Oct 01 2007
Toe’s note: I have started a series on the Realities of the Foreign Service here.
Like a lot of you who wish to enter the Foreign Service , I didn’t know anything about being a career diplomat before I took the Foreign Service Examination (FSE). I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was already a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who encouraged me to take the exam, narrated to me exciting FSO stories, and gave me helpful tips in taking the exam. I am glad that I have the opportunity now to help those who wish to enter the Foreign Service through my blog. My post entitled Do You Want to be a Foreign Service Officer (FSO)? written in April 2006 has been receiving a steady and considerable number of page views and responses since I first posted it. I have to apologize though to the commenters because I have been remiss in answering your questions. Frankly, the reason is that I am quite overwhelmed. With this page in my blog, I now wish to update the 2006 entry by trying to answer your frequently asked questions.
- When will the 2007 written exams be held?
- I am graduating from high school this year. What is the best course to take in College to prepare myself for the FSE?
- Why do they say that this is one of the most difficult exams?
- How did you prepare for the FSE?
- Do you have tips and tricks up your sleeve, which you can give us?
- How did you schedule your review?
- Can you give me some sample questions?
- What if I don’t pass the exams?
- I am interested in taking the exams but I know that I couldn’t take it anymore this year. When is the next schedule for the FSE? Should the requirements such as the transcript, diploma, birth certificate, etc. be original copies?
- How do you get around politics and the palakasan system in becoming an FSO?
- Before taking the FSE, do I need to take the Civil Service Exam? Do I need a masters degree? Do I need to take a PRC-regulated exam? Do I need work experience?
- Has anyone who read your blog ever passed the FSE?
- I do not know any foreign language. How could I pass the foreign language section of the exam?
- I took the FSE and did not pass. Are there any other options for me to enter the DFA?
- Are there any review materials, review courses, review groups and review centers for the FSE?
Hehe! I know that those who passed the pre-quals are up on their toes waiting for the announcement for the written exams. I suggest that you guys regularly check the DFA website for announcements or call DFA directly.
Unlike the bar, the medical board and other board exams, there is no course requirement for the FSE. Any college degree would do. Guess what was my course in college — Music! I did graduate from law school, but that is definitely not a requirement. In fact, my law education background did not help at all in the FSE. FSOs come from diverse educational backgrounds. There are a few who have taken up foreign service courses in UP (when it was still being offered) or the Lyceum. There are also those who have backgrounds in economics, political science, public administration, commerce, management, among other courses. But there are also those who, like me, come from something very different. I know FSOs who are linguists, nurses, priests, and even veterinarians. Take whatever course interests you so that you would be inspired to study.
The FSE is one of the most difficult exams because of the encompassing questions and the high mortality rate. When I took the exam in 1999, around 3,000 took the pre-qualifying exams. Only more than 300 passed and took the written exams where only 28 passed to go on to the oral exams (I think I was no. 28). In the end, only 27 of us took our oath. The year after that, no one passed the written exams at all. And the year after that, only 3 people passed the written, one of whom was Luli Arroyo. President Arroyo refused to sign her appointment paper so there were only two FSOs in that year.
One can’t really prepare for the FSE for a week or a month or even a year. Your answers in the exams would really come from stock knowledge brought about by a lifetime of reading current events and a wide variety of books on history, economics, social studies, and other subjects.
Nonetheless, it also helped that I prepared as follows (note: this is mostly taken from my comments no. 9 and no. 10 from the original post):
QUALIFYING EXAMS: I bought those NSAT reviewers in National Bookstore and answered the English, Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, Math, etc. parts.
ENGLISH – again, I studied those NSAT reviewers on the English parts.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS – I don’t know anything about Economics, not even the law of supply and demand. But I read this book International Economics (sorry, I forgot the author) which just taught me the basics. I also read the newspapers regularly and Time and Newsweek magazines. I suggest that examinees update themselves on current and major local and global issues.
FILIPINO – I practiced translating parts of the Constitution. I reviewed my balarila using textbooks.
PHILIPPINE CONDITIONS – I read the newspapers regularly and updated myself on current issues. National artists usually come out.
WORLD HISTORY – A difficult part of the exams. I studied using a World History textbook and began reading from the middle ages. I read mostly about Europe and Asia.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE – I chose Spanish. Honey chose Japanese.
