Sample Fsot Essay Topics

Foreign Service Written Exam- The Essay

Ok, so here we go. I'm not exactly going to cover in detail WHAT the test deals with for each section. There are plenty of other sources, including the official ones, which do that. I should also preface all of this with the fact that I do not actually grade the tests nor have I ever been an examiner for the orals. Everything I write is from my own perspective. I did however find the written exam for the foreign service fairly easy as did most of my classmates who took the test. I'm guessing that this is likely due to our recent familiarity with standardized testing and backgrounds. In any case, I've gone over why I thought the test was so easy and tried to pull out all the assorted tips that I think my classmates and I take for granted when it comes to testing.


I did SAT tutoring for a while and just like the SAT writing section, this essay tests the same concepts. It doesn't matter what you write, but how you write it. You'll be given a prompt and asked to argue one side of a discussion or to support one perspective. The graders don't care what you write, but whether or not you can articulate your thoughts convincingly.

In general, if you are recently out of school or have gone through any type of standardized testing, the grades you got and scores you received on the written part of the test should be a good indicator of how you'll do on this.


If you manage to nail the structure, you've got a good start going into the essay. The structure should essentially be introduction-->thesis sentence at the end of that introduction-->paragraph 1 that supports an aspect of your thesis and provides evidence for why that aspect is important/true-->paragraph 2 doing the same thing-->paragraph 3 if you have room-->conclusion-->concluding sentence that either rewords your thesis or is able to expand upon the bigger picture (aka why your thesis is important at all).

Your introduction should be relatively short (3-5 sentences). Your conclusion should be short (3-5 sentences). What's important here are the supporting paragraphs in the middle. It's in those paragraphs where you can tell if someone can write concisely, articulate their thoughts in a logical manner, and be convincing.


There are some tips that say to outline your thoughts on paper before starting the essay. This is a personal thing, but I would not use your time writing on paper unless you are much more comfortable doing so than on a computer. I outline briefly on the word document and then am able to copy+paste and move thoughts around as needed. Writing on a paper is valuable time and you'll still need to transfer those thoughts onto the computer.

Support whatever side you can come up with the most arguments for. This may not necessarily be the side you actually support. Remember, it doesn't matter what you write, but how you write it. I actually did this on my test.

For extra points, don't just support your argument, but refute the positions against it! For example, if your thesis is "dogs are better than cats," don't just write about how "dogs are better than cats." Try to include a section against cats. In other words, don't just avoid the other sides of the debate, actually write about why they're not as strong as the side you're arguing. This makes your own argument stronger.

Write from the middle of the essay first. Do this if you're not good at coming up with a thesis or introduction. In other words, don't spend valuable time trying to come up with a thesis if you're stumped. You want to write! Write! Write! Just start writing the supporting paragraphs supporting an argument. Since the paragraphs should cover one aspect of your argument, you can summarize the aspects you covered into a thesis. There's not a lot of time to spend staring at your computer. If you start writing and recording your thoughts, it's much more likely that your brain will be able to form connections and come up with a paper than if you just sit there.

Get in the whole structure! This is a tip from the SAT tutoring. If you just flat out run out of time, try not to just stop in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. Dash out a concluding sentence. Try to show the graders that at least you know what the structure of an essay should look like.

Time to review!! Depending on how fast you read, leave time to review your essay. This should go without saying, but grammar and spelling mistakes are a big no-no. To be on the safe side, move your lips when reading. When reading just in your head, our brains are apt to correct mistakes instantly so that you don't realize them.

Stay logical!! Explain your thinking. This essay (as well as portions of the oral) test whether or not people can follow your thoughts/how well you can explain to get from point A to point B. If the examiners can't understand how you got to your conclusion or why your second paragraph supports your thesis or even ties to it....then no good!

Remember, there's no tricks here. Stay simple and stay logical. If you've got a complicated idea, make sure you can explain it simply in a easy to follow manner. Otherwise, just go with the easiest arguments. Remember! It's all in how you say it!

As an aside, the State Department is a stickler for formating. There are all sorts of specific formats for different papers and how you should be writing. Not to say that the substance isn't important, but there's definitely an emphasis on the how.

How to become a Foreign Service Officer: Part II--how to prepare for the FSOT

Last night was every parent's worst nightmare. Around 3 am, we were woken up by some plaintive cries for "mama" from Son's room. Since I am such a great mom, I immediately woke up a very disoriented and disheveled Diplomat and told him to go into Son's room while he was gesticulating incoherently at me go to there instead. Finally, he went and appeared to be trying to procure water for the child. Then it sounded like he was taking him into the living room for no reason at all besides continuing to be very disoriented. Knowing that was a bad idea and will only serve to wake up Son more, I immediately got up and went to his room to find both of them sitting forlornly on Son's bed. All of a sudden, the Diplomat shrieked, "There is blood all over his face!!!" Freaked out, I grabbed the child who was indeed bleeding profusely from somewhere for no apparent reason. In the darkness, it appeared that his mouth was filled with blood but after some frantic search on his face, it turned out that his nose was gushing blood like a faucet.

