Specialists in oral translation services

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Test-taking – a few dos and don'ts

By Catherine Sherry, AIB

Interpreting is a pretty test-tastic occupation, and most of us have at least one tale of woe that we can hopefully laugh about later. From the test that started rather impossibly with ‘Today I’d like to talk about maiden flights and swansongs’ to the poor candidate who misconstrued ‘Let us consider euthanasia’ as being all about ‘youth in Asia’, the pitfalls are many and the stakes can be high.

Having been on both sides of the glass in recent years, I’d like to offer a few humble tips to give it your best shot:


1. Prepare. Interpreting is all about thorough preparation well in advance. If you’re doing your initial training, you need to have the final assessment in mind from day one. Get to work immediately on any areas where your trainers feel you need to improve. For accreditation as staff or freelance to institutions like the UN and EU, listen extensively to their webcasts and mine their websites taking notes on their structure, bodies and agencies, history, names of important figures, current agendas, and more. Being over-prepared isn’t a thing in interpreting.

2. Practise. This is physically and mentally tiring so it has to be well planned to be worthwhile. Practising in front of someone who can give you feedback is ideal, whether a colleague or just a friend who you explain the aim of the exercise to. Both audiences allow you to work on performance nerves, and non-interpreters can tell you what they thought about your target language and if you sounded convincing, for instance. If you’re alone, video your interpretation and watch it back, but don’t be too hard on yourself! Either way, if you’ve identified any problems, interpreting the same speech again is a good way to fix them and build your confidence. Check out Michelle Hof’s excellent AIB blog piece on where to find practise speeches online.

3. Healthy body, healthy mind! Working towards a test can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Mitigate the potentially damaging effects by eating well and making time for whatever type of physical exercise you enjoy.


4. De-clutter your mind. You’ve come this far; all that remains now is to stay calm! Trying to squeeze in more practice on the day won’t make you a better interpreter but may well make you more nervous. Instead, go for a walk, do some breathing exercises, read aloud to warm your voice up, and focus on the fact that you are prepared. It’s essential to keep those debilitating nerves in check. As Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

5. Be professional. The best way to tackle a test is by treating it as a real interpreting assignment. Don’t think about the examiners –you certainly don’t have mental space to spare on what they may be thinking or noting down– but rather picture a real person simply really needing to understand what the speaker is saying. Shift your attention from you and your performance to just getting the job done. Demonstrating sound coping skills is also crucial. Minor omissions, mistakes and slips of the tongue can all be overcome if you stay absolutely focused on the next segment of speech and keep on going.

May the force be with you! And if doesn’t work out this time, draw on the experience and congratulate yourself on giving it a go.