FAQ: Foreign Service Officer Test

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Where can I find sample test questions?

Both the Study Guide and the Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process contain sample test questions. You can order or download the Study Guide and Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process here.   CliffsTestPrep also offers an edition for the FSOT and FSOA.

Does the Foreign Service look more favorably on individuals with advanced degrees or foreign language skills?

There is no set educational level or foreign language skill required to join the Foreign Service as an Officer. Some Foreign Service Specialist positions do have degree requirements. Most officer candidates possess a Bachelor’s degree or certification; over three quarters of recent hires have advanced degrees, typically in public administration, international relations, history, or law. Candidates who have passed the oral exam may qualify for bonus points to improve their position within the register list by taking a telephonic language test which assesses speaking proficiency only. The Foreign Service will train officers in job skills or languages required for assignments.

If the retirement age is 65, would the Foreign Service hire someone over 55 knowing that they will only have a 10-year return on their investment?

Yes. There are some Foreign Service Officers who entered the Foreign Service shortly before turning 60. The Department of State encourages all interested candidates who meet the age qualifications to apply. The only requirement is that you must have entered an A-100 class before your 60th birthday.

If I do not pass the Foreign Service Officer Test, can I re-take, and how often?

Applicants who wish to retake the FSOT must submit a new registration package, and are eligible to retake the test after a year has elapsed since their previous test. In practice, this means that a candidate who took the first of the three tests offered one year would be eligible to take the first of the three tests offered the following year — even if, due to minor shifts in the dates of test windows from year to year, slightly fewer than 365 days might have elapsed since the candidate last took the test. For example, candidates who took the test during the third test window in 2008, which was in November, may register to take the test again during the third test window of 2009, which will be in October.

Candidates may re-register once 330 days have elapsed since their last registration wasbegun. If you have problems with re-registration, you should contact ACT by email —fsot@ACT.org — or you may phone ACT at 1-319-341-2500 or 1-800-205-6358 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Central Time.

Can I switch career tracks before the test?

No. The career track that you select at the time that you submit your Registration Package is the career track for which you will be considered.

What happens if I am unable to take the test on the date I've selected?

You will need to cancel your seat at least 48 hours before the test date. Your admissions letter will contain information on how to do so. If you fail to provide this notification, you will be assessed a $50 fee.

Who prepared the test? College professors or State Dept. officials?

Professional “test-makers” at ACT prepare our test questions. The questions are reviewed and approved by Foreign Service Officers.

Can you give me an idea of the average time frame from taking the Foreign Service Officer Test to completing the whole process (Oral Assessment, security and medical clearances, and final suitability review)?

Assuming no serious security or medical issues arise, candidates who take the Foreign Service Officer Test can expect that the minimum time from the test date to final clearance will be about eight months.

Didn't there used to be a program called Alternative Examination Program listed under Alternate Programs?

Yes, but the AEP has not been active for a number of years and the State Department has stated that they do not anticipate offering it again in the foreseeable future.

Does everyone take the same test, regardless of which track we will ultimately pursue?


What is limited working proficiency?

Limited working proficiency is the second level of five in the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale of language proficiency, formerly called the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) scale. This level is sometimes referred to as S-2 or level 2. A person at this level is described as follows:

  • able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements
  • can handle with confidence, but not with facility, most social situations including introductions and casual conversations about current events, as well as work, family, and autobiographical information
  • can handle limited work requirements, needing help in handling any complications or difficulties; can get the gist of most conversations on non-technical subjects (i.e. topics which require no specialized knowledge), and has a speaking vocabulary sufficient to respond simply with some circumlocutions
  • has an accent which, though often quite faulty, is intelligible
  • can usually handle elementary constructions quite accurately but does not have thorough or confident control of the grammar.

Is there a maximum score for the FSOT?

