How do I Prepare for the Foreign Service Test?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Job seekers interested in working as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) for the United States Department of State go through a long and tedious hiring process. The first step is to pass the Foreign Service Test. Notoriously difficult, the test covers a wide variety of areas. Because of the comprehensive nature of the test, the amount of preparation needed to pass is highly dependent on the education, life experiences and capabilities of each person. Before learning about the best way to prepare for the Foreign Service Test, it is important that you know which areas are covered on the exam.

Although becoming an FSO does not have specific education requirements, you must have a broad working knowledge of communications, computers, world history, United States government, culture and society, geography, mathematics, statistics and management. Additionally, your English grammar and writing skills must be above average. To acquire broad knowledge about the U.S. government, history and geography, you must take time to keep abreast of current events by reading publications such as Newsweek, Time, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and reading a major daily newspaper such as the New York Times.


The State Department has a list of recommended reading, which can be found on its website. This list is not comprehensive, but instead, meant to be used as a guide which offers you examples of the types of books you should be reading in each of subject areas covered. If you are not sure where to start, consider choosing the subject you are least familiar with to help bring you up to speed. Some examples of books on the recommended reading list are Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin and Immigration Stories, edited by David A. Martin and Peter H. Schuck.

In addition to being well-read to prepare for the Foreign Service Test, you may obtain a study guide from the State Department. They offer a downloadable and paper study guide for purchase, which contains sample questions and more specific information on the areas that will be tested. If you are a student or are interested in taking courses to help you acquire additional knowledge to prepare for the Foreign Service Test, the State Department also has a list of recommended courses on its website. Aside from English composition and economics, most of the recommended courses are political science courses such as U.S. foreign policy, international relations, comparative politics and U.S. political systems.


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