Dreaming of becoming a Foreign Service Officer

Few weeks ago, I celebrated my 11th year of being twelve. There will only be two years left for me to prepare for the Philippine Foreign Service Officer Exam. Graduated with a degree in International Relations, I dream to be a diplomat in the future. Since I entered the halls of my university to learn about international affairs, I knew that the path I’d like to take would not be easy. In fact, the road to being a diplomat was seldom taken by others due to its nature.

I am not sure with other countries’ FSO exam, but in here the test takes almost a year to finish. For the past years, it was reported to have a 1% passing rate. Just last year, 9 out of 534 passed the five-level, elimination tests. There was even a year that no one passed. Some said it is the most grueling government exam and others even went as far as to say that it is harder than the bar. From blogs and testimonies of those who attempted to be a career diplomat, I assumed that being included in the most elite department in the government will take a lot of guts and effort.


The FSO Exam: An intellectual version of Survivor reality game

I. Qualifying test. According to DFA and from previous examinees, this is like a college entrance test with logic, grammar, and math. The questions are pretty easy, but time-pressured. Others say this is a degree higher than Civil Service Examination. Good thing I passed the professional level of CSE three years ago!

II. Preliminary Interview. This seems like a job interview. Three panelists will be there to question the examinee about his current work, his plans of joining DFA, etc. The main tip is to be honest and clear of your goal. I got an advice to link my answers to the three main pillars of Philippines’ foreign policy and to always cite examples and cases to support my statements.

III. Written Test. Alas. This is the make or break point of the entire exam. 600 examinees can be easily put down to 20 because of this. It is a three-day essay type test. I found sample questions from a blogger and new FSO IV on this level. Please check his examples below:


  • English (20%)

A Filipino citizen was sentenced to receive the death penalty in China for acting as a drug-mule. As Secretary of Foreign Affairs, propose a plan which outlines the courses of action the President may undertake.

  • Filipino (5%)

Towards the end of El Filibusterismo, a priest in the novel discussed the idea of freedom. Describe what the priest said and relate it to how Philippine society understands freedom today.

  • Philippine Political, Economic, and Cultural Conditions (30%)

Give five examples of the government’s proposed Public-Private Partnership (PPP)projects and give explanation for each.

Explain how the Conditional Cash Transfer program will alleviate poverty.

Name a National Artist and describe the significance of his/her work.

  • International Affairs (20%)

What are the benefits of forging an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015?

  • World History (20%)

Compare and contrast the Spanish colonization experience of Latin America and the Philippines

  • Foreign Language (5%)

You can choose from Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Arabic. The entire test will be in the selected language and questions include basic greetings and expressions as well as grammar.

credits to: Rafael Ignacio, FSOE passer

IV. Psychological Test. One must be proud after passing the third level. However, this test must also not be taken for granted. A series of questions plus an interview with a shrink will assess one’s mental capability of working in the Foreign Service.

V. Oral Test. This level has two sessions. The first day is a 20-minute panel interview consisting of ten people from the academe and DFA. Like the preliminary interview, they might ask anything under the sun. One example of a question I found is: What do you think about the President’s appointment of Domingo Lee as the ambassador to China?

The second day is a debate/group dynamics and formal dinner. In the debate, just freely express your opinion on the subject matter. For the dinner, ensure that you know or have read about proper dining etiquette. Then later, there will be an impromptu speech where examinees will only have a minute to prepare for his/her three-minute speech.

After that last hurdle, there will be few months to kill and when you are lucky, you will be notified as one of the passers of the FSO Exam!


I hope that after a few more years, I will be able to pass those five tests. In the end, I would see myself applying what I’ve learned in my university’s simulation test/diplomatic dinner in my senior year. It was such a good practice to be able to dine and chat with real diplomats. I remember the experience. Fancy location, delectable food, intelligent people, good atmosphere, and gorgeous clothes! Ah, the selection of my formal evening dress! My school was strict on the cuts and colors of the gowns to wear so I had a hard time choosing. In the future, I hope to be prepared and have a ready list of formal dresses to choose from.

26 thoughts on “Dreaming of becoming a Foreign Service Officer

  1. If it was up to me…which it could be in two years, you never know! I would say you pass on the international relations. I think you would have no trouble sorting out the Middle East either…of course, there’s also the pay rise you would get….

  2. wow what a test! very nerve wracking this is harder than the UPCAT..
    I bet you can be one of the best diplomats. πŸ™‚

  3. I took the examination this year and was able to pass the qualifying exam and preliminary interview. I am waiting for the results of the written examination which will be released March of next year. The written examination was really challenging for all.

    This post of yours was written last 2013, at a time when you have two more years to prepare for the exam. Did you took the exam this year? All the best. ☺

    1. Hi, Fadrique! I took the examination this year and is also waiting for the result of the Written test. How did you find the exam?

      I wrote this two years ago, but did nothing to really prepare for it. I was cramming even minutes before the test.

      1. Hi both of you. Help a brother out. I plan to take the exam later this year and I was wondering more about the qualifying exam which you both passed. How was it? Which parts were the hardest for you two?

    2. HI Fadrique! Just wondering if you did pass the exam. Please tell a story. I’m also interested at taking FSO Exam. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  4. my father is pushing me really hard on taking the FSO, though I’m still a 3rd year undergrad, he wants me to read books abt international economy, Philippine history, diplomacy. I’m scared of dreaming to a foreign officer, the chances are too strict, that it could be a waste of time even dreaming to be one, when in the very first place I don’t have the capabilities and enough knowledge.

    1. Hi, Lacey. The Department is encouraging everyone from different fields to join the service. If you will look at the FSO Exam advertisement, they even write there that they are open to various profession. As long as you have the heart to serve the country and protect and promote its interests, you can join and take the exam. Hope this helps!

    1. Hi, Ben. If you put a foreign language in your application, then the examinees will assume that you know at least the basics. During the interviews, they might ask you to speak to them in your language. Then on the Written Exam, 5% of the test will be on Foreign Language. There will be only reading and writing there though. Hope this helps!

  5. Hi! What are most of the questions in the preliminary interview all about? Do we have to be knowledgeable about economy or any other fields or it is just like a normal job interview? What are the questions asked to you on this stage? Thanks much!

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