Any advice on the Foreign Service Exam?
November 19, 2004 12:17 AM   Subscribe

I've decided to take the Foreign Service Exam next time it is offered, and I was wondering if anyone has taken the test/worked in the foreign service. Any advice? (a little more inside)

I'm a natural born citizen of the USA and I speak fluent (practically native) Farsi and very good Spanish. Generally my interpersonal skills are good so I'm confident with any interviews, but what about the test? The reading list is ridiculously long, and the study guide I ordered hasn't come yet. I'd especially love to hear from people who've actually passed the test and done the job.
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This might be of some help
posted by sebas at 1:15 AM on November 19, 2004

Your proficiency in Farsi will probably be wasted by going through the FSE route. It won't help at all during the written exam. It'll only barely help you pass the oral exam (only if your grade is just on the threshold of passing would it give you an extra push.) Depending on how you learned Farsi (for instance, if you spent a lot of time in Iran or you're married to an Iranian), it could certainly hurt your chances for getting through the security check. And even if you get through that, you could still end up visa-stamping in Nigeria.

At least that's my experience with my Chinese fluency. I was a bit annoyed that they'd rather take someone with a .5 higher score on the oral exam, spend thousand of dollars and a couple of years to educate them in Chinese, when someone like myself and other people I know had gone out on their own and taught themselves.

I'd think that other American government agencies would be a bit more eager to pick up people with language abilities in critical languages like Arabic, Chinese, or Farsi.
posted by alidarbac at 4:01 AM on November 19, 2004

What alidarbac said. I have no personal experience in such matters, but have you thought about the CIA or NSA? I'm sure there are lots of civilian, non-clandestine people -- analysts and such -- there.
posted by Vidiot at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2004

The Foreign Service Exam is not difficult if you are an avid newspaper reader (or are in tune with both national and international news) and paid attention during school. You're not going to get every question right but it can be (gasp) sort of enjoyable. I took it last year as a senior at Columbia and found it to be a pretty interesting test.

If you are serious about it, you definitely should spend time going over an old test (it is available for purchase on the FSE webpage) and seeing where you are weak - international politics? geography? math? the US Constitution? For me, it was the structure of federal government, not the general stuff but smaller details; for example, one of the questions on the 2004 exam asked the name of the publication put out by the Senate every week. I wouldn't worry about the reading list they provide you - it is, like you said, insanely long to be of use. I found the practice test to be most helpful.

If you don't know already, it's a long test with a lot of parts. Multiple choice, two essays, personal section (be prepared for questions like "What foreign films have you seen in the past year?" and "What magazines do you read?") I was pooped by the end of the day.

From my understanding, the FSE doesn't give a darn about your native languages skills. Sad but that's the way it is. I have a friend who was superbly fluent in German but was eventually assigned to a post in Africa (I forget the specific country.)

What line are you thinking of applying for? I tested in the Economics group. Feel free to email or IM me (AIM: moxyberry) if you want to chat more about it!
posted by moxyberry at 6:48 AM on November 19, 2004

I took the written FSE a couple years ago and found it to be surprisingly easy. You'll be wanting advice when you go for the oral interviews, though.
posted by mookieproof at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2004

Yeah, the interviews are no laughing matter. I got to the interview portion of the Canadian version, and it was probably one of the toughest interviews I've ever had.

From what I've read, the American version is quite similar, what with an initial individual interview portion. In the Canadian version, this amounted to having 3 FSOs and an HR person ask you to read various scenarios and speak at length, without prompting, about how you would approach each. Very disconcerting for me, who was used to the question-answer approach. Following that, the other candidates interviewed on the same day and you are group interviewed, and you're given a multiple page briefing on a fictional country and situation that you have to work with the others to come up with solutions. Then you have to individually present those solutions to the interviewers, who act as a funding board, choosing whose solution will receiving funding.

I don't know if they always use formats like this, but phew, it was tough. Maybe it's a cakewalk to those with experience in those areas, but as a web developer, I was surrounded by people with years and years of experience: lawyers, people with multiple degrees. Needless to say, I didn't get in.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2004

Know what side the secondary and tertiary players were on during the cold war. You will be able to answer a good number of rather obscure questions if you know those facts and the process of elimination.
posted by jaysus chris at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2004

... and use the process of elimination. Dammit.
posted by jaysus chris at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2004

yahoo group

didn't use it, but it could be helpful. also, your farsi skills would probably be more useful to the CIA (if serving your country is the big idea behind all of this).

btw, my oral exam wasn't as hard as everyone else here is making it out to be. (yes, i passed. chose not to go into the service for a girl. yes, she left me.)

one note: the passing oral scores are higher for econ (5.5) and policy (5.7) than they are for the other three cones/tracks (5.0-5.2).
posted by sachinag at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2004

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