FSOT Test Format and Layout

FSOT Test Format and Layout

The FSOT exam is a computerized exam that will test the multiple different facets of your knowledge that the State Department believes is critical to being a successful Foreign Service Officer.

To do this, the FSOT is broken up into four different sections:

  • Job Knowledge
  • English Expression and Usage
  • Biographical Information
  • Essay

To help you prepare for the Foreign Service Officer Test, we’ll go through each section and discuss what you can expect from each and how you can prepare for them prior to taking the official FSOT.

FSOT Section: Job Knowledge

The Job Knowledge section is typically the hardest of the four.  So as to prove that you have an all-around understanding of the world around you and a core structure of knowledge in other subjects, the Job Knowledge section will test you in a multitude of subjects like:

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • US Government
  • World History
  • Geography
  • Technology
  • Management techniques
  • Pop culture

This is not something that you can just pick up a book and master in a couple of hours.  This is usually an amalgamation of years of experience or thousands of hours in extra education.  If you aren’t already up to that level, then you need to start and start immediately.   Just remember, the preparing for the FSOT is more like a marathon and less like a sprint.

Looking at the subjects and previous questions, Job Knowledge section of the FSOT is like Jeopardy.  It asks random questions and based on your experience, you’ll either get it, or you won’t.  The frustrating thing about this though is that each time you take the FSOT – or play Jeopardy – you’ll have different results.  Ever see someone on Jeopardy rock it and then in the next episode take 3rd place?  Welcome to the job knowledge section.

So as to get a good jump on it, I highly recommend you take the free practice test and check out a professional study guide.  Both will be critical in your self-assessment as well as your studying.

FSOT Section: English Expression and Usage

The English Expressions section of the FSOT is focused on ACT and SAT level English questions.  They’ll provide a couple of paragraphs and mark certain parts for you to decide what would be the proper grammar.

Basically, you need to be advanced in your grammar and its proper usage.  They are going to test you on random rules and nothing will be obvious.  If it were obvious, every English speaker would nail this part.  But alas, it never is.

To prepare for this section, you need to get familiar with the rules AND their proper use.  For this second part, you can’t just get a normal grammar book and slog through it.  Instead, I recommend getting a grammar book that creates ingenious ways of remembering rules and gives enough practicality that during a highly important and time-critical exam, you are able to work on the fly.

My personal favorite is the Perfect English Grammar book. Study this, and you'll be absolutely fine.

Perfect English Grammar: The Indispensable Guide to Excellent Writing and Speaking
  • Barrett, Grant (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 238 Pages - 03/29/2016 (Publication Date) - Zephyros Press (Publisher)


FSOT Section: Biographic Information

Biographical Information is just that…information about you.

Now, most would recommend that you write something grand and incredible so that you stick out.  BUT be careful about doing this.  Your Biographical Information supplied in this section can and will be used against you in your Oral Assessment (OA).  So, don’t go overboard and not be able to back it up.

Also, one design inside of this is to get you to contradict yourself by answering questions one way and later on being asked that same question but in another round-about way and see if your answers vary.

Be on your guard in this section.  I personally don’t think it has as much weight as the other sections do, but it’s a lot more tricky than people think.

FSOT Essays

For the Essays, you will be asked to answer two questions.  It’s not exactly the answer you give, but the way you deliver it that counts.  You could argue that the sky is green…so long as you have a well-structured article on the matter and follow these simple rules:

  1. Ensure you have a thesis and state it in the first paragraph
  2. Support your argument with 3 paragraphs
  3. Give a counter-argument, but counter that counter argument
  4. Give a conclusion that wraps it up
  5. Take your time and ensure you do not have any grammar or spell mistakes

I personally think that the essays in this day and age are much easier than it used to be.  Years ago, you would have to write your answers by hand and handwriting was an important part.  For me, it was extremely difficult because I have “chicken-scratch” type writing.  So, I was extra slow and had to focus on my writing style more than the words themselves – although

Once you have completed this section of the test, 2 Pearson Vue testers will check your responses.

At this point, you are now complete.  Now, go get a stiff drink and await the news.


  1. Danielle
    July 15, 2018 at 19:24


    Just wanted to let you know that the format of the test has supposedly changed and section three is now Situational Judgement Test instead of Biographical.

Leave a Reply