The ATA Certification Examination
An Introduction for Candidates
Dr. Geoff Koby, Certification Chair
David Stephenson, Deputy Chair
Jonathan Mendoza, Certification Program Manager
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
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
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 is ATA Certification?
program implemented in 1973
over 2,000 ATA members are currently certified, many in more than one
language pair
a testament to a translator’s professional competence to translate from one
specific language to another
awarded after a candidate meets the education and/or experience eligibility
requirements and passes an open-book examination which is administered
under controlled conditions
available only to ATA members
remains valid as long as membership in the Association continues and
continuing education requirement is met
automatically converts membership from associate membership to active or
corresponding membership status (associate student membership needs to be
upgraded in order to claim the credential)
Planning Ahead
You must present a valid photo ID to the proctor before taking the exam.
You may use dictionaries and other reference materials:
general bilingual dictionaries,
monolingual dictionaries for the source and target language,
standard specialized dictionaries, if available
style manual, spelling guide, dictionary of word combinations
Candidates may not share dictionaries or other resources.
No electronic resources of any kind may be used.
Cell phones and pagers must be turned off and stowed away.
The exam must be written by hand. (Candidates with documented disabilities should
notify Headquarters well in advance for special accommodations.)
Bring a few dark ballpoint pens or number two pencils. If you use a pencil, a manual
pencil sharpener will be useful.
Be sure to arrive at the exam site on time. You should be there thirty minutes before the
exam begins. You will be required to submit your exam at the same time as other
If you finish working in the last 10 minutes of the session, please remain seated so that
you do not disturb other candidates as they complete their exams.
Taking the Examination
You may write the examination in capital letters, but if the words require accents
or other diacritical marks when they are in lower case, you must include them.
Also, if a word needs to be capitalized, you must so indicate by making the letter
in question larger or underlining it.
A “clean” final copy is not necessary. Deletions, inserted words, and other
revisions are acceptable as long as the translation is legible. It is your
responsibility to ensure that the graders can clearly understand what you write.
All original exam passages, your examination, and all other paper (used and
unused) must be returned in the sealed exam envelope. If you do not return all
three exam passages, your exam will not be graded and the exam fee will be
forfeited. Also, you will not be able to take another exam in that same language
combination for the rest of the exam year.
Time Considerations
You will have three hours to complete the exam. Plan to spend the first ten
minutes deciding which of the two elective passages you will translate in addition
to the mandatory general passage.
Don’t translate more than two passages. Only two will be graded.
If you change your mind in the course of the examination, be sure to X out the
passage you do not want to be graded.
Pace yourself so that you will have time to reread your translations for sense
and for accuracy.
Skills to Be Tested
The Certification examination tests the language skills of a professional translator.
Comprehension of the source-language text.
Criterion: Translated text reflects a sound conceptual understanding of the
material presented.
Translation techniques.
Criteria: Translated text conveys the full meaning of the original. Common
translation pitfalls are avoided. Dictionaries are used effectively. Sentences are
recast appropriately for target-language style and flow.
Writing in the target language.
Criteria: Translated text is coherent. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax,
usage and style are appropriate.
What does the certification examination consist of?
An ATA certification examination 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. Passage
A is required. Candidates must choose either Passage B or Passage C (but not both).
Passage A must be translated. It is a general text that expresses a view, sets forth an argument or
presents a new idea. Examples: a newspaper editorial, an essay, a non-fiction book.
Passage B may be technical, scientific or medical in content. It may be written by an expert, but not
for other experts in that field. Examples: a patient education brochure, operating or installation
instructions, an encyclopedia article.
Passage C may be financial, political or legal in the broadest sense. It may be written by an expert,
but not for other experts in that field. Examples: a contract or lease, a financial report, a
government regulation.
Each type of 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 and a general specialty dictionary (medical, technical, legal,
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 “use U.S. English” 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 consistently endeavor to make their grading
objective and uniform. In reviewing and grading examinations, they are guided largely by
three 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
● a Rubric for Grading which permits rather precise articulation of what is
inadequate in the translation.
● 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.
All exams are sent to two graders. If they agree on the outcome, the exam goes no
further. If they disagree, the two gradings are sent back to each of them in a
collaborative grading process. If they still disagree, all gradings are sent to a third
grader for a final decision.
