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How do I Prepare for the Foreign Service Exam?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Preparing for the foreign service exam is a crucial part of gaining employment with the U.S. State Department. Without passing this exam, there is no chance of joining the state department in any official capacity. However, with a little preparation and understanding, getting ready for the foreign service exam is usually not a problem.

The first step in foreign service exam preparation is to determine the dates in your area where the exam will be administered. This will provide a good guideline for how much needs to be studied and how quickly that study needs to take place. Preparing also means meeting certain deadlines, which are outlined on the state department's website. Those who do not follow these deadlines are going to find their entrance into this area of civil service delayed.

Deadlines are important for the foreign service exam are not only for candidates within the United States, but also those outside the United States. It should be noted that the foreign service written exam deadlines are different for those inside and outside the United States. Generally, the deadline for those testing sites outside the United States is a week prior to the deadline within the country.

Once the application process is complete, the applicant will then be sent an e-mail designating when they can take the test. The test is offered several times a year. Seats can then be reserved for the test on a first come, first served basis. Those who are not able to make it may have to wait several months for the next test taking date. There are commercial testing centers available all over the United States and in some countries.

The U.S. State Department does offer a study guide, which can be very valuable for those who have never taken the foreign service exam before and want to make absolutely sure they understand what is being covered. Other topics to study or review are American history, economic policy, human behavior and political science. Also keeping up with current events is a good idea. Together, these areas will provide a good background for the foreign service exam.

After the written test, there will be some more paperwork that needs to be filled out and the applicant, if everything is passed and looks good, will likely be called in for an oral assessment. This may be one of the most extensive oral interviews a candidate will ever experience, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending as late as 6 p.m. This assessment looks at issues such as composure, depth of knowledge, judgment, experience and leadership qualities. Focusing on these issues and being mentally prepared for a long day are very important.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon139801 — On Jan 05, 2011

"Without passing this exam, there is no chance of joining the state department in any official capacity."

Just an FYI; this is not correct. Foreign Service Specialists do not take the FSOT, but have a separate process.

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