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The FCICE Written Exam

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Are you planning on taking the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination? Then this post is for you!


If you want to skip the read, watch this video instead.


The Administrative Office of The United States Courts oversees the Federal Court Interpreter Certification. Right now, this certification is only available for English/Spanish interpreters.


Technically, there are no specific prerequisites to take this exam other than meeting the qualifications listed in the handbook. Basically, you decide if you are qualified and want to take it.


In Part 5 (p. 45) of the handbook, they suggest a self-assessment to gauge if you're ready by answering a series of questions, but that's about it.


The FCICE is a two-phase examination administered in alternate years. The written exam is usually in even years and the oral one in odd years. Unfortunately, oral and written tests have been postponed due to the pandemic until further notice.


ENROLLMENT


Check out the US Courts website to find out when the enrollment will be open and the testing dates.


Then visit Prometric's website to book your test. This is the entity that administers the test. When I took the test in 2020, the cost was $210.00


Yes, it's that simple. There is no need to submit an application or attend a workshop as we do for the state-level certification.


TEST STRUCTURE

  • Computer-based test.

  • Two sections: English and Spanish.

  • 200 multiple-choice questions total (100 per section)

  • Each section has five parts:

    • Reading comprehension

    • Language usage

    • Error detection

    • Synonyms

    • Best translation

  • Passing score: 75% per section


PREPARING FOR THE TEST


Five months before the test, I enrolled in a course with Transinterpreting. The course offered 18 hours of instructions, including lectures from expert linguists in English and Spanish.


On top of that, there's a generous amount of material for self-study, like exercises, vocabulary lists, and mock tests.


My main takeaway from the course was learning the logistics of the test and specific strategies to do well on each part.

No matter what course you choose, my advice would be to print everything as soon as possible. I started the course, and I attended a couple of live classes. After that, I was dormant for a while.

Then I started going through all the lectures, and when I was done with all of them, I printed all the practice materials. That's when I began studying more seriously. Printing the material was great because I could carry it with me and study wherever I went.


I also borrowed Gruber's Complete GRE Guide from the library. It is awesome because it has different study programs that you can follow depending on how much time you have. It also has a lot of vocabulary and reading comprehension exercises.


After I covered all the material I could in the time I had, I decided to go for the practice tests. I already had the ones offered by Transinterpreting, the free practice test by the FCICE, and I also purchased one of the practice exams from the University of Arizona.


Here's a breakdown of my scores in each practice test:

  • Transinterpreting: English 82 / Spanish 90

  • FCICE Free Test: English 88 / Spanish 91

  • U. of AZ: English 74 / Spanish 61

As you can see, when I took the practice test from the University of Arizona, I failed both sections.


You can imagine how I felt when that happened just a few days before the test. My confidence plummeted, and I questioned everything that I had been doing so far. But I slept on it, and I decided to face it with renewed energy the next day.


The next phase in my study plan was to review my mistakes in every practice test, and I realized something fundamental. While practice tests are great and were vital for me to pass, they're not perfect. At least not as perfect as the real FCICE.


The reading comprehension questions from the actual test were easier to answer than those in some practice exams. Even though the texts were very complex, the questions were well-formulated and straightforward without any subjective elements.


On the other hand, I feel that some items in some practice tests were more complicated because they were more confusing.


After I realized that, I felt a little better and more hopeful that maybe those low scores would not reflect how I was going to do in the actual test. I embraced a positive attitude and decided to try my best.


IT'S TEST DAY!


Well, let's start with the day before. It's very important.


The day before the test, I did a full review of my practice tests, leaving out the reading comprehension. I decided not to do any more of that until the actual test.


I went to bed earlier than my usual time. Fortunately, I was so tired I was able to fall asleep even though I felt anxious.


On the test day, I woke up around 6:00 am for one final review. Sometimes it's best not to do that, but I felt it would give me extra confidence. In hindsight, it wasn't necessary.


My test was scheduled at noon so I knew I had just enough time. I had coffee while I studied, and I decided to have a late breakfast because I planned to leave home around 10:45 am.


Since the test is administered by Prometric, I was pretty familiar with the location and parking logistics. If you haven't watched it yet, here's a video where I share my story about why it took me six years and three attempts to get my CCHI certification, which is also administered by Prometric. You'll understand why I'm considered a frequent flyer at that location.


Anyway, I took a long hot shower, and I dressed as comfortably as possible. To me, that means sneakers, jeans, and a hoodie. I love hoodies. Some interpreters feel like dressing fancy helps them feel more mentally prepared, like they're in the zone, so find out what works best for you and go with that.


When I arrived at the Prometric center, I had to show my picture ID, they gave me a locker where I had to put all my belongings. Then, after a thorough security check, I was escorted to my station.


TAKING THE TEST


They give you 2.5 hours to complete the test. First, there's a 10-minute tutorial to help you become familiar with the test, which was really helpful for me because I used that time to stretch, breathe, and calm down.


To my surprise, the system has a tool to highlight and strikeout text which was extremely helpful for those tricky multiple-choice questions. There's also a tool to mark questions if you have doubts and would like to check them at the end, and you can also skip questions.


The first section was the English one, starting with the reading comprehension part. That is what took me the longest time.


I liked the computer format more than the paper format because the screen only showed one question at a time, so I was able to focus solely on the question right in front of me.


I was done with the English part in just under one hour, and the Spanish one took about the same amount of time.


I decided to just tackle the questions in the order they appeared and marked the ones I wasn't too sure about.


When I finished, I had about 45 minutes to review. The test gives you the option to review all the questions or just the ones you marked. Since I felt I had enough time, I reviewed all the questions.


I have to confess that I did the eeny, meeny, miny, moe in a couple of questions because I just had no idea. However, I felt confident about all the reading comprehension answers, the language usage questions involving legal terms, and most error detection questions.

The trickiest part for me was the language usage (in both languages) because there were words and expressions that I had never heard in my life. The translation section was also challenging because most of the options seemed acceptable.


I clicked the "End" button seven minutes shy of the 2.5-hour mark. I was eager to see my score, but then I was invited to complete a survey.


When I was done, the screen went completely blank for a moment. I semi-freaked out inside but kept my cool because I was being watched from a camera, but I really wanted to scream.


After that, I got my score sheet confirming I passed. Yey! I got 89% in English and 91% in Spanish for an average of 90%


My scores in the Transinterpreting practice were very close to my actual scores. The scores I got in the FCICE practice exam were basically identical to the real deal. So, to me, that shows that those practice tests are very well done.


When I finished, the technician printed my scorecard, sealed it with an embosser, and signed it. Very official.


If you are taking this test, I wish you the best of luck. For me, the real challenge begins because I will attempt to pass the oral exam as soon as it becomes available. Be sure to stay tuned because I'll be posting about it!





















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1 Comment


Guest
Mar 26

Hi! Thank you for sharing this. I have my orientation and written exam in May. I have been taking the FCICE practice test to practice but would you say that would be enough to pass? I have to study more of the glossary and terminology but in your experience, were some of the questions the same as the FCICE?

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