T-Scores Explained

While it may be true that we compete against ourselves, especially in the oral exams, on the written exam, the score is based on our relative position on a standardized curve (T-scores), meaning that the mean number of questions answered correctly may have less or more correlation with final mean T-scores based on how representative the population of test takers are…A population of 18,000 testers is probably more likely to be representative, while only 1-2000 may have certain outliers, especially given the unusual registration format. A large enough group of outliers may dramatically shift the number of questions needed to shift up one standard deviation. Therefore, potentially, while a theoretical 20 questions in one section was needed last year to earn a 60, this year one may need 23 questions to compete favorably with the testing pool. The better the quality of the testing pool, the more questions one needs to advance. In general, a tester will need to score in the top 1/3, which means he or she will certainly compete against the rest of the testing population…That said, the rules change once you’re on your way to the Orals. Oh, and the T-score cut-off can be adjusted based on the needs of the Foreign Service. Confusing, isn’t it?

State doesn’t provide much (any?) info on the somewhat nebulous T-scores, but there’s a table available at the following link.  It provides relative values for various types of test results (group percentages, T-scores, Z-scores, GRE):


Look under the T-score column until you find what you scored. Then move over to the PR column to see what that means in terms of percentages.

For example:

FSOT:  JK: 63.67;   BI: 62.72;   EE 57.66   means you scored better than 88%-90% on JK and BI, and 76% for EE.

That’s a bit easier :)

One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ve been trying to figure out how this scoring process works. Does ACT release statistics on the scoring trends each year? I’d be interested in seeing what the score is to pass each year.

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