ATA Certification Exam Overview

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Certification Exam Overview

What is the purpose of the ATA certification examination?

The ATA certification examination tests for professional translation skills. It is designed to determine whether a candidate is able to produce a translation that is professionally usable within the framework provided by the Translation Instructions. The skills in question are defined by the positive answers to four broad questions:

Does the translation demonstrate compliance with the specifications of the Translation Instructions?
Yes, if:

  • The translation is usable and intelligible in the specified context.
  • Register, style, and wording match comparable documents written in the target language.

Does the translation demonstrate understanding of the overall content, purpose, and argument of the examination passage?
Yes, if:

  • Attention to and understanding of the topic are used to help solve challenges and arrive at a correct rendering.
  • Attention to and understanding of the topic help the candidate use dictionaries competently.
  • Everything integral to the source text is included in the target text and nothing that is not implicitly or explicitly stated by the author is added.
  • Accurate analysis of the source text ensures that the target text reflects the view, argument, or presented information on all levels (text, sentence, and word).

Does the translation demonstrate competent familiarity with translation strategies of various kinds?
Yes, if:

  • View, argument, and information are presented appropriately for the target culture.
  • Syntax is appropriate to the target language; the target text does not necessarily imitate the sentence structure of the source text.
  • Idioms in the source text are rendered so as to convey a comparable meaning in the target text.
  • Wording is as unambiguous as possible.

Does the translation demonstrate good writing in the target language?
Yes, if:

  • The target text flows smoothly and does not contain awkward expressions that mark it distinctly as a translation.
  • There are few or no mechanical errors (relating to grammar, usage, spelling, or punctuation).

What does the certification examination consist of?

An ATA certification examination is a three-hour, open-book, proctored exam that offers the candidate three passages of about 225 to 275 words each (actual text for passages with English as a source language and the English equivalent for passages with English as a target language). Two of these passages must be translated.

Each examination passage is chosen in such a way as to avoid highly specialized terminology challenges requiring research. There are indeed terminology challenges, but they can be met with a good general dictionary.

In addition to the text to be translated, each examination passage includes Translation Instructions, specifying the context within which the translation is to be performed (text source and translation purpose, audience, and medium) and providing specific instructions such as “text is intended for educated non-specialists” or “translate xxx as XXX.” Translation Instructions can be thought of as reflecting the client's expectations, were the examination a real-life translation assignment.

How is the examination evaluated?

Graders of the ATA certification examination are trained to make their grading objective and uniform. In reviewing and grading examinations, they are guided largely by two documents:

  • a Flowchart for Error Point Decisions that looks at how an error affects the explicit meaning, understanding, usefulness, or content of a translation;
  • a Framework for Standardized Error Marking that specifies errors by type; and

The ATA standard for a passing examination is a level of obvious competence with some room for growth. Candidates can obtain an idea of what this means in practical terms by consulting the ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance. A passing grade in the ATA examination is roughly equivalent to a minimum of Level 3 as described in the ILR document.

How to Apply

Arrangements for taking a certification exam are made through ATA Headquarters. The fee of $525 includes all administrative and grading expenses. ATA Headquarters must receive registration with payment of $525 at least two weeks before the exam is administered. You must be a member prior to registering for an exam. It is advised that you join ATA at least four weeks before the exam date to allow time for paperwork to be processed.

Warning: each sitting has a maximum capacity and exam sittings in major metropolitan areas frequently fill up weeks or months in advance.

Candidates will be provided further information on test administrator and location once they have registered for an exam. To register, download and submit the Certification Registration Form.


No refunds will be made if written notification is received at ATA Headquarters after the sitting. All requests for refunds must be made in writing and are subject to a $25 administrative fee. Requests should be sent to the Certification Program Manager.

Revised January 2017