The Countdown Begins

Hello! It’s been a while hasn’t it? I have been hiding from the cold northern winter of South Korea this week. Our high today was 14F (that’s -10C for anyone outside of the USA, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, or Palau). Brrrr! I just got back from my honeymoon in New Zealand and nursing a sunburn in sub-zero temperatures is just insulting! (But so, so, worth it).

The last few weeks have been a blur of planning and studying and stressing and enjoying holidays. I scheduled my exam for February 3rd at 9:00am in Seoul. About 10 more days left! I have been working nearly non-stop on FSOT materials this past month, so for anyone else out there taking the February exam, this is a bit of what I have been studying.

Study Materials for the FSOT:

The State Department website recommends dozens of books and newspapers to help you understand the subjects they test, but to read them all would be a MASSIVE undertaking. Literally, tens of thousands of pages. Ain’t nobody got the time! I have compiled a kindle reading list and a group of audio-books; these help me save time by living on my phone, ready for me to use in any spare minute. I highly recommend audio-books for those times when you’re busy, but not really brain-busy like cooking or commuting.

Kindle Books


1.) Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy At Work by Shawn Dorman

I like this book so far, it gives you a great sense of how this job might work and what your place might be within the system as a whole. However, its going to be much more important to read for the Oral Assessments (assuming I get there) so I’ve put it aside for now. I’m mentioning it first though (along with the next title) because it’s a great way to determine if this job is the right path for you.


2.) Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service by Harry W. Kopp & Charles A. Gillespie

I like this book for the same reasons above, however this one goes much more in-depth regarding the history of the Foreign Service and it’s sometimes-not-so-great relationship with the US Government. Interesting stuff and important to know for the relationships in the service going forward. (Psssst! I actually listened to this one on Audio-book)


3.) Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 by Steven E. Ambrose & Douglas G. Brinkley

First of all, this was written by the same guy who wrote Band of Brothers, so how bad can it be? This has been the one book I’ve seen quoted by many past and present FS Officers as really influential on their studying and testing. It’s a good read!


4.) Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

This history text is a great eye-opener for the explosion of development in western civilization. The pacing is pretty good, so if you go for just one history textbook, try this one. It even hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Above is a link to the Kindle version on Amazon, but I was able to get mine for free through an e-book loan from my local library. Be sure to check around before buying!


5.) The Twentieth Century: A People’s History by Howard Zinn

This is another well-rounded history text, specifically focusing on the United States of America. Although it’s only updated through 2001, it’s worth a quick glance. You’ll be sure to pick up some FSOT materials here, especially if you’re feeling rough on the U.S. History Job Knowledge section.


6.) Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt

If, like me, you’ve studied WWI and WWII pretty extensively in school, you might feel like they left off the bit about Europe pulling up it’s bootstraps and rejoining the world. Ya know, there was that whole EU thing for instance….
This book is a comprehensive study on postwar Europe (although it stops short of the most recent events of the 2000s). Use this book as a quick-skim guideline for the FSOT. (And be sure to check your local library for copies!)


7.) Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to doing Business in More Than 60 Countries by Terri Morrison & Wayne A. Conway

While I’d definitely rate this text as “optional” for the FSOT, I would highly recommend it for becoming a FSO in general. The Oral Assessment and even your essays could benefit from this book!



1.) Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson

This is a book that takes on Jared Diamond’s beloved Guns Germs and Steel (another text you should dip into if you haven’t already studied it in school). While I found it a bit repetitive, the audio-book is well read and brings up great food for thought.


2.) Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll

This was by far the most interesting book I read! I have felt woefully under-informed on the crisis in Afghanistan and this book was just the trick. It unravels the history thoughtfully and with first-person narratives that are gripping and informative. The narrator is excellent.


3.) A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics, Second Edition: What Managers, Executives, and Students Need To Know by David A. Moss

Okay, okay, I admit it. I fell asleep listening to this audio-book and I’m hoping the process of osmosis (or whatever students are calling it these days) will help me retain this! If you have some experience, but need a refresher, this audio-book is only a few hours long and while boring, worth listening to.


4.) A History of the Twentieth Century by Martin Gilbert

Whew! This book has so much information in it, I hardly know where to begin! In fact, it begins at 1900 and goes year by year with important events, inventions, and people. If you’re feeling weak in any particular years, take a listen to this book.

