ATA

ATA Certification Program: Frequently Asked Questions

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ATA Certification Program: Frequently Asked Questions

General

  • How will certification help me? Will it guarantee me a job?
    ATA certification can not guarantee you work, but it does help. While there are other ways to prove yourself in the marketplace, translation companies, agencies, and clients often look for ATA certification in their initial review of job candidates. ATA certification is the only widely recognized measure of competence in translation in the United States.

  • I was certified in the past, but I let my ATA membership lapse. How can I get my certification back?
    If your membership lapsed for more than three years, you need to rejoin ATA, apply for Active Membership Review, and fulfill the continuing education requirements. If your membership lapsed for less than three years, you need to rejoin ATA and fulfill the continuing education requirements.

  • There is no certification exam in my language combination. What can I do?
    A new language combination exam may be added to the certification program when there is a sufficient long-term demand for the exam and an adequate pool of qualified graders. The majority of the work to add the exam is done by volunteers, and the process typically takes four years. Learn more.

  • Why isn't the ATA exam offered in a city near me?
    With the exception of the ATA Annual Conference, certification exams are only scheduled at the request of chapters, groups, or agencies. Contact the ATA chapter or T&I group closest to your city for details.

Registration


  • Do I have to be a member of ATA to take the certification exam?
    Yes. You must be an ATA member for at least four weeks prior to the exam date. Learn more about ATA membership.

  • How do I register for the exam?
    Candidates must submit a membership application (if a non-member), proof of eligibility, exam registration form, exam registration fee, and eligibility verification fee.

  • What is the deadline for registration?
    The completed exam registration form and fee must be received by ATA Headquarters no later than two weeks prior to the exam date. The exam registration will not be accepted until the eligibility documents have been approved. Registrations are accepted in the order in which they are received.

Note: All sittings have limited seating. Registration will close as soon as the maximum seating capacity has been reached.

  • What is the deadline for submitting the eligibility documents?
    The eligibility documents must be received by ATA Headquarters no later than four weeks prior to the exam date. Exam registrations will not be processed until eligibility has been approved. Learn more.

  • Can I submit all the paperwork at one time?
    Yes, but only if the forms, fees, and documents are received by ATA Headquarters no later than four weeks prior to the exam date.

  • Can I submit the exam registration before I submit the eligibility documentation?
    Yes, but the registration will not be processed until the eligibility requirements have been submitted and approved.

  • Do I get a refund if it is determined that I have not met the eligibility requirements?
    If you fail to meet the eligibility requirements, the exam registration fee will not be processed.

  • Can I take more than one test at an exam sitting?
    No.

  • Can I take the exam more than once a year?
    Not in the same language combination. You may take the exam in a different language combination in the same year.

  • Why isn't the ATA exam offered in a city near me?
    With the exception of the ATA Annual Conference, certification exams are only scheduled at the request of chapters, groups, or agencies.

  • There's no local chapter or group near me. What can I do?
    An exception will be considered when several translators join forces to request a local exam sitting. If an affordable site is available and an ATA-certified translator is willing to serve as a proctor, an exam sitting can be scheduled. Contact the ATA Certification Program Manager to make the request.

Eligibility Requirements


  • What are the eligibility requirements for the exam?
    The requirements are a combination of education, work experience, and language proficiency. There are five ways to meet the requirements. Learn more.

  • Why are eligibility requirements necessary?
    The ATA exam is designed for translators with a high level of language proficiency and a significant amount of experience working as a professional translator. Exam results show that it is very difficult to pass the exam when these two requirements have not been met.

  • Is there a fee for processing eligibility documentation?
    Yes. There is a non-refundable $35 verification fee.

  • How do I submit the eligibility documentation?
    Complete the eligibility form and submit it by mail with your documentation and the $35 processing fee. All eligibility documentation must be in English or a copy of the original documents must be accompanied by an English translation. The documentation cannot be submitted electronically.

  • Why does the eligibility documentation have to be translated into English?
    English-only documentation allows ATA to maintain a consistent standard of verification, regardless of the native language of the reviewer.

