Saturday, April 3, 2010

A note on preparation

I took the FSWE (foreign service written exam) in October of '09, and passed the orals roughly 5 months later.  I started studying for the written a few months before I took it, however, so I've got about 7 months invested in this process, which is about halfway to A-100, by my reckoning (inshallah).

During that 7 months I went from knowing effectively nothing about the service, to being completely and irreparably enamored with it.  I also picked up just enough knowledge to pass, which is presumably what you are hoping to do, reader, and why you are here this balmy morning.  All my resources were free, and as far as I know, all of them have been listed elsewhere, but here's yet another collection, compiled for some future test taker.  Since my wife is glaring at me from across the room, we'll restrict today to the written portion only.

  • New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
    • This is an excellent resource for showing you your weaknesses in historical knowledge.
  • The Economist 
    • The Economist and I are not speaking lately, but it's still good stuff.  Start reading the headlines, at least.
  • Various Personality Quizzes
    • There is no way to "study" for the Biographical questionnaire portion of the test, but you can certainly practice answering personality-style questions consistently.  Remember, if you are asked to "list" examples or qualifications, do just that.  Don't write full sentences, as it just slows you down.  
  • Yahoo Foreign Service Groups
    • The time to join is now!  The yahoo groups are the single, central repository of information pertaining to the FS for the last decade.  8 people passed when I took the OA, and all 8 were members of the Yahoo group.  This becomes more and more true every year, so get on it.  For the Written, you will want to join the yahoo essay group, and the FSOT group.  Wait on the OA group until you get results back, unless you want to freak the hell out.
  • Geography Quizzes
    • These are super fun.  Are they helpful?  Certainly as helpful as reading headlines from the Economist...
This should help get you started, friends.  Unfortunately, the dreaded "job knowledge" section is nigh impossible to study for, if you're starting from nothing.  A big part of test prep is simply keeping your ears open, which is presumably a big part of being a good officer as well.  Like every part of the exam, this section is highly selective, and reportedly passes about 60% of applicants. 

We'll continue in this vein in a few days, once I fly back home and begin the waiting game wherein I scour the internet for something interesting to share with you all.  


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