Foreign Service Officer Exam: The Written Essay

The written essay portion of the Foreign Service Officer Exam provides opportunity to show your ability to analyze a topic that is presented to you, to organize your thoughts, and to develop clear, readable written work. You are given 50 minutes to complete your essay, and you will be asked to choose one topic from a selection of three topics on which to write your essay. The topics may include the following subject areas.
  • Customs and culture
  • Economics and finance
  • Education
  • Employment issues
  • History
  • International affairs
  • Religion
  • Social issues

You receive a booklet when you begin the test; you handwrite the essay in that booklet. It is important to present a clear point of view and provide enough arguments to support your viewpoint. Grading takes into account your ability to analyze the topic, support your arguments, structure sentences, and correctly use grammar and syntax. Spelling and punctuation are important, but to a lesser degree than the other criteria.

Following are several sample topics on which you can practice organizing your thoughts. Make a comprehensive outline for each topic, indicating your viewpoints and make a list of supporting arguments. An in-depth outline can help you visualize the entire essay, which you can also write, if you want the practice. If some of the sample topics are not subjects you know about, consider doing some research into these topics in order to develop a broader viewpoint.

Take no more than 50 minutes to complete each essay.

Foreign Service Officer Exam Essay 1

In today's political environment, we have seen the emergence of popular entertainers — singers, musicians, movie stars, and so on — taking center stage to promote and raise money for the candidates of their choice. Some people feel that these entertainers should stick to their own business, while others believe that they have a right, and perhaps even an obligation, to speak their minds. In your view, what do you think the role of entertainers should be in politics? Do they exert undue influence because of their popularity and easy access to the media? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

Foreign Service Officer Exam Essay 2

Most exams today require students to write an essay, much like this one. Because of the sheer number of essays to be graded, some universities are experimenting with a computerized grading system. Students feel that a machine cannot comprehend a student's argument. On the other hand, the argument goes, a computer can determine whether the student addressed a specific question and can judge the essay's structure. In your view, how can this situation be resolved? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

Foreign Service Officer Exam Essay 3

There are numerous viewpoints on the subject of cloning. One side feels that the long-term benefits of cloning — primarily a search for medical cures — is worth the effort, but with some restrictions. Others argue that there is a strong potential for abuse in this era of corporate corruption, dishonesty, and misunderstanding. In your view, aside from religious and moral considerations, who should best make the determination whether cloning is legalized: doctors, politicians, or religious leaders. Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

Foreign Service Officer Exam Essay 4

There are two words that politicians take care to avoid: foreign aid. Instead, decision makers often sidestep the issue. Many believe that it is the United States' obligation as the wealthiest nation in the world to help those who are poorer. Others feel that charity begins at home and question whether the people of those countries that receive aid actually benefit directly. Furthermore, they question whether there are any benefits for the United States. In your view, is foreign aid helpful? To whom? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.