The exams are graded according to a point marking system. The grader identifies
errors by category, according to the long-established Framework for Standardized
Error Marking. The grader assigns 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 error points for each error. The
scale reflects experienced graders’ judgments about the relationship among different
types of errors and about what sorts of errors might be allowed in a translation that
meets ATA standards.
The maximum reportable score per passage is 45 error points. A grader may stop
marking errors when the score reaches 45 error points.
A grader may award quality points for specific instances of exceptional translation. (Quality
points are not awarded for overall “artistic impression.”) Each exceptionally good rendition
may be awarded one quality point, up to a total of three quality points per passage.
Examples of renditions earning quality points include
choice of a particularly felicitous word or phrase
exceptionally skillful casting of a sentence or sentences
target-language rendition that precisely mirrors ambiguity in source text.
Any quality points are subtracted from the error point total to yield a final score. A passage
with a score of 18 points or more receives a grade of Fail.
Although the use of points may impart a certain impression of objectivity, it is in truth still
subjective. In no way is the score on each passage meant to be a percentage. An error score
of 20, for example, does not mean that 80% of the passage is correct. The error score is
simply a number that, along with the error scale that generates it, embodies the graders’
understanding of translation quality and certification standards.
Rubric for Grading
What is it?
● The 2009 Rubric (also known as the "Orlando Rubric") is the culmination of
intensive work since the 2005 Seattle conference aimed at developing a useful
tool, alongside the Flowchart and Framework, for evaluating candidate
The purpose of the Rubric is threefold:
● It lays the groundwork for a holistic approach to grading that takes into account
the Translation Instructions and text-level challenges.
● It provides a description of our standards and criteria that puts the Flowchart and
Framework into context. The outcome of grading according to the Flowchart
should match the descriptors of the exam at the appropriate level of quality.
● It offers a way to describe our expectations (standards, criteria) that makes sense
to candidates before they take the exam and after they receive the results, as well
as to the interested public.
Examples of Error Point Decisions
No error points assigned: Some renditions that are technically incorrect (according to
certain style manuals) might not be counted as errors at all if they have become accepted in
everyday use. Example:
Use of which for that when not set off by commas.
Shoes which are too small may cause blisters.
One error point: Target-language errors that do not result in misunderstanding.
Run-on sentence: The house has been on the market for eight months and my wife thinks
we should move the goats into the back pasture.
Comma splice: I moved the goats into the back pasture, it took all day.
Lack of agreement: The number of runs batted in, not the number of hits, decide the ball
Error of capitalization: the german language or die Deutsche Sprache.
Punctuation (absence of one parenthetical comma): Shoes, if worn on the wrong feet may
cause blisters and likewise Shoes if worn on the wrong feet, may cause blisters.
Four error points: A rendition that introduces ambiguity.
To reduce risks to the human embryo, in-depth studies on suitable laboratory
animals are needed. (clear)
In-depth studies on suitable laboratory animals are required to reduce risks to the
human embryo. (ambiguous)
Eight error points: The meaning of a sentence is seriously impaired.
Example, English into German:
This situation is the result of tidal forces
translated as Diese Situation bewirkt die Gezeiten
(This situation causes the tides).
Spelling: These measures will not effect savings (instead of affect savings).
A target-text phrase or sentence that means the opposite of the original (e.g., “left”
instead of “right,” affirmative instead of negative) is generally assigned eight error
points, unless the change of meaning is catastrophic to the passage as a whole.
Sixteen error points:
The 16-point error is reserved for those cases that meet one of the following two
(1) A phrase that is crucial to the passage is mistranslated to such a degree that the
change in meaning has catastrophic consequences for the meaning of the passage
as a whole, not just the meaning of a particular word, phrase, or sentence. This
criterion is context-sensitive; the same mistranslation may be catastrophic to one
passage but not to another.
Source text: Вскоре после начала войны британские самолеты начали
сбрасыватл на немецкую территорию фальшивые продуктовые карточки.
Acceptable: Soon after the war began, British aircraft began to drop counterfeit
ration cards on German territory.
Candidate: Soon after the war began, British aircraft began to drop artificial potatoes
on German territory.
