Hello World! (The obligatory first post)

I suppose summing up the road thus far is as good a way to begin as any. A little over a year I took the Foreign Service Officer’s Test. Those that know me, know this wasn’t my first attempt at wrangling the dreaded FSOT. I first took the exam in 2003, 2 months before I graduated college. Being a college senior I was completely full of myself and convinced I had at least the written exam in the bag. I of course failed the essay (the part I didn’t study for), which was probably a much-needed blow to my ego.  It’s good to get knocked down a peg or two periodically, builds character. In 2005 my ego had recovered enough to give it another go. Apparently I needed more  character though because this time I failed the multi-guess, serves me right for not studying a lick.

Lisa vs. The Written Exam

Last year I decided it was time to finally make a serious go at it and keep trying until I passed. The process changed between 2005 and 2008 so this time it wasn’t as simple as just filling out my name and address on an application screen and selecting a test date. The Foreign Service actually wanted me to write 6 essays for a Qualifications Evaluation Process. After several weeks of agonizing over my essays I popped them into the application and eagerly awaited my e-mail inviting me to schedule my test. On July 17, 2008 I finally sat down and took the written exam after a 3 year hiatus. About a month later I got back my results telling me I had passed and shortly after I got my score breakdown. This time I got a 10 out of 12 on the essay and around 168 overall on the exam. I think what made the biggest difference for me between 2005 and 2008 was taking several economics courses in preparation for graduate school, following the news, and just being older and more experienced. That last one certainly helped improve my score in the “bio” section.

Lisa Vs. The QEP

The second step of the Foreign Service entrance process is the “Qualifications Evaluation Panel.” This is probably the most mysterious part of the long and grueling process. Unlike the written exam and the oral assessment you are given no feedback or score break down; it is a simple pass or fail. I learned that I passed the written exam in mid-August. About five days after I got the notice, someone from the board of examiners called my current supervisor for a reference check since I had listed him as a verifier for one of my narrative essays. Then the waiting game began and I had to sweat it out until December 8th when I learned I had been invited to the oral assessment. I had a math teacher who used to say “sometimes even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.” I guess this squirrel got lucky and found an acorn, because I still don’t have any idea how they score the QEP!

Lisa Vs. the Oral Assessment

I scheduled my test for mid-March of 2009 and spent the time in the interim practicing with a study group. Working with a group helped me immeasurably particularly in the group exercise and the structured interview sections.If nothing else the group helped me get comfortable speaking in front of other people, something which can be a bit of a challenge for this introvert! The test day itself was long and exhausting. I’ve already written a recap for the yahoo group which I may post here as well, so I won’t get into to much detail. At the end of the day though I was fairly certain I hadn’t passed. I didn’t feel good about my group exercise and I thought my structured interview had been a bit of a mixed bag. When I was the third person called out of the room I was certain bad news was on its way. It was  a shock when they started leading other people into the room with me. Based on past recaps I knew that they tended to group the passers. I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up a bit when they delivered the good news. I finished the day with a 5.5 and passed the Structured Interview and Group Exercise sections. I failed the Case Management which was the one section I had felt okay on. Shows what I know! I was just hoping for a 5.3 (passing), so anything over was just bonus points!

Post Oral-Assessment

After the oral assessment you have to go through a background investigation to receive a TS clearance and a number of medical exams in order to obtain worldwide medical clearance. My first job out of college was working as a security clearance investigator for another agency, so I was well familiar with the process (which doesn’t make it any less stressful). Since I live in the DC area I was able to go to the State Department’s medical clinic and have my tests done there. I think my “favorite” part of that was the DNA cards. The cards were optional but since they were taking my blood anyway I figured why not. The cards are so my DNA is on file and they can identify me from whatever blood splatters or pieces I leave behind in the event something happens. Comforting huh? I thought so. I should preface this by stating I am one of “those” people that medical professionals love. I get faint at sight of needles in me. Needles themselves don’t bother me, it’s the being a human pincushion part that apparently makes it difficult for me to remain upright. Yes, I am a big wimp. I embrace it. I don’t scream or shout or cry, no I just keel over (I like to try to maintain some dignity, thank you). I was feeling pretty good though after they took my blood and I was about to be proud of myself because I thought for once I wasn’t going to pass out! Then the nurse splattered my blood on the DNA card, right in front of me…. I’ll let you use your imagination what I did next. It was another fine Lisa moment.

After all the tests I received my medical clearance in April followed by my TS and an offer for the August A-100 (orientation) training class in June. I deferred one class to give my current employer a little more time to find a replacement for me. After all the tests, clearances, ect., this September, nearly 7 years after I first heard of the Foreign Service, I’m finally starting my dream job! Hopefully this blog will be a little more interesting once I actually start this fall, and be a good way to keep everyone updated!

2 Responses to “Hello World! (The obligatory first post)”


  • In order to complete the record, you should mention how Stacy and I also went thru the process with you – reviewing and making suggestions on your resume, listening to your worries first about passing the written test, then the QEP and finally the oral assessment. For our efforts we do get to go to your graduation ceremony!

    I’ll be checking frequently and adding tidbits to make sure the record is complete!

  • I figured you would keep me honest! Your input was invaluable–particularly the advice that I should just keep worrying since it seemed to be working. 😉

Leave a Reply