STEP 2: Foreign Service Officer Test


The Foreign Service Officer Test  is administered online at hundreds of test centers across the United States and abroad.  The test will measure your knowledge, skills and abilities, including writing skills that are necessary to the work of a Foreign Service Officer.  The test lasts approximately 3 hours and and draws upon a candidate’s writing skills, general background, experience and education, and measures knowledge of English expression and other subjects basic to the functions of Foreign Service Officers.

Job Knowledge

60 Mulitple choice questions covering major content areas, such as U.S. Government and Political System, U.S. and World History, Geography, Economics, Psychology, Management Theory and Math and Statistics.  The section measures a candidate’s depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding of a range of subjects identified in the 1997 job analysis as important for performing the tasks required of Foreign Service Officers.

English Expression

65 Multiple choice questions that encompass English expression and language usage skills required for preparing or editing written reports, including correct grammar and good writing at the sentence and paragraph levels.  These questions include passages as well as several non-passage-dependent items.  The concepts tested include editing and revising, punctuating relationships and sequences, using words to fit meaning and function, and managing sentence elements effectively.

Biographic Information Questionnaire

This section is a non-cognitive measure designed to assess your experience.  It consists of 70 questions that assess relevant past interests, activities, and behaviors that are related to specific performance dimensions, such as communication, and interpersonal conflict resolution skills.  Some questions will require short answer examples.  The questionnaire does not penalize candidates who have not gone to college, who have no previous work experience, or who have varied patterns of education and experience.  Rather, it credits candidates for what they have achieved relative to the opportunities they have had.

Written Essay

The written essay is used to evaluate your ability to analyze a substantive topic, organize and develop ideas and express them in correct and readable English prose.  You will be asked to respond to a topic assigned at random within a 30 minute time period.  Representative topics include U.S. and/or international social systems and issues, customs and culture, history, education, religion, employment issues, etc.  Essays are evaluated using established scoring criteria, such as ability to analyze a topic, clarity of purpose, sentence structure, grammar and mechanics.  The essay is not evaluating the opinions you express.

FSOT Scoring

Test-takes are notified by e-mail whether they passed the FSOT approximately six weeks after the test window closes.  A minimum score for the multiple choice sections of the FSOT is established for eligibility for essays to be scored.  While this minimum score changes from year to year,  the October 2009 minimum score was 154.  Candidates who obtain this minimum score on the multiple choice sections of the FSOT will have have their essays graded.  The minimum passing grade on the essay is 6 or better out of a total 12 points.

Super Critical Needs Language Testing

Passers who claimed a working knowledge of a language that is identified as a Super Critical Needs Language will be invited to schedule quickly a telephonic language test with the Foreign Service Institute.   The following languages are considered Super Critical Needs Languages (SCNL):

  • Arabic )Modern Standard, Egyptian, or Iraqi)
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Dari
  • Farsi
  • Hindi
  • Urdu

Receiving a “pass,” i.e. at least a speaking-level “2″ on a 5-point scale, will enhance your candidacy in the review by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel.  If you pass both the telephonic test and the Oral Assessment you can take advantage of a language bonus when your name is placed on the rank-ordered hiring registers.

You will be required to serve at least twice in a country where that language is spoken.



  1. Ross Baron says:

    I think if someone knows a lanugage from the critical language list may have a better chance of passing the test. What i mean to say is, if he has done bad in the test and is a little less than the minimum passing score, but knows that language, may pass. I don’t think the FSOT test is a good measure of candidate competency. There should be points for someone with better grades, overseas living experience, and prior satisfactory work experience. They count all these items after someone pass the test, but not use to get points on the test.

  2. Josie says:


    I agree with you, the FSOT is not a great measure of a candidate’s competency. I’ve read countless articles commenting on the lack of language skills in entering State Dept. employees. One would think that there would be some kind of incentive within the process that would reflect that deficiency. While I realize points are added after one takes the oral assessments for language proficiencies, that appears to be to far in the process to be of any benefit in my opinion.

  3. Hamed says:

    What is the maximum amount of time given to take the test? All throughout school, I was always one of the slowest test takers in my classes, but then I usually scored very high. Will I be penalized in the scoring if I take the maximum amount of time allotted?

  4. administrator says:


    No need to be concerned about taking the maximum amount of time alotted to complete the test. I am not aware of any test (GRE/SAT/LSAT) that would penalize you for taking the maximum amount of time.

    One suggestion when taking the BIO section is to go through every question so you have a good gauge of how much time you need to spend on each question.

  5. Mike says:

    Thanks for the help. I took the FSOT today and used the pre-test study material provided on this site and it was quite useful and inline with the exam. I think I did well but my 2nd to last essay could have been better. I’ll let you know in a few weeks if I passed. Started around 0815 finished around 1115 (no breaks).

    • Ralf says:

      Mike…did you pass? I am scheduled to take the exam on October 5th in NYC.

      • Joe says:

        I am takingt he test next month please help

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  6. Sami Taleb says:

    I have been working for the U.S. Postal Service as a career mail-handler since January 1994. As a federal employee applying for a job with another federal institution, do I get some kind of preferential treatment in the Department of State’s hiring process?

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      I couldn’t agree more about geiactrris. I miss sitting with some of the elderly individuals I used to help and they would tell me stories for hours about the things that they witness when they were younger, and the lives that they lived up to the point that they needed care. I have always felt that the elderly know how to live their lives better than anyone, and they for sure never take it for granted! Sometimes the people taking care of them are not good people though, and it always breaks my heart to see someone talking badly to an elderly man or woman.I like how you made a switch from little tiny babies that have no real experience with life, to elderly men and women who have lived life to its fullest and still have more life to share with others. Such opposites!

  7. Charles says:

    I had the most trouble with the essay. Perhaps I was a bit tired. I literally typed a ‘period’ on a rushed last sentence with 5 seconds on the clock. Meh.

    The bio section was a challenge with so little space allowed.

    The one question that I just can’t believe I got wrong … No, I’m embarrassed to admit it…

    “We the people”

    I should be black listed for eternity ;)

    It will be interesting to see my score. Taking the FSOT was a last minute thing.

    We the people – REALLY?

  8. tolu says:

    I am scheduled to take the FSOT exam on Feb 4th 2012, Any advise where i can get good study material or is the on the web site sufficient

  9. Rose says:

    If you take the test and do not do well, are you able to take it again?

    • JH says:

      Yes, you can take the test once every 12 months, as many times as you like until you are 59.

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  10. Alex says:

    I speak perfect (100%) Dari, a little (50%) Farsi and a little (50%) Arabic. Dari and Farsi are very similar, the major difference is the pronunciation. My question is how in depth do they actually go when testing you on these SCNL’s? Also, you posted this information almost 4 years ago, are these languages still considered SCNL’s?

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