Part II of the FSO Exam Series: 2018 Changes and Tips on Passing the Qualifying Test

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are mine alone.

I. 2018 Changes

This month, the Board of Foreign Service Examinations (BFSE) has announced some (rather significant, I would say) changes in the requirements an applicant must meet in order to qualify to take the Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Exam. Changes are effective from 2018.

These are:

1. Removing the age cap – No more age limit! Previously, an applicant must be below 36 years old on the day of the Qualifying Test in order to qualify to apply for the FSO Exams. Not anymore. For those considering changing careers or have only recently heard about this career prospect, please do consider applying .

I heard that the age cap issue has been debated about for some time, and I’m glad that they have resolved it the way they did. Removing the age limit will widen the scope of applicants, giving a chance for more qualified applicants to apply and fill the need for FSOs in our Department of Foreign Affairs.

2. Naturalized Filipino citizens are now permitted to apply – Previously, only natural-born citizens (who must also be permanent residents of the Philippines) are permitted to take the FSO Exam. Now, any “Filipino citizen and concurrent permanent residents of the Philippines” may apply.

For more information on FSO Exam (including deadlines, documentary requirements and qualifications and other requirements to apply), please visit DFA’s website:

II. Tips for the Qualifying Test

What is it: This is the first of the five tests comprising the FSO Exam. It is a multiple-choice type exam designed to test the candidates for the following: (a) Verbal Ability (b) Analytical Ability (c) Numerical Ability; and (d) Managerial Ability. Candidates must obtain at least 80% in order to pass this stage and move on to the next.

Candidates who pass the Qualifying Test will be conferred by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) the Career Foreign Service Officer Eligibility – eligibility that is appropriate to first level (clerical) and second level (technical) positions in the government that do not involve practice of profession and are not covered by special laws.

What is it really: Unlike the other four parts of the FSO Exam, which are administered by the BFSE, this test is administered by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and takes the shape and form of other exams that the CSC administers. Some say this is the “tougher” sibling of the CSC Exam. It is a paper and pencil test with, from what I recall, 190 items, 180 of which will be graded. The candidate has roughly three (3) hours to finish the test – so that’s more or less on minute per question!

Test Taking Tips: The most important thing to remember is to be aware of the time limits, so the candidate should not only know how to budget time but also must have practiced answering similar tests under strict time constraints. The candidate has about a minute to answer each item, so there is no luxury of time to dilly-dally over an item the candidate is unsure about.

What I did was to skip the part I knew I would spend a lot of time on (i.e. math) and focus on the other parts where I knew I would be able to answer more or less confidently. That way, I would be able to cover more ground, and leave the “shotgunning” – should I end up lacking  time (and I did) – for the part I was least confident about.

Tools to prepare for the test: 

– CSC Reviewers

– Books on People Management (to be frank, I mainly relied on my experience as a supervisor to answer the 20 or so questions on this topic)

– A timer, as it’s important to time yourself as you practice answering exam questions

Why it’s important to prepare for it: Many candidates fail to give this part the attention it deserves, using most of their time to review for the notorious Written Test. However, this part is where most candidates fail, percentage-wise. When I took the Qualifying Test in 2015, less than 20% passed this portion. It should definitely not be underestimated.

Preparation for this part involves not really knowledge gathering (they test for basic concepts you have learned in high school and college/uni, such as reading comprehension, logic, basic algebra, etc.) as much as developing the proper strategies and skills in answering concisely under very strict time limits.

III. One Last Thing

The deadline to apply for the 2018 FSO Exam is in December of this year. If you are at least a bit interested in the prospect of serving our country as a career diplomat, I highly encourage you to give it a try. The low passing rate may be intimidating, but it is not impossible to hurdle all five stages. Passing the Qualifying Test means hurdling one of the most difficult (in terms of passing rate) parts of the FSO Exam.

I’ve just started my career with the service,  but still I could confidently say that a career with the DFA is unique and fulfilling one with lots of opportunities to wear different hats and develop different skill sets, all while serving the country. Do consider applying!

10 thoughts on “Part II of the FSO Exam Series: 2018 Changes and Tips on Passing the Qualifying Test

  1. Hi Mel! I am a new lawyer and I am considering to take the FSO Exam this January so as to keep me busy also while looking for a job. Your insights makes me want to pursue the said exam 🙂

  2. Hi Mel! Would it be okay if I ask for you email address so we can discuss your experience in taking the FSO Exam? I’m planning to take it after taking the Bar Exam, 2 years from now. But I’d like to prepare as early as now. My email add is 🙂

  3. Hello Mel! Your blog entries are simply inspirational. I would surely take it a second time, after my Bar Exam this year. Will really appreciate linking up with you. My email add is =)

  4. Hi Mel! Thank you so much for the information. My husband is going to take it this Jan 2019. He’s not a lawyer but he’s a graphic designer/advertising and tourism consultant/editor. That’s a lot of hats! But I do think he’s perfect for the job because the nature of his work leads him to be with foreign dignitaries anyway haha. I hope to see more tips from you soon!

    1. Hi! I’m a Senior high school student currently and i’m wondering what kind of math questions are there in the numerical ability test? Math isn’t really my forte and my mathematical ability is below average.

  5. Thank you for these tips! I’m currently a sophomore in college who is aspiring to be a diplomat. Reading this made me extremely intimidated and anxious… I hope things work together ;-;

  6. Hi, Mel! Thank you for your tips regarding the FSOE. I’d like to ask some questions regarding taking the exam if you’re open to receiving them. I’ve already entered my email address in the details required in leaving this comment. I hope to hear from you!

    Thank you,

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