Study Guides


1.) The Complete FSOT Study Guide: Practice Tests and Test Preparation Guide for the Written Exam and Oral Assessment by Aegis Review

This has been the most helpful study guide I have found (other than those available for free on the internet). If you’re looking for a clear and concise way to study, plus tips for the test, the actual breakdown of the exam, and a good set of practice questions, this is for you. Be warned! The practice test in this book has several errors which can be frustrating. If you can get it on sale (like it is today) it’s still worth your money.


2.) Hack the FSOT: Biographic Questionnaire Section by L. W. Wilson

Okay, so this book is written by someone who is clearly not a professional author. But if you’re willing to wade through their prose, you’ll get the most useful information I’ve found on the Bio section of the test. Most of the advice out there is pretty vague, this guy’s tips are worth your two bucks.


crash_course_youtube_logo1.) Crashcourse

If you don’t already know about Crashcourse, you’re doing it the hard way folks, I’m telling you. Crashcourse is a superb resource for anyone who needs to review information in a way that will stick. Inviting, engaging, and exciting, these videos cover everything from World History to Philosophy to Physics.

hqdefault2.) History of the Presidents by History Channel

Check it out people! This is a video series originally aired on the History Channel before it became dedicated to Ancient Aliens. It’s succinct and memorable, plus it’s been uploaded on YouTube! The link above is a link to the full playlist of episodes.

Special Subjects


1.) The U.S. Constitution

You WILL be tested on this! If you haven’t ever read it before, now is definitely the time to do so. Check out this annotated version if you’d like a new take on it. Pay special attention to the Bill of Rights for the FSOT. For bonus points, keep an eye out for those who signed this document and the Declaration of Independence!

panorama_of_united_states_supreme_court_building_at_dusk2.) Landmark Supreme Court Decisions

There are a surprising number of Supreme Court Decisions that you are expected to be familiar with for the FSOT. This wikipedia list is far too many to memorize, but have a glance through this list (or better yet, make flashcards) to best prepare for the test.


3.) Federal Executive Departments

Ever wondered what the Department of the Interior does? You’ll need to know for the FSOT exam. Use this page to make flashcards and quiz yourself before the test.

asb_054.) Basic Math Skills

There will be no calculators on this test, but don’t panic. Practice your multiplication tables, your long division skills, averages, medians, modes, and your percentages in particular. Try some of these games to boost your skills.



1.) Apple News

For those of you with iPhones, take a look at the Apple News App and add the newspapers and magazines recommended by the State Department. You don’t need to read cover to cover, even just headlines will help keep you up to date.

Recommended Sources: The Atlantic, The Economist, Forbes, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, NPR, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post.


2.) DOSCareers

Available on iOS and Android, this app is a life-saver. It has information about the job, diplomats in residence you can speak to, events near you, and hundreds of practice questions. If you get a bit discouraged in the practice sections, don’t worry: supposedly these are retired questions from the FSOT and are harder than the current bunch.

And that’s pretty much it! That’s what I’ve been using to study thus far. I just took a practice test tonight and scored 84% on the Job Knowledge and English Expression sections combined. I had my English Teacher husband take a look at my essay and he gave it a thumbs-up. I was able to identify areas to work on too, which is key.

It was my first experience with the Biographic Section, which is surprisingly difficult for just answering questions about yourself. I need to speed up my answers for that and really gear them toward the 13 dimensions State is looking for.

After that, I need to keep speeding up my essay writing skills. You only get 2,800 characters and 25 minutes to write & review (plus 7 minutes to pick & plan your prompt). I’m quick, but I’d like to be quicker.

Finally, I struggled most, quite to my surprise, on the US History & Culture section along with a few rough patches on Economics and World History that I suspect I can clean up. Those sections are impossible to study every little detail for, so I’ll be focusing on doing as many flash card questions as possible on the DOSCareers app.

I’m about 10 days out from the test (eeeeek!) so there’s a lot to do. Plus a butt load of laundry from our trip. Keep checking in for more study tips as the weeks get closer! By the way, if you’re in the Asian timezone (or are a night owl somewhere else) message me to join our Slack study group or check out the Facebook study groups for more tips.

Till next time!



1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Getting Personal | Twelve Knots

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