The Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA) is now Fully Remote

Big news coming out of the State Department! The Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA) is switching to a virtual format, beginning with candidates who took the February 2024 Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).

Hints that the FSOA would move to a virtual format were rolling out in 2022, but now the change is official. In my opinion, it’s about time. Candidates have successfully been preparing for the FSOA through virtual tools with the advent of video conferencing. In addition, flying to DC to complete the assessment can be a substantial financial burden for candidates or simply cost-prohibitive. Adding a remote option is necessary and long overdue. 

However, the switch leads to several questions. Some are answered from State, but several remain, which I’ve added at the bottom of the post. Reference material for this post comes from State’s FAQ, State’s FSO Selection Process, and Federal News Network

Why is the Department changing the Foreign Service assessment process?

The U.S. Department of State is announcing an additional innovation to the Foreign Service selection process to advance the Secretary’s goals of modernizing American diplomacy and winning the talent competition.

To improve the candidate experience and make application to the Foreign Service (FS) more accessible by reducing the financial and logistical barriers associated with travel for in-person assessments held in Washington, D.C., the Board of Examiners (BEX) will transition all Foreign Service assessments to virtual platforms. In Spring 2020, in response to the pandemic, BEX began hosting Foreign Service Specialist Assessments (FSSA) on a virtual platform, a change made permanent in February 2022. Now, candidates interested in 17 FS Specialist job categories (all non-DS Specialist job categories) can test from anywhere in the United States and most parts of the world. In Fiscal Year 2023, BEX virtually assessed 800 candidates across 14 specialties. Survey respondents have consistently lauded this move.

BEX will now transition the Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA) to a virtual platform. Beginning with candidates who took the February 2024 Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), the Department will move to a fully virtual FSOA. The first of the three components, the Case Management Exercise (CME), will be offered separately and in advance of the remaining two components, the Group Exercise (GE) and Structured Interview (SI). Invited candidates may take the CME from home, a private location of their choice, or at one of 850 on-site locations offered through PearsonVUE worldwide.

Why is the Department making this change now?

The Board of Examiners continuously reviews and evaluates examination procedures. The pandemic provided an opportunity to innovate. The temporary cessation of in-person assessments prompted the exploration of alternatives, and extensive pilot tests demonstrated the utility of virtual assessments. As a result, the Department could continue assessing Foreign Service Specialist candidates despite pandemic disruptions. Building on this experience, the Board of Examiners is pleased to offer the same rigorous assessments for the Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA) in a virtual environment.

How will these changes impact candidates who are currently in the process of taking the FSOA?

The move to virtual platforms for the three components of the FSOA – the Case Management Exercise (CME), Group Exercise (GE), and Structured Interview (SI) – will begin with candidates who took the February 2024 FSOT. Other candidates currently in the FSOA pipeline will continue with their already scheduled in-person assessments. It is important to note that the assessment structure is not changing. All candidates will continue participating in all three FSOA segments (CME, GE, SI) with no additional performative requirements. By offering the assessment virtually, we will reduce travel and other costs that have discouraged qualified candidates from participating in the evaluation in the past while improving the experience for candidates. These were concerns consistently identified in surveys of previous candidates.

When are these changes happening?

The Department is implementing the move to a virtual platform for all three components of the FSOA, beginning with candidates who took the FSOT in February 2024. The virtual assessments for candidates from that cohort are on track to begin in May 2024.

Will candidates have the option of doing the FSOA in person?

No. Beginning in May 2024, the Foreign Service Officer Assessment (FSOA) will be offered exclusively on a virtual platform.

Can you clarify the sequencing of the three components of the FSOA? Why is the CME offered separately from the SI and GE?

The first of the three components, the Case Management Exercise (CME), will be offered separately and in advance of the remaining two components, the Group Exercise (GE) and Structured Interview (SI). Invited candidates may take the CME from home, a private location of their choice, or at one of 850 on-site locations offered through PearsonVUE worldwide. The CME has been separated from the other two components to maximize scheduling flexibility and increase the number of assessors evaluating each candidate, thereby improving the process. After completing the Case Management Exercise, candidates will receive further instructions on scheduling the Group Exercise and Structured Interview consecutively on the same day.

How will you assess group dynamics if candidates no longer gather in person?

The same rigorous standards and procedures will apply in the virtual context. Candidates will continue to be assessed according to the dimensions based on job analyses, standards, and best practices employed by industrial and organizational psychologists. These dimensions were revised in 2023 to match current Foreign Service job skills and were developed to reflect the implementation of a virtual process.

Will candidates with disabilities be able to participate in the new online FSOA?

Yes. Candidates with disabilities can request reasonable accommodations using the same process they use for the in-person assessment.

Some questions unanswered

The above information from State provides a broad overview of the change, but several questions remain unanswered. In no order of importance:

Why the switch to 100% remote? Why not provide an in-person option? 

There are two trains of thought here. First, why the hard switch? Sure, they have been assessing FSS candidates for a few years, but the FSO has the added GE component, which I think the FSS does not. Why not test the virtual, as they did the FSS, before making the hard switch? 

Second, and more importantly, why not provide an in-person option for those who would prefer it? Sometimes, decisions are made that conflate equality and equity. To be truly inclusive and equitable, State should have maintained an option for in-person evaluation, which would provide opportunities to meet accommodation and accessibility requirements. 

What happens if the internet drops?

Does the candidate receive a zero? Can they make up the assessment? What about inclement weather causing issues?

What happens if Pearson drops the ball?

They’ve improved, but remote testing the FSOT has had its challenges. As with the above regarding the internet, what happens to the candidate if Pearson doesn’t provide 100% service?


Providing a virtual option is long overdue. I spent thousands of dollars traveling and lodging to DC for my OA appointments. I would have jumped on the opportunity to complete a virtual option. I may have done better on the first go, with the jet lag not being an issue. However, I think allowing for an in-person option would benefit some candidates. Not benefit in the sense of having “an edge.” Instead, it will help those who require accommodation. This is not just for those local to DC (current in-person testing facility location) but also for those who may have challenges with a digital platform.

I very much look forward to hearing how this new OA process goes!

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