In the ensuing circus, all family members took their due part--I was confusedly trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding, alternating between barking orders at the even more disoriented Diplomat, and cooing at the crying Son trying to stuff some cotton in his nostril while he was trying to take it out. The Diplomat was running back and forth between the kitchen, the bedroom and the bathrooms fetching cotton balls, paper towels, books on child rearing filled with super useful advice, water, ice packs, ice cubes without a plastic bag, ice cubes wrapped in saran wrap (???), more paper towels. Son kept on screaming clearly frightened by the blood running into his mouth. And finally, Fat Cat decided it would be in every one's best interest and well being if he just tried to sit in my lap along with the frantic Son and purr demurely. After 10 mins of pure chaos, we finally read what to do--here it is for your benefit:

How to stop a toddler (and assuming everyone else's) nose bleed:
1. Press both sides of the nose bridge with your fingers
2. Tilt the head forward so that the blood does not flow into the throat (but will drip happily onto the white polyester carpet never to be washed off again)
3. Try to apply ice (which the child will desperately try to get rid of)
4. Keep telling the child how great he is doing, what a hero he is, how tomorrow you will tell everybody how awesome he has been--anything to stop his crying as that will tend to increase the blood flow
5. Read a book for him or put him up to watch a movie--anything to keep him upright
6. Go crazy for the next two hours as he refuses to go back to sleep and demands more books to be read, more water to be drank and more mommy sleeping in his bed while he grins widely in your face all night long.
7. Collapse half-unconscious in your own bed at 5.30 am.
8. Go late to Bangla class.
We still don't know why his nose bled--whether he fell from the bed or something else. It was a really scary experience. He is 100% a-ok today.

Now, as promise, detailed information on How to prepare for the FSOT:

I was almost as scared when I took the FSOT as I was last night. The exam has 4 sections: so-called Job Knowledge, English reading comprehension and grammar, a behavioral interview equivalent and an essay.

1. Job Knowledge--this section tests your knowledge of American society, politics and political system, government, culture, health care system and some current events; world geography and history, economics and math and stats.
(a) The math and stats are really easy and I think all you need to do to prepare is revise how to do averages and percentages mostly.

(b) I spent a huge amount of time learning world history using the AP World History prep book. Big mistake. There were about 3 questions on the subject and none had anything to do with Alexander the Great or the Mogul Empire. Most of the them dealt with fairly recent (past 50-60 years) events. Know major world political events and currents and you will be fine.
(c) I found the American part the most difficult--it tended to ask obscure questions from all areas mentioned above. I strongly suggest knowing the Constitution including ALL amendments by heart, and read some commentary on its content. Use also the following books
American Government, Cliff's Notes, CLEP American Government, Barron's AP U.S. Government and Politics, and whatever else you find in you friendly Barnes and Noble. All of these books have practice tests in the back--take them all and time yourself! As far as American culture goes--well, you either know it or not! My test had questions on jazz, art and popular trivia even. Go figure...
(d) World geography--it is highly likely that a question in this category will be placed in a historical context (like, what is Siam?). Facebook has a cool application where it gives you world geography quizzes, which helps you learn some obscure capitals. Do this for fun while you cram the unpalatable chunks of American governmental system.

2. Biographical section. I cannot stress enough the importance of this section. People tend to overlook it. DON'T! Know your professional and educational history by heart; prepare numerous examples to standard behavioral questions. Practice writing them out under time pressure. Shocking amount of people fail this part of the test. Some of the questions are odd--think outside the proverbial box!

3. English. I found this section to be the easiest. I did not prepare at all for it as I felt that my command of the English language was stupendous (do NOT feel at liberty to post some snarky comments on this subject, please!). I actually thought I had aced the section, I thought it was really easy. I had not. I remain puzzled. For those who are less full of themselves, some suggestions for prep are: Barron's AP English Language and Composition, Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam and the like. Read only the reading comprehension part, and practice, practice, practice!

4. The Essay! Dreaded, feared, badly prepared for, underrated essay. The sad truth is that many conquer the rest of the test and fail miserably the essay for lack of proper prep. The essay will be on a random, although fairly relevant subject. Wiki FSOT had a great site for this section, which also gives you 18 sample topics for practice. It also recommends using the "Five paragraph essay" style, with which I wholeheartedly agree. The most important advice I can give you on the essay is PRACTICE UNDER TIME PRESSURE UNTIL YOU DROP UNCONSCIOUS. Time is the biggest enemy in this section and you can master it only if you practice for at least 2-3 weeks every day prior to the exam. Unless you are awesome, in which case more power to you. Thanks to practicing obsessively, I managed to finish with time to spare and managed to spellcheck. Please, keep in mind that sometimes ACT (who administers the test), will make you write two essays (who knows what they are experimenting with). Only one gets graded.

In conclusion, I can tell you that you can do this! Many people ask how much time one needs--clearly, it depends on your prior knowledge, commitment and attention span. For the average committed person, whose attention span is not that of a fruit-fly, I think 2-3 months of intensive study is good enough. Department of State sells a guide to the test for $2o, which you can download immediately in a PDF format. I strongly suggest buying it.
Also, sign up and be a part of the FSOT yahoo group, where you can bite your nails and have collective nervous breakdowns with a slew of other test takers.

Some logistics
You will be taking the test on a computer, where the spell checking programs will be turned off. There have been plenty of cases where the PC dies, loses info, what have you. Complain. Not sure what you can achieve that way but do complain. On the multplie choice sections (Job knowledge and English), you can go back and forth between questions within the respective section. So, if you are stumped, guess and move forward, then come back to it if you have time.

Stay tuned for the next installment, which will deal with the QEPs and interim SCNL testing. As usual, if you have questions, ask and I will modify the info accordingly.

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