Page 2 of 4 FirstFirst 1234 LastLast
Results 21 to 40 of 70

Thread: Prep for Foreign Service Officer exam

  1. #21
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,444

    Thumbs up

    I'm glad that this isn't something that I had my heart set on. I just figured that there's no harm in taking the test and seeing what happens. But this is an interesting thread for me and, I suspect, anyone else considering such a career.

  2. #22
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    DeRidder LA
    Posts
    3,949

    Default

    If it was up to me, I would not let anyone become an FSO unless they had prior experience in the U.S. Armed Forces, Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps
    As a retired Army FAO, with 6 tours around embasses, two times as a war zone DATT, and now serving as a POLAD in Iraq when State didn't come through with a serious nominee for my boss, I can only say:

    Hell yes!

    Tom

    PS

    Old farts rule!

  3. #23
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Rancho La Espada, Blanchard, OK
    Posts
    1,065

    Default As one old fart to others

    I certainly agree with FSO's sentiment. I wonder if it could actually be made a requirement. If I were King - it's good to be the King - I think I would give major preferences to those categories of individuals (along with some related experiences). Retired military would go to the head of the line at all stages of the recruitment process for all cones. RPCVs would be next in line, followed by former but not retired military, and them by Americorps. Last in line would be those fresh out of school with none of this experience.

    I was particularly impressed watching my friend Ambassador Ed Corr in El Salvador because he was so clearly in "command" of his embassy. John Waghelstein makes the same observation about Deane Hinton. I've seen other Ambassadors who obviously didn't have the first conception of what a commander is let alonewhat one does. (But I would also have to acknowledge that I've seen a bunch of very bad military officers in command...)

    Cheers

    JohnT

  4. #24
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    13,202

    Default What that?

    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    (taken from)I think I would give major preferences to those categories of individuals... RPCVs would be next in line..
    John,

    What is a RPCV? Retired Peace Corps Volunteer.

    davidbfpo

  5. #25
    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Posts
    1,111

    Default Fso...

    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    Honestly, surfer, after a long chat the other day with a former Marine who just became an FSO...
    Matt,

    I too am a big fan of the old saying: Know all about Dodge and how to exit Dodge before entering...

    Quote Originally Posted by Pol-Mil FSO View Post
    I have ambivalent views about the attractiveness of the Foreign Service as a career. On some days I would say that it has been a great opportunity to go places, do things, and witness history that I would never have gotten in any private sector job. On other days I would say that coping with the bureaucractic BS and a dysfunctional foreign service culture just isn't worth it. After 22 years, the main reason I stick around is because I want my sons to live in a prosperous and powerful country - I thus see my job as using my modest talent and experience to contribute to "empire maintenance."
    Pol-Mil-FSO,

    Appreciate your sharing your experiences and observations (to include the importance of language skills at State). My two decades in the Army and Civil Service have been great opportunities as well as a chance to give back. I have enjoyed my time at one of State's Commissions as well as at a FSI course, my kids are grown...a FSO experience looks very interesting, we will see if the planets align at some point.

    Best,

    Steve
    Last edited by Surferbeetle; 09-25-2009 at 03:24 PM.
    Sapere Aude

  6. #26
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Rancho La Espada, Blanchard, OK
    Posts
    1,065

    Default Close David

    It's Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Since by its rules one can't make a career of Peace Corps you can't retire from it. The old rule was a total of 5 years in the organization as a volunteer, staff, or any combination. Don't know if they ever changed that rule but I think it is still in effect more or less.

    Cheers

    JohnT

  7. #27
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,444

    Default

    In no particular order...

    I just got home from taking the exam. That was even easier than I anticipated. I mean, some of the questions were so simple that I read them three times just to make sure they really were that simple. Some tested one's basic understanding of how e-mail works and how to do basic functions in a word processor. I guess that means they're looking for office minions, rather than diplomats?

    I finished two of the sections with at least ten minutes remaining - even after going back and double-checking my answers. The 30-minute essay is a real scramble - I might have made a few typos, as I was just finishing up and proofreading with about 15 seconds to go. Not very much time to read the issue, consider the question, outline an argument, and then type it.

    The personal questionnaire was the only section that I had a really difficult time finishing within the time limit. Many questions take the form of, "how often do you [whatever] at your job?" or "how many jobs have you had where [random skill] is utilized?" For many questions, if you answer "often" or "more than 4" or something like that, then you are prompted to briefly describe whatever it is you were asked about. I suppose that some people might answer "never" or "rarely" to many of those. For me, I always had something to describe. I literally finished that section with about 6 seconds to spare because I had something to type in every textbox.

    As for the job knowledge and English parts of the test, it would not surprise me if a significant number of people got every question right. It was that easy. I suspect that many high school students could ace the English portion (basically, if you're scoring over 700 on the SAT verbal, then you should ace this). For the job knowledge stuff, having completed an MBA program helped a little, but I suspect that I could have figured out the answers even without that. It just might have taken an extra few seconds per question (mainly the ones dealing with how to resolve conflicts in the workplace). I am only uncertain about two questions on the entire test. One was pure trivia (what was such-and-such random unremarkable piece of legislation known as?) and another would vary depending upon the political ideology of the question-writer (I assumed the writer leaned to the left - a safe assumption, imo, but it would be nice if the question had simply been a test of knowledge rather than bias).

