The Foreign Service Exam

Working abroad can be a rewarding, yet challenging, career option. Those who wish to pursue a career in Foreign Service need to exhibit the appropriate skills, knowledge, and traits in addition to passing the Foreign Service exam. This exam asks questions that gauge each candidate’s abilities to pursue one of the five Foreign Service career paths. This exam requires preparation and patience to pass. 

What Does the Foreign Service Exam Look for? 

The Foreign Service exam is looking for more than just specific knowledge needed to serve as a Foreign Service officer. The questions in each part of this exam are designed to identify the presence of 13 qualities in individual candidates:

  • Composure
  • Objectivity and Integrity
  • Cultural Adaptability
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Experience and Motivation
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Information Integration and Analysis
  • Working with Others
  • Initiative and Leadership
  • Judgment
  • Resourcefulness
  • Planning and Organizing


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The first three sections of the test will determine basic levels of knowledge in a variety of areas, including geography, math, and politics. The final section is an essay test that will gauge your understanding of the English language and establish whether you possess the attributes necessary for a Foreign Service job.

Register for the Test Once you have decided to pursue a career in Foreign Service, you need to register for the test. The first step is to choose a career path:

  • Consular Officer – This position works in border control issues, including international adoptions and the fight against human trafficking.
  • Economic Officer – Economic officers work together with foreign governments in the areas of technology, trade, economics, energy, environmental issues, and science.
  • Management Officer – A position in management is a leadership position, overseeing all aspects of foreign embassies.
  • Political Officer – Political officers perform political analysis and handle communications and negotiations with foreign government agencies.
  • Public Diplomacy Officer – This position strives to create and maintain a diplomatic relationship with foreign countries, utilizing American ideas and policies.

After you choose a career path, you will not be able to change it. Potential candidates can then register online to take the Foreign Service exam. Eight-day testing windows are available three times each year. Seats can be reserved four to five weeks prior to the testing window.

Preparing for the Foreign Service Exam Preparing for the Foreign Service exam is critical for your success. Study guides are available from the ACT, the administering body for this test. This study guide includes Foreign Service exam sample questions so you know what to expect when taking the test. You may also want to review textbooks and other information obtained while earning your degree. The Department of State may offer an FSOT information session near you. Before the test, it is important to get plenty of rest and eat well. As you prepare to attend the testing session, make sure you bring your admission letter, which you should have printed when you reserved your seating, and appropriate identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID. If you cannot make the test, remember to cancel at least 48 hours before your scheduled test to avoid paying the $50 fee.

Taking the Exam The total time required to complete the exam is three hours. During that time, you will take three multiple-choice tests and one essay test, which lasts 30 minutes. The three multiple-choice tests cover:

  • Basic job knowledge
  • Biographic information
  • English expression and usage

The essay test will consist of two randomly generated essay questions. Keep in mind the essay portion is scored on English usage, development of your ideas, clarity, and structure. All testing materials are completed on a computer.

Foreign Service Exam Sample Questions Reviewing sample questions can give you a basic understanding of what to expect on the test. Below are some Foreign Service exam sample questions you may encounter:

Which of the following amendments to the Constitution affect the political process by declaring that the Federal government should not interfere with the press?

  1. First
  2. Fifth
  3. Seventh
  4. None—no amendment refers to the press

The most economical route for an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to world export markets would cross:

  1. Iran
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Uzbekistan
  4. Pakistan

The test scores for seven students are 90, 90, 70, 40, 80, 90, and 100. What is the median score for this group?

  1. 70
  2. 80
  3. 85
  4. 90

The Freedom of Information Act, enacted by the Congress in 1966, was expanded in 1996 to encompass:

  1. Audiotaped transcripts
  2. Supreme Court deliberations
  3. Electronic records
  4. Presidential campaign contributions

Test Results Because the Foreign Service exam is completed via computer, tests are scored as you complete them. You must receive the established passing score on each multiple-choice section before moving on to the next one. You are required to pass all three multiple-choice sections to be eligible to take the essay section. Your Foreign Service exam results will be emailed to you within three to five weeks. If you pass, you will receive instructions for proceeding through the process, moving on to the personal narrative, Qualifications Evaluation Panel, and Foreign Service Oral Assessment. These additional steps will further evaluate your skills, knowledge, and assets.