Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Official Results Letter

When I saw that the ACT results site was back up and running today, I quickly logged in and downloaded my results letter (which had so nimbly evaded me several days prior).

After saving it to my harddrive, I opened it and read:

We want to thank you for taking the Foreign Service Written Examination (FSWE) on April 23, 2005. The written examination is the first step in the Foreign Service selection process, which is a series of evaluations, potentially leading to an offer of employment as a Junior Foreign Service Officer. A candidate is required to succeed in one step before proceeding to the next.

Regretfully, your score on the written examination was not high enough for you to proceed to the Oral Assessment phase of the Foreign Service Officer selection process. We do encourage you to try again. Many successful Foreign Service Officers have taken the Written Examination, and the Oral Assessment, several times.

The date for the 2006 FSWE has not yet been set. We invite you to continue to visit our website, http://www.careers.state.gov, for updated test and other hiring information.

We urge you to maintain your interest in Foreign Affairs and in pursuing a career with the Department of State.


The Board of Examiners

I've thought about both the passing and not passing scenarios so many times that I doubt I would have been really surprised by either outcome. My kneejerk reaction is, of course, disappointment, but there is no way to prepare for the exam other than actually taking it. The scope and breadth of knowledge potentially required is so great that a simple explanation cannot do it justice. I mentioned in an earlier post that I initially felt quite pleased with my performance that day, and it tolds true today as well.

I've gained so much knowledge and personal growth during these past six months that I cannot pretend to claim to have truly failed; thus, instead of a simple 'Pass/Fail', the true results for this exam should be classified as 'Pass/Gain Experience' (thanks to a fellow Wildcat for that phrase!).

Throughout the course of the day, I received an incredible amount of support from my friends encouraging me to not give up, but to resolve to continue pressing on - that this can be (and often is) a long, long process. I do not disagree. This has been simmering in the back of my mind now for over eight years, since I was first recommended to pursue this. I have almost thirty work years left to give to my country, if they would have me - and if it takes them four or five more to recognize that, then so be it!

The first item of business was to request my Score Breakdowns from ACT. They (ACT0 had previously informed me that this could be done simply via email several months ago (which I did), but when I contacted them this afternoon to inquire about an estimated turnaround time, they retracted that earlier statement and said I had to fax or mail in my request, as it could not processed without my signature:

In order to get a scorebreakdown, please fax the request to 319-337-1122. Please include your full name, address, social security number, test and signature. Please also include a statement of your request. Thank you.

The statement of request essentially means that you have to state unequivocably "I am requesting a copy of my FSWE score breakdown". Don't ask me why, that is just what is required.

The second order of business will come with my score breakdown: if I am in the ballpark, then I will know that I am pretty much on the right track. Should one section be significantly lower, than perhaps I'll have to revisit and rethink my preparatory strategy for next year. Only if my overall score is significantly below the cutoff point would I feel disheartened - but I would be exceptionally surprised if that were to be the case.

Thirdly, I'll start by following the instructions in the BEX letter: "maintain your interest in Foreign Affairs and in pursuing a career with the Department of State". I won't fail.

I also received a very uplifting email which encouraged me to persevere, and gave me some helpful pointers in utilizing my score breakdown to help prepare myself for next year's exam. There are a lot of others out there who may be questioning their dedication or even their interest in pursuing this, and I felt that this information might also encourage them to look critically at their own exam performance this year and see how this experience could be used to better focus on the preparations for the exam this coming April. He kindly gave me permission to reproduce his [edited] letter here, leaving it up to me to decide whether to specifically name him or to keep him anonymous. I choose the latter, as he is fairly well known, and I don't want him to be personally flooded with requests for advice on the FSWE or the OA. I am aware that not too many people have yet utilized the information contained within this blog, but one can never be too sure about the future! :)

Editfish - I would also say the following, at least insofar as they
worked for me.

* When you receive the scoring breakdown, don't attach a value or deeper emotional meaning to it. Use it as a tool to hone whatever you might need. For me, when I failed the first time out, I was quite disappointed because I thought I had done well. It turned out I was very, very close - and so getting my breakdown was good news for me, because I knew I could find an extra point or two someplace next time.

* Also review in your memory the questions that gave you the most difficulty, then focus some attention on those areas. For me, for example, geography is a weak spot. Those games from sheppardsoftware.com were a godsend, and really helped me this time out. Using those in conjunction with an atlas was a huge help for me.

* When it comes to the biographical stuff - give yourself the benefit of the doubt. If you're like me (and a lot of people I've observed on the boards), you are your own worst critic and are harder on yourself than you should be. If you get questions about other people's perceptions of you, don't lie, but don't listen to your inner critic. Be impartial, be honest, but also give yourself a fair shake. It's not a time to be modest.

I highly doubt that it was the bio stuff [referring to my presumption that my shortfall may have been due to the BIO - Ed.] - most people that take the test pass the biographical stuff, according to the NE DIR, Dr Bishop. But having said that, if your score was very close to the cutoff, you can probably find that extra point or two in the biographical section.

