225. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (Tanguy) to the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


  • Questions for the FSO Written Entrance Examination

According to BEX, questions for the FSO Written Entrance Examination are devised by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Department working groups representing the four conal functions. Apparently, the initiative lies with the ETS, with our working groups responsible for reviewing and then accepting, modifying or rejecting each proposed question. It was not clear to me whether our working groups could propose questions to the ETS. If they are not doing this, I think they should consider the pros and cons of doing it.

I was also told that no question is repeated in the following year’s examination. Conversely, some questions are used again after a two-or-three year interval. Presumably, our working groups have the opportunity to review these “repeaters,” even though they were approved for a previous examination.

So much for the methodology. In my mind, there is still an important unanswered question: How job related are some of the abstruse or esoteric questions? The sample questions I have seen suggest that a certain number of the real questions are so specialized as to be unanswerable by all but a few. The net effect may be to pull down the overall score of a number of well-qualified candidates, who may thus not reach a high enough place on the register to have a realistic chance of being hired. If this conjecture is correct, the adverse impact would probably fall more heavily on minority candidates.

As you know, one of our basic EEO objectives is to increase the number of minority candidates who take and pass the written examination. In this connection, it is worth recalling that the 1965 “Clark Study”2 of the selection, evaluation and promotion of FSO’s found little or no correlation between the level of performance on the written exam and the promotion record or “success” of a Foreign Service officer. Is there any reason to believe that the correlation is any greater today, since the format of the written exam, I understand, is substantially the same? [Page 928] In any event, it may be opportune to re-think what we are trying to accomplish with the written examination, and assess whether it fully serves our purposes in its present form and context.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1978–1979, Box 7, Chron June 24–30, 1979. No classification marking.
  2. Not further identified.