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The FCICE Oral Exam

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity (one year and eight months, to be precise, but who's counting?), I finally took the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination this week.


I took the written test back in November of 2020, and here's a blog article about that experience.


I won't go into details about how I prepared for the test in this post. Instead, I'll focus on the test-taking experience and share some tips and warnings I wish I had known beforehand.


To give you some context, I was one of the 200 lucky souls that got to participate in the AOUSC's pilot program this summer to basically be guinea pigs for the new testing format where candidates no longer have a live proctor during the exam because now the test will be entirely computer-based.


Before diving in, check out this short video about the new test format if you haven't already. Also, here's the FCICE Examinee Handbook for your reference.


So, here it goes:


BEFORE THE TEST

Like the written test, the oral examination is administered by Prometric, and apparently, not all Prometric locations have the FCICE test available. I had to travel +3 hours from my hometown to get to an eligible branch because the nearest ones did offer the test. So, keep this in mind when booking your appointment because you may need to expand your search area to find a spot.


This is the website where you book the test. Only candidates who have passed the written examination are eligible to take it. The cost is $310.00. I received a confirmation email from Prometric immediately after and a reminder a couple of days before the test.


I booked a hotel for one night to avoid having to stress out in the Monday morning traffic trying to get there. In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best idea because it was tough for me to sleep in a different environment the night before the test. Or maybe it was just my nerves.


I drove to the testing site about an hour early. After verifying your identification, they assign you a locker to leave your belongings in since you cannot bring anything to the testing room. They pat you down, check your pockets, ankles, hoodies, and glasses, and scan you with a metal detector.


After the security check, they give you the materials you'll need for the test: 16 blank pages for note-taking and writing utensils. In my case, that was two pencils and one pen.


Now, if you are very particular about your note-taking tools, FYI, this is the type of paper you'll get:





As you see, this is basically a bi-fold brochure paper that makes up four pages if you count each side as one. A Prometric printout takes up half a page in each bi-fold, so technically, that would make 14 pages, and yes, it is blue.


Even if you insist on getting more paper for the test, they probably won't give it to you. They'll say you'll have to ask for more paper when those runout, but given the timed nature of this test, you probably won't be able to.


Since I was used to taking notes with an old-fashioned pencil on regular 8.5 x 11 paper, I did not mind this at all.


After you get your tools, you'll be escorted to a private room where you'll find a desk, a chair, a desktop computer, a headset with a mic, and noise-canceling headphones - not sure what that's for in a test like this, but I guess that's standard issue by Prometric.


FYI: The private room is not soundproof, and there is a big glass window so the proctors can see you (besides having a camera recording your every move on top of you). Of course, that also means you'll get to see and hear whatever is happening right outside.


Do your best to remain focused and, if possible, run a few practices in a busy place with people walking around you so you can get used to interpreting under these circumstances.


They will turn on your computer, and you'll see a welcome screen with your name and the name of the test you are taking, like the one below. If you don't, let the staff know.


Next, you'll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect the integrity of the test, and then it's time to perform a sound test.


For the sound test, you'll have to record your voice for five seconds, and then you'll have to play your recording to check the sound. You should see a soundwave moving as you speak, AND you are also supposed to hear yourself.


WARNING

Make sure you can hear yourself!!! If for some reason, you cannot hear your recording and you start the test, odds are something is wrong with your audio, and you won't realize it until it's too late - by the third section of the test, and by then, I believe it's unlikely they'll let you restart it.


After you complete the sound test, you'll move on to the instructions section. You'll have 15 minutes to read the instructions, which in my case, I used to take deep breaths and calm my nerves as I read through.


Once you're ready to start the test, you can click on "Next" at the bottom right corner of the screen and then "Yes, I would like to finalize this section."


I thought about letting the 15-min countdown expire so it would take me to the sight translation automatically, but I ended up clicking "Next" instead so I don't know what happens if you just let the time run out.


THE TEST


SIGHT TRANSLATION

Once you get to the sight translation, two windows will pop up automatically. The sight text will be on your left, and the test screen with the recording box, timer, and navigation buttons will be on the right.

Screenshot taken from Prometric's video

WARNING

The recording starts automatically as soon as this section starts. Whatever you mumble, whisper, think aloud, or say in any way will remain in the recording and, therefore, will be heard by the raters. So, be mindful of this and remain professional at all times. Control your breathing and your words.


Prometric's have five minutes to read and interpret a 230-word text from English to Spanish (and from Spanish to English in the second sight translation text). There are 22 scoring units in each section, equivalent to 10% of the test each.


Since no proctor is present to give you a warning, it's up to you to keep an eye on the timer to ensure you start interpreting on time.


When I was studying, I was relatively fast at rendering sight translations. Based on a 5-minute limit for a similar text, sometimes I'd have 30 - 45 seconds to spare, BUT — not for the actual test. I took a bit longer to read and understand the texts (close to two minutes) so I could not waste any time in my rendition. I finished both with only one or two seconds to spare.


