Looking for help to improve your score on the FSOT essay? ProCon.org may be what you need.
It’s almost May, and with it, there is always an air of anticipation. Spring is in full swing with summer around the corner, the school season is coming to an end, and that means students are taking final examinations and looking forward to fun travels, and the window to apply for the June FSOT is here.
If you didn’t know, and you want to apply for the June FSOT, then head on over to Pearson and sign-up right away. Remember space is always limited at the testing centers, and it is a first come first serve kind of deal.
If you are like me, then you are always on the lookout for any resource that could help you to pass the FSOT. Either videos, reading material, online courses, practice tests, or other. There is a lot of information out there, and if you are not careful, then it can be overwhelming. However, whenever I find something that I think stands out from the pack, I like to provide it to you.
Examples in the past include listening to podcasts (like NPR), watching online videos by Crash Course, and practicing for the test on FSO Compass.
In continuing with the sharing, I’d like to introduce you to ProCon.org.
Pros and cons to controversial issues
First, thanks and a shoutout to u/formereconfso for posting the link to Reddit, which is how I discovered the site.
So what is ProCon.org?
ProCon is doing what many bodies of information are unable to be, nonpartisan, straightforward, and a source to inspire critical thinking. This is indeed a breath of fresh air.
Here is their mission statement:
Promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan, primarily pro-con format.
To maintain their mission statement, they stick to the following core operating principals:
- Maintain strict nonpartisanship
- Keep our presentations understandable and direct
- Ensure ease of navigation and accessibility
- Be totally transparent about our methodology and organization
- Under-promise, over-deliver
After some introductory digging, they are doing a great job.
For each issue, they provide background information, the leading arguments for and against the issue, additional statements or metrics on the subject, quotes, reader comments, and more.
This is awesome material!
Let’s use an example to help visualize how ProCon works, with the following question (source linked):
“Should more gun control laws be enacted?”
Here are the background information and the top three pro and con argument statements to the question.
The United States has 120.5 guns per 100 people, or about 393,347,000 guns, which is the highest total and per capita number in the world. 22% of Americans own one or more guns (35% of men and 12% of women). America’s pervasive gun culture stems in part from its colonial history, revolutionary roots, frontier expansion, and the Second Amendment, which states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Proponents of more gun control laws state that the Second Amendment was intended for militias; that gun violence would be reduced; that gun restrictions have always existed; and that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, support new gun restrictions.
Opponents say that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns; that guns are needed for self-defense from threats ranging from local criminals to foreign invaders; and that gun ownership deters crime rather than causes more crime.
- The Second Amendment is not an unlimited right to own guns.
- More gun control laws would reduce gun deaths.
- High-capacity magazines should be banned because they too often turn murder into mass murder.
- The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects individual gun ownership.
- Gun control laws do not deter crime; gun ownership deters crime.
- Gun control laws infringe upon the right to self-defense and deny people a sense of safety.
Two important notes.
First, there are 15 pro and con arguments presented on the site for this question, and I am only listing the top three.
Second, each argument comes with a reason for the statement. These reasons are not written above, because they can be rather long. Instead, I very much encourage you to go and read them.
How ProCon can help you on the FSOT essay
The assessors of the FSOT essay section are looking for two skills in your essay submission.
- Are you a good English language writer?
- Are you good at putting together a well-constructed argument?
The reason for the first one is apparent… you will write a lot as an Officer in the Foreign Service, they need to know you can do this before moving forward.
As for the second one, there is one crucial thing you need to remember. The essay does not grade on the argument that you write. The BEX want to see that you can write a well-constructed argument. This is critical! Do not write an argument that you think they want to read. Write what you believe in, it will be much stronger.
I’ve written before about the essay format, so I am not going to dig deep here. However, the basics to how I think a robust FSOT essay looks like, and how I have found success, is to do the following:
- Write a five paragraph essay,
- Have a clearly defined thesis statement,
- Two statements in favor of your argument,
- One counter statement (i.e., opponents to my argument think this, but here is why they are wrong)
So, if you are asked the question on gun control, then it should be easy enough to see how to insert the above statements into your FSOT essay.
Intro: there should be more/less gun control laws
p1: pro/con two from above
p2: pro/con three from above
p3: people who would argue against me would state pro/con one, but they are wrong because of the pro/con one
conclusion: as such, there should be more/less gun control laws because of 1, 2, and 3.
The above is your outline with your main statements. For each paragraph add 2-3 more sentences that support your explanation. For guidance, use the supporting arguments to each statement listed on the ProCon.org pages.
Taking it to the next level
If you do the above, you will be well on your way to finding success on the FSOT essay.
However, to do well, you need to practice the above. To do that, I highly suggest using the FSOT essay simulator on FSO Compass.
It helps to mimic the FSOT essay with random prompts, timers, character limit, and more. Practicing for questions you know are coming is helpful, but the problem is that you know they are coming. The essay simulator helps you improve by not knowing what the prompt is ahead of receiving it, just like the real FSOT test.
A final note
ProCon.org is a great resource, and I hope you find it of use.
I do want to provide a cautionary note though, and that is not to get lost in all the information provided. Remember that the FSOT is about the breadth and not the depth of a topic. Know a few primary arguments for some of the main themes of discussion right now, but leave it at that. You have a minimal amount of time on the FSOT essay section. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
As always take the principle of K.I.S.S.: keep it simple stupid.
I look forward to your thoughts on this resource!
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.