Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cracking the FSWE Study Guide

I began with the JK section of the study guide. The actual fswe exam will have 90 questions to be answered in 60 minutes; roughly half of which will be JK and the remaining half cone-specific. The cone-specific questions will be in their own sections: PD, Pol, Econ, Cons, or Mgmt; the end of the GK section will instruct you to turn to page X and answer questions Y through Z depending on your chosen Career Path (cone).

The sample JK test contained 24 general questions and 20 "career track" questions (the Rationales section explains which area of knowledge or track to which the questions pertains).

Since the ratio of time to questions ratio of the actual exam is 2:3, I set a time limit of 30 minutes to correlate with the 44 sample questions. I finished in approxmately 20 minutes, and immediately set about scoring this section. That was mistake number one. One career question prompted me to think about changing an answer in the JK section, but I did not, and subsequently missed. I also skipped one and did not come back. Some were shot-in-the-dark misses, but several were foolish mistakes (either not trusting my gut instinct or not reading carefully). Out of 44, I only got 29 correct (65.9%). Had I been more deliberate, I would not have missed the six that I did, and could have had a score of 35 (79.4%). My weaknesses on this test were "treaties & policy"and "human resources management". I need to find a good book on management to read.
A few days later, I sat down to plow through the EE section of the exam. The actual exam will have 90 English Expression questions, and will last for 70 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the JK.

The study guide has 50 sample questions, so for the practice run, I allocated 39 minutes (since ½ of 90 questions + 10%=49.5/50 sample questions, then ½ of 70 minutes + 10% =38.5/39 practice time). On this section I faired much better, only missing 3 of 50 (94%). One incorrect answer concerned the possessive form of "it"; the other two were "too wordy". I am very pleased with this result, and think that I am adequately prepared for this portion of the examination.
The third section of the fswe is the Biographical Inventory. Although the instructions clearly states that there are no "right and wrong answers" on an individual basis, it does state that the questions "measure a number of dimensions identified from job analyses as highly relevant for successful Foreign Service Officer performance" (FSWE Study Guide 2005, pg 31.) In other words, all "correct answers" are filtered by relevance to FSWE job requirements. The temptation to "game" the exam here is strong, but one must keep in mind that it cannot be certain which questions are relevant in which ways, plus the fact that any erroneous (or false) answers might raise issues at the Final Suitability Review, it is best just to be straightforward with your answers.

BTW, I got 100% :~)
The essay section is an entirely different animal, and an upcoming post will be dedicated to it entirely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!

I stumbled across this show a few years ago before I became a news junkie and was amazed at how much these people knew about current events. Now I know almost every question. Unfortunately I don't have a local station that carries this program, but it doesn't matter; the shows are archived and available 24/7. This is a fun way to gauge your knowledge of current national and international events.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Job Knowledge - History

The title alone is almost enough to make one tremble. We've been told that we can [generally] narrow it down to history since WWII. That still encompasses a lot of information. Preparation should be general; don't get bogged down in too many books, or discouraged by seemingly endless bibliographies or suggested reading lists.

1) Keeping Updated - You are already a step ahead if you are relatively well-versed in current events; many articles and newscasts refer to historical antecedents that could make their way onto the exam. The sidebar on the right lists a number of online periodicals.

2) Reviewing - A few "general overview" books have been routinely suggested on the Yahoo FSWE Group, including old AP History textbooks that you still might have lying around (or can pick up in a garage sale); Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, any number of Cliff's Quick Reviews, or even American History in 100 Nutshells.

3) Test Yourself - In addition to the Official Study Guide, there are literally thousands of internet sites that offer history quizzes, from composers to politics to mathematics. Rather than spend an eternity critiquing and and filtering them all, I've included a few quick links to quizzes and quiz sites that contain specific JK-type questions:

American History:

World History:

Black History:

U.S. Government:
I haven't yet delved too deeply into any these sites (mostly organizing them into my normal test prep schedule), so if any of them are innapropriate or less-than-helpful, please do let me know. Additionally, if anyone finds some other gems, please post them in the comments. Thank you.

Much more is yet to come!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Getting Down to Business - Geography

March is here, only seven weeks until the fswe! I'm going to have to lay off blogging the current events for a while and focus solely on the exam please bear with me.

The JK (Job Knowledge) section of the exam will try to assess your geographical aptitude. Most people find that their strengths and weaknesses are easily demarcated along continental lines, making it relatively easy to prepare for this portion of the exam.

There are hundreds of sites that can offer a great deal of assistance, so don't feel limited by the links here - these are sites that I thought would be of the greatest benefit to myself.

1:) Primary Sources - Designerz is geared more toward finetuning your specific knowledge about individual countries, by linking you directly to information-specific sites within and concerning each locale. Have you forgotten the Administrative Regions in Russia? The structure of Indonesian government? Need to reread the Constitution of Namibia? The links all start here.

2:) Extensive Country Overviews - For information-intensive study, the CIA World Factbook and the U.S. Department of State both have exhaustive background notes on most, if not all countries and their "land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy, and foreign relations" etc. It's also possible to receive this same information via email as it is updated through one of the State's Mailing Lists. Look for one called 'DOSBACK'.

3:) Quick Country Overviews - Travel Document Systems (TDS) gives the quick and dirty lowdown on each country, short multi-paragraph blurbs on a country's people, geography, history, culture, economy and government. It's sorted by continent and I love it! On the other hand, if you prefer to start with regional maps and 'drill down' to country specifics, then will be worth a look.

4:) Test Yourself! - Test your knowledge in a variety of ways with Sheppard Software and/or Geoquiz, both of which essentially only test country names and map placement.

5:) Review, Review - Print out detailed maps at Xpeditions or also at Lastly, don't forget to brush up on the World Capitals.