SIMULTANEOUS MONOLOGUE

After the sight translation section comes the simultaneous monologue, where you'll have to interpret about 840 words at 120 words per minute for seven minutes. There are 65 scoring units in this section, equivalent to 29% of the test.


The audio DOES NOT start automatically once you navigate to this section. You'll have to press "Play" for it to do so. That also activates the recording of your interpretation.

Prometric's


WARNING

Press "Play" as soon as you land on the simultaneous monologue screen; otherwise, you risk running out of time in this section.


Once the audio starts, you'll hear some instructions for 45 seconds that are intended for you to test the audio, get used to the headphones and adjust the volume.


There is an option to adjust the volume on the screen, but you may also check the keyboard because some have buttons to adjust the volume there too.


CONSECUTIVE SECTION

In the consecutive section, you'll have to interpret a 900-word script divided into approximately 50 utterances in 20 minutes. You are allowed two repetitions in total. There are 76 scoring units, equivalent to 35% of the test.


The first utterance will play automatically as soon as you start the section. As soon as an utterance is done playing, the recording of your voice will start automatically. When you are done interpreting an utterance, you'll have to click "Next" and then "Continue and Save" to move on to the next utterance.


WARNING

Don't waste any time in this section! Click "Next" and promptly click on "Continue and Save" to move on to the next utterance as soon as you're ready. Remember, the timer does not stop, and if you waste time between clicks, there's a chance you won't get to finish the entire section.


I was slow at clicking "Continue and Save" right after clicking "Next" and I'd spend a couple of seconds there second-guessing myself, and because of that, I barely made it on time. So the 20 minutes were up when I was in the middle of my very last rendition. FYI, I only requested one of the two repetitions allowed.


Make sure you are familiar with the screens' layout so you can track how much time and utterances you have left.


To ask for repetition, you have to click "Play" again, but I recommend doing it as soon as the utterance is done playing to avoid running out of time in that section.

Screenshot taken from Prometric's video


SIMULTANEOUS Q&A

Finally, for the last section, you'll have to simultaneously interpret questions and answers between an attorney and a witness. The script is about 600 words long at an average speed of 150 words per minute for five minutes. There are 35 scoring units in this section, equivalent to 16% of the test.


Like the previous simultaneous section, you'll have to hit play for the recording to start. Even though you should be well-adapted to the headphones by now, they will replay the 45-second instructions before the test recording starts. So remember to start promptly to avoid running out of time.


This part feels like it's coming at you fast and furious, but don't fret! Do your best to keep up and remember that even if you miss a few words here and there, there is one scoring unit per every 17 words, so chances are you didn't miss many, if any.


FINAL IMPRESSIONS

I was pleased with my test-taking experience. The test is tough but fair. I thought it was very well designed in every sense of the way. The instructions were clear, the subjects and overall vocabulary were relevant, and the quality of the recordings was far better than most of the practices I worked with, which plays a significant role in how well you perform.


Remember that your performance doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be really, really good. I've heard other colleagues and read other blogs where they say this is not a test of your knowledge of legal vocabulary, and after taking it, I could not agree more.


To pass, you don't have to know every legal term under the sun. There are several different types of scoring units, including grammar, false cognates, idioms, slang, names, and numbers. So, out of almost 3,000 words in this test, only 220 are scoring units, and only a small percentage are actual legal terms.


AFTER THE TEST


After I completed the test, I read on one of the last screens that it would take 90 days for me to receive my score.


I took the test on August 1, 2022, and on October 31, 2022, the Administrative Office issued and mailed the score letter to all candidates that took the test that year. So, they did issue the results almost at the 90-day mark exactly.


I was out of the country when the letter was delivered to my home. I was debating whether to ask my husband to open it to end the suspense or wait until I returned home to open it myself.


The curiosity was too much, so I asked him to open it for me during a video call. Those felt like the longest seconds of my life. He kept a straight face when he had the letter in front of him, and then, he said, "I'm sorry. You got a 69."


My heart sank 😔 I didn't think my performance was perfect, but I thought I had done much better than a 69. Then, he smirked and said, "Oh! I'm sorry! The paper was upside down. You actually got a 96." 😅


I was really in disbelief because getting a 96 now seemed more implausible than a 69. But, when I got to see the letter, there it was.

I learned during this process that we cannot call ourselves "Federally Certified" right after receiving the score letter. We have to wait until we get the official certificate. The certificates cannot be reissued or modified - EVER! So, the Administrative Office makes a great effort to ensure our names are spelled correctly.


I received a copy of my certificate by email on January 4, 2023, approximately two months after receiving the score letter. It was finally mailed to me about two weeks after that.


If you are taking this test, I hope you do great and enjoy the experience! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

 


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