ORAL EXAMS: I bought a jusi blouse and prayed a lot.
Oh, I have a few. I am really not the most intelligent person in the world, you know. In fact, I passed law school through the skin of my teeth (see this post). I almost did not pass the FSE, actually. Sometimes, it’s more about how you take the exam and how you answer questions. (Note: this is based mostly on my comments no. 9 and no. 11 in the original post).
a) For the pre-qualifying exams, since this is a multiple-choice exam, be sure to answer everything. Do not leave any blanks. Do not spend too much time on one question, especially the Math questions. If you do not know the answer or if you’re taking too long computing or figuring out the answer, simply tick one letter. If you have no more time and you’re not yet finished, just tick that same letter. Don’t tick different letters randomly. Your chances of getting a few correct answers would increase.
b) For the written exam, write neatly, clearly, and legibly. Even if you get the answer right, if the examiner cannot understand your handwriting, then you just threw away your chance of getting a good score. Remember that the examiner is correcting hundreds of papers.
c) Answer clearly and simply. Your first sentence can be a categorical answer to the question, followed by an explanation supporting your answer, and then a summary. If you know the answer to the question, a short, clear reply would be more convincing.
d) Write in correct English. Use correct grammar, correct punctuations, correct capitalizations, correct spelling, and for goodness’ sake, do not use text-speak. Practice writing in correct English even if you are writing your blog, commenting in blogs, or participating in Internet forums. I noticed that a few commenters do not follow this. I know that this is only a blog and you are probably in a hurry. But where else can you practice this? And if you’re in a hurry now, what more when you’re actually taking the exam?
e) Sometimes, it’s not whether your answer is right or wrong but HOW you answer the question. I remember one question in World History was about the Treaty of Nanking. Duh! I had no idea what that was so I wrote the entire history of Western Europe. It was my longest answer. Nanking is in China but I’m sure I got some points for that.
f) Read the websites of the following: DFA, ASEAN, and WTO.
g) Stick to the basics. Some people read too much of the nitty-gritty. They want to read all the books ever written on history, economics, political science, and other subjects. If you noticed in no. 4 above, I read mostly textbooks. I feel that it;s better to be well-grounded on the basics than to confuse yourself with a lot of detailed facts. If you know your basics, you’d have something to draw from, no matter how particular the questions. If you read a lot of particulars, this would only confuse you.
Also, don’t be a smart aleck. Don’t try to impress with your views about this or that issue, like you’re the only one who knows all the answers. The key is understanding the question and properly using the facts you know in responding to the question.
h) Follow all instructions. Make sure you read them carefully. This is the downfall of a lot of people.
i) For the written, you may wish to bring a sweater. For some reason, the air-conditioning in the DFA auditorium usually gets very cold for the FSO exams.
j) During the exam itself, do not listen to other examinees talking about their answers during break time. It’s very depressing when your answer is different from theirs. You’ll NEVER know who got it right. When I took the exam, there were a lot of arrogant people who were discussing and debating their answers and insisting that they were right. When I got to the oral exams, I never saw any of them. Use the break times for relaxing.
k) The written exams are very taxing. It’s from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon for three straight days. Make sure you get enough sleep.
For the oral exams, if anyone of the readers passes the written exams, only then would I post tips on the orals.
If you haven’t been reading newspapers and international magazines as a matter of habit, I don’t think weeks or even months of review would help. I can’t emphasize enough that the most important thing here is stock knowledge and getting the correct facts on current and major issues. You must have developed a habit of reading extensively and practicing writing your English well. If you do pass the FSE, the life of a career diplomat consists of never-ending, continuing education.
I took my pre-qualifying exams in the morning of my graduation from law school. That was a few weeks after my finals so I was too tired to go back to studying. I only took a few days answering the questions in the NSAT reviewers.
My written exam was in June. As I was reviewing for the bar in September, I had no time at all to study for the FSE. The written exams were held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I took a break from my bar review on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of that week to study for the FSE. The people who became my batchmates in the DFA were not studying for the bar at that time. But they were all busy with work. I think that most of us just took a few days off to study mostly textbooks and briefing papers.
As I said, just stick to the basics and make reading a life-long habit.
