The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) is going through another iteration of updates beginning with the October 2019 test. As a positive, you will have a higher chance of passing the test. As a negative, there is (potentially) less transparency in the application process.
The FSOT before October 2019
The FSOT is made up of four different sections:
- Job knowledge;
- English expression;
- Situational judgment; and
To pass the FSOT, before October 2019, you needed a combined score of at least a 154 on the first three sections of the test, and then a passing score of six on the essay.
After taking the test, it’s about three weeks before your scores are published. If you don’t receive at least a 154, your essay is not scored. If you do receive at least a score of 154, your essay is graded. All the scores are broken down for you in the letter notifying you if you passed or not.
The FSOT beginning October 2019
Beginning with the October 2019 test, a big change is happening. Your essay is no longer scored after you take the test. Instead, you have to pass the first three sections of the FSOT. If you score at least a 154, then you immediately move to the personal narratives.
By immediately, I mean you learn if you passed within 24 hours, and can immediately begin working on your PNs, which is great because now you don’t have to worry about the score. You know if you passed or did not, and can move on.
Your essay is now scored as part of the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP).
What is the QEP?
The QEP is a major threshold in the process to become an FSO, this is when the Board of Examiners (BEX) reviews your entire application and decides if you can move forward to the orals. This is a big deal, and where a significant percentage of applicants do not pass. The package that the BEX assesses your candidacy includes your initial application, the FSOT, and your personal narratives. At the end of the review process, the BEX sends you a letter notifying you if you meet the qualifications to receive an invitation to the orals or if you don’t.
If you don’t, this is how it reads:
“We regret to inform you that your QEP-determined relative ranking in your career track does not allow us to continue your candidacy to the next step of the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process.
Please note that QEP scoring is not a pass/fail exercise nor is there a pre-set invitation score. Rather candidates receive a relative ranking in their respective career tracks. The most highly competitive candidates in each career track are invited to the Oral Assessment based on our anticipated hiring needs. Foreign Service Officer hiring targets are adjusted regularly. At present, a large number of individuals are applying for a very limited number of Foreign Service Officer positions, and the process is extremely competitive. There are numerous cases where individuals who received an invitation to the Oral Assessment in a previous year will not receive one in a current year.”
Short, to the point, and a complete lack of transparency on where your application missed the mark.
Beginning with the October 2019 test, the QEP will include your essay.
Is this a positive or a negative change?
I will be upfront, I honestly don’t know, but at the moment I am in the camp that this is not a good addition to the process unless the QEP becomes more transparent.
I think it is excellent that candidates will now receive their scores right away. I think this is something they should have been doing for the last two years ever since the situational judgment replaced the biographical section. If the essay is not assessed unless you pass the multiple-choice section, why not inform all those who didn’t pass within 24 hours? With everything being digital, this is an easy algorithm.
But now the process is different.
An immediate change, more applicants are going to pass the FSOT. The essay is always going to be a barrier for some. It is timed, you have limited characters to write an argument, and you are stressed. This is why I created the essay simulator to help applicants pass this section. But now, you pass the FSOT without having to pass the essay section.
The outcome: more happy people immediately after the test.
But what does this mean?
There will now be more people who submit their narratives to the QEP. Will the evaluation process take longer? It did for the June 2019 test, by a week. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that long. Still, when you have already waited two months and have an ETA, you get anxious by the end of that period.
This change also means less transparency in the application process, which is already muddy. Now, if you don’t pass the QEP, what’s the reason? Is it because of your essay, your narratives, your application, your scores, or other?
Now? We may not have a clue.
For due diligence, I wrote to the State Department through their forum, asking them for their logic behind the change. I didn’t expect an answer – there has been a decrease in communication and transparency in the forum since the Trump administration took over – but I thought I would try. As expected, no response.
As such, I am now looking ahead to December. When the BEXs announce the October QEP results, I very much hope letters include a breakdown as to why candidates do or do not pass.
With that, what are your thoughts on this change? And if you took the test in October and passed, let me know what your QEP letter states.
Join the pFS Newsletter!
Receive 6 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.