  • What is the deadline for submitting the eligibility documentation?
    The eligibility documentation must be received by ATA Headquarters no later than four weeks prior to the exam date. Exam registrations will not be processed until eligibility has been approved.

  • Can I submit the eligibility documentation when I register for the exam?
    Yes. The documentation can be submitted before or at the time of registering for the exam as long as the documentation is received by ATA Headquarters no later than four weeks prior to the exam date.

  • Can I send in individual pieces of the documentation as I gather them?
    No. All documentation must be submitted in one package. Incomplete documentation will be returned.

  • Can I establish eligibility now and take the exam at a later date?
    Yes. You can submit your eligibility documentation with the verification fee at any time. Your submission, if verified, will be saved in the ATA database.

  • I have been approved for voting membership through Active Membership Review. Does that mean I am eligible to take the examination?
    No. The Active Membership Review requirements are different from the exam eligibility requirements.

  • I have an advanced degree but no experience working as a professional translator. Can I still qualify to take the exam?
    Yes if you can provide official American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL) test scores for reading proficiency in the source language and writing proficiency in the target language. ATA recommends an ACTFL test score of at least "Advanced Low."

  • I am currently certified by ATA. Do I need to provide eligibility documentation before I can take the exam in another language combination? 
    No. If your certification is current, you do not need to meet the eligibility requirements for exams in other language combinations.

  • What is meant by "currently certified by ATA"?
    ATA certification is only valid as long as you are an ATA member in good standing and have met the continuing education requirements.

  • What constitutes a year of experience?
    A year of experience is defined as 12 months of full-time work or the equivalent in part-time work.

  • What is the list of approved translation and interpreting schools?
    ATA has compiled a list of programs that have met basic education requirements, including length of program, number of hours of translation courses, school accreditation, and instructor credentials. Programs that have been discontinued will remain on the list and may be used to meet the eligibility requirements.

  • Where can I find the list of approved Translation and Interpreting (T&I) programs?
    Click for an up-to-date list of approved T&I programs.

  • What if my T&I program is not on the approved list?
    You should ask the director of your program to contact the ATA Certification Program Manager for information about how to be added to the list. Please allow at least four weeks following the program's submission of documents for the request to be researched and approved.

Preparing for the Exam


  • Does ATA approve or offer courses to prepare for the exam?
    No.

  • What is the best way to prepare for the exam?
    Taking the ATA practice test. The test provides a practical introduction to the nature of the exam and how errors are marked. It is also a good indication of whether you have a reasonable chance of passing the exam.

  • What else can I do to prepare?
    Learn more about the exam content and grading procedures. Read the Tips for Candidates. Look for ways to gain more translation experience and improve your language proficiency skills. Consider enrolling in a translation program or class. Attend an exam workshop offered by an ATA chapter or affiliate. Ask translators who have passed the exam for advice.

Exam Practice Test


  • What is the ATA exam practice test?
    The ATA practice test is an exam passage from a previous year. It is designed to provide a practical introduction to the nature of the exam and how errors are marked.

  • What is the major difference between the practice test and the exam?

    The ATA practice test is a learning opportunity. The test will be returned to you with errors marked and classified by type and degree of seriousness.

    The ATA certification exam is not a learning opportunity. The exam is not returned to you, and no feedback is provided.

  • How is the practice test like the exam?
    It is the same level of difficulty as the exam.
    It is scored by a current exam grader using the same criteria as the exam.
  • How is the practice test different from the exam?
    It is taken under different conditions, such as time limitation.
    It is returned to you with errors marked and classified by type and degree of seriousness.
  • Do I have to be an ATA member to take the practice test?
    No.

  • Do I have to take the practice test before I register for the exam?
    No. The test is strongly recommended, but entirely optional. It provides a practical introduction to the nature of the exam and how the graders mark errors. It is also a good indication of whether you have a reasonable chance of passing the exam.

  • Are there any other reasons to take the practice test before registering for the exam?
    Strictly from a financial standpoint, it is better to spend $50/$90 on a practice test to be sure you are ready than to spend $300 on the exam and find out that you were not.