All of the above advice will find you what you need.

I mean, for all you know at this moment it was the essay that did you in. You know?

I hope I'm not coming off as condescending or whatever. I'm not an expert. But these are the things that have worked for me, and I really, really believe that you should persevere.

I fully expect to go through the process more times than this, though I am quite hopeful about this time. And I expect I'll fail one or both again. We'll see how it shakes out.

My big lesson from this year is that last year was not a fluke or an accident. I may not always pass, I'm not going to get a 12 on the essay, I'm not going to get a 6 or whatever on the OA. But I'm in the ballpark, squarely. And that means, to me, that this is all about attrition. :D

Every year I've done this, I've really learned and understood something on a deep level. The first year it was that I *could* pass, which I hadn't known before. The second year - last year - I really understood for the first time that this process is a long one. If I am successful this time - a big IF, that - by the time I arrive at a post, it will be something like five years after the first time I sat down and tried the exam....that whole concept right there is often enough to stop people dead in their tracks.

Anyhow - I share your disappointment, and I am sorry. But please consider my advice, and please persevere. You will be a great FSO, a credit to your country, and I really hope that you and I will both make it all the way, and be able to serve together someday.

I left that final paragraph in not as a manner of self-pride, but rather as an encouragement to us all: that should we persevere and eventually have the opportunity to become an FSO, it will be due to the inherent greatness inside of us, we will indeed be a credit to our country, and we do hope to make it all the way, and look forward eagerly to having the chance to serve together somewhere, someday.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

FSWE Test Results? Well, Yes & No...

If you've tried pinging the FSWE Results website, you've noticed that an error occurs whenever you try to login, stating that your results letter could not be retrieved. Late this afternoon, just out of curiousity (and a bit of boredom), I tried pinging the site, and it allowed me to log in. I was quite surprised that it had allowed me to progress farther than it had before, especially as the results are not supposed to be 'officially' released for almost another two weeks!

I followed the download instructions, but in mid-process received an error stating that the file was 'damaged and could not be repaired'. Disappointed, I posted this result into the FSWE Group, just to preclude anyone from posting that the results were available and then be disappointed that there appeared to be file/database issues on the ACT website.

Several others who happened to be online also tried replicating my little experiment with similar results, but one person received a confirmation letter that she had passed! After that, there was a sudden rush of passers, followed by a number of people complaining that their results letter was still inaccessible. (Update - as of 10:00am 07/22/05 ACT had removed access via that link)

Initially, it seems there have been an awful lot of errors - reports of partial pages, blank pages, admission tickets, everything - but a few people have reported receiving "thanks for taking..." results, so perhaps it is accurate after all.

My results still appear 'broken', so nothing to do but wait and see.

Enough Waiting - gotta go ping again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Comprehensive Index and Blog Mission

My primary intention for constructing this blog was to provide a single point of reference for anyone interested in joining the Foreign Service, and secondarily to provide them with the proper frame of mind and ample links to enable them to prepare adequately for the FSWE and the subsequent FSOA. There is a wealth of information online, but the vast majority of it is redundant, and lacks cohesion. The single best sources for the FSWE and the FSOA are the FSWE Yahoo Group and the FSOA Yahoo Group, respectively. But despite the incredible amount of information archived within these two groups, much of it is noncontiguous and cumbersome to search for, which encourages new members to frequently ask the same questions again and again. Likewise, there are a good deal of Foreign Service related blogs online, but most of them begin at or after the A-100. The remainder are mostly personal diaries that simply mention the FSWE or FSOA in passing.

Thus out of a myriad of questions and great confusion, this quiet little blog was born, with the noble ambition of helping others traverse the road that I, in the turbulent wake of many far greater than I will ever be, now travel.

The distinct downside to blogging, however, is the lack of continuity and indexing. Since I began this blog in February of this year (2005), I have only posted about twenty-five posts, so it is not a large blog, but already it's usefulness is limited. To find any information, one previously must search through the archives month by month, and guess at the subject by my cryptic titles.

So to make the information contained within these four walls more accessible and useful, I have created a single, constantly updateable post index that will track each and every post according to its topic, yet retaining their chronological order so that one may jump directly to the specific information they are looking for, and still follow my 'path', as it were, if they be so inclined. The sidebar menu has also been edited to include a link to this Site Index, for quick reference.

Feel free to comment here - I do not purport to have mystical knowledge of the process, and acknowledge that I am responsable for any erroneous information that may find its way onto a post. Neither do I claim to have travelled the four corners of the web, and I greatly appreciate any additional insight, links or suggestions that anyone may care to proffer. If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so [currently] through the FSWE Group or by emailing me directly at my disposable email address (it will be forwarded to me after being sorted/cleaned), but you will have to edit the address a bit before sending. If you are savvy enough to have found my little piece of earth, you should already be familiar with this little procedure.

