Thursday, March 08, 2012

Some advice on how to prepare for a translation school entrance exam

I’ve recently written some advice for a high-school student who was asking how best to prepare the entrance exam for the School of Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University. After writing my answer, I realized it could interest others, so here it is:
  • Do translation exercises to train for your exam. But, mostly, read a lot: both in your native language and in the foreign languages you are going to study. Read novels, read non fiction, read the news. Read magazines: for English, The Economist or The Atlantic are always good choices (and many translation tests are taken from them). Read grammar books as if they were absorbing novels. Read books, in your native language and in your foreign ones,  on how to write. Remember: a translator is first of all a writer, and all writers are readers first.
  • Don’t be overly impressed by other students who arrive at the entrance exam boasting perfect knowledge of three, four or more foreign languages. Strangely enough, such prodigies usually won’t be seen, once the exams’ result are out.
  • The evening before the exam, listen to music, relax, do something fun. Above all, don’t cram. You should arrive rested, not fatigued.
  • If you can (depends on your character), try to be relaxed at the exam; don’t get stressed out. Think that if you don’t pass, it isn’t the end of the world: you can always try again.
  • During the exam, write quickly a first draft, so as to have enough time to edit yourself thoroughly. Writing is re-writing.
  • Once you have completed your translation, set aside the source text and don’t look at it. Read your translation as if were an original. Correct it and change it to improve your writing, how it flows and reads.
  • Only after you have completed this first edit, look again at the source text and compare it to your revised translation. Check sentence by sentence, making sure you didn’t omit (or add) anything, and that you have conveyed correctly the full meaning of the source.
  • Don’t rely overmuch on dictionaries, especially bilingual ones. If you are well prepared you should already know all that you need to pass the exam. If you don’t know your languages (including your native tongue) well enough, dictionaries will be of little help.
Some of this is based on my experience as a student, so many years ago. The rest is lessons I’ve learned since, both as a translator and as a teacher.

A last bit of advice: if you do get in Translation School, take full advantage of it: you’ll gain an invaluable experience, and an excellent preparation for our profession.

But don’t forget to also study what most translation schools don’t teach: the business side of translation - what an invoice is and how to prepare one, how to draft an estimate, how to keep accounting, how much you should charge to earn a comfortable living, how to write a résumé and a cover letter, how to contact customers and how to keep them happy. Some good books to get started on the business side of translation are, for example, Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation.

Best of luck with your exam!


  1. Great post, I sat the IoL DipTrans in January and followed many of these ideas.

  2. There must be something in the air... I was just checking out some translation programs, and you post this. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Interesting points, although I have to say that the very thought of having to take a translation test like that really gives me the creeps, well prepared or not.

  4. well this is the great prep method on how to prepare for a translation school entrance exam and this is really a good method to become a translator for more information link here how to become a interpreter


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