  • I already have X years of experience as a translator. Why should I take the practice test?
    The practice test is a way for you to see what a certification passage is like, how it is graded, and what types of pitfalls to avoid when taking the exam.

  • May I take more than one practice test?
    Yes. You may request up to three practice test passages.

  • Which of the three passage-types is used for the practice test?
    You can request a practice test in any of the three passage categories. If you do not specify a category, a general passage will be sent. Learn more.

  • How much does the practice test cost?
    Each practice test passage costs $50 for ATA members and $90 for non-members.

  • How do I order the practice test?
    Complete the practice test request form and submit it with your payment to ATA Headquarters. Allow at least fifteen weeks. The waiting period may increase when the exam schedule is heavy.

  • What do I do with the practice test?
    Follow the instructions for completing the practice test and return the original passage with your translation to the address included in the test packet. It is recommended that you make a photocopy of your translation for your records.

  • Are there any suggestions for taking the practice test?

    Before taking the test, review the ATA exam grading standards and error marking documents. Remember, the practice test will be graded with the same criteria as the exam itself.

    Before taking the test, review the tips for exam candidates. These work for the practice test as well.

    Simulate the exam conditions as much as possible, including time limit, paper-only resources, and handwritten translation.

    Carefully follow the instructions for completing the practice test.

  • Will the grader know who I am?
    No.

  • Why do people fail the practice test?
    Omissions, mistranslations where the meaning of the original text is lost, and accumulation of target-language writing errors. Tests taken from a candidate’s native language into a target language account for a high percentage of the failures.

  • If I pass the practice test, will I pass the exam?
    There is no guarantee that you will pass the exam.

  • If I do not pass the practice test, will I fail the exam?
    The chances are high that you will fail the exam.

  • What do I do if I fail the practice test?
    Look for ways to gain more translation experience and improve language proficiency skills. Consider enrolling in a translation program or course. Attend an exam workshop offered by an ATA chapter or affiliate. Ask translators who have passed the exam for advice. Review the tips for exam candidates before you take another practice test.

About the Certification Exam


  • What is the purpose of the ATA certification exam?
    The exam is designed to assess an individual's ability to provide quality, professional translation in a specified source-target language combination. Learn more.

  • What are the benefits of passing the exam?
    Passing the exam and becoming ATA-certified is a distinction that can open doors to new business and higher compensation.

  • What is the exam?
    This ATA certification exam is a three-hour, proctored, open book test comprised of three text passages. It is offered in 26 language combinations.

Passage A:  general; mandatory translation
Passage B:  technical, scientific, or medical in content
Passage C:  financial, business, or legal

  • How long are the passages?
    Each passage is approximately 225 to 275 words.

  • What if I complete all three passages?
    Only Passage A and Passage B will be graded. Passage C will automatically be discarded.

  • Is it true that the exam is handwritten?
    Most of the time. Two to three keyboarded examinations with limited seating are offered each year. These are clearly noted on the exam schedule. All other exams are handwritten.

  • Can I bring reference books to the exam?
    Yes. You may bring as many books as you would like. However, each exam passage is selected in order to avoid highly specialized terminology that would require research. There are terminology challenges, but they can be met with a good general dictionary and a general specialty dictionary (medical, technical, legal, financial).

  • Can I bring a laptop, tablet, or smartphone?
    No. Electronic equipment and digital resources are not permitted at an exam sitting. An exception may be made for individuals with disabilities, who may use a non-memory typewriter for the exam. Contact the ATA Certification Program Manager for pre-approval.

  • Is Internet access available?
    No.

  • Why can't I use the Internet?
    The exam is a test of knowledge and experience. It is not a test of how well you can research and use online resources.

  • Do I need to bring a calculator to convert measures, distances, currencies, etc?
    No. You are not expected to make these mathematical conversions. You will not be penalized if you choose to do the conversions, but incorrect conversions will be marked as errors and result in a lower score.

  • What else?
    Because passages may be used again, candidates are bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss or reveal the contents of the examination. Violation of this agreement may be grounds for loss of certification.

Taking the Certification Exam


  • What is the pass rate of the exam?
    The overall pass rate is below 20%.

