At the end of 2016, I set several professional resolutions for myself and my translation business. One of them was to become ATA certified. I had taken the practice test in 2016, attended a French to English certification test review session at ATA57, and had nearly five years of full-time experience under my belt. All indicators pointed to my being ready. I was thrilled to find out this month that I passed my exam on my first try and I am delighted I can now say that I am ATA certified for French to English.
I was inspired by the recent Chronicle article, Who Wants to Fail ATA’s Certification Exam?, which came out just as I was preparing to take the certification exam myself, to share some of my own experiences preparing for the exam that will hopefully be of use to anyone who intends to tackle the test in 2018.
Practice makes perfect, but…
There is no best way to “practice” for the ATA certification exam. I truly believe that the best way to be prepared is to have translated many hundreds of thousands of words and to have already encountered the myriad translation traps that the test passages are likely to contain. If you are a highly specialized translator and only work in a narrow range of fields, you may find it useful to branch out and practice translating a wider variety of texts. The test passages cover many different fields but are selected to avoid “highly specialized terminology challenges.” I think I felt confident when I saw my passages because I had worked on similar texts before.
Get the advice of a trusted colleague
Translators often work in a bit of a bubble. If you aren’t already working with a proofreader, find a trusted colleague (perhaps one who is already certified or who would like to be certified, that way you can help each other) to read over some of your practice translations. Several ATA language divisions have started certification review groups that you could join to get feedback from multiple colleagues (and give feedback, too). If your division hasn’t started one yet, suggest it! There is a great Chronicle article on the Slavic Language Division’s experience setting up its group here.
For goodness’ sake, take your time!
When I took my exam this past fall, I was poring over the exam sheet and frenetically (but carefully) typing my submission. I had just finished the draft of my second passage and about an hour and a half remained to finish. Suddenly, several people around me started getting up and taking their submissions to the proctor. Hold the phone, fellow translators: the exam is not a race and you don’t get extra points for submitting in under two hours. Take all of the time you are given to really polish your work. You will find things you can improve.
For the love of translation, take the practice exam!
The practice exam is an invaluable way to receive feedback and find out whether you need to invest more time in preparing or whether you should attempt the real deal. I took the practice FR > EN test in the summer of 2016. My practice test confirmed that I was ready and gave me valuable insight into what I needed to watch out for during the real test, both in terms of test content and my own blind spots. After my practice test, I waited an entire year to take the actual exam. I feel that my patience and willingness to dedicate the time to improving my practice paid off.
ATA certification is a valuable credential for translators based in the United States. It is a signal to clients and colleagues and a validation of years of hard work. If you’ve been on the fence about certification and you feel like you’re almost ready, make 2018 your year!
Additional Certification Resources:
One Member’s Tips on How to Prepare for ATA’s Certification Exam (Chronicle)
How I Passed the ATA Certification Exam on the First Attempt (Shark Translations)
Study resources for translation certification (Savvy Newcomer)
Preparing to Take the ATA Certification Exam (Webinar on YouTube)
If you have other resources to share, please mention them in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow me on Twitter at @Bentranslates.
Wishing all of my colleagues a happy and prosperous 2018!