Tuesday, August 16, 2005

FSWE Score Breakdown Explained

I received my score breakdown yesterday, which contained the following information:

Dear Editfish,

This is in response to your request for a score breakdown of the April 23, 2005 Foreign Service Written Examination (FSWE) test results. To be invited to the Oral Assessment, candidates whose career track is Consular must have received a score of 162 or above on the multiple-choice section who received at least a 153 or above on the multiple-choice section.

There were three parts to the multiple-choice section. You scored as follows:

Job Knowledge: 49.99
Biographic Information: 51.52
English Expression:
Multiple-Choice Total Score: 153.82

Your essay score (if applicable): 6.00

We hope this information is helpful to you. We regret that the volume of requests precludes giving more detailed feedback. We appreciate your interest in the Foreign Service and encourage you to take the test again when it is offered in 2006. The date for the 2006 FSWE has not yet been set. We invite you to visit our website, http://www.careers.state.gov, for updated test and other hiring information.


Board of Examiners

There had been some discussion several months ago on the FSWE Board hypothesizing that the dividing the JK section of the exam into cone (or track) specific exams might allow the SD to specifically tailor their cutoff scores based on their perceived hiring needs for each cone in relation to the number of applicants per cone. The evidence thus far seems to support that interpretation, as the cutoff scores varied widely across all cones:

Multiguess cut off to score essay: 153
Multiguess cut off to pass exam: 162
Essay minimal score: 6

Multiguess cut off to score essay: 150
Multiguess cut off to pass exam: 164
Essay minimal score: 6

Multiguess cut off to score essay: 155
Multiguess cut off to pass exam: 161
Essay minimal score: 6

Multiguess cut off to score essay: 161
Multiguess cut off to pass exam: 168
Essay minimal score: 6

Multiguess cut off to score essay: 164
Multiguess cut off to pass exam: 169
Essay minimal score: 6

--this information compiled by Fray in FSWE post 8680. Thank you, Fray!

Thus, we can conclude that cones (tracks) with higher cutoff scores had a greater number of applicants. There had been some talk early on, especially at a few of the Essay Prep Sessions about the possibility that the essay cutoff might be raised to a seven or even an eight. I'm glad to see them go back down from the sevens that were needed last year.

I was curious about how my individual score numbers were reached, especially with regards to the decimal points, and how many points were possible per section. The answer I received from ACT was somewhat cryptic:

We do not release the highest maxium score for each section. The score is a t-score so all sections are not weighted the same. The score is based on a psychometric equation that uses weighting of the question.
It had been a very long time since my statistics class, so I asked on both the FSWE and FSOA Groups for a quick interpretation, and was not let down. For more complete explanations on t-scores, see the original posts here and here. Essentially, the scores represent each individuals placement on the overall score distribution curve, with a score of 50 representing the mean (or average) score. Each standard deviation from the mean is represented by the addition (or subtraction) of 10. Thus a t-score of 60 would represent a placement of one standard deviation above the mean (or 68% of the 'population'). Two standard deviations (or 95%) would give us a t-score of 70; Three would put us in the 99th percentile with a t-score of 80 'points'. Of course, since the questions are also individually weighted, the theoretical maximum score of 80 per section become extremely unlikely, if not altogether impossible.

Final analysis: Your scores then could vary widely from year to year, even if you answered everything exactly the same, based solely on the performance of the rest of those taking the exam and the relationship of your score to theirs.

Concluding thoughts: I'm pleased with my performance 'as is' for being my first attempt at the FSWE; squarely in the ballpark. I've got a better understanding for the feel of the BIO , and think my performance there will improve next year. I also finished the EE far too quickly, and will spend a significant amount of additional time next year checking and rechecking my answers. JK is average, but I'm hoping a little bit of extra study (per previous posts) will bring that one up.