to becoming a foreign service officer. You will be unable to move on in the process until you have passed the test. 

You will take the FSOT test at a Pearson VUE test center on a computer. You’ll have about 3 hours to complete 125 multiple choice questions, navigate 28 multiple choice scenarios, and write one essay. 

Did you know?

The FSO exam is divided into 4 sections covering a wide range of topics: (1) Job knowledge, (2) situational judgment, (3) English expression, and (4) English essay writing. If you score less than a 154 on the first three sections of the test, your essay will not be graded. To excel on this test you will need a wide range of knowledge, and be able to work quickly through the material.


Free FSOT Practice


Icon Questions Explained White FSOT Question Types Explained

The Foreign Service Officer Test is a multiple-choice test with an essay covering four different sections. You will have 3 hours to complete all the sections of the test. Occasionally, the FSO includes an extra 30 minutes of questions, which are not included in your score but are used for research purposes. You should be made aware of that before you go in for the test. 

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime LimitAverage Time Per Question
Job Knowledge6040 minutes40 seconds
Situational Judgement2842 minutes90 seconds
English Expression65 50 minutes46 seconds
Written Essay132 minutes

Job Knowledge Test

The Job Knowledge test covers several major content areas and is equally important across all five foreign service tracks. You will have 40 minutes to answer 60 questions covering a wide range of subject matter.

Those subjects include:

  • U.S. Government
  • U.S. History, Society, Customs, and Culture
  • World History and Geography
  • Economics
  • Math and Statistics
  • Management Principles, Psychology, and Human Behavior
  • Communication
  • Computers and Internet

The following paragraphs provide additional detail into each of the subjects.  

United States Government – general understanding of federal government, the constitution, Congress and its role in foreign affairs, the U.S. political system and its role in government policies

United States History, Society, Customs, and Culture – includes major events, institutions, history, politics, national customs and culture, social issues, trends, influence of society on foreign policy

World History and Geography – includes world-historical events, issues, developments, and their impact on US foreign policy

Economics – understanding of basic economic principles and the economic system in the U.S.

Mathematics and Statistics – basic math and statistical procedures

Management Principles, Psychology, and Human Behavior – general understanding of human behavior, leadership, motivational strategies, and equal employment practices

Communications – knows principles of effective communication, public speaking, media, and the goals and techniques of public diplomacy

Computers and Internet – basic knowledge of word processing, databases, spreadsheets, email, and internet use

All questions are multiple-choice, and you will have four options from which to choose. 

Winning Tip

Your score is based on the number of correct answers you submit. If you don’t know an answer, you can always skip the question and come back to it after you’ve finished the questions you know, before you exit the section of the test. 

Try a Job Knowledge Sample Question

Situational Judgment Test

The Situational Judgment section presents you with 28 scenarios and four or five possible responses. You are asked to identify both the best and worst possible responses among the choices given. The scenarios cover adaptability, decision making, judgment, operational effectiveness, professional standards, team building, and workplace perceptiveness. 

You don’t need to know State Department policies or procedures to answer these questions.  

Winning Tip

Take your time to read through the scenario and response options carefully. You are being asked to identify two things in these questions, but you also have a minute-and-a-half for each scenario, so use the time fully. 

Try a Situational Judgment Sample Question

English Expression

The English Expression portion of the test gives you 65 questions testing you in all manners of English. You will be asked to select correctly written sentences, make corrections in sentences using the options provided, and organize or revise paragraphs. 

All questions are multiple-choice and have 4 options for each question. 

Winning Tip

Familiarize yourself with the types of questions you will see on the test, so you don’t waste a lot of time trying to understand what is being asked of you. 

Try an English Expression Sample Question

Written Essay

You will be presented with 3 topics for the essay, and have 7 minutes to choose the topic you want to write about. Once selected, you will have 25 minutes to write a well-written, concise, 2,800-character essay that takes a position on your topic and develops a rationale for that opinion. 

You will be scored on your ability to analyze a topic and the quality of your writing. You are not evaluated based on your opinion. 

Winning Tip

Practice writing essays before the test to give yourself a better sense of 2,800 characters. That will enable you to visualize the essay and plan the length of your arguments. 

