PREPARING FOR THE ATA CERTIFICATION EXAM
A report on a workshop for candidates planning to take the ATA certification examination. BY NORMA KAMINSKY
On August 23, Tuomas Kostiainen, NCTA President and member of the ATA Certification committee, who has been an ATA exam grader, once again stepped up to share his knowledge, experience, and advice with translators contemplating taking the ATA Certification Exam. Tuomas’ presentation included a discussion of the exam itself, reasons to take it, explanations of eligibility requirements, skills tested in the exam, grading, preparation, planning, types of errors, and tips for success.
Basic exam information
The ATA Certification Exam was implemented in 1973. Its intent, in the absence of other national standards in the United States, is to be a testament to the translator’s competence in a given language combination. It is an open book examination that consists of translating two passages representative of typical texts within the domain. The pass rate is <20%.
The certification is valid only while the translator’s membership is valid (i.e., dues are paid to ATA). There are 27 language combinations -13 into English, and 14 into foreign languages.
One reason to attempt ATA certification is that it may be a fact of distinction -what sets you apart from other translators. The eligibility requirements include having an academic degree, other certifications or accreditations, and/or experience as a translator. It is necessary to register and pay for the exam in advance.
The skills measured in the exam itself are comprehension of the source text, writing in the target language, and translation techniques. More specifically, the full meaning of the text must be conveyed without additions or omissions, the candidate must effectively use dictionaries, and the target text should flow naturally and be written in an appropriate style.
Preparation and planning
An excellent way to prepare for this exam is to take practice tests, available for purchase from the ATA. These practice tests allow the applicants to familiarize themselves with the test, assess their skills, and see how the test is graded. They are not required, but are highly recommended. Reading a lot in the target language is also a good way to prepare.
Once a candidate registers for the exam, he or she should think about what to bring. Exam-takers may bring (but not share) any number of books they want, including dictionaries, reference works, style books, grammar books, etc. Electronic equipment is not permitted.
Candidates translate two passages, each about 225-275 words, in three hours. The General passage is mandatory; for the second passage, the candidate may choose between a Science/Technology/Medicine text, and a Law/Business/Finance text. The passages are selected to represent the level of difficulty expected in daily work.
Grading and other tips
Two individuals grade the exam and determine if it passes or fails. If they agree, their decision is final. If they disagree, the exam is sent to a third grader, who makes the final Pass or Fail decision.
The grading is based on error points, with values of 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 points. Eighteen error points in one passage means that the passage fails. Both passages must pass in order to pass the exam. In other words, if one passage has 18 or more error points, the exam fails regardless of the quality of the translation of the other passage.
On occasion, points may be awarded for exceptional translations; these positive points are subtracted from the error points.
When taking the exam, Tuomas recommends reading all three passages completely before choosing which two to translate, not making hasty last-minute changes unless there is an error, and proofreading carefully. NK