11 CertTrans Preparation Top Tips for 2024

Last updated Jun 16, 2024
By Amy Bathurst

The CIOL CertTrans exam is a great way to get a translation qualification on your CV. If you’re thinking about taking the CIOL CertTrans exam soon, you’ll need to be prepared.

But don’t worry! In this article I’m going to share my top tips for your CertTrans preparation. These tips helped me secure two distinctions in the CertTrans exam and they’ll help you too. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.

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Looking for information about the CertTrans exam?

Wondering what the CertTrans exam is? Visit this article for all the information you need about the Certificate in Translation from the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

Already signed up for the CertTrans? Read on for my top tips on how to pass the CertTrans.

1. Learn to translate

Although the CertTrans exam is at a lower level than the DipTrans exam, you’ll likely still need some professional CertTrans preparation to ensure you pass first time.

Even if you’ve got a languages degree like me, and you’ve studied a module or two on translation, there’s still a lot you can learn from specialist translation training delivered by professional freelance translators.

I took the Translation Conversion Course, which combines theoretical and practical training with detailed feedback and one-to-one tutorials. I found the feedback most valuable when preparing for the CertTrans exam, as it showed me what mistakes I was constantly making. By taking the feedback on board and implementing it in your translations, you’ll be much more prepared on exam day.

2. Focus on accuracy in your translations

The best way to pass any exam is to know exactly what the examiners are looking for, and in this case, that’s accuracy. Perfecting your translation process is essential in achieving an accurate translation, as it helps you focus on one thing at a time. Once I had developed a structured translation process, I found myself producing much more accurate translations than before. This is one of the main focal points of the Translation Conversion Course and it was key in my CertTrans preparation.

3. Practice, practice and more practice!

On top of your training, you’ll need to practise regularly. Translation ability, just like your language skills, is like a muscle that requires regular use or you risk losing it. Keep translating in the build-up to the exams, whether that’s through volunteering (e.g. for Translators without Borders or TED), further studies or just finding suitable texts in your source language that you can translate. The CertTrans Examination Trove offers suggestions for finding texts to practise with. Alternatively, you can check out the one-off extremely detailed feedback options here.

4. Do mock CertTrans exams to get your timing right

Practising in exam conditions is key to getting your timings right. In a professional context, you should have longer than a few hours to complete your translation. So, trying to get it right in the time you have for the exam can be a challenge.

It took me a while to adjust, but the CertTrans Examination Trove covers how to best fit everything into the three hours you have. After following that guidance, I finally managed to get my timings just right.

5. Get to know the online exam platform

Timing won’t be the only challenge. I don’t know about you, but I was more used to sitting exams in person with only a pen in hand than I was to sitting them online.

Being able to do the CertTrans exam from the comfort of your own home is an advantage, but it can also take some getting used to. I suggest you head over to the CIOL website to practice using the platform in advance. You can also get tips by watching Gwen’s Interview with John Worne, CEO of the CIOL, on how to pass the CertTrans exam.

6. Practise using physical dictionaries

One good thing is that you won’t be expected to know everything off the top of your head. The exams are open book, meaning you can take in as many dictionaries as you like, although you won’t have access to online resources.

Since most of us are used to relying on the Internet, it’s best to practice using physical dictionaries before exam day. I used a monolingual dictionary for each language, a bilingual dictionary, a collocation dictionary, a thesaurus and a style guide. Check out Gwen’s recommendations for the best Spanish-English and French-English dictionaries, the best thesaurus and best style guide.

You can also create your own resources, as long as they’re on paper. One thing that worked for me was creating my own personal glossary. It contained all the terms I’d accumulated throughout my translation training.

7. Become a subject expert

Translation skills are only part of what makes a good translation. You also need to know your subject. Once you know which semi-specialised paper you’re going to sit, it’s advisable for you to read as many subject publications or news articles as you can. If that sounds like a tall task, try listening to podcasts.

By doing this in both languages, you’ll be able to expand your knowledge of terminology and build a specialist glossary of all the terms you think could come up on exam day. The CertTrans Examination Trove has some recommendations for publications to look out for, depending on which paper you choose.

8. Polish your source language skills

Besides subject knowledge, keeping up your language skills is key. The best way for a translator to do this is to read texts in your source language every day. Try to read texts you enjoy but that are also similar to the ones you’ll be facing in the CertTrans exam.

9. Work on your writing skills in your first language

One thing most developing translators don’t realise is how important your target language writing skills are. Idiomatic writing is a fundamental part of translating at a professional level.

I know firsthand how difficult this can be when you’re stuck in the text and you get caught up in your source language. But every language has its own textual conventions. Every language has different rules for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and register.

In my CertTrans preparation, I started writing in English every day; it didn’t matter what it was about, as long as I was practising my writing. Practice makes perfect (or so they say), so keep writing in your first language. That way, producing an idiomatic translation will come more naturally to you.

10. Learn how to proofread

As well as being a good writer, a translator is also an excellent proofreader. Our attention to detail helps us notice little mistakes that others don’t. I love proofreading, but even I can admit proofreading your own work is a lot harder than it looks. It’s much easier to proofread a text you’ve never seen before than one you wrote.

Here are some common proofreading mistakes that translation exam candidates often make when training. Brush up on your knowledge of stylistic conventions, grammar and punctuation rules to help you notice your own mistakes and to proofread your translations more accurately. The Punctuation Pro Course can help you learn all about English punctuation, or you can head over to this article about the best punctuation book for US and British English for some excellent resources for self-study.

11. Dedicate time to your CertTrans preparation

Finally, as with anything, confidence is key. Exams are nerve-wracking. I was scared. But knowing that I had trained for this gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I could do it. So, start preparing today to head into those exams as confident as you can be.

Check out the CertTrans Examination Trove

The Translator’s Studio offers the CertTrans Examination Trove to help translators in all language combinations prepare for the CIOL CertTrans exam. Get yours now!

Written by Amy Bathurst

Amy Bathurst is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and proofreader specialising in the environment and tourism. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn, where she posts tips, tricks and advice to share with her network.

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