(2) An important sentence is so syntactically flawed that it is
practically impossible to decipher. The loss of meaning is as serious as if the entire
sentence had been omitted. Even though this usually involves a series of errors, the
grader cannot distinguish between one error and another. (If the errors can be
distinguished, they should be graded separately.)
Acceptable: Landscapers have dramatically altered the natural balance of urban
parks, increasing the proportion of male trees and hence the pollen counts reported
so impassively on the daily news.
Candidate: Landscapers have make over dramacticlly the balance natural of the
urban-parks increasing that male tree proportion and following the counts pollenial
such reported impasse of the today news.
The criterion of “catastrophic consequences,” as it appears on the flowchart, refers
to the consequences for the text and its usefulness to the reader, not to any
perceived, anticipated, or imagined real-world consequences.
Tips for Candidates
Read both of the elective passages before you decide which to translate. Do the
dictionaries you brought cover the subject matter? Are there complicated sentences that
will take time to untangle?
When you finish a paragraph, read it over to yourself. Does it sound right, or does it
sound awkward and stilted? Will changing the word order make a difference?
Working with a handwritten translation, instead of a word processor, may call for a
different way of thinking. For example, it’s not as easy to go back and insert qualifiers in
the right place. Think your sentences through before you write.
You will be graded on your ability to render the entire message of the original in the target
language, not on your ability to rewrite or improve upon it.
Carefully read the translation instructions at the top of each page and choose the correct
register (language level, degree of formality) based on the specified target audience. The
translation instructions set the context for the translation. Failure to follow the instructions
will be penalized when the translation is graded.
Observe the formatting of the original. If paragraphs are separated by a line, do the same
in the translation.
Don’t add clarifications unless you’re certain that readers from the targetlanguage culture will miss the meaning without them.
 The exam instructions also say “Translate everything below the horizontal line.”
This is a reminder that any headings or subheads, for example, are considered
part of the passage Follow he conventions of your language combination with
regard to words or terms that remain in the source language. Be sure not to add
or omit information. Additions and/or omissions can change the meaning
 Qualifiers are also important.
 Be careful where you place qualifiers and modifiers. Remember that word order
is not the same in all languages and that careless placement can completely
change the meaning.
Alternative translations will be considered errors. It is up to you to select a viable
translation. The graders will not choose for you.
Alternative translations will be considered errors. It is up to you to select a viable
translation. The graders will not choose for you.
Unwieldy sentences can be broken into shorter ones, provided nothing is added or
omitted to change the meaning. Use particular caution in this regard when translating
legal passages.
Avoid regionalisms wherever possible, using instead more standard words.
Candidates are expected to use standard American spelling style and usage.
Candidates must use the new German spelling and punctuation rules.
The leading reference book containing the new official rules is DUDEN: Die
deutsche Rechtschreibung, Volume 24 (Mannheim, Leipzig, Wien,
Zürich:Dudenverlag, 2006).
This new volume of Duden also lists and identifies the new foreign (mostly
American/Englsih) words that are acceptablein German, revised ,
recommended, and generally admissable spelling variations of words affected
by the latest round of reforms. ATA graders marking examinations from English
into German will accept all spelling variations listed in this version of the Duden.
Pretend you are reading the passage aloud in the target language. Does it
sound both grammatically correct and natural? Following the syntax of the
source text too closely may be penalized if the resulting sentence is
unidiomatic/awkward in the target language.
It is especially dangerous to translate idiomatic expressions literally. Try to find
an equivalent expression in the target language. For example, in the phrase
“…hanging around the house,” “hanging around” conveys the idea that one is
relaxing, being lazy. Don’t omit an idiom just because you can’t find an exact
Use dictionaries judiciously, and be sure your word choices are correct in
context. If a dictionary offers more than one translation for a word, don’t
assume you can use any of them interchangeably. It sometimes helps to cross
check an unfamiliar term you have tentatively selected by looking it up in the
other direction.
If a word or phrase is not in your dictionaries, apply your translation skills.
Perhaps it is a compound whose parts are in the dictionary, a derivative of a
word that is listed, or a cognate you can look up in the target language. In other
cases you are expected to determine the meaning from the context and
determine the correct term/phrase in accordance with the translation
instructions. Texts selected as exam passages are modified to avoid obscure
terms, an you will be penalized if you simply note “not in the dictionary.”
