ATA Certification and COVID-19 Redux

As most of you are aware, ATA certification exam sittings were temporarily suspended in 2020 and will continue to be unavailable in early 2021. (You can learn more about that decision by reading the May/June Certification Forum by David Stephenson, “COVID-19 and Certification.”1) So, what has the program been up to in the meantime?

The realities of social distancing and stay-at-home orders are motivating the Certification Program to consider ways to alleviate similar situations in the future. One obvious focus is on ways to administer the exam remotely (i.e., allow candidates to take the exam from home). With the pandemic, ATA has spent more time and resources exploring these options. We’re finding that exam logistics and security options have improved in recent months. The “silver lining” of the pandemic, perhaps, is that it once again put at-home testing at the top of our agenda. We have researched platforms, interviewed vendors, and tested several options. We haven’t found the right solution for us yet but are working hard to get this implemented in 2021.

Other significant program activities last year included grading practice tests, preparing new exam passages, and developing and conducting continuing education for the graders.

As one of the Chinese>English graders, I attended our most recent training events in October and November, which, like so much else last year, were offered remotely rather than in person. Designed and led by our longtime grader trainer and expert Larry Bogoslaw, those Zoom sessions informed us graders of the ongoing improvements to our highly detailed and regarded exam grading rubrics, flowcharts, procedures, and rules. Larry is constantly reviewing these tools and processes to ensure the program is applying best practices consistently and fairly across all the language pairs we test.

Speaking of online offerings, conferences and other events that have been moved online are still eligible for continuing education points (CEPs). An approved live, online event counts for CEPs under Category A, with the same points awarded and the same restrictions as a live, in-person event. Anything recorded and reviewed at one’s leisure may also count, but under Category B. An example of this would be the ATA58 recording recently made available for free to the membership.2 If you already passed the exam, any downtime you might be experiencing now might be a good time to earn CEPs! Click here for more information about CEPs.

One aspect of the program that remains unaffected is the practice test. In the absence of exam activities, this is a great time to take one or more practice tests. These are retired exam passages that the candidate purchases online, translates, and returns for grading and feedback. Because the certification exam itself is not returned, the practice test is the only way we can provide feedback to candidates, so it is highly recommended. Click here for more details.

As we round the corner of this pandemic and head into a new year, the Certification Program is looking forward to returning to our former activity levels and offering a more convenient testing model to our members. Stay tuned!

  1. Stephenson, David. “COVID-19 and Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (May/June 2020), 38,
  2. You can find the ATA58 session recording here:

Jim Jones is a freelance translator for Chinese, German, and Spanish into English. He is also an editor, illustrator, and cartoonist. He serves as the language chair of ATA’s Chinese>English certification exam. He has an MA in linguistics and is currently studying for a second MA (English composition).

2 Responses to "ATA Certification and COVID-19 Redux"

  1. Di says:

    ” One obvious focus is on ways to administer the exam remotely (i.e., allow candidates to take the exam from home).”
    Yes, thanks! 🙂
    How would you ensure that candidates aren’t using banned materials (e.g. spellcheck/grammar checker, DeepL or online forums)? How would you know if candidates worked with only 1 window/tab during the test?

    I look forward to your reply

    1. Caron Bailey says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      First, the proctors will be ATA-certified members who are familiar with what ATA does and does not allow on the exam. Basically, they are the same proctors we’ve always used. The exam itself will be conducted in a special online exam platform, and there will be no spell check or grammar check available in that program.

      The proctoring platform we would be using with the online exam allows the proctors to see the candidate and the room the candidate is in by using both the camera in the candidate’s computer and the candidate’s cell phone camera. Essentially, the proctor can see the whole room as if he or she was there. The proctoring program also monitors and shows the proctor exactly what is on the candidate’s screen at all times. So, the proctor will be watching three views of the candidate: the candidate’s screen, the candidate’s face though the computer camera, and the rest of the room though the candidate’s cell phone camera positioned somewhere behind the candidate so as to show the candidate’s workspace.

      On top of that, there is also an AI that watches the candidate with the human proctor. The AI watches the same three screens the human proctor watches and flags any suspicious behavior from the candidate (e.g., using prohibited programs and websites, cutting and pasting or taking screenshots). The AI reports what it sees, in real time, to the human proctor by giving the proctor alerts. The proctoring platform also records the entire exam (the cameras, the screen, the warnings that the AI flags, etc.) and allows the proctor or other ATA representatives to go back and review an exam at a later time if necessary.

      Of course, this degree of observation and recording will require consent from the candidate. Candidates will also be informed that they, their actions, and their computer use are being recorded.

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