top of page

Tips to Avoid Failing an Interpreting Test

It's no secret that as interpreters, we have to take tests. Many tests.

We have to take our certification exams if we want those credentials. We have to take tests to interpret for some clients as part of their vetting process. And sometimes we even have to retest every year to maintain our status with those clients.

That's part of the reason why I talk about my numerous exam experiences on my YouTube channel because I know that for most of us, the experience of taking an interpreting test is not a fun one.

One thing I haven't spoken about is the fact that I've been on the other side too. Besides interpreting, I've played different roles in the language services industry.

One of the roles I've had is being a test rater for a language services provider. I don't have an official count, but I guesstimate that I must have listened to about one thousand test-takers by now.

Through this experience, I've been able to pick up on common patterns among candidates that tend to fail those tests. So, here are some tips on how to avoid those pitfalls:

1. Learn about the test

If you don't know the parameters of the test, most likely, you won't know how to approach it properly or how to prepare for it.

Every certification exam that I know has a handbook publicly available. These handbooks usually include details about the number of segments or questions, the interpreting modalities, the scoring units, the speed, the number of words in the utterances we'll have to interpret, and much more.

Many private companies provide at least some information about their proficiency tests but if you feel that information is not enough, try to email them to request as many technical details about the test as possible.

Knowing the structure of the test like the back of your hand is crucial. In my humble opinion, I'd say it's the top reason because other issues trickle down from here.

In my experience as a test rater, I've heard many candidates struggle with the options to record their interpretations, how to move on to the next question, how to request a replay, and some don't even know if they are even allowed to do so.

I suggest:

- Download the handbooks or study guides if available and learn the test structure.

- Try the test-delivery platform if you can (CCHI and NBCMI, for example, have that option).

- Research anything you can about it and get input from colleagues who have been through the experience.

2. Prepare properly

If we don't know the specifics of the type of test we are taking, we most likely won't know how to prepare properly for it, which is the second reason some of us fail.

It's hard to prepare for the unknown. But is it really? If we learn about the test structure as much as possible, we'll have a good idea of what to expect.

For example, if it's a medical interpreting test, we can expect:

  • A dialogue between a provider and a patient.

  • A patient describing symptoms.

  • A doctor talking about steps to solve the patient's problem, which usually includes tests, medications, dietary or lifestyle changes.

  • The scenario will likely involve the most common specialties (gastroenterology, cardiology, ob-gyn, pediatrics, endocrinology, emergency room visits). It's far less likely that the scenario will involve sleep or hyperbaric medicine, for example.

The same goes for any interpreting test in other fields. We can often anticipate what to expect and how to prepare for it.

3. Avoid cramming

Developing specific skills takes time. Lots of time. Cramming only a few days before the test is often a cause for failure.

To achieve the level of performance that we need to succeed, we need to do a combination of small tasks over a longer period of time, not a monumental task once or twice before the test.

So, if you can, schedule your test allowing yourself enough time to have consistent study sessions over a reasonable amount of time.

4. Repeat practices

I often hear colleagues say about drilling a practice, "That's cheating. You will end up memorizing the whole thing." - Uhm, that's the point!

There is so much value in repetition, and it's the only way to train our brains to develop the speed required to make those bilingual transfers and carry out those complicated processes that we ask of them while interpreting.

Practice each modality that will be part of this test (consecutive, simultaneous, sight translation, etc.) and dedicate extra time to the one you struggle with the most.

5. Keep calm

If you know all about the test you are taking, you'll know what you're up against and what you have to do to prepare for it. If you are prepared for it, you will feel confident and keep your nerves in check. Of course, that's easier said than done. Because even with all that, sometimes our stress can get the best of us.

Here are some final tips to keep calm before a test:

  1. Try to schedule the test for a time of the day when you feel your best.

  2. If possible, don't schedule other important activities for that day (especially before the test).

  3. Make a checklist and prepare everything you need for the test the day before.

  4. Get plenty of sleep the night before the test.

  5. Fuel up your body with a healthy and nutritious meal before the test, but avoid eating something new that may cause an upset stomach.

  6. Dress as comfortably as possible to take the test. For some of us, that could mean a hoodie and leggings. For others, that could mean a business suit to get in the zone and activate their interpreting superpowers. Find out what works for you and go with that.

  7. Arrive early. The last thing we want is to feel rushed on the test day.

  8. No cramming the morning of the test. What's done is done. However, I've found great benefits in warming up in my car with an easy practice that I know I can rock to boost my confidence.

  9. Do some stretching and breathing exercises to relax when you get to your station.

  10. Have a positive mental attitude and focus on the excellent results you will get.

You got this! You can do this!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page