Icon Preparation Strategies White FSOT Preparation Strategies

While there are sections within the foreign service officer exam that are difficult to study for, you can prepare for many of the components within the test. While we normally recommend buying a book to study from, the FSO is different. Most of the available books are out of date and don’t cover the situational judgment test. Look to online sources, including iPrep’s course, which tend to be updated more frequently and should serve you well.  

1. Read the Newspaper

Start by reading major newspapers, like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Make sure to read foreign papers as well, such as The Guardian and The Daily Mail. Don’t ignore online publications like The Times of India or China Daily, which give insight into a number of areas.

2. Take the FSOT Practice Test

The official foreign service exam practice test will simulate conditions and give you a realistic preview of what to expect, as well as offer you study materials that will help you pass. However, you can only take the practice test once every six months, and the practice FSOT test does not include the essay. 

It behooves you to enroll in online study courses with test simulators, like the one offered by iPrep, which will help you mark progress as you prepare for the test. 

3. Double Check Your Online Materials

The FSOT has changed over the years, and many online sources will prepare you for a test that has changed. Be sure that the test prep site you are looking at is aware of the changes, and the description of its materials is aligned with the current FSOT exam.

4. Practice Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple-choice questions are a skill, and learning to answer them quickly can make the difference between finishing within the allotted time and reading through question 34 when the time is up. 

Take a course that shows how to quickly eliminate options, and make educated guesses. 

5. Find a Study Buddy

Work with a friend or someone you find online to study together. Try to find someone who can help fill in general knowledge areas where you may be weaker. You’ll also be able to discuss situational judgment scenarios, and talk through the notions that are being assessed. 

Icon Test Features White Test Features

Test Fast Facts (tl;dr)

  • Total of 153 questions and scenarios
  • The test takes about 3 hours to complete
  • There are 4 sections
    • Job Knowledge – includes politics, current events, history, geography, math, and more
    • Situational Judgment – asks you to identify reactions to scenarios
    • English Expressions – covers a range of English questions
    • Written Essay – asks you to write a 2,800-character essay on a topic
  • The test is administered three times a year: February, June, and October
  • You may not use calculators or mobile devices during the test
  • The test costs $5
  • If you miss the test or fail to cancel at least 48 hours in advance you will be charged $72
  • The test is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers
  • You must show a current government or state-issued ID
  • For security purposes, your picture will be taken at the test center

Common Names of the Test

While the official name of the test is the Foreign Service Officer Test, the test has many unofficial names, including: 

  • FSOT
  • Foreign Service Exam
  • Foreign Service Officer Test
  • FSOT Written Exam
  • FSO Test
  • FSO Exam
  • Foreign Service Officer Exam
  • Foreign Service Test
  • FSOT Exam
  • US Foreign Service Exam
  • Foreign Officer Test
  • Pearson VUE FSOT

All these names refer to the same test. 

Retake Policy

If you do not pass the test, you may retake it once every 12 months, as many times as you like. If you do pass the test but are not selected as an FSO, you will need to retake the test to be considered for the position again. 

Fees

There is a $5 fee to take the test. However, if you miss the test or do not cancel at least 48 hours in advance, you will be assessed a $72 fee. You will be unable to sign up for future tests unless you pay the fee. 

Icon Technical Facts White Technical Facts

The FSOT is given as a screening test for candidates interested in becoming a member of the foreign service. To apply, you must meet the following criteria:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Aged 20-59 on the day you submit FSOT registration
  • Aged 21-59 on the day you are appointed as a Foreign Service Officer
  • Available for worldwide assignments, including Washington D.C.

FSO Selection Process

The selection process for becoming a Foreign Service Officer is quite lengthy. There are 8 steps that you must complete to become an FSO.

Step 1: Choose a career path

There are many different careers within the foreign service. They fall into five categories:

  • Consular
  • Economic
  • Management
  • Political
  • Public Diplomacy

You must declare your career track before taking the Foreign Service exam.

Step 2: Register for the FSOT

You may register for the exam at Pearson VUE five weeks before the testing window. You will need to create an account with Pearson VUE, and submit the following materials:

  • Eligibility verification forms
  • Application forms
  • 6 complete personal narratives

You will select a test location and seat for your test date. 

FSOT registration closes three days before the exam or when all available seats are filled.