Remember that you will be working without a spell checker. Consider bringing a
monolingual dictionary in your target language.
Pay attention to spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Conventions vary from
one language to another, and failure to follow target-language rules can change
or obscure meaning.
Consider bringing a grammar and stylebook for your source target language.
You are not expected to make mathematical conversions of measures,
distances, money, and the like. You will not be penalized if you convert
correctly, but you will if the conversion is wrong.
Proofread carefully. Check
proper names
numerals and dates
commonly misspelled words
placement of punctuation and diacritical marks
repetition (a bird in the the hand)
Also proofread for grammar and usage: subject/very agreement, prepositions, very
tenses, and syntax (too close to the source text?) Don’t make hasty last-minute
changes unless you made a mistake. If you’re undecided, it’s safer to trust your first
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does the examination come with instructions?
A: Yes. Each examination passage includes Translation Instructions that provide
information such as the source of the presented text and the purpose, audience, and
medium of the target text. You are instructed to produce your translation for the
specified purpose. The Translation Instructions may also specify that certain terms
should be left untranslated or that term "X" is to be translated as "Y." Graders will
penalize any failure to comply with the Translation Instructions.
Q: What are the most common avoidable mistakes?
A: Disregard for instructions and careless omissions. Before you begin translating
passage, carefully consider the translation instructions, which specify a context and
purpose for the translation. Inattention to these instructions will be penalized.
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 a paragraph.
Q: Can I take more than one test at a sitting?
A: You may only take one test at an exam sitting.
Q: Can I break a long, complicated sentence into two or more shorter ones?
A: Yes, provided nothing is added or omitted which results in changes in
meaning. Be cautious about this in a legal passage especially.
Q: What should I do if I find an error in the source text?
A: If you find a typographical error, please tell us in a note at the end of your
translation of that passage. (Don’t just write it on the exam passage itself — it might
not be noticed.)
If it’s clear from the context what the correct spelling or wording should be, adjust
your translation accordingly.
Example: “Brot un Butter” — “Brot und Butter”
(don’t translate 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 may be a typo. If you translate “old style” and
you’re wrong about the typo, an error will be marked.
Q: Do you accept British spelling, punctuation and usage ?
A: All candidates translating into English are expected to use standard American spelling,
punctuation and usage.
Q: What happens if I do not translate the mandatory general passage?
A: The exam will not be sent to graders. The ATA certification program staff will assign a
grade of Fail.
Q: What happens if I translate more than two passages?
A: If a candidate does not follow instructions and translates both elective passages, the
ATA certification program staff will arbitrarily select one of the two for grading.
Q: When will I find out whether I passed or failed?
A: Allow fifteen weeks. There are periods of the year with a high concentration of exam
sittings and the waiting period may increase.
Q: Why does it take so long?
A: The exams are sent to ATA Headquarters and photocopied, then mailed to two graders
(working translators in the US and abroad who receive an honorarium for their services to this
program). If these graders disagree on the pass/fail outcome of an exam, they consult with
each other to seek agreement. If they cannot reach agreement, the exam is sent to a third
grader, who in turn may consult with initial graders or other graders in the workgroup. These
steps can add substantial time to the grading process. After the graded exams are returned to
Headquarters, the results are recorded and you are notified by mail.
Q: Do the graders know who I am?
A: No.
Q: When will I get my exam back to see my errors?
A: The exam is a no-comment, no-return exam. You will be notified by mail only whether you
pass or fail and for fail you will be informed of the score range (18-25 points, 26-35 points, 3645 points, or 46+ points).
Q: Is there any way to see my exam and the marked errors?
A: If you pass, you will not see your exam. If you fail, the Certification Review
process allows you to see your exam and the marked errors for an additional fee.
Q: How do I apply for a review?
A: The review process, like all other components of the Certification Program is
open only to current members of ATA. You must remain a member of ATA in order
to apply for an examination review. You have six months from the date of your
notification letter to pay the fee and apply for a review. Reviews are conducted at
the close of the examination year, which runs from January to December. The first
batch of reviews goes to reviewers in January, with subsequent batches going out
as needed. The policy and request forms are available on the ATA website and
from our offices.
Q: How does the review procedure work?
