On April 28, 2022, the ATA hosted an online seminar about the ATA Certification Exam and how best to prepare for it. The presenters were David Stevenson, A Croatian/English grader and ATA Certification Committee Chair, Tianlu Redmon, a certified English/Chinese translator/interpreter and ATA grader and Brad Karl, a certified French/English translator and copywriter.
David started by highlighting the advantages of certification which include being highlighted in the ATA directory as certified and the awarding of a certification seal which can be affixed to documents. There are currently 32 language pairings, with Korean/English and English/Korean having been recently added. Currently 1800 ATA members are certified.
The price for taking the exam in $525 in 2022. The exam is 3 hours in duration and is open book; all print resources are permitted as well as digital glossaries and dictionaries. It consists of three passages of a general nature (no specialized knowledge required), each of which is from 225 to 275 words in English or the equivalent non-English language.
Candidates must translate two of the three passages provided. There is no advantage in doing three as opposed to two translations. The exam is done in WordPad or Text Edit and is saved to a USB port. The pass rate across language pairings averages just below 20%.
Each passage is accompanied by translation instructions (TI’s) which explain the source, purpose, audience and medium of the translation. The TI’s provide context so that candidates can choose the proper register for their translations. David stressed that the exam is not primarily a vocabulary challenge. Instead it tests source language comprehension, target language writing skills, the ability to adhere to the TI’s and whether the candidate can produce a natural sounding translation.
There are two graders for the exam with a third being called in when there is a split decision on passing or not passing the candidate. Errors are assigned 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16 points depending on the severity of the error and candidates must score 17 points or less on each passage in order to pass. Three quality points can also be awarded for particularly good translations; the three points would be subtracted from the error total.
Failure in the exam is generally caused by grammar, spelling or punctuation errors; translation comprehension errors; translations not faithful to the source text; and translations that are too literal in nature, i.e., ones that follow the source text’s syntax or grammar so closely that the resulting translation is not natural sounding.
In-person exams are organized by the local chapters; there are usually two in-person sittings at the ATA annual conference. The in-person exam requires a laptop and is monitored by live proctors. The sessions are recorded. Candidates can also take the exam online by signing up for a time slot that is convenient to them. These sessions are proctored remotely and are also recorded. Print resources and digital dictionaries or glossaries stored on the computer are allowed but no CAT tools are permitted.
All three speakers strongly recommended taking the practice exam. It costs $80 for members and $120 for non-members and consists of one passage. Tianlu Redmon mentioned that since it takes 6 to 8 weeks for the practice test to be returned to the candidate, candidates should wait until they have received feedback on the practice exam before taking the actual exam. It is also important to practice using Word Pad or TextEdit and to know how to save a document as a PDF. She also recommended triple checking devices and chargers before beginning the exam and using the full three hours allowed before leaving the exam.
Ben Karl made the important point that the best preparation for the exam is experience. The practice test helps but is not a substitute for actual experience. He also stressed the importance of mastering basic technological skills such as saving to USB drives and using multilingual keyboards before attempting the exam.
The seminar was a useful primer on how to prepare for this rigorous exam. The ATA’s on-demand webinars can also provide useful information for translators on this as well as other important topics.