Foreign Service Officer Test Essay

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.

The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) practice essay simulators were created to help applicants pass the essay section of the FSOT.

If you would like to go directly to the basic practice simulator, the link follows:

FSOT Essay Simulator Basic

If you would like to utilize the pro version, and multiple prompts, please follow this link:

FSOT Essay Section Pro

If you would like to know a little more about its creation, and the two versions that exist, then read on.



I created the initial simulator to help solve some problems I was facing when trying to practice the essay portion of the FSOT.

First, knowing the question ahead of time.

When you are taking the FSOT, you have no idea what the question will be. There are subject areas and discussion topics you can prepare for, but there is no way of determining what prompts you will be asked. The only time you know what you are supposed to answer is when the prompts first appear on the screen.

Practicing for the essay portion, you run into the problem of evaluating the question ahead of time. Even if it is just a minute before you begin writing, you are already “cheating the system”. You see, as soon as the prompts become viewable you immediately begin to formulate a plan and an argument – defeating the purpose of the essay portion of the FSOT.

Need: prompts to appear without prior knowledge.

Second, typing up the essay in Word or a plain-text writing document (Notepad, Notes, etc.).

We have gotten so used to using Word (or a similar product) that we take for granted what it does automatically: capitalizing the first letter of the first word after a sentence, checking for spelling mistakes, providing grammar advice, and so forth. During the test, these features are not provided for you. If you do not practice with a program that does not utilize these features, it will slow you down during the testing period as you quickly realize that these helpful shortcuts are not functional.

You could use Notepad to practice, but the interface is too basic.

Need: a way to write without spell check, grammar check, and for the interface to be slightly better than Notepad.

Third, a stopwatch and 2,800 character limit.

When I practiced, I would tell myself I had 25-30 minutes and that I could not go over this time limit. Most of the time, I kept myself honest, but sometimes I bent my rule by a few seconds so I could fix a grammar mistake I had just seen.

Now this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but the whole point of practicing for the test is conditioning. I want to be prepared as much as possible and bending a rule does not assist me.

Additionally, the timer needs to appear on the screen, so I am aware of the dwindling limit. Using my phone or watch is possible, but phones usually go to standby mode during long countdowns (not to mention they aren’t allowed during testing).

Additionally, a character limit is required. The essay is limited to 2,800 characters including spaces and punctuation.

Need: an auto locking mechanism after 25-30 minutes, a timer to appear on the screen, and for the text area to be limited to 2,800 characters (and for it to show visually).


The Simulators

I took the requirements I listed above and created two essay simulators! They both have similar interfaces, but differ in the testing requirements.

The first simulator parallels how the FSO applicant will be asked to complete the essay section today. Specifically, you are provided with three prompts, have seven minutes to choose one of the three topics and write an outline, and then 25 minutes to write a response. 

The second simulator parallels how the FSO applicants was tested on the essay section of the FSOT. Specifically, you are provided with just one prompt, no other choices, and you have 30 minutes to answer.

The simulators are fantastic in that they are very similar to the actual testing experience!

Additionally, I’ve also incorporated a few goodies I think you will enjoy.

First, there are many prompts! There are currently over 25 prompts available for each simulator, but my goal is to have over 50 soon. 

Second, the prompts are all random! The likelihood of being asked the same set of prompts is very low. If you do, you just need to refresh the page and you should receive a brand new set of prompts.

Third, once you submit, you can quickly select what you have written and paste it in a grammar checking program. I suggest Word or Grammarly, a powerful spelling and grammar checking online software (seriously this program has caught more grammer mistakes than Word).

Check it out!

FSOT Essay Simulator Basic

FSOT Essay Simulator Pro


Wrapping up and a Special Question!

Overall, the pro version of the simulators are a great tool to study for the essay portion of the FSOT, and I know you find them helpful! If you have any suggestions on how it can improve please write a comment below or contact me!

If you like it, then please share (email and social media buttons to the left) with others and let me know in the comments!

One of my goals is to not only to become a Foreign Service Officer but to also help others accomplish this objective. This is the main reason I created these simulators, to assist other applicants.

Again, after searching online, I did not find a FSOT essay simulator and decided to build it.

There are websites out there that will prompt you with questions you might find on the Job Knowledge section, but not the English Expression section, and not the Essay section, that is until now.

Thank you, and I look forward to your feedback!

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