Foreign Service Exam Information

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United States Foreign Service Officers are members of the United States Foreign Service, along with Foreign Service Nationals and Specialists. They serve in over 165 countries throughout the world, carrying out foreign policy and helping to maintain diplomatic relations.

Their work involves administrative management, consular services, political and economic reporting and analysis, and public diplomacy.

Most Foreign Service Officers spent much of their careers in US Embassies or Consulates outside of the United States.

If you are interested in a career as a diplomat, the first step is to take the Foreign Service Exam, which is held throughout the year. The exam is held in cities throughout the United States, as well as at American Consulates and Embassies abroad.

Foreign Service Officer Application Process

Registration for the Foreign Service Office Test must be completed online. You will need to complete:

  • An Application Form in which you provide factual background information including school and work history.
  • A Personal Narrative in which you answer questions describing the knowledge, skills, and abilities you would bring to the Foreign Service.
  • Applicants must have an email address to use throughout the selection process.
    Interested candidates can review the Foreign Service Exam Selection Process, which explains in detail how the examination process works. The guide contains information regarding registration for the test, sample test and essay questions, testing for individuals with disabilities, and how to prepare for the test.
    There are no educational requirements to take the exam; however, most candidates are widely-read or have taken a variety of college courses.

    Eligibility requirements include:

    • Between 20 and 59 years old on the date of examination. Appointment to the Foreign Service must take place before the candidate's 60th birthday
    • A citizen of the United States
    • Available for worldwide assignment, including Washington, D.C.

    The Hiring Process

    The process is competitive, so it's important to prepare as thoroughly as possible for the exam.

    Applicants for Foreign Service Officers go through a written exam, an oral assessment, and a security background check.

    It is estimated that less than two percent of applicants become Foreign Service Officers. Candidates that have passed all requirements and clearance tests receive a score and are sorted for their respective career tracks.

    However, up to five thousand applicants can take the Exam during each test window, most are not selected to continue on to the Oral Assessment stage which is the second step in the process.

    Foreign Service Exam Study Guides

    The State Department sanctioned Study Guide helps candidates prepare for the exam. There are also many websites that have similar guides to assist applicants in preparing for the exam with the hope of becoming a Foreign Service Officer.

    Depending on the career track of choice, these study guides help explain the application process, what to expect on the test, how to write an effective personal narrative, how to prepare for the oral assessment, and an explanation of how the exam is evaluated. Many also explain the Medical and Security Clearances and what to expect heading into them, along with extra tips and trainings. 

    Foreign Service Officer Testing

    The Foreign Service Officer Test will be offered quarterly. Test registration closes 48 hours prior to the opening of the test window, which is an eight-day window, with multiple test times. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis at over 200 test centers.

    The exam measures a candidate's knowledge and understanding of a range of subjects determined by a job analysis to be important to perform the tasks required of a Foreign Service officer. Test results will be forwarded to a Qualifications Evaluation Panel for review. Selected candidates will be invited to the Oral Assessment.

    Foreign Service Oral Assessment

    The Oral Assessment is conducted in Washington, D.C. and in various major cities around the United States. This day-long program seeks to determine whether you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are essential to the performance of Foreign Service work.

    It includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise.

    After passing the oral assessment, the rigorous process continues. The next steps include a background investigation, a meeting with a Final Review Panel, medical clearance, and then placement on a list of eligible hires you will be placed on a rank-ordered Register. Note that, depending on your place on the Register and the number of Foreign Service Officers needed, it is still possible that you may not receive an offer of employment. Finally, for those who are successful, it's a Foreign Service career with the US Department of State.

    Once officially employed, new officers are hired on a limited assignment that cannot last longer than five years. They are required to be proficient in foreign language and transition into the other Foreign Service sectors before becoming tenured employees.

    Suggested Reading: Overseas Employment Opportunities