Q&A: There’s an ATA Certification exam in my city next month — should I take it?

Someone recently asked me what I thought about taking the ATA Certification exam. I don’t know if the person is aware that I’m an exam grader, but it doesn’t really matter — my advice would be the same. Well, perhaps not. As an exam grader, I am probably more cautious and likely to advise thorough preparation because I want the person to do as well as possible. Yes, you read that right. As an exam grader, I want the candidate to pass! (That’s a subject for another post.)

Now, as far as anonymity goes, although this is a public post, no names are mentioned, and I won’t tell my grader colleagues who asked this question. If an exam comes in over the next six months to a year, I’ll ask not to be assigned as one of the two graders. (That shows you how few exams we get in our language pair.)

Anyway, here is the question and my response, somewhat edited and embellished with links. Keep in mind that we’re talking about Croatian into English. The ATA database lists only 48 translators in this pair. If you work in a “bigger” or more diffuse language, such as Chinese (300 into English), Russian (446 into English), German (745 into English), French (1037 into English), or Spanish (1965 into English), you might want to ask a similar question of certified translators in your language pair to see what, if any, effect certification had on their business. Ask translators with different specialties and levels of experience to get a broader picture, and include some who are similar to you now as well as those who work in fields you’d like to target in the future. Find them by searching the ATA Directory.

QUESTION:
I wanted to ask your opinion and get some advice about the Croatian to English Certification exam. I see that it will be offered in a city within driving distance from me next month, so I’m tempted to register for it, but I wanted to see if it’s really worth it — it is a bit of an expense (hotel, travel, exam fee, then CE fees and documentation, etc.). After you received the certification, did you feel that it increased the amount of business you got? I am also hesitant about it being handwritten because I am used to translating on a computer where you can go back, edit, skip something and return, change your mind about a word, etc.

MY ANSWER:
On the one hand, it would be great for you to take the exam — we have very few candidates and want to encourage everyone who is qualified (it’s as much a test of writing ability in English as it is of Croatian language understanding and transfer skills*).

But on the other hand, it’s not really something to do on a whim, without any advance preparation.

Take a look at this webinar: http://www.atanet.org/webinars/ataWebinar93_certification.php
A big part of preparing for the handwritten exam is simply practicing writing for three hours. But also it’s useful to practice translating on paper, using only paper dictionaries. As you said, a very different process from translating on a computer.

You might also consider ordering a practice test and completing it under exam conditions. That will not only give you access to an actual retired exam passage, it will also give you feedback from a grader.

I took the exam about three years ago, and I was very glad that I had spent a few months preparing as recommended in the webinar (I did a practice session once a week). And I already knew a lot about the exam in terms of what kind of passages to expect and how it’s graded (you can read all about that in the Certification pages of the ATA website). Preparation really helps and you want your investment to pay off. I’ve heard lots of stories from good, established translators who did not pass the exam on their first try. Some of them were surprised at how hard it was simply on the mechanical level — concentration in a room full of people, writing by hand, having to focus and think on demand. It’s a short time frame for two different passages –- you have to use the time effectively. It might require a different translation strategy than what you’re used to.

As far as how helpful the credential is — it depends on the type of work you’re doing or want to do. My impression is that agencies and direct clients who have never hired a Croatian translator will send their initial inquiries to the short list of certified Croatian-English translators. So one advantage is that we get first crack at these jobs. Also many translation buyers are under the false impression that they need a certified translator to produce a certified translation. So if you want to get more traffic from your ATA listing and are interested in translating certificates and personal documents, certification might be helpful. If you get most of your jobs by word of mouth or are established in a specific type of translation, you might not see any difference in your business. I wanted to be certified for a more personal reason: I wanted the validation and something I could refer to as an indication of competence. Because I’m self-taught, I couldn’t point to any degrees or courses in my e-mail signature or resume, and I saw certification as a way to remedy that.

So I guess I would encourage you to take the exam, but to prepare for it. Also, there have been keyboarded sittings in the past, and the program is still evolving. Maybe look at the list of upcoming exams, and see if any are listed as keyboarded. You might find that after preparing, the idea of writing out the exam is not so daunting.

*This statement extrapolated across language pairs: The Certification exam tests understanding of source language and culture, transfer skills, and target-language writing proficiency. (Back up)

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  1. Pingback: Weekly translation favorites (Mar 13-19)

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