    In short, the FSO exam fails to live up to the hype - just like every other exam I've ever taken. I think many of these exams are hyped up just so that people will waste money buying books and taking classes to prepare for them. Good IO work by Kaplan, et al. I am not very smart and I did well enough on the SAT, GMAT, and LSAT to go to the schools that I chose without any preparation. The FSO exam, in my opinion, was between the SAT and GMAT in terms of difficulty and probably shorter than any of them. I did the whole exam with no breaks in about 2:30. Again I am not a particularly bright fellow, so this test cannot be that hard. I think the stumbling block is that it is graded on such a crazy curve.

    Anyway, there you have it.

    My tips to prepare:
    1) Be interested in politics and international affairs.
    - If you read lots of international news because it interests you, then you're off to a good start. If you're buying a subscription to the Economist and skimming through it to prepare, but you're not really interested in what you're reading, then your lack of interest will probably stop you from amassing the random knowledge that you're seeking.
    - In regard to politics, I mean the actual mechanics of how things get done (how a bill becomes a law; powers of each branch and each house; how the branches interact. I am not referring to petty political bickering or other nonsense that you see on cable news. Politico might be useful - though even that isn't too deep on details. But if your reading is largely crap like Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Free Republic, and Red State, then you're probably a dilettante who will rightly fail when you get three questions asking you about a specific law from the 1960s that nobody talks about anymore.
    2) Know how to use MS Word and Outlook. I think several of the questions were there to make sure that they won't need to teach you how to turn on a computer, type a memo, and print or email it. Really basic stuff.
    3) If you take a course on statistics and another on trade theory, then you will be more than adequately prepared for any of the math/econ questions. Those were the questions that I read over and over because I thought, "this is too obvious - why don't they just ask me who is buried in Grant's tomb?"

  8. #28
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Posts
    2

    Default

    I just took the FSOT.
    Now it's time for the "Super Critical Language" test.
    I am hoping my Arabic is good enough to move me up the list.
    Does anyone have any idea what the “Test by phone” in Arabic will consist of?

  9. #29
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Rancho La Espada, Blanchard, OK
    Posts
    1,065

    Default There are only so many things that

    can be tested by phone. With a canned test they can very easily test your ability to hear and understand - they will read a passage in Arabic (or any other language being tested) and ask a series of questions about the passage either in the language or in English. Response would be to punch the appropriate letter. This would be very similar to the DLPT tests. The technology exists to test for speaking as well. This could be a live conversation with a native speaker or something that requires spoken responses in the language which will be recorded and evaluated later. This is generally what the testing capability would be. As to what the FS actually does, I'd have to check with our Diplomat in Residence - that might take a while.

    I missed your post when it went up. HT to Schmedlap for calling my attention to it.

    Cheers

    JohnT

  10. #30
    Council Member MattC86's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    REMFing it up in DC
    Posts
    250

    Default Arabic Phone Test

    I didn't take the test, as I didn't take enough Arabic in school. So take this with a grain of salt.

    That said, my Arabic professor did teach at Monterey before coming to Cornell, and he eventually left over fights with lots of people over what he called their insistence upon testing orally in fusha rather than colloquial dialects. Of course, the argument for fusha was that colloquial varies by region, but I would be prepared for that, since otherwise they'd have to match up your dialect with the interviewer's.

    That's all I can really offer.

    Matt
    "Give a good leader very little and he will succeed. Give a mediocrity a great deal and he will fail." - General George C. Marshall

  11. #31
    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Montgomery, AL
    Posts
    131

    Default My experience with DLI oral tests

    Alright, this is not necessarily the way the FS does it but there are several criteria in an oral exam for the military. I can't remember them all, but here goes.

    To get a "1", you just have to be able to answer certain questions, like what is your name, and so on.

    To get a "2" you should be able to do more complicated things with the language, such as give instructions, introduce yourself, tell a story, and most importantly talk about an important news item.

    To get a "3" which is very good indeed, you should be able to talk about abstract concepts, like the meaning of life, or the legitimacy of torture.

    I think I have mixed a few things up, but that is the general idea. In general, the instructor has an idea of where you are in the language, and will start with introductions, and lead you through a conversation, asking questions related to the level that s/he thinks you might be at. You get two tries at a higher level, and if you get that they will move up to those level questions. A longer interview is not necessarily better.

    I hope that is helpful. Again, I cannot guarantee that the FSO uses the same method.
    Audentes adiuvat fortuna
    "Abu Suleyman"

  12. #32
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,098

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Suleyman
    Again, I cannot guarantee that the FSO uses the same method.
    I took the FSO phone test in Arabic - and passed - last year. My experience was that the tester (native speaker - pure الفصحى) went directly from initial introductions to level 3 discussion about politics in the region. None of the incremental feeling out for capabilities like with a DLI OPI.

