Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice tests, which are available in every language pair in which the exam is offered, are an often overlooked and under-utilized resource for preparing for the exam.

There’s an old joke in which a tourist asks a New York police officer how to get to Carnegie Hall. The cop’s reply: “Practice, practice, practice!” That could also be the answer to the question “How can I improve my chances of passing ATA’s certification exam?”

Practice tests, which are available in every language pair in which the exam is offered, are an often overlooked and under-utilized resource for preparing for the exam. Because practice tests are actual exam passages that have been retired, candidates can use them to get an idea of the sort of text they will see on the exam and prepare accordingly.

Unlike exam results, where candidates are provided with a pass or fail notice as well as information about their overall numerical score, practice tests are returned with markings and feedback. The candidate receives the marked text, together with a point breakdown by error category and brief explanations of any marked errors that aren’t self-explanatory (such as misspellings). This feedback
can be quite helpful to prepare for the actual exam.

At $80 per test for ATA members ($120 for nonmembers), the practice test costs a fraction of the actual exam registration fee and is well worth it for candidates who aren’t sure if they’re ready. Even seasoned translators taking the exam for the first time can benefit from taking a practice test.

Here are a few tips for using the practice test:

  • Allow plenty of time. Practice test grading turnaround depends on volume and other factors, so candidates should allow up to eight weeks to receive results. You’ll also need to plan ahead. By the time you register for an exam sitting, it’s probably too late to get practice test results back.
  • Read and follow instructions carefully. This includes not just the translation instructions that are part of the practice test passage, but also information about how to take and submit the test.
  • Take the test under exam conditions. Try to set aside 90 minutes of uninterrupted time and translate the passage in one go. Use only print reference material and online resources that have been cleared for the computerized exam.
  • Consider the feedback you receive carefully. The comments your receive may tell you the areas where you need to focus. For example, do you need to proofread more carefully? Should you work on target-language grammar or usage?
  • Upgrade old tests. If you requested and paid for a practice test more than a year ago and never got around to translating it or having it graded, ATA Headquarters will send you a current version of the passage for the same language pair upon request for no additional charge.
  • Get other practice as well. The practice test is intended primarily as a way to practice taking the exam. Practicing your translation skills is a secondary benefit. Look for ways to practice translating, perhaps with others in your language pair who are also preparing for the exam.

For more information about the certification practice test, http://bit.ly/ATA-certification-practice.


David Stephenson serves as chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. Contact: david@stephensontranslations.com.

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