Seriously, my memory isn’t that good! I took the exam more than seven years ago and I dont recall any of them. But Crusading Cynic (comment no. 26) has a post on this one so you may wish to check it out. Pau D. on comment no. 48 posted some questions. Elektra King, in comment no. 51, also offered to share the questions in the 2006 written exams.
If you’re really dead set on becoming a career diplomat, if you don’t pass it one year, consider it as a review for next year. You’ll be better prepared then and you would know what to expect. As far as I know, you can take the exams a number of times. However, you wouldn’t be qualified to take the exam if you’re over 36 years old unless you’re already an employee of the DFA. I believe that if you have already passed the pre-qualifying exam, you don’t have to take it again the following year for you to make it to the written exam.
However, don’t feel bad and be a sour grape if you don’t pass. Some people tend to have all those silly excuses, like they took the exam because they were just dared to by friends, or that the exam questions were wrong and some have loopholes, that they didn’t really study, etc. Some even say that it’s better to work for this or that organization rather than the DFA, or become an employee in the UN, foreign embassies or international organizations, when they learn that they did not pass. Those who have all these excuses are really showing ignorance than anything else. As I’ve said, if you’re really interested in becoming an FSO and a CAREER DIPLOMAT, then I believe you will be exerting time and effort to study for it and learn from those who already are FSOs, like you would do for other careers that you believe are for you.
For all queries regarding schedules and deadlines as well as the requirements, you can check the DFA website or you can call the BFSE for information.
Like the Civil Service Exam, the bar, and other board exams, entering the Foreign Service is based on a competitive examination so the palakasan system doesn’t work here. We are career diplomats and we have security of tenure. This is different from political appointees who are appointed and serve at the discretion of and/or during the tenure of the President. In the Foreign Service, political appointees are limited only to ambassadors.
Thus, to pass the FSE, you need to get at least 75% in English and 75% average in all other subjects — no matter who your father, mother, or uncle might be.
No to all. All you need is a college degree and of course, you have to be within the age limit. My youngest batchmate was about 21 and a fresh college graduate when we passed the exam. Our median age though was about 27 and most of us did have quite extensive work experiences. A few have graduate degrees. But as I said, that is not a requirement at all.
I do recommend some work experience though. It is hard to handle the problems of a consul when you’re young and abroad for the first time without any work experience. Furthermore, if you don’t pass the exam, you’d still have your work to fall back on.
Some prior work experience may also help you build up confidence in dealing with your fellow FSOs as well as diplomats from other countries. Imagine being posted abroad and dealing with people who, like you, passed one of the most difficult exams out there. You get the picture.
Yahoo! Yes! 121 responses in the original entry as of this writing and at least one has passed and took his oath of office. Not a bad passing rate — almost the same passing rate as the actual FSE. Check out comment no. 60 (Jojo). I know Bakdrap (comment no. 68) also passed the 2006 written exams.
Some people worry too much about the foreign language test when it actually comprises only 5% of the entire written examination. I suggest that you choose Spanish. I don’t know Spanish either yet I passed the exam. Lucky for us Filipinos, we know some Spanish words. There’s mesa, amigo, amiga, padre, madre, ventana, escuela, etc.. Study very basic Spanish like, como esta vd.? And others. You can also listen to free Spanish podcasts. I remember that they made us write a letter in Spanish. So you can just go, caro amigo, como esta vd.? Hehe — something like that. With a little knowledge, you can wing it.
You can work for the DFA as a contractual employee. If you are civil service-eligible and if there is an item available, then it is possible for you to become a foreign service staff officer (FSSO) or foreign service staff employee (FSSE). However, this could take years. I also heard that if you got below 80% and at least 75% in the English part of the written exam and attained at least 75% in all other subjects, you could also be eligible to be an FSSO. But do check with the BFSE on this.
Not that I know of. I think it would be better to read newspapers and political/economic magazines regularly and to practice writing well. From the comments, I believe that Carrascal, Carlamon and Nyliam (did I miss anyone?) are organizing a study group. However, approach this with caution. A study group may or may not help (you may end up wasting time debating unimportant issues instead of spending precious time reading by yourself).
And of course, follow my tips.
GOOD LUCK to Nyliam, Carrascal, Ralphgladz, Carlamon, Fauve, Piggy, Voltaire, Sigenanga, Jenkins, Angelgirl, Headband, Ajax, OJ, and to all those who are through to the written exam!