Beginning with the October 2020 Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), Pearson is now offering candidates the opportunity to take the test at home with an online proctored test.
With COVID-19 as a major concern, this is good timing and, most likely, a response to the pandemic. COVID-19 aside, this is still great news. Pearson and State are expanding access and flexibility to taking the test, a much-needed, but small, action towards equity.
Now that the October 2020 FSOT assessment window has passed, I am writing to share my experience taking the online proctored test.
What is an at-home online proctored test?
As the name implies, an at-home online proctored test is one that provides you with the opportunity to take whatever test from home (or really anywhere, just make sure it is quiet). Furthermore, the “online proctored” component means that (insert scary voice) you are under the watchful eye of a random person that you will never see but only hear… ooooo (it’s almost Halloween, not sorry)
What this means is that along with a computer, you will need a webcam and a mobile device. Fortunately, most laptops come with a webcam, and for those with a desktop, you can purchase one for $25-$50.
How to register for the online proctored test?
Registering for the online proctored test is really easy, so much so that I thought I didn’t do it correctly at first.
- Submit your application for the FSOT
- Test your computer system to make sure you can run the “OnVUE” software. (Steps 1 and 2 can be interchanged)
- Schedule your exam. If you have taken the test before, then the process is the same, except the location, is your home. If you haven’t taken the test before, you can only select a “seat” during the testing window. Choose the day and time that you want.
My experience taking the FSOT online proctored test
Taking the FSOT at-home online proctored test was an interesting experience. The test itself was not interesting; I have taken it several times now, I am familiar with the structure, and know what to expect. What was interesting was the setup from logging-in to take the test to my first question.
Since I had completed a systems test beforehand, I knew that my computer could run the software. As such, I downloaded the OnVUE software and clicked start.
I then had to complete another system check, agree to some statements and disclosures, take a picture of my license, and take pictures of the room I was taking the test in. So far, so good.
A few more clicks of the button, and then I was introduced to “Frank” (short for Frankenstein, again almost Halloween, and I don’t actually remember his name). Over an on-screen chatbox, Frank and I did the pleasantries and then got to business.
First, I had to lift my laptop, go to the center of the room, and complete a slow 360 turn. If I wasn’t using a laptop, this could have been problematic, but most webcams are portable.
Frank then questioned me on some of the items that he saw. First, I have a second monitor on an arm mount. Though off and not connected, Frank required me to unplug and put it on the floor. I notified him that the directions state the monitor has to be off and unplugged, but he wouldn’t budge. A few seconds later, I unmounted the monitor and put it on the floor. Annoying, but not a big deal.
I then had to close all the blinds, make sure my phone was several feet away from me, no paper or pens insight, and that no sound was coming to the room. Check, check, check, and check.
Finally, all the inspections were complete, and it was time to start. Frank wished me luck, thanks(!), and off I went. Or so I thought.
The camera was on, a timer counted, and I saw my recording on the top of the screen, but everything else was black. Uh oh. Maybe it was just a small glitch; perhaps the test was taking some time to load. Best wait…
I waited for ten minutes.
Within that time, I waved to the camera, signed that something was wrong, and wondered what to do. Do I restart my computer? Do I look up customer support? Do I pick up my phone and call someone? What? No option seemed good.
Why? Because of all the warnings.
If you open any program that isn’t OnVue, you are subject to disqualification from the test. If you pick up your phone during the test, you are subject to disqualification. Etc.
A bit of a pickle.
There was clearly something wrong after ten minutes, so I decided to pick up my phone, which was on silent. A random number called. I ignored it. I took a picture of what was happening for backup purposes and then started thinking about contacting someone. The same number called again. Could it be….?
Hi Jack, it’s Frank.
Turns out, he was trying to call me for a few minutes. I think he realized something was wrong after all my hand motions to the camera.
I cracked a joke about seeing a problem with their process, no phones allowed, agreements that if you touch your phone you are disqualified, a screen that doesn’t change, etc…
I thought I was funny; Frank was all business. But he straightened me out.
Rebooted, started the software again, did the 360-viewing with him once more, hit start, and got the right screen!
Besides Frank not laughing at my joke, the testing process was really smooth. I think the monitor on the floor was a bit overkill, but whatever.
During the assessment, I forgot I was in my house as my entire focus was on the test.