If you are a new reader, thank you for taking the time to peruse this; should you be a frequent reader, I hope this makes it more useful, and if you are a friend, you know I couldn't travel this path without you! :)


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Madly Pinging

As the month is winding down, we are expecting our results from ACT any day now. Various members of the FSWE Group have shared a wide range of expected release dates, each of which ostensibly came from the CSRs at ACT. We're supposed to receive them last week; no, they told me the 1st of August, etc., etc.

If you can't tell, many of us seem to be on pins and needles. But our nervousness and/or obsession will not speed up the release of the results, nor will it give us that extra point or two we need to push us over the edge, and on to the next step, the FSOA.

This blog was set up with the original intention of charting my path toward the Foreign Service, and that remains my focus. I've got the motivation and desire, and I think I've got a decent chance at it. Statistically, my chances are no better than everyone else — about 1% or so.

But statistics do not play a large role in the entire process. Yeah, we cross our fingers in hopes of being in the top 20% or so of FSWE scores so that we can move on, but that is as much a test of levelheadedness and performance under pressure as it is a rote test of knowledge. The next step, the FSOA, is also a test of levelheadedness and performance under pressure, but the primary focus is on the Thirteen Dimensions (13Ds) - whether you have them, and can display them or articulate specifically that you possess them. No statistics or roulette wheel here. You perform, or you try again. Or you give up. That's it.

After that, it's out of your hands - the Medical and Security Clearances can approve or deny you, and all you will be able to do is appeal the rulings. To be honest, these can be influenced by you, but those are long-term lifestyle issues, not spontaneous on-the-spot decisions.

As of this posting, I am more encouraged than ever to be in this for the long haul, unless the FS flat-out rejects me during clearances - but I know of nothing that would elicit a denial of clearance - unless it's for that MP3 I downloaded with Napster back in 2000. ;^)

Watch this space in the near future for my results, good or bad!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Feeling Intimidated?

[note] This post was originally posted on the FSWE Board in answer to a statement made by a newcomer that was feeling 'way out of my league' after reading some of the profiles of other individuals who are pursuing our common goal. I felt that posting a copy to my Blog would make it more easily accessible to someone else, who may not have the advantage of being a member of our Group at this time. Is this describes you, please come join our FSWE Yahoo Group!

Don't let the profiles of other candidates fool or intimidate you. The FSOA is not like any job interview you have ever had. They aren't interested in what degree(s) you have, where you have or haven't been, or whether you are mono/bi/multi-lingual. They want to see that you can be articulate, can be a team player, can think on your feet/seat, and can draw on your past life experiences to deal with new and evolving problems.

One's education, one's work/background experience, and cross-cultural experiences all *can* help *you* to demonstrate your potential and worth to BEX, but it still remains that you stand or fall based on your own (self-presented) merits.

During the Structured Interview portion of the OA, you will be asked (in a roundabout way) to demonstrate that you possess the required "13 Dimensions". You don't need to have had an unusual job in an exotic locale to show that - tell them about how an experience in your life appropriately answers the question posed. Maybe you were first chair in band, or came up with a creative lighting solution during the school play. Perhaps you sucessfully lobbied for free vending in your dorm or helped a little old lady in France buy a bus ticket. If you can adequately demonstrate each of the "13 Dimensions", you will pass. It's that easy.

Some candidates pound their chest, bring a three-ring binder stuffed with all sorts of fancy degrees, and wow you with embossed business cards containing the entire alphabet obediently lined up behind their fifteen-syllable name. Big deal. If they can't demonstrate the 13-D's they are out. Game Over. Please try again. Better luck next time. Bye Bye.

The bottom line is: if this is something you think you can do, if this is something you want to do, if this is something you are willing to do, then by all means press on. Don't get discouraged. The Foreign Service is populated by people just like you and me. And that is an encouraging thought.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

FSWE Scoring & Rescoring

Recently on the FSWE Board there has been some confusion over the scoring of our exams. Apparently some folks had been instructed by their DIRs that the essays were graded only if the multiple choice sections were passed. I had understood my Mentor to say that the State Department was waiting on ACT to finish scoring the essays so that all the data could be sent over, so that the appropriate cutoff scores could be determined.

So we have Person A saying Essays aren't graded unless the other sections are passed. The other sections can't be passed until the nuimber is handed down from State. Person B says State can't hand down the numbers because the essays are still being graded. How do we reconcile that?

Why not just ask ACT? Given the variance among answers by the CSR's to another, much more pressing question, this one might 'flex' as well, but I think it will lay to rest two important issues.

This is the entire reply I received from ACT (verbatim):

"The essay is scored only if you pass the multiple choice section. We have never had a score change from anyone requesting a handscore."

OK and OK. So the information we heard in the past about essay
scoring was accurate. Very good, and I apologize for passing along
bad info earlier. And the part about manual rescoring is interesting.
There's always the possibility of being the first, but I'll spend my
$30 elsewhere, thank you. ;)