  • What do I need to do differently to prepare for a handwritten exam?
    Reliance on a keyboard has changed the way we think. Keep in mind with the handwritten exam that it is not as easy to go back and insert qualifiers in the right place. Think your sentences through before you write.

  • Will there be instructions with the exam?
    Yes. There are Translation Instructions at the top of each exam passage. These can be thought of as the client's expectations in a real life translation assignment. They set the context for the translation. Failure to follow the instructions will be penalized when your translation is graded.

  • What is included in the Translation Instructions?
    Translation Instructions specify the context for the translation, such as text source, translation purpose, audience, and medium. Choose the correct register (language level, degree of formality) based on the specifications. Be sure your word choices are correct for the context of the translation.

  • How do I handle formatting?
    Use the same formatting as the original.

  • Can I include alternative translations?
    No. Alternative translations will be considered errors. It is up to you to select a viable translation. The graders will not do this for you.

  • Can I include clarifications?
    Not unless you're certain that readers from the target-language culture will miss the meaning without them.

  • What about U.K. versus U.S. English?
    Candidates are expected to use standard American spelling and usage. Avoid regionalisms wherever possible. Read the Into English Grading Standards document.

  • How should I translate idioms?
    Look for the equivalent expression in the target language. That is, don't translate idioms literally, and don't omit them because you can't find an exact translation.

  • Can I revise the source text in my translation?
    No. You are being graded on your ability to translate the entire passage of the original into the target language, not on your ability to rewrite or improve upon it.

  • Can I break a long, complicated sentence into two or more shorter ones?
    Yes, provided nothing is added or omitted which would result in a change in meaning. Be cautious about this, especially in a legal passage.

  • What should I do if I find an error in the source text?
    If you find a typographical error, please tell us in a note at the end of your translation of that passage. Do not write it on the exam passage itself.

    If it’s clear from the context what the correct spelling or wording should be, change your translation accordingly. Example: Brot un Butter instead of Brot und Butter should not be translated as bread an butter.

    If the error is debatable, do the best you can with what’s there. Example: If you think odd style should really be old style, translate odd style and add a note suggesting that there’s a typo. If you translate old style and you’re wrong about the typo, an error will be marked.


  • What is the most common avoidable mistake?
    Careless omissions. When you finish translating a passage, take some time to check whether you have omitted a title, a heading, an item in a bulleted list, a sentence, or an entire paragraph.

  • What is a good last minute check?
    Pretend you are reading the passage aloud in the target language. Does it sound grammatically correct and natural? Following the syntax too closely can create awkward sentences and will be considered errors by the grader. Read Tips for Candidates.

Grading


  • What is the standard for passing?
    The standard for passing the exam is a level of obvious competence with some room for growth—roughly equivalent to a Level 3 on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale.

  • What is the procedure for grading the exam?
    Every exam is independently evaluated by two or more certification program graders. The process ensures both anonymity and objectivity.

  • Do the graders know who I am?
    No.

  • How are exams graded?
    Two primary documents serve as the basis for all error marking in the ATA certification program:

    Flowchart for Error Point Decision
    Framework for Standardized Error Marking


  • What are the "Into-English Grading Standards"?
    "Into-English Grading Standards" is a comprehensive standards document that applies to the grading of all ATA into-English exams—an invaluable resource for certification exam candidates.

  • When will I find out if I passed?
    Allow at least fifteen weeks. The waiting period may increase when the exam schedule is heavy.

  • How will I be notified of the exam results?
    You will be notified by letter.

  • What grading system is used?
    The exam is pass/fail only. There is no grade.

  • How are the exams scored?
    A point system is used to rate the seriousness of errors. If you fail the exam, your notification letter will include the range of error points scored for your exam: 18–25 points, 26–35 points, 36–45 points, or 46+ points. No other summary or commentary of errors is included.

  • When will I get my exam back to see my errors?
    You will not get your exam back. You will only be notified whether you passed or failed. If you failed, you will be informed of the range (18–25 points, 26–35 points, 36–45 points, or 46+ points).