Once the test was done, I drank some water, stretched my legs, talked to my wife, and received my result in less than 30 minutes. I passed. Now, just waiting to hear about the QEP.
If you’ve taken the online proctored test, let me know what you think!
What follows below are all the technical terms you should read before starting the FSOT online proctored program.
- Visit the FSOT Online Proctoring page and review information on exam policies and procedures, system requirements, and the System Test.
- It is very important to complete the required System Test on the same computer, in the same location, and at the same time as your exam appointment so the System Test can accurately read the computer’s connectivity in that location and timeframe.
- Corporate, university, and military firewalls often cause issues while trying to take your exam. We strongly recommend taking your exam in a setting without an institutional firewall.
- Review the identification requirements below
Showing Up: We ask that you log into your Pearson VUE account 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time to start the check-in process and to allow for any troubleshooting. If you click on the “Begin Exam” button more than 15 minutes after your scheduled exam time, you will be considered a No Show and are unlikely to receive a refund.
Identification: Please be prepared to show one (1) valid form of unexpired, Government-issued personal ID. The Government-issued ID must have your signature and must have your photo. The name on the exam registration in the Pearson VUE system must match the name on the Government issued ID exactly. Please verify that your name listed on your confirmation email matches your identification. *If your identification is not considered valid, you will not be permitted to complete your exam and are unlikely to receive a refund.*
Examples of acceptable identification:
- Driver’s license
- Military ID (including spouse and dependent)
- Identification card (national or local)
- Registration card (such as green card, permanent resident, visa)
Please note that we are unable to accept the following ID’s for an online proctored exam:
- Renewal forms with expired ID’s
- Government-issued name change documents with Government ID
Personal Belongings: FSOT exams are closed-book exams. No personal items should be in the testing room. This includes all bags, purses, wallets, reference materials of any kind (books, notes or papers, etc.), electronic devices except for your cell phone (no tablets, PDAs, watches, calculators, etc.), writing instruments, food, beverages, etc.
Please note that you are required to have a clean and clutter free workstation. During check in, the Proctor will ask you to perform a room and desk scan using your phone or webcam and will inspect any materials near your workstation.
Logging into your Pearson VUE account:
- Login to your Pearson Vue Account
- Click on the Schedule/Reschedule my FSOT
- Click “Begin Exam” and follow the on-screen prompts to complete the check-in process
- Important: the “Begin Exam” button will show up 30 minutes before your exam appointment and will remain available until 15 minutes after your exam appointment. If the “Begin Exam” button is not visible, you are either too early or too late for your exam. Please check your appointment details to make sure you’re trying to start at the proper time.
- During the check-in process, you will be asked for your phone number so Pearson VUE staff can communicate with you while you are checking in for your exam. You will be asked to take a photo on your phone of yourself, your ID, and 4 photos of your room. The check-in process takes approximately 15 minutes for candidates who have previously completed a system test. After you have completed the check-in process, you will be asked to place your phone out of reach, but close enough to be heard.
- Once you have completed the check-in process you will be contacted by a Proctor to begin your exam at your appointment time. You may not be contacted by the Proctor before your appointment time to start the exam.
You understand and agree that Pearson VUE may use facial comparison technology for the purpose of verifying your identity during the testing process. It will compare your facial image to the one on your identification and to facial images captured during the testing process and help us further develop, upgrade, and improve this application. If you do not agree to the use of facial comparison technology during your testing session, do not accept this term. You will not be able to complete your registration online. Instead, please call the Pearson VUE call center to complete your registration.
Reporting Unusual Circumstances: Significant and unusual circumstances that occur during the testing process should be reported immediately to the Pearson VUE exam proctor so an incident report can be filed. If you are unable to communicate with the proctor you are required to notify Person VUE ASAP. Please see the following page for help contacting: https://home.pearsonvue.com/fsot/contact
Rescheduling an exam appointment can be done in your Pearson VUE account 24/7 or by calling Pearson VUE at (888) 572-2276 Mon-Fri, 7-7 Central. You can reschedule your OnVue exam right up to the scheduled appointment time at no cost. If you do not reschedule your appointment before the scheduled appointment time and do not take the exam, it will be considered a No Show and you will forfeit your entire exam fee.
