How to Pass the CertTrans Exam — Interview with Best Candidate Award Winner

Last updated Mar 28, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

Wondering what you need to do to make sure you pass the CIOL Certificate in Translation (CertTrans) exam? Look no further. Our former Conversion Course student, Jenifer Atkins is here to help you.

Jen won the CIOL Best Candidate Award for the Certificate in Translation (CertTrans) having achieved the best overall mark of all 2023 CertTrans candidates. So, if anyone knows how to pass the CertTrans, it’s her.

Get your notepad out and read on to discover Jen’s top tips to help you succeed in your translation exam.

Photograph of Jenifer Atkins receiving the CIOL Best Candidate Award for the Certificate in Translation (CertTrans) alongside the article title.

Translator profile

Name: Jenifer Atkins

Location: Cornwall, UK

Occupation: Freelance translator

Language combinations: Spanish to English and French to English

Awards: Winner of the CIOL Best Candidate Award for the CertTrans 2023 (Double Distinction)

Qualifications and studies:

MA (Hons) in Modern and Medieval Languages (French and Spanish), University of Cambridge

Conversion Course with The Translator’s Studio

Punctuation Pro course with The Translator’s Studio

Contact info: contact Jen through her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.

What’s the CIOL Best Candidate Award for the CertTrans?

Interviewer: Congratulations on winning the CIOL Best Candidate Award for the CertTrans. That’s no mean feat given that it means you got the highest score in the CertTrans exam out of all the translators who entered in 2023. Can you tell us a bit more about the award and the awards ceremony?

Thank you! It came as a complete surprise. I wasn’t even aware that CIOL gave awards. When I read the email, I thought it was spam for a moment—the kind where they tell you you’ve won something but you haven’t really.

I was of course absolutely delighted when I realised. To be recognised in this way at the start of a new career in translation is hugely validating. It has given me a confidence boost exactly when I need it.

Receiving the award on CIOL Translators Day

I was honoured to be presented with my award by Baroness Coussins, Vice President of the CIOL, at the ceremony in London, alongside the other winners.

CIOL’s Translators Day, which came before the ceremony, was a great experience. It was exciting and inspiring to see so many translators gathered in one place and to make connections with fellow linguists.

Why a career in translation?

Interviewer: What most attracted you to training to become a professional translator?

Quite simply, I love translating! It’s absorbing, challenging and endlessly interesting.

My enthusiasm for translation and languages started back when I was a young teenager translating Spanish song lyrics with a dictionary pinched from my sister’s bedroom.

It has always been an ambition of mine to work as a professional translator. When I returned to the UK after three years in Paris, I was in search of a new career direction and freelance translation was top of my list of interests to explore.

Why qualify by passing the CertTrans exam?

Interviewer: What led you to prepare for the CertTrans exam?

I wanted a recognised and regulated professional qualification, as I knew it would help me find work. I had considered the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) but it didn’t seem like the right fit for someone at an early stage of their translation career.

When CIOL announced the introduction of the CertTrans qualification in late 2022, I was thrilled. The exam has been designed as a stepping stone to the DipTrans but it’s also a respected stand-alone qualification.

I found out about The Translator’s Studio’s Conversion Course around the same time as the CertTrans. They seemed like an excellent pairing to get me up and running. I worked through the Conversion Course and entered myself for the exam towards the end.

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How to pass the CertTrans

Interviewer: what steps did you take to get yourself ready to sit the CertTrans? Do you have any suggestions to help other translators who want to prepare to pass the CertTrans?

In addition to the Conversion Course, I purchased the CertTrans preparation course offered by the Translator’s Studio called the CertTrans Examination Trove. I read through it in detail and found it to be a brilliant and comprehensive resource for passing the CertTrans exam.

The things I found most helpful in the Trove included the exam timing suggestions for how long to spend on each part of the translation process. The commentary on the exam assessment criteria and information on what to expect when doing an exam from home were also very useful.

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Exam reference materials and past papers

You’re allowed to refer to printed materials and reference books in the exam. I didn’t need to be asked twice to begin collecting a curated range of beautiful reference tomes!

At the time I entered myself for the exam, there were no past papers available. Luckily, some CertTrans past papers became available in the nick of time. I did one under exam conditions and asked for feedback on my effort from The Translator’s Studio. This was enormously valuable as it brought into focus what I needed to concentrate on to succeed in the exam.

Extra translation practice

To get more practice, I took 500-word extracts from Spanish articles published online and then translated them under exam conditions. Of course, the level and content were perhaps not the same as the real thing but it allowed me to get as close as possible to the exam experience.

I did this a few times and by exam day I felt comfortable with my timings and knew what to expect.

Last-minute exam preparation

Just before the exam, I read through the candidate information that CIOL had sent and highlighted anything important. Testing the virtual platform and checking my computer’s settings were also key. Finally, I printed off the trouble-shooting guide just in case.

One thing I found useful was to have my planned exam timings printed out as well as the process for if something goes wrong technically on the day (luckily, this didn’t happen). It was details like this that helped me feel more relaxed and prepared.

Top tip to pass the CertTrans exam

Interviewer: What’s your top tip for anyone wondering how to pass the CertTrans exam?

I would absolutely recommend the support on offer from The Translator’s Studio, both the Conversion Course (which includes detailed feedback on translations) and the Examination Trove.

But other than that …

Check, check, check! Be systematic when checking that each element of a sentence has been translated and is present in the target language, as accuracy is vital for passing the CertTrans. I received this advice as part of the feedback I paid for on the one-off correction of the CertTrans past paper I mentioned above. I followed it and it worked! It was brilliant advice.

Also, have a clear plan for your exam timings. It’s easy to get carried away with the drafting or editing and forget to leave enough time for other essential parts of the translation process such as checking and proofreading.

Starting work as a translator

Interviewer: Now you’ve qualified as a translator, what do you plan to do next?

I want to continue developing my skills. Feedback is important, particularly for early-career translators. So, I’m in the process of applying for a mentorship programme where more experienced translators pass on their expertise and guidance. My plan is to do this alongside professional translation work.

Preparing for the DipTrans exam

Interviewer: Do you plan to sit the DipTrans exam one day?

Yes, absolutely. I’d love to be able to add the DipTrans qualification to my CV. The CertTrans is part of my plan to get there.

Prepare to pass the CertTrans exam with The Translator’s Studio

Jen found our training invaluable in her path to success in the CertTrans exam. Check out our courses offering an introduction to translation and CertTrans preparation. If you’re unsure whether you’re ready, do our free translation level test now.

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Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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