After the BIO section on the written test, the QEP is probablythe least understood part of the Foreign Service process. It is a relatively new step and appears to be the one part of the process where the Board of Examiners (BEX) actively manages the accession process based upon the overall hiring needs of the State Department and within your future career track.
I was fortunate to get past the QEP on my first attempt, but it wasn't without some great advice. All candidates are told that the QEP looks at the total candidate and since none of us knows what really happens we can only assume that is in fact what happens behind closed doors. The BEX takes into account the initial registration/application, FSWE score, and your five personal narratives. There have been several attempts to look at self reported candidate data to find any correlations to predict success, but the bottom line is no one knows. The conventional wisdom seems to be that all things being equal, your personal narratives are the most closely scrutinized at this point. Also, if you have indicated proficiency in a Super Critical Needs Language, and if you passed the phone assessment, that will be factored into the decision as well. I took and passed the Arabic test, but based upon some of the self reported data speaking a SCNL is not a guaranteed trip to the Oral Assessment.
What do I think I learned from writing my personal narratives? The first thing is what makes a good essay on the written test may not be what makes a good personal narrative. When I first sat down to write my personal narratives I followed a similar structure that I used in writing my FWSE essay( I received an 8). Before I knew it I had a lot of background fluff and then didn't have enough words to answer the question. So for lack of a better word it seems you are better off just sort of throwing up on the page and geting right down to it. So the classic multi paragraph approach probably just doesn't work since you have so few characters to effectively answer the question in the prompt.
The other thing I struggled with was trying to find wow sorts of stories. There are several successful personal narratives floating around and after reading them and with some gentle prodding from a new friend, realized that I didn't have to cure cancer, or have rescued a baby from a burning building to write a successful narrative. There are lots of everyday experiences that we all have that can answer the question and when you first sit down to write them it is easy to think that you need a great tale to wow the BEX.
The last thing and it seems to be a common thread throughout the FSO process is follow directions and answer the question!