Preparing for the ATA Certification Exam

By Tetu Hirai

I took the recent ATA Certification exam and would like to pass on some advice in the hopes that it will benefit people who take the exam in the future. Most of this advice was offered by Tuomas Kostiainen during the workshop described below.

First and foremost, attend a certification exam workshop. I found this workshop to be invaluable in preparing for the actual exam. It is organized by the NCTA and offered twice a year, a few weeks before the exam itself. The workshop provides information on the structure and subject matter of the exam, as well as on the scoring system used to determine whether a person passes. It also allows attendees to “grade” a few sample sentences to help them get into the mindset of the grader.

Next, order practice translation passages. I strongly suggest that the exam taker order at least one practice exam and use that to prepare for the actual exam. These practice exams are corrected by the same people that grade the actual exams, and detailed feedback is given on what errors were found, as well as the total error points that are used to determine if someone passes or fails. To feel more confident during the actual exam, I ordered two passages and completed both in one sitting while timing myself for three hours. For more information, including ordering practice exams, visit

Buy a few mechanical pencils with rubber grips. I found the rubber grips reduced writer’s cramp because the pencil didn’t slip between my fingers as much, and helped me focus more on translating. Also, bring extra sticks of lead in case one breaks or you run out.

Bring a lot of dictionaries—you never know when they’ll come in handy.

If you finish early, close your eyes and rest for a few minutes. After this, you can go back and proofread your translations with a “fresh” set of eyes.

Taking advantage of some or all of these tips—and devising techniques of your own—can go a long way toward helping boost your confidence while taking the exam. Good luck!