Monday, January 4, 2010

Foreign Service Written Exam- So What Do You Know?

So besides the essay, what's on the written exam?

  • So What Exactly Do You Know?
  • How Well Do You Know English?
  • Who Are You as a Person?
Ok, so these obviously aren't the titles of the sections. But you should know what the test covers already! If you don't, you're either 1. Going to pass regardless of reading this or 2. Going to fail, because you have no idea what's on the test.

So What Exactly Do You Know?

This is the section that most people think of when they hear about the foreign service written exam. It's like a jeopardy game covering U.S. government, culture, history, geography, management issues, economics, etc. What's important to realize here is that the exam tests breadth, but not depth. In other words, you're not going to need to know any one issue in great detail. What you will need to know is some generalized knowledge about a lot of issues. This usually works in your favor I think. Because the test covers so many things, there's no fear of completely failing the test just because you (for instance) completely suck at economics. You can always make up the points elsewhere. Obviously, you can't suck everywhere, but the test gives you some leeway.

I did not study for the written and I would not advise buying a study book for this test.

What I will recommend is that you read the newspaper. You don't need to be reading every article, but at least scan the headlines. Know what's going on in the world. Again though, breath and not depth. For instance, the test is unlikely to ask you why two countries are disagreeing over some topic. It's more likely that it'll just ask you which country is disagreeing over another country over this topic (something you could pick up just by glancing at a headline).

I can't emphasize reading the newspaper enough. Most people I know who passed the test didn't exactly study for it; they are however are voracious international affairs readers. Most are also some kind of history buff and have a good background (or at least strong memory of high school) for U.S. history.

Other tips

Know who's responsible for what! From the branches of the government to the committees of Congress to different departments/agencies. You'll be representing your country so it'd be good for you know what in your country is responsible for what!

Don't go memorizing maps. The time you spent trying to memorize every country and capital in the world won't be worth the one question that might pop up (remember breadth, so there won't be a hundred questions on geography). If you are going to study maps, I'd suggest just knowing large deserts, forests, oceans, etc. Just enough so that you know where the Gobi is vs. the Sahara.

If you really want to brush up on U.S. history, I'd suggest the Cliffs Notes version. You don't need to read a 300 page book of U.S. history, you want just the highlights. Know what others would consider important events in our U.S. history and what those events are. Know the important documents (Constitution, amendments, etc.) Essentially, just think about it as if you're going to go overseas as a U.S. representative, what should you be able to answer about the U.S.

I recommend the same Cliffs Notes strategy for any economic/management principles. I have zero background in management and my economics knowledge was pretty much nonexistent after high school. I pretty much had no idea what was going on in those questions, but there weren't many of them (breadth!) and the ones that were there were pretty general (at least for economics, I have no idea what was going on in the management ones).

10 comments:

  1. I absolutely agree with these tips. I've taken the FSWE several times and there's really no way to "cram" for it. You just need to be an extremely knowledgeable person who has a strong sense of current events, history, and some trivia thrown into the mix.

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