Taking the Foreign Service Oral Assessment as a College Student

About a week ago in Washington, I got some of the best news of my life. I had actually passed the Oral Assessment on my first attempt! I was incredibly lucky to score a 5.6 for the public diplomacy career track, passing the group exercise, case management, and structured interview sections. I’m planning on taking the German language phone test in a month or so, which would bump me up to a 5.77 if I pass. Once all my clearances are in, I’ll hopefully receive an official job offer and invitation to start A-100. (ich drücke die Daumen! fingers crossed!)

Though I can’t go into the details of my test due to the non-disclosure agreement, I’d like to share some of the preparation strategies that I think really made the difference in my oral assessment score.

  • Utilize the State Department’s official resources for the Orals- including the online Oral Assessment study guide, the in person Diplomat in Residence prep sessions, and the virtual AdobeConnect information sessions. It was extremely helpful for me to be familiar with exactly how the day would play out- how many breaks we get, what we can/cannot bring to the center, etc. Here’s the official study guide: (http://careers.state.gov/uploads/70/c4/70c4fe81ef1513f217ef1e52153804db/FSO-OA-Study-Guide-May-2014.pdf)
  • Join the FSOA Yahoo group (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/fsoa/info), if only to use the amazingly helpful study materials. I think I wrote just about every practice case management exercise available, which made writing in during the test more of a routine. I also met 5-6 times in person with a study group to practice interview questions and the group exercise. Practice presenting your project and achieving consensus as a group several times so that you know what you’re being judged on during the test.
  • If you’re a college student like me, take advantage of any class or campus activity where you have to demonstrate the same skills as the 13 dimensions! I started treating every class presentation or group project as a practice for the FSOA. What also helped me was taking several writing intensive classes the semester before my exam, improving my policy memo-style writing for the case management exercise.
  • For the structured interview, make flashcards and rehearse several stories from your past experiences that show your cultural competency, composure, and other dimensions being tested. I found the excel spreadsheet of potential interview questions on the Yahoo FSOA group to be extremely useful for interview practice. Even answering the questions to myself out loud made me much more comfortable with how I would respond to the assessors. In the end, the test day was one of the best interview experiences I’ve had because I felt very prepared in my answers.

I’m still somewhat in a state of shock that I actually passed the FSOA on my first candidacy. I registered to take the FSOT, the written test, just this June. It was one of my goals to get to the Orals, though I was happy as a college senior to make it through any step of the process. The moment where the assessors briefed several of us together that we had ALL passed is going to be one of my favorite memories of all time.

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