A:Your record is scrutinized at Headquarters for possible processing errors and to make sure
you are a current member of ATA. Photocopies of the graded passages are then sent to a
reviewer, who evaluates the errors to determine whether they conform to the grading criteria.
The reviewer also grades the exam again.
In the case of a reversal, the review fee paid is refunded, and you receive a certificate of
certification, dated as of the original notice of failure. 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.
If the reviewer upholds the grade of Fail, you will receive copies of one or both passages with
at least the minimum number of errors marked to substantiate the result, along with the
source text.
Q: How does a person become a grader for the ATA certification program?
A: Graders are selected from among ATA members who are certified in the language
combination they will grade. Some are translators who performed especially well on the
examination; others are recommended by current graders, or express an interest to the
program administrator at ATA Headquarters. As part of the selection process, potential
graders are asked to grade a previously marked exam, which is then reviewed to determine
that the grading conforms to the established grading guidelines.
Being a grader also requires special talents. Not all good translators make good graders.
Grading requires a special mix of translation skill and knowledge in the source language and
the target language, flexibility, creativity, an open mind and a commitment to ATA and the
There are often opportunities for new graders to join the program. Graders are paid a stipend,
but it does not begin to match a translator’s salary. If you are ATA-certified and interested,
please contact Headquarters for more information.
Q: Why can’t ATA schedule the exam in my hometown?
A: ATA only schedules the exams given at the annual conference. Other exams are
scheduled by local groups and chapters, or by certified members who wish to organize
and proctor a sitting with approval from Headquarters.
Q: Why can’t we use computers for the exam?
A: ATA is working to make keyboarded examinations possible. But for the first few years
there will only be a limited number of sittings that allow keyboarding. Unless a sitting is
advertised as an exam that allows keyboarding, all exams will continue to be offered by
paper and pencil.
For most sittings with paper and pencil, no electronic equipment of any kind is permitted in
the examination room. Some accommodations will be made for people with ADArecognized disabilities by contacting Headquarters. Most accommodations can only be
made at approved individual sittings, not at scheduled group sittings.
Q: Do I need to bring a calculator to convert measures, distances, currencies, and the
A: Calculators, like other electronic equipment, are not permitted at the exam sitting. You
are not expected to make these mathematical conversions. However, if you choose
to make any such conversions, you will not be penalized if you convert correctly, but
you will if the conversion is wrong.
Q: How often are the exam passages changed?
A: The passage rotation schedule depends upon several factors, such as demand for
exams in the respective language pair and the number of fail results that have been
reviewed or appealed. However, any candidate who fails the exam in a given
calendar year is assured of having the opportunity to take the exam in the following
calendar year with a different set of passages. 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.
Q: I’m a well-respected medical [legal, technical] translator, but I can’t seem to pass the
certification exam. Why not?
A: The only way to be sure of the reasons you failed is to apply for review. If you don’t want
to do that, another option is to take a practice test, which will give you some feedback on
the types of errors you may be making. Keep in mind that candidates frequently do well in
one passage category, but not in another. The exam is not directed to one particular
specialty area.
Q: I have X years of experience as a translator already. Is there any value to practice tests
for me?
A: Again, 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.
Q: How does the practice test program work?
A: Practice tests are exam passages from previous years, graded by the same people who
grade the exams. Your practice test will be returned with any errors marked and explained.
Q: Which of the three passages is used for the practice test?
A: You can request a practice test in any of the three passage categories. If you do not
specify, a general passage will be sent. Each practice test costs $40, and you can request
as many as three.
Q: How will certification help me? Will it guarantee me a job?
A: ATA certification will not guarantee you work, but it can help. While there are other
ways to prove yourself in the marketplace, translation agencies, bureaus and clients often
look for certification as an initial criterion when hiring a translator. ATA certification is the
only widely recognized measure of competence in translation.
Q: Once I become certified, is the credential good indefinitely?
A: The certification testing program is considered a benefit of ATA membership. A
candidate must be an ATA member in order to apply for a practice test or sit for an
The credential is also only available to members and is valid only as long as ATA
membership is maintained. Continuing education points must be accumulated and
reported every three years in order to maintain the credential. For additional information
about the continuing education program, go to the ATA website or contact Headquarters.

The ATA Certification Examination An Introduction for