Step 3: Take the FSOT

You’ll be sitting in front of a computer for several hours. You will not be in contact with any Foreign Service Officers during the test, so dress comfortably. 

Step 4: Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP)

If you pass the FSOT test, the QEP will review your written essay and read through your personal narratives. Successful candidates will then be invited to the Oral Assessment. 

While test scores figure prominently in this process, you may successfully complete all stages to this point and not be invited to the next stage if there aren’t available positions. If that happens, you will be required to repeat the selection process. 

QEP results are available approximately two months after completing the FSOT.

Step 5: Oral Assessment

This full-day assessment takes place in Washington D.C., and occasionally in Chicago and San Francisco. Successful candidates demonstrate the following 13 dimensions throughout the assessment. 

  • Composure
  • Cultural adaptability
  • Experience and motivation
  • Initiative and leadership
  • Judgment
  • Objectivity and integrity
  • Oral communication
  • Planning and organizing
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Resourcefulness
  • Working with others
  • Written communication

This is a job interview, so dress professionally, be on time, be prepared. After passing the oral assessment, you will receive a conditional job offering

Step 6: Medical and Security Clearances

You will receive instructions on how to apply for the clearances that are required. 

Step 7: Suitability Review Panel

A panel will review your entire file, and determine whether you are suited for a career in the Foreign Service. The panel takes past behaviors into consideration, including criminal conduct and behavior at prior workplaces.

Step 8: The Register

Once you have passed all steps, your name is placed on the register, listed by successful candidates. Your name will remain on the register for up to 18 months. During that time, if an appropriate opportunity comes up, you may be offered an appointment. 

Icon Results Scale & Interpretations White Results Scale and Interpretations

Your FSOT results are available about 3 weeks after taking the test. Your raw scores are normalized into percentiles that compare your scores to every other candidate within your testing period. 

Source: iPrep

The precise algorithm has not been disclosed by Pearson VUE. However, you must score a 154 or higher on the test. Anything below that score is considered failing and you will not move on in the process. 

  • A score of just over 50 in each section is considered a passing score
  • Scores that are above 60 in each section are considered to be good scores
  • Scores that are above 70 are considered to be an amazing score
  • Scores above 80 are rare, and 99.9% of all test takers score below 80

Higher scores will often enable you to move forward in the process, and get through the QEP phase. 

If you score 154 or higher, the QEP will evaluate your essay. The essay is worth up to 12 points, with 6 being a passing score. Scores are rarely higher than 8. If you score below a 6, your candidacy will be eliminated regardless of how high you scored on the other sections of the test.    

Source: The US Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service

NOTES

  1. Your FSOT score is valid only for the time period during which you were tested. If you scored well but did not submit your personal narratives, your candidacy will not be considered and you must wait 12 months to take the test again.
  2. There is no penalty for wrong answers in the Job Knowledge and English Expression sessions, so if you are stuck, you are better off guessing. 

Wrong answers will reduce your score in the Situational Judgment section. If you are completely unsure, you will be better off leaving an answer blank.

Icon Frequently Asked Questions White FSOT FAQs

What is the Foreign Service exam?

The Foreign Service Exam is an informal name of the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). It is a screening test used by the Foreign Service to identify candidates for roles within its organization. 

What is on the FSO written exam?

The Foreign Service Officers Test is a multiple-choice test that covers a broad spectrum of topics including the U.S. Government, history, economics, math, and English. It also includes scenarios where you are asked to choose the best and worst reactions from a series of choices.

How do I prepare for the FSOT?

To prepare, you’ll want to take simulated practice FSOT tests, like those offered by iPrep, to familiarize yourself with the test format and types of questions. You can also study using online test prep courses. 

What score do you need to pass the FSOT?

There isn’t an exact pass/fail score, but generally speaking, a score of 154 or higher will be enough to have your personal narratives and essay evaluated by the QEP.

How many questions are on the FSOT?

There are 153 questions and scenarios on the FSOT, plus one essay.

Is the Foreign Service Officer Test hard?

The FSOT is a challenging test, with questions covering a wide array of content. However, with most of the questions, you either know the answer or you don’t. You won’t need to do many calculations to arrive at an answer. 

What is on the Foreign Service Officer Test?

