There may various reasons why a translation company may prefer a translation test to a translation sample:
- Often the purpose of the test is not only to assess the quality of the translation, but also to see how well the translator follows the instructions given with the test. For example, when I worked in the translation department of a major software company, we used tests to assess candidates for staff translator positions. The tests were short portions of longer documents (about 250 words to translate in a 750-word document), with clear instructions about what to translate and what not, what to do in case of doubt and so on. We rejected many candidates because they would not read through the instructions: if I am looking for a technical translator when I know that each project will come with detailed instructions, I want to screen out the translators who skip the instructions and plunge directly in the translation. This screening prevents many serious problems later.
- A test translation lets the translation company see how each candidate solved specific translation problems, and compare the quality of a translation with the quality of a different translation of the same source text. This is not possible with translation samples.
- A translation sample lets translators present teir best work. Fine for them, but less useful for the company: a test shows how you tackle the type of work the translation company would send you.
- The quality-control process adopted by the translation company may require a test. For example, most ISO-certified companies follow elaborate QC procedures throughout the translation process, including the selection of freelancers. If this is so, they are not going to change their process just because a translator has some sample translation.
- When you have to evaluate many candidates, it is faster when each test translates the same original, than if you have to shift gears every time, and look at a different translation of a different original. A well-designed test represents a considerable investment of time for the translation company or translation department:
- the time spent selecting the texts to be translated,
- the time spent designing the test (choosing which parts of the text to translate, perhaps adding translation problems to see how they would be solved by the candidates, writing and reviewing the instructions for the test, sending out the tests),
- the time devoted to a first screening of all the tests received to see which could be dismissed out of hand, and then
- the time spent assessing the tests.