  • Is there any way to see my exam and the marked errors if I fail?
    You may request a review by a third grader. Reviews are not done until the end of the exam year (December 31.) If your failing grade is upheld, the exam with errors marked will be returned to you. Learn more.

  • Is there any way to see my exam and the marked errors if I pass?
    No.

Exam Review


  • How does the review procedure work?
    Reviews are conducted after the close of the examination year (January 1 to December 31). Photocopies of the graded passages are sent to the reviewer who will re-grade the exam and evaluate the errors marked by the previous graders to see if they conform to the grading criteria.

  • Is there a fee for the review?
    Yes. The review costs $250. If the failing grade is overturned, the fee will be refunded in full.

  • Is there a deadline for requesting a review?
    Yes. You have six months from the date of your notification letter to request a review.

  • How do I apply for a review?
    Complete the review request form and submit it with the fee following the instructions on the form. Please note that to request a review, you must be a current ATA member.

  • What happens if the failing grade is reversed?
    In the case of a reversal, you receive a certificate of certification, dated as of the original notice of failure, and the review fee paid is refunded. Your name is published in The ATA Chronicle with the names of other recently certified members. No disclosure is made of the fact that certification was awarded based on a review. You will not see your exam.

  • What happens if the failing grade is upheld?
    If the reviewer upholds the grade of fail, you will receive a copy of the passages with an evaluation summary and at least the minimum number of errors marked to support the result.

  • I disagree with the results of the review. What can I do?
    You may appeal the certification exam review. Learn more.

Appeal of an Exam Review


  • What is the "appeal of a certification exam review"?
    This is an opportunity for you to dispute the error marking on the original exam and review.

  • What is the procedure for the appeal?
    A panel of three Certification Program graders will review your appeal. The panel will be chaired by a member of the Certification Committee. The chair will monitor and document the panel's compliance with policies and procedures. The panel will decide whether to overturn or uphold the failing exam result. The panel's decision is final.

  • Is there a fee for the appeal?
    Yes. The appeal of review fee is $200.

  • Is there a deadline for requesting an appeal?
    Yes. You have six months from the date of the letter notifying you that the failing exam grade was upheld.

  • How do I request the appeal?
    Follow these instructions to prepare and submit your appeal.

  • What happens if the grade is reversed?
    In the failing grade is reversed, you receive a certificate of certification, dated as of the original notice of failure, and both the review and appeal fees are refunded. Your name is published in The ATA Chronicle with the names of other recently certified members. No disclosure is made of the fact that certification was awarded based on an appeal.

Recertification


  • What is the purpose of recertification?
    ATA certification is an ongoing commitment to professional knowledge and skills. Recertification through continuing education (CE) is one way ATA-certified translators can demonstrate their commitment to that principle.

  • What are the recertification requirements?
    Certified members must provide documentation for 20 hours of CE activities every three years. ATA-certified translators over the age of 60 are exempt from the CE requirement. Learn more about applying for an age-related exemption.

  • What is considered continuing education?
    There are a range of activities that qualify as continuing education for recertification, including ATA webinars, teaching, independent study, challenging work experiences, and sessions at the ATA Annual Conference.

  • I am certified in more than one language combination. Do I have to complete 20 CE points for each?
    No. Only 20 CE points are required, regardless of the number of certifications.

  • Can I earn points before I am notified that I passed the certification exam?
    No. Your CE recertification cycle does not begin until you have received your certification notice.

  • Do I have to earn CE points to keep my voting membership privileges?
    No. If you do not meet the CE requirement, you will lose your certification but retain your voting member status.

  • How do I know when I need to report my CE points?
    ATA Headquarters will send you a recertification reminder six months before you need to report your CE activities.

  • What is the process for collecting and reporting CE points?
    You should begin to keep a record of all ATA-approved CE activities. Six months before your recertification date, ATA will send you a reminder about your recertification. You can then report your CE activities electronically or by paper. Learn more.

  • Can I send in individual pieces of the required information as I gather them?
    No.

I still have questions.

Please email the ATA Certification Program Manager or call ATA Headquarters at (703) 683-6100, extension 3013, for additional questions.