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.