Canceling an exam appointment can be done in your Pearson VUE account 24/7 or by calling Pearson VUE at (888) 572-2276 Mon-Fri, 7-7 Central. You can cancel your OnVue exam right up to the scheduled appointment time at no cost. If you do not cancel your appointment before the scheduled appointment time and do not take the exam, it will be considered a No Show and you will forfeit your entire exam fee.
No Shows: Failure to appear for an exam forfeits the entire exam fee, unless documentation of extenuating circumstances is provided within 10 days, such as: death in the family, serious illness, or military duty. In such circumstances, the candidate should email the State Department at [email protected] as soon as possible, providing documentation and a full description of the situation.
Exam Canceled by Pearson VUE: In the event of an unforeseen circumstance occurring on the day of a scheduled exam, candidates will be given as much advance notice as possible and will not be penalized if Pearson VUE cancels their exam appointment.
For more information on On-VUE: please visit Or https://home.pearsonvue.com/fsot/onvue
It is your responsibility to review the technical requirements to ensure your system is compatible with the online proctoring software. If your system does not meet the requirements and causes a problem during the exam, you will have to reschedule at your own cost.
NOTE: We strongly recommend using a personal computer (not issued from your employer) and a wired, ethernet connection. The two most frequent causes of technical issues with online proctored exams are testing on (1) a work computer and (2) an unreliable internet connection. Firewalls or security settings from work computers may restrict the software from operating properly. Unreliable internet connections (wireless network, VPN, mobile hotspot) may lead to being disconnected.
|Technical requirement||Technical Specification|
|Operating System||Windows 10 (64-bit) (excluding ‘S Mode’)
Windows 8.1 (64-bit) (all editions except ‘RT’)
Mac OS 10.13 and above (excluding beta versions)
|Note: Windows Operating Systems must pass Genuine Windows Validation.
|Firewall||Do not take your exam in a setting with a corporate firewall (including VPN) or alert your Network Administrator to the network configuration requirements. We recommend testing on a personal computer. Work computers generally have more restrictions that may prevent successful delivery.|
|Device||All tablets are strictly forbidden, unless it has a physical keyboard and also meets the operating system requirements mentioned earlier.|
OS specified minimum RAM
4 GB RAM or more
Minimum Resolution: 1024 x 768 in 16-bit color.
Additional monitors are forbidden.
|Internet Browser||The newest versions of Microsoft Edge, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox or Internet Explorer 11.|
For optimal performance, a reliable and stable connection speed of 3 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up is required.
Where possible, we recommend testing on a wired network as opposed to a wireless network.
If testing from home, ask others within the household to avoid internet use during your exam session.
Tethering to a mobile hotspot is explicitly prohibited.
Webcam must have a minimum resolution of 640×480 @ 10 fps.
Mac users may need to allow OnVUE within their ‘System Preferences: Security & Privacy: Privacy’ settings for Microphone, Camera, Automation and Input Monitoring.
|Sound & Microphone||
Verify the audio and microphone are not set on mute in Windows.
Mac users may need to allow OnVUE within their ‘System Preferences: Security & Privacy: Privacy’ settings for Microphone, Camera, Automation and Input Monitoring.
|Browser Settings||Internet Cookies must be enabled.
Any Pop-Up blocking setting(s) must be disabled.
|Power||Ensure you are connected to a power source before starting your exam to avoid draining your battery during the exam|
Q.Where can I test?
A.You can test at home or in your office. Wherever you test, you should be in a walled room, with a closed door and without distractions. No one else is permitted in the room with you while you are testing.
Q.How do I know my computer will work with the online proctored software?
A.Perform a system test to download the OnVUE online proctoring software in advance to ensure that your system will work with our software. Please check our list of minimum system requirements, and shut down all non-essential applications before launching the software.
Q.Can I receive any exam assistance during the exam?
- You may not receive any assistance from other individuals while taking the exam, and you may not allow other individuals to see the computer screen that presents the exam questions.
- If another person enters the room while you are testing, your exam will be terminated.
- The proctor cannot answer questions related to exam content.
Q.Is technical software assistance available during the exam?
A.Most technical issues can be avoided by completing a system test in advance. Common technical issues are lack of a stable internet connection and running illegal applications during the exam, both of which the system test can indicate. Either way, staff is on hand to support the issue. Please see the customer service information on this page if you require assistance.
Q.My proctor hasn’t started my exam yet. Where is my proctor?
