A Translator’s DipTrans Exam Experience

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

When I first signed up for the CIoL DipTrans exam, I had no idea it would be five years before I’d be able to write DipTransIoLET after my name. In this article, I’ll tell you why my journey to getting the Diploma in Translation took so long. Hopefully, this will help you in your preparation and strategy for the exam.

Registration for the DipTrans exam closes in August and the exam takes place in January each year. Many budding translators will decide to ‘just go for it’ in August, without thinking too hard about whether or not they’re prepared enough to pass the exam.

A common misconception about the Chartered Institute of Linguists DipTrans exam is that just being able to speak two languages will be enough to pass. But, without proper preparation and plenty of practice, it’s easy to find yourself among the approximately 75% of candidates that end up with a fail. I should know, because I was one of them.

DipTrans: an exam for translators with preparation and experience

Experience has shown me that professional translators have a good chance of passing the DipTrans, as long as they go in prepared. Being prepared means planning your exam strategy, doing as many past papers as possible under exam conditions and taking the right resources with you.

If you’re not an experienced professional translator, you need to get as many words under your belt as possible in the run-up to the exam. This is because, beyond being a test of language ability and cultural understanding, it’s a test of professional translation skills. Check out this article on “How to Get DipTrans Past Papers for the Diploma in Translation Exam“.

My story: a turbulent journey to success in the DipTrans exam

I first sat the Diploma in Translation exam in the Spanish-to-English combination in January 2008. I was looking for a career change from TEFL. Although I was living in the UK at that time, my Spanish language skills and cultural knowledge were good: I’d studied Spanish at university, already lived in Spain for five years, and done two 12-week DipTrans preparation courses and lots of past papers.

It was the first time in my life that I failed an exam, unless you count my first driving test.

As you probably know, candidates aren’t allowed access to the Internet during the exam. But, they can take as many paper reference sources as they want. I went into that exam with a suitcase packed with every dictionary I owned, reference books, and lengthy paper glossaries. I was relieved to see I wasn’t the odd one out. Most of the other people in the exam also had suitcases packed with books.

Thinking of sitting the #DipTrans exam? This story of how a translator passed the exam will help you with your preparation. Click To Tweet

Thinking of sitting the #DipTrans exam? This story of how a translator passed the exam will help you with your preparation.

It was a long day. By the end I hardly knew what I was writing. I used all the time and looked up as much as I could. I applied all the exam discipline I’d accrued over my life and did my best. But, when May came, I found I’d passed just two out of the three papers. So, I had a fail. It was the first time in my life that I’d failed an exam, unless you count my first driving test.

The 5-year DipTrans deadline (changed to 3 years from 2021)

For various reasons, I allowed five years to pass before I took my last opportunity to re-sit the outstanding paper. During this period, I had become a full-time professional translator, completed an MA in translation studies and was on the verge of completing my second MA in legal translation.

At that time, I was living back in Spain, but I decided to sit the exam in the UK because it fell just after Christmas. I took just three dictionaries with me that year: a Spanish one, an English one and a bilingual one. Not because I was overconfident, but because I had flown with Ryanair and couldn’t get any more books in my suitcase.

At that point I was a professional translator, which meant I could do what the examiners required, even without a suitcase of resources.

The day before the exam, I had a look over some past papers and reviewed my exam strategy. That was all the preparation I did that year. I went in, felt relaxed and sat the exam. I hardly touched the dictionaries and completed the paper comfortably within the time limit. Come May, I discovered that I’d finally passed.

The big difference between that sitting and the one five years earlier was that at that point I was a professional translator. That meant I could do what the examiners required, even without a suitcase of resources.

Check out this article on passing the #DipTrans exam. Click To Tweet

Translation muscle memory in the DipTrans exam

Earlier in this article, I compared sitting the Diploma in Translation exam to doing your driving test. Lots of people fail their first driving test because they’re still learning to drive. Their skills still need to be honed and so they make novice errors. In contrast, if you asked someone who’s been driving around for years to re-sit their driving test, the chances are, they’d pass with flying colours.

The DipTrans isn’t easy to pass, especially not with flying colours. But I think professional translators stand in much better stead to pass than those without much experience. Because there are some parts of the translation process that you just learn how to do mechanically.

Join our renowned DipTrans exam preparatory course

One way to get yourself ready for the DipTrans exam is to study with The Translator’s Studio with me, Gwenydd Jones, as your tutor. On our Advanced Spanish-to-English translation course I help you prepare for the DipTrans and give you plenty of practice. You get sample translations, the opportunity to prepare for the DipTrans with other trainees and guidance on how to get even more practice. If you want to be a professional translator or improve your standing in the industry, then contact us or do your free level test.

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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