  13. #33
    Council Member Stan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Estonia
    Posts
    3,817

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Suleyman View Post
    Alright, this is not necessarily the way the FS does it but there are several criteria in an oral exam for the military. I can't remember them all, but here goes.
    In early 95 after 13 weeks of Estonian I took the FS exam in DC (vs traveling to DLI). I assure you that the telephonic portion was worthless. I received a 1+ (Estonian is a 45 week course, but I didn't have that much time in CONUS).

    7 months later I took the DLI version and ended up with 2+ across the board and took the local living/working permit exam and ended up with 92%.

    Turns out FSI only had a Finn and she administered my exam... LMDAO

    I hope that a decade later FSI actually used a real Estonian to test Estonian language
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

  14. #34
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Posts
    2

    Default OK, now I am officially scared.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    I took the FSO phone test in Arabic - and passed - last year. My experience was that the tester (native speaker - pure الفصحى) went directly from initial introductions to level 3 discussion about politics in the region. None of the incremental feeling out for capabilities like with a DLI OPI.
    I read on the State Dept website that they were looking for all versions of Arabic. I am a Level 3+ (or above, according to their language reference website) speaker in Syrian "a3meya" or Colloquial Arabic. I also read and write Arabic.
    If the phone test is in "Foos-ha" or Formal Arabic, for sure I will fail.

    It makes more sense to me - with their broad interest in the Arab region- that they would first ask the test-taker what their specialty is and then match an appropriate test administrator to them.

    Any words of wisdom and/or encouragement now would be greatly appreciated!

  15. #35
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    45

    Default Language Tests

    Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language tests measure speaking and reading ability, with separate numerical scores for each. For example, 3/3 is usually the grade sought after completing FSI language training and usually adequate for work purposes. I've taken walk-in tests at FSI but don't know how they would measure the reading part through a phone conversation.

    I wouldn't worry too much about "passing" the test because if it is an evaluation for job candidacy purposes then the objective is to measure actual language ability. The standard Arabic language training program for State employees consists of one year of intensive language training at FSI (more properly known as NFATC - National Foreign Affairs Training Center) in Arlington, Virginia, followed by a second year of intensive training in Tunis, Tunisia. Any candidate who has the ability to skip at least part of this training should have a benefit added to their ranking, although I am not sure exactly how this process works. (And the language incentive pay for "hard language" ability takes effect immediately after an employee scores a 3/3 on the relevant language.)

  16. #36
    Council Member karaka's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    West Coast USA
    Posts
    14

    Default

    This is great information, thanks everyone for sharing. I was looking at FSO positions last week, even though I'm in no real position to even thinking about applying until this time next year.

    So, there's an upper age limit; is there an average age for FSO applicants, in ya'lls experience?

  17. #37
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    45

    Default FSO personnel system

    The upper age limit is 58, I believe, although it may be a little higher, I'm not completely sure. I think the rationale is that this limit allows a person enough time to gain tenure before facing mandatory retirement at 64. (New FSOs are on a 3-4 year probation period before receiving a full commission.) Fear of age discrimination suits seems to me to be a significant factor in this limit.

    There seem to be exceptions to the above rule as when I was in Indiana this summer to help train newly-hired civilians going to Afghanistan I met a new USAID FSO on a limited (5 year) career appointment. He is 67 years old and a Marine veteran who had three tours in Vietnam with the CAP program, as a battery commander, and as an advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Corps.

    I don't agree with the above age limit, I think it should be at somewhere in the mid to late 40s, maybe 48. The FSO personnel system is an up or out system modeled after the U.S. Navy officer system from about 1950. Each new officer theoretically has the ability to rise in ranks to become an Ambassador (about 10% make that goal) and is given 26 years from date of entry to make it into the Senior Foreign Service ranks or face mandatory retirement. Someone who becomes an FSO at 58 is obviously not going to have a full career.

  18. #38
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    45

    Default Median age of new FSOs

    When I entered the Foreign Service in 1987 the median age in my class was about 30. I don't have any figures on recent classes but I suspect that it is in the mid to late 30's range.

  19. #39
    Council Member karaka's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    West Coast USA
    Posts
    14

    Default

    So I still have time then! Time to plan ahead.

    Thanks, PM FSO.

  20. #40
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Posts
    2

    Default

    Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. An RPCV is anyone who has successfully completed their two years of service with the Peace Corps.

Similar Threads

  1. Training the Operational Staff
    By Eden in forum Training & Education
    Replies: 23
    Last Post: 07-27-2012, 11:39 AM
  2. Towards a U.S. Army Officer Corps Strategy for Success
    By Shek in forum Training & Education
    Replies: 50
    Last Post: 05-16-2010, 06:27 AM
  3. Officer Retention
    By Patriot in forum Military - Other
    Replies: 360
    Last Post: 07-03-2009, 05:47 PM
  4. Life starting off as a Foreign Service Officer
    By jcustis in forum RFIs & Members' Projects
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 06-02-2009, 05:32 AM
  5. Replies: 5
    Last Post: 02-15-2008, 02:11 AM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •