How to Study for the FSOT

How to Study for the FSOT

When trying to figure out how to study for the FSOT, I like to tell people that they need to understand that it is a marathon and not a sprint. Covering large swaths of information like world history, math,

In those 65 questions, they could just about ask you anything like what’s the capital of Botswana or who is credited with inventing RAM.

Now, while this may sound like an impossible task to prepare for, it only becomes that way if you don’t have a solid grasp of what’s coming and a strategically developed plan.

Therefore, the best way to prepare for the FSOT is two part:

  1. Understand what the exam entails
  2. Develop a strategic study plan


The FSOT Exam

In truth, I’ve already spent a lot of time discussing the Foreign Service Officer test and its layout, test questions and what you expect. You can access that here.

However, for the purposes of this article, I want you to re-read that section and look at it from the approach of “how am I going to best that thing.” Fortune goes to the prepared.

List Your Weaknesses

The FSOT Knowledge section and English Comprehension portion will cover the following subjects:

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

Take the time to really think about them and list them from strongest to weakest. You can use practice tests to help you figure it out if you don’t know already. As for me, I majored in Physics. Therefore, I knew I wouldn’t need to study as much for math. I was also a U.S. history buff and well versed in modern technology and pop culture. However, I had always struggled with English grammar –as many of your astute readers have already seen. Therefore, I made the following list from weakest to strongest:

  1. English Grammar
  2. Economics
  3. Geography
  4. World History
  5. U.S. Government
  6. Pop Culture
  7. Management
  8. Technology
  9. Statistics
  10. Mathematics

Reading List Preparation

Now that you have a list of your weakest areas, now check out the recommended reading list submitted by the State Department. The issue with this list is that it is too extensive and most likely, you will not have enough time to read it all.

Instead you should match your list with the list of recommended reading and start creating a prioritization of the books you intend to read based off of the two.

To do this effectively though, you’ll need to pick and choose which books you think will adequately address your biggest needs for the test.

Once you have a list of books prioritized, you’ll then need to setup a schedule. If you have 20 books on your list but only 60 days till you take the FSOT, then you’ll need to read 1 book every three days in order to accomplish your study plan. Just knowing this should help you out greatly. If the task cannot be complete, then I recommend you either push back your FSOT date or you remove some books.


In truth, there is a multitude of ways in which you can prepare for the exam. For some, you’ll have access to previous FSOs and can have them give you practice. For others, you are currently attending a University and have access to professors as well as a rich library.

However, regardless of your situation, I still recommend you prioritize your weaknesses, create a list of recommended reading that is based on your ability, and schedule out the books till you take your exam. This is a strong method that has helped many in their path towards passing the test.

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