A.After successfully uploading your photos, you should be on a page that says, “You are almost done with the check-in process”. Please be patient: most candidates will have their exam launched by a proctor within 15 minutes of the exam appointment. If you are experiencing a longer delay, there may be a problem with your photos. The proctor will attempt to reach you over chat or your cell phone. The incoming phone number may be unfamiliar to you but please answer so we can help you. If we haven’t contacted you in 30 minutes, the connection may have been lost. You’ll need to reschedule your exam through customer service.
Q.Where do I go to schedule my exam?
A.Sign in to your web account to schedule your exam. After you’ve selected the exam you want to take, choose the “home or office” option. Follow the remaining prompts to complete the scheduling process. Once you have successfully scheduled your exam appointment, you will be sent a confirmation email that will provide you with your appointment details and important things to know for your exam.
Q.Is my workspace okay for testing?
A.During the check-in process, you will be asked to take photos of your work area, which will be checked by a proctor prior to exam launch. Please ensure that your desktop is clean and that you are not within arm’s reach of books, notepads, sticky notes, papers, pens, pencils, and other writing instruments/objects. Additional monitors and computers must be unplugged and turned off. Items on the wall with writing on them, such as whiteboards, will be inspected. If your workspace does not pass a room scan, you are not permitted to proceed with taking the exam.
Q.What type of identification will I be required to present?
A.You are required to present a current government-issued ID. The name on your ID must match the name in your web account profile and in your appointment confirmation email.
Acceptable forms of identification include: driver’s license, passport, military ID, identification card (national/state/province identity card), alien registration card (green card, permanent resident, visa), and government-issued local language ID (not in roman characters and accepted only if issued by the country in which you are testing).
Minors who are under the age of 18 are permitted to present a valid student ID as a form of identification. A minor’s guardian must also present a valid ID and provide verbal consent during the check-in process.
Q.How do I check in for my test on exam day?
A.You will be able to start checking in for your exam 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled appointment time. To start, click the “Sign in” button on this page to sign in to your web account.
- The exam you are scheduled to take will appear once you log in to your account under “Open Online Exams.” Select the exam link and then select “Begin exam.”
Important: if the “Begin exam” button is not visible, you are either too early or too late for your exam. Please check your appointment details to make sure you’re trying to start at the proper time.
- You will be asked to download OnVUE, the online proctoring software, if you haven’t before. Follow the prompts in the application to complete the required check-in steps.
- Have your acceptable identification available so that the proctor can verify your identity.
- Shut down any non‐essential applications such as email, chat, Facebook, and Skype.
- You will be placed in a queue and connected with the next available proctor to begin your exam.
- The check-in process takes approximately 15 minutes for candidates who have previously completed a system test.
- Being late is not an option. To allow time for the check-in procedure, please be ready when the check-in window opens 30 minutes before the exam start time.
Q.What are the exam rules on personal belongings?
- During the exam, you may not access the following types of personal items: mobile phones, headphones or headsets (wired or bluetooth), handheld computers or other electronic devices, pagers, watches, wallets, purses, hats (or other head coverings), bags, coats, books, notes, or any other materials not specifically approved.
- During the exam session, you are not allowed to use exam-specific materials or scratch paper, erasable whiteboards, or any other physical writing object, such as a pen, marker, or pencil.
- Watches must be removed and placed out of sight/reach during the exam.
- During your OnVUE exam, you may have the option to use a built-in digital whiteboard feature to do scratch work or take notes. Physical scratch paper or note boards are not allowed when taking an OnVUE exam. Learn more »
- Please refer to your exam program for specific arrangements for scratch work or note taking.
Q.Can I eat, drink or take a break during the exam?
A.If your exam is long and includes a scheduled break, wait until you see the specific scheduled break message during your exam. At that time, you may leave your desk to use the restroom.
If your exam does not include a scheduled break, breaks are not allowed during the exam for any reason. If you leave your computer during your exam the proctor will end your session and you will be unable to continue testing.
Water in a clear glass is allowed during testing; however, eating, smoking, and chewing gum are prohibited.
Join the pFS Newsletter!
Receive 5 lessons to help you prep, study, and practice for the FSOT.
Plus! By signing-up you are also joining hundreds of other FSO applicants in a communal pursuit to join the Foreign Service.