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On April 6, 2022, the ATA presented an online seminar about how translators can improve their chances of passing translation tests.  The presenter was Marina Ilari, an ATA certified English>Spanish translator with over 16 years of experience. She is the chief executive officer of Terra Translations and co-host of En Pantuflas, a podcast about translation. She also has had experience drafting translation tests.

According to Marina, translation tests are a kind of audition to see if the translator and the company are a good match for each other. The test evaluates  not only language proficiency but also other qualities such as the ability to follow directions or to communicate effectively.

Marina discussed some of the myths surrounding translation tests. One common myth is that they are used to get translations done without paying for them. While it is impossible to say this never happens, Marina believes that most serious companies would not engage in such behavior since it is unethical and against industry standards. Another myth is that the reviewers who evaluate the tests have a vested interest in seeing prospective translators fail so as to reduce competition for work.  Marina does not ascribe to this belief since most reviewers are usually in-house linguists, quality assurance professionals or freelancers with a long-standing relationship with the company. Creating translation tests  is an investment that the company makes in itself and it is to the company’s advantage if the prospective translator passes the test.

Translation tests may be general in nature but often contain short segments of texts that test for specific subject matter expertise. As regards tests for specific subject matter expertise, Marina thought doing  two or three of them would be sufficient since most companies do not pay vendors for taking tests. Generally tests should not exceed 500 words and are usually 300 words or less. If you are requested to do more, a conversation with the client may be in order. Timelines vary from test to test; some may give you 48 hours and others as much as two weeks. Occasionally you may be asked to book a two-hour window within which time you have to complete the test.

Some of Marina’s tips for successful test-taking include the following:

  • Make sure to read and follow instructions and check for any specific requirements for formatting, timeline, character restrictions, etc. Be careful with Excel files because sometimes the instructions are at the bottom of the page.
  • Research the client thoroughly. Try to determine who their target client is and if you fit into those parameters. Also research the company’s payment practices on sites such as and
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. For example, does the client provide glossaries or style guides? What level of formality does the client require? Does the client have a preferred terminology? By asking questions like these, you show that you are proactive and care about overall quality.  Be careful not to ask questions that are already answered in the email containing the test.
  • Be attentive to detail: if there are segments in the translation that can’t be translated exactly or are ambiguous, leave a sentence or two about your word choices and how you addressed these issues. If more context is required to translate certain phrases, leave a comment to that effect. Do not put your comments in parentheses in the text. Do not use track changes or highlight the text in question.  For word documents, the comment can be inserted into the file or may be put into the body of the email that you send to return the test. For excel spreadsheet, comments can be inserted into a separate column.
  • If you find what you think are mistakes in the test, bring this to the attention of the company but do so in the form of a question with a phrase such as “Could this be a typo?“ Be very sure that it’s a mistake before citing it as such.
  • Proofreading: there should be at least two rounds of proofreading. Stepping aside from the project for a short time is useful in that you come back to it with fresh eyes.
  • Punctuality: keeping to the deadline is as important as the quality of the text. For a translation of 500 words or less, a turnround time of three to five days would be normal.
  • Feedback: always ask for feedback on your test. If you pass the test, find out if the reviewer made any comments on your test. If you do not pass the test, ask if you can re-take it or take a different test. Two weeks is usually enough time to wait if you have not already received any feedback. Remember that the managers don’t know you and may be hesitant to work with you so you need to be proactive.

The presentation was interesting in that it pointed out how translation tests can be an opportunity as opposed to just an unpleasant chore. ATA member who may want to view a video of the presentation can do so at no charge by logging into the ATA database.

Patricia Stumpp




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