The FSOT tests your knowledge of America and the world. It examines the judgments you make and tests your English and writing skills.

What are the requirements to be a foreign service officer?

Foreign officers must be U.S. citizens aged 21 and up. New employees must be younger than 60. 

How hard is it to join the foreign service?

The Foreign Service has a clearly designed process to join. You will need to write personal narratives, pass a test, spend a day on oral examinations, and then pass a final review. Once you have successfully completed that process, your opportunities will depend on whether there are available jobs for you. 

What happens if you pass the FSOT?

If you pass the FSOT, your essay and personal narratives are reviewed by the QEP. If you pass their review, you will be invited to the oral examination. 

Can you retake the FSOT?

You can retake the FSOT once every 12 months for as many years as you want. 

What is a good score on the FSOT?

A score of 154 or higher is considered to be a good score on the FSOT.

Does FSOT score matter?

Your FSOT is one of the criteria used by the Foreign Service in determining whether you will be successful there. If you fail the FSOT, you will not be able to join the Foreign Service. 

What should I study for the FSOT?

The FSOT covers a large amount of content. You should make an effort to study the following subjects:
– English Composition/Rhetoric
– American History 
– American Studies (including cultural and social history) 
– American Political Thought 
– United States Political System 
– American Economic History
– Introduction to Economics (micro and macro) 
– World History (Western and non-Western) 
– World Geography
– International Economics
– World Religions
– Introduction to Statistics 
– Introduction to Management Principles 
– Intercultural Communication 
– Mass Communication
– Psychology

How much does the FSOT cost?

The FSOT costs $5 to take the test. However, if you miss your test or cancel within 48 hours of the exam, you will be assessed a $72 fee.

How many times can you take the foreign service exam?

You can take the test once every 12 months, for as many years as you need to. 

Icon Tips White FSOT Test Tips

Here are some tips to help get you through test day. 

1. Answer the questions you know first

While you can’t jump from one section to the next, you can skip questions within a section and then come back to the questions you skipped. Since all questions are worth the same number of points, and the test doesn’t get progressively more difficult, it makes sense to answer the items you know right away. 

2. When in doubt, eliminate and guess

There are no penalties for wrong answers in the Job Knowledge and English Expressions sections, so if you are unsure about an answer, do your best to eliminate some of the options. If you can eliminate two obviously wrong answers, the odds of guessing right increases by 50%. Wrong answers in the situational judgment sections can hurt your score, so if you are going to guess, only do so if you have eliminated several of the options. If you are completely unsure, you will be best off leaving the item unanswered.

3. Read the directions carefully

Make sure to understand what is being asked of you before submitting your answer. Skimming over keywords might cost you the right answer.

4. Practice writing 2,800-character essays

Write some essays that meet the length requirement. You may be surprised at how much—or how little—2,800 characters can be. 

5. Be aware of time

Don’t spend too much time on any one question. For many of the sections you have less than a minute to answer so do your best, and either answer the question or skip it for later.

6. Stay calm and be well-rested

Taking care of yourself before the test will help you perform your best on test day. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand, eat a healthy meal, and keep your brain feeling clear and ready. 

Icon Administration White Administration

  • Test Location: Tests are given at Pearson VUE testing centers
  • Test Schedule: There are three test windows during the year, each of which lasts for one week. Tests are administered in February, June, and October. FSOT registration opens 5 weeks before the test dates and closes when all seats are taken or 3 days before the exam. 
  • Test Format: Multiple choice taken on a computer.
  • Test Materials: Taken on a computer. You may not use any outside materials.
  • Cost: The fee for the test is $5. If you miss the test or cancel within 48 hours, you will be assessed a $72 fee,  which must be paid before you can reschedule the test. 
  • Retake Policy:  You may take the test every 12 months. 

Free FSOT Practice


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The FSOT test is administered by the Pearson VUE on behalf of the Foreign Service and the Department of State. 

The test is designed to provide the Foreign Services Office with unbiased information regarding the likelihood of a candidate succeeding in the Foreign Service. 

Disclaimer – All the information and prep materials on iPrep are genuine and were created for tutoring purposes. iPrep is not affiliated with the Foreign Service, Department of State, Pearson VUE testing centers, or any other company mentioned.

Get to know what the FSOT will be like by practicing with these sample questions: