Dreaming of becoming a Foreign Service Officer

Few weeks ago, I celebrated my 11th year of being twelve. There will only be two years left for me to prepare for the Philippine Foreign Service Officer Exam. Graduated with a degree in International Relations, I dream to be a diplomat in the future. Since I entered the halls of my university to learn about international affairs, I knew that the path I’d like to take would not be easy. In fact, the road to being a diplomat was seldom taken by others due to its nature.

I am not sure with other countries’ FSO exam, but in here the test takes almost a year to finish. For the past years, it was reported to have a 1% passing rate. Just last year, 9 out of 534 passed the five-level, elimination tests. There was even a year that no one passed. Some said it is the most grueling government exam and others even went as far as to say that it is harder than the bar. From blogs and testimonies of those who attempted to be a career diplomat, I assumed that being included in the most elite department in the government will take a lot of guts and effort.


The FSO Exam: An intellectual version of Survivor reality game

I. Qualifying test. According to DFA and from previous examinees, this is like a college entrance test with logic, grammar, and math. The questions are pretty easy, but time-pressured. Others say this is a degree higher than Civil Service Examination. Good thing I passed the professional level of CSE three years ago!

II. Preliminary Interview. This seems like a job interview. Three panelists will be there to question the examinee about his current work, his plans of joining DFA, etc. The main tip is to be honest and clear of your goal. I got an advice to link my answers to the three main pillars of Philippines’ foreign policy and to always cite examples and cases to support my statements.

III. Written Test. Alas. This is the make or break point of the entire exam. 600 examinees can be easily put down to 20 because of this. It is a three-day essay type test. I found sample questions from a blogger and new FSO IV on this level. Please check his examples below:


  • English (20%)

A Filipino citizen was sentenced to receive the death penalty in China for acting as a drug-mule. As Secretary of Foreign Affairs, propose a plan which outlines the courses of action the President may undertake.

  • Filipino (5%)

Towards the end of El Filibusterismo, a priest in the novel discussed the idea of freedom. Describe what the priest said and relate it to how Philippine society understands freedom today.

  • Philippine Political, Economic, and Cultural Conditions (30%)

Give five examples of the government’s proposed Public-Private Partnership (PPP)projects and give explanation for each.

Explain how the Conditional Cash Transfer program will alleviate poverty.

Name a National Artist and describe the significance of his/her work.

  • International Affairs (20%)

What are the benefits of forging an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015?

  • World History (20%)

Compare and contrast the Spanish colonization experience of Latin America and the Philippines

  • Foreign Language (5%)

You can choose from Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Arabic. The entire test will be in the selected language and questions include basic greetings and expressions as well as grammar.

credits to: Rafael Ignacio, FSOE passer

IV. Psychological Test. One must be proud after passing the third level. However, this test must also not be taken for granted. A series of questions plus an interview with a shrink will assess one’s mental capability of working in the Foreign Service.

V. Oral Test. This level has two sessions. The first day is a 20-minute panel interview consisting of ten people from the academe and DFA. Like the preliminary interview, they might ask anything under the sun. One example of a question I found is: What do you think about the President’s appointment of Domingo Lee as the ambassador to China?

The second day is a debate/group dynamics and formal dinner. In the debate, just freely express your opinion on the subject matter. For the dinner, ensure that you know or have read about proper dining etiquette. Then later, there will be an impromptu speech where examinees will only have a minute to prepare for his/her three-minute speech.

After that last hurdle, there will be few months to kill and when you are lucky, you will be notified as one of the passers of the FSO Exam!


I hope that after a few more years, I will be able to pass those five tests. In the end, I would see myself applying what I’ve learned in my university’s simulation test/diplomatic dinner in my senior year. It was such a good practice to be able to dine and chat with real diplomats. I remember the experience. Fancy location, delectable food, intelligent people, good atmosphere, and gorgeous clothes!