Before I became a journalist, my other dream job was to join the U.S. Foreign Service. For those unfamiliar, the Foreign Service (FS) is the diplomatic corps of the U.S. State Department, representing US interests abroad. Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) spend the majority of their career overseas at one of the 265 U.S. Embassies or consulates around the globe.
The path to becoming an FSO is not easy. The entire process can take a year or longer including several exams and other hurdles including a big commttment of time and money.
The first major hurdle to becoming an FSO is the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), previously known as the Foreign Service Written Exam. In December 2007, with my journalism career flailing and the future uncertain, I took the exam on a whim. Other than skimming over the U.S. Constitution, I did not study at all. I passed. The next step is the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), in which a panel of mystery people examine the entire package of those who passed the exam including test scores, resume, recommendations, background, skills, and other mystery assets. I passed that too, and was invited to take the day-long oral exam in Chicago, which is officially known as the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA). I flunked...by 0.2 points.
After several months of soul-searching and "what-ifs", I decided to try again. With the journalism industry in complete upheaval, and the election of Barack Obama to the White House, I'm even more determined than ever to join the Foreign Service. So, here I am, back at Square One. If you flunk any part of the FSO process, you have to start from the beginning.
So early Wednesday morning -- just a few hours after Obama's historic election victory -- I was back at the U.S. Embassy in London to re-take the exam. The exam was essentially the same format as the test I took last year except for one huge difference: IT WAS FRACKING EASY! This test was 10x easier than the test I took last year. Some questions were so ridiculously easy that I actually laughed out loud during the exam, on par with "Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb." I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. (Note: All test-takers must sign a non-disclosure agreement which prevents us from discussing specifics of the test).
Unlike last year, I actually studied for the FSOT a little bit this time ...for one week. I prepared for theFSOT by reading "Don't Know Much About American History;" re-read the U.S. Constitution and memorized the amendments; reading the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and The Washington Post on a daily basis (which I do anyway), downloading and taking the ACT FSOT practice test, taking the FSOT practice tests on TestPrepReview.com (which contains several glaring mistakes) and playing the Traveler IQ geography games on Facebook! That's it. I think I kicked arse, especially on the English Comprehension section. Now comes the hard part: waiting 6 to 8 weeks for my test results.
If you're considering taking the FSOT, the only piece of advice I could give is: be well-read. Read, read and then read some more! The test covers a huge range of subjects including American and World history, current events, geography, economics, math, management, computer skills, English & grammer, anthropology, pop culture and more. The test is completely random and unpredictable -- think "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or "Jeopardy!" In fact, it's so broad that ever-changing that it's almost impossible to study for, which is why I feel that studying for weeks and months like some folks do is a complete waste of time. You either know this stuff or you don't. Anyone who paid half-attention in high school and reads a daily newspaper could pass the Foreign Service exam. Now the Oral Exam, that's a different matter.