There is no maximum score as far as we can tell because they use T-scores which convert your raw score into something that can be compared to the others taking, or who have taken, the test. When I took the test is 2000 our scores were automatically sent to us and they were T-scores. You get a separate T-score for each mulitple choice section and they get added together. Recently, people have mentioned the passing score is 154. In 2000, it was 158. They can change it based on what percentage of test-takers they want to “pass” and move on to the next phase. So, it is not as simple at calculating a percentage of questions you got right.

I have a diabetese type 2 and high blood pressure issues and i am taking medication for it. Does that automatically disqualify me for the Foreign Service?

No, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are not grounds for disqualification from the Foreign Service.  Upon obtaining a medical clearance, a potential foreign service officer will receive a class 1 and class 2 designation, which indicates what kind of post they are qualified for.  Diabetes may pose difficult in posts that can not receive consistent postal shipments, etc. so posts like Afghanistan or Iraq may not be possible.

Should I take the FSOT as a junior in college so that there is more time to complete the whole process, or should I wait until I am a senior in college to ensure that I am a more competitive candidate?

It doesn’t hurt to take the FSOT as a junior or senior, just remember that you can only take it once a year.  If you do not pass into orals, the scores do not stay on your “record”, you have a fresh start the next year to take the test again.

For how long do FSOT results remain valid? After how many years do I have to re-take the FSOT?

If you pass the Foreign Service Officer Test and move forward to the Oral Assessment stage, but do not pass, you will need to begin the process over again.  FSOT test results do not remain valid for a fixed period of time after taking the exam like other agencies.

If you proceed to the Oral Assessments, pass and move on to the register, you have 12 months, where in which if you are not placed you will need to begin the process from the beginning.  No aspect of your written and oral test scores remain valid, except for the SCNL language test, which will remain valid for 24 months from when you initally took the test.

If I only want to change the test date, do I still have to pay the $50.00?

A test date within the same testing period is not possible.  But if you wish to change the test date from let’s say this June testing window to October, you may do so without losing your $50 as long as you re-schedule more than 24 hours prior to your scheduled date.

Can you use a calculator when taking the job knowladge test? Is there spelling check on the computer program when you write the essay test?

When taking the FSOT you are not allowed to bring a calculator.  You will be provided either a small eraserboard with marker or a piece of paper with a writing utensil to work on math problems, but that is it.  The test does not include spelling check, you will need to review your writing before test completion.

What should I bring to the test?

It is suggest to bring the following items with you to take the FSOT:

- 2 forms of valid I.D. (Passport, Driver’s License, Student Identification, etc.)
- A print out of the confirmation of test registration
- Your username and password used to register for the test
- Tissues (in case you or the person sitting next to you get’s the sniffles)
- Confidence!

You will not be permitted to bring any mobile devices or personal effects into the testing facility. Lockers are usually provided, but it is suggested you contact the testing facility or visit for further information.

If I do not pass the FSOT exam, can I retake it, and how often

You can take the FSOT exam as many times as you would like, but you are unfortunately only able to take the exam once a year.

How early should one arrive for the test?

It’s always good to arrive to a test early in order to check in.  You will be asked to provide your registration information (username/password) and picture identification and will need to check your personal belongings as you are not allowed to bring any items with you into the exam (beyond tissue or glasses).

We suggest appearing at least a half hour prior to the exam to ensure you have all the time you need.  Contact your testing facility in advance to determine parking and directions as that is a cause for many students to arrive to the test tardy.

Should I bring No. 2 pencils?

You will not be permitted to bring any writing devices with you into the exam.  Depending on your testing facility you will be provided a dry marker eraser board or scratch paper and pencils to use during the test.

Is it possible to pass the exam having done poorly on the essay section? If one scores well on all other sections and totally bombs the essays, can one still pass?

The exam is scored out of 12 points.  In order to move on to the PNQ stage you will need to have scored at least a six out of twelve.  The FSOT requires you